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By Pam Dewey and Fraser Senior Physical Therapist Katie Rush • yoga benefits, yoga and autism, benefits of yoga for people with autism, autistic people and yoga, is yoga good for people with autism, yoga mental health benefits, yoga health benefits, yoga and asd, yoga autism benefits, how can yoga help people with asd, yoga benefits for kids • February 01, 2024

Yoga might seem like it attracts a certain kind of person. Willowy, tall and possibly vegan folks likely come to mind. But yoga can be beneficial for many people, and you don’t have to own yoga pants to do it.

Unlike many types of exercise, yoga encourages you to slow down, be mindful and focus on your breathing. It strengthens your muscles, which is why it’s often recommended for people recovering from injuries or who have conditions like arthritis or back pain. A regular yoga practice can also help with mental health issues and can benefit people with autism in many ways.

Builds concentration

During yoga, an individual must pay attention to what the teacher is saying and doing with their body, and then repeat these movements with their own body. To be successful, an individual must pay close attention. Some teachers may also ask students to imagine they are somewhere else or to focus on their breathing. All these things can build focus and concentration.

Improves strength and coordination

Children with autism may have difficulty sitting upright in chairs or standing in a stationary position. One of the foundational elements of yoga is improving strength from the inside of your body — its core — and expanding outward to your fingertips and toes. Core strength helps people maintain upright seated posture, balance on one or both feet and use their hands for activities like writing or eating with a fork and spoon. A strong core gives you more control over the coordination of legs, arms, hands and fingers.

Yoga poses like downward dog, where the hands and shoulders support a person’s bodyweight, develop core and upper body strength. This helps people complete tasks like putting on a shirt or reaching for items on a high shelf.

Encourages social interaction and strengthens social skills

An in-person yoga class encourages social interaction because of the other people attending the class. People with autism can interact with others in a relatively low-stakes environment. Also, just following along with the teacher can strengthen social skills. Autism Parenting Magazine states that a study in the International Journal of Yoga Therapy showed that yoga can “increase imitation, cognitive skills and social-communicative behaviors in children with ASD.” By watching and imitating the yoga teacher, people with autism can learn more about interpreting facial expressions and how people use their bodies to communicate.

Reduce anxiety and increase coping skills

Autism Parenting Magazine states, “Many children with ASD experience heightened levels of anxiety. This can significantly affect their sleep, mood, behavior and health.” A consistent yoga practice has been shown to reduce anxiety.

Yoga breathing exercises a part of the body that people might forget to include in a workout: the respiratory system. By following the rhythmic, controlled breathing patterns, people build strength and control over their diaphragm and respiratory muscles. Autism Parenting Magazine states, “A combination of breathing strategies and yoga poses can support children with ASD not only in reducing anxiety, which can directly impact mood and behavior, but can also support children with ASD in developing self-regulation and coping skills.”

These breathing techniques can be used outside of the yoga studio too. When an individual is feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or panicked, doing these breathing exercises can decrease their stress response and help them cope with the stressful situation better. Deep breathing can also support a healthy digestive and urinary system.

Improves gut health

Children with autism frequently experience constipation due to food preferences and decreased movement. Through deep breathing and core activation, yoga can improve the digestive process. Yoga can also strengthen pelvic floor control and decrease the potential for incontinence.

“As a trained clinician in pelvic floor incontinence, I use yoga as one of my main forms of treatment. The core work strengthens our pelvic floor and core muscles, and the stretching and breathing encourages regularity,” says Katie Rush, Fraser Senior Physical Therapist.

Get better sleep

Reducing anxiety can also help improve sleep. Yoga focuses on intentional breathing, along with weight-bearing poses, that provide the body with deep pressure proprioceptive input, which works to increase the body's rest and digestive system and decrease the fight or flight system. Put simply, yoga helps individuals relax their bodies and minds, which too, can improve sleep for people with autism.