Peeping through the classroom window I observe a tutor delivering a simple sequence of gentle postures and breathing techniques to his pupil. The session is gentle and calm. There’s a lovely rapport building between them as they mirror one another’s flowing movements. This is a wonderful moment for me. To see something I’ve worked hard to deliver in progress. However, it’s another step in the right direction for yoga. Another verification of the benefits, and the positive impact it has on our lives and the lives of those traditionally hard to engage in regular exercise.
TreeHouse Primary School & Ambitous about Autism
I’m equally delighted that I’ve spent the best part of the year working alongside specialist tutors at the prestigious TreeHouse primary school, based in Muswell Hill, North London. TreeHouse is the flagship school of Ambitious about Autism: the UK’s national charity for the education and support of children and families living with Autism.
It was March 2014 when Geza Kiss, head of physical education, brought me onboard to develop a bespoke yoga curriculum for the school. I have worked for many years specialising in yoga and exercise provision for Autism, learning disabilities and mental health. This was another wonderful opportunity to develop something really special.
Our purpose & objective
I was teamed up with the senior sports coach, Terry Stevens. Our first priority was to determine our purpose and objective of the programme. Once agreed, we set to task developing a practice that offered pupils and tutors tools to help regulate agitated states and challenging behaviour within the classroom. We worked with the pupils in small groups and one to one sessions and tailored a suitable programme to support their specific needs. Simple breathing techniques, yoga postures and relaxation exercises formed the foundation. Supported by a number of resources such as yoga mats, blankets, eye pillows, soothing music and visual prompts.
The pupils took to the yoga classes instantly. Rushing into the space, kicking off shoes, rolling out mats and snuggling under blankets. The coming months were a joy to teach and the most delightful outcome for me was the connection between both pupil and tutor. The calm, gentle nature of yoga was clearly a welcomed change from the targets of the classroom and so both were able to leave with happy smiles, refreshed and ready for the day ahead.
On several occasions tutors would remark on the positive changes and the enjoyment that the children gained from the sessions. One remarked, with tears in his eyes, ‘It’s just very moving to see my pupil unable to regulate his mood, come to yoga and leave feeling happy and calm. It’s magic!’
Training for the staff
Our next target was to provide workshops and training for the staff specific to the needs of TreeHouse. We developed an exciting training module covering the philosophy of yoga, the benefits, lesson planning, classroom targets, scheduling and consistency of sessions. It was particularly heartwarming to watch tutors team teaching and exploring ideas.
This was a groundbreaking moment. It dawned on me that all my years of study with my own teachers and all the wealth of experience teaching my students, came to this very significant moment. I was getting older! Well, yes that, BUT, more importantly, that I’m actually sharing something very special and blimey who’d have thought, maybe passing on a little legacy of my own? So when I watch the development of the yoga curriculum unfolding at TreeHouse I’m excited. I’m excited the face of yoga has evolved and excited that organizations such as Ambitious about Autism, have the vision to see its benefits.
The changing face of yoga
The experience has awakened a new confidence within me that is both creative and fun. I feel able to honour the tradition and philosophy of yoga and yet today it invites me to inject my own passion, personality and skills to reach a new demographic. As with all things in life the more we confidently explore and evolve, the more we can reach out, help and understand the needs of others.
I am now back with TreeHouse to continue the development of the yoga programme but also to introduce and design a dance curriculum. The Lion King beckons. Whatever do I mean? News about that to follow soon!
How Yoga Helps Kids with ADHD & Autism
• Activates calming hormones, such as serotonin
• Focus on breath and movement to give children self-regulation tools
• Uses bilateral movements to balance brain hemispheres & affect mood
• Helps to organize & relax the nervous system
• Builds self-confidence & self-affirmation
Are you interested in yoga and relaxation for Autism?
If you’d like to learn more please contact me here.