How Our Educators Offer Yoga to Unique Learners

Marie’s Classroom at Algoma Elementary, Wisconsin

Marie’s Classroom at Algoma Elementary, Wisconsin

Today, on World Autism Awareness Day, we want to share the experience of a few of our educators working in classrooms with unique learners. They combine their compassion, deep understanding of their students, and expansive knowledge of yoga and mindfulness to develop a calming and empowering practice. Yoga is for everybody, and Yoga Foster is here to help make this practice accessible for all students.

What kind of unique needs do your students' experience?

“Some of the unique needs these students experience include down syndrome, autism and/or intellectual disabilities.” - Marie, Algoma Elementary

“A third of my class have IEPS and diagnoses ranging from autism to learning disorders and speech processing disorders. I also witness noticeable anxiety in an additional two to three students daily.”  - Mary Rosalyn Yalow Charter School

How has Yoga Foster helped you and your students? How do you adapt the practice to them?

“I start with a few simple, but fun breathing exercises (i.e. balloon breath, take 5 breath, volcano breath, flower/candle breath, etc.). I also adapt the lesson by picking poses that the students will be most comfortable trying (i.e. Cat/Cow, Downward and Upward Dog, Tree, etc). The students all really enjoy the “Do Nothing” pose!” - Marie, Algoma Elementary

“We practice breathing in the classroom every morning for 5 minutes, and incorporate Yoga Foster’s curriculum into "Yoga Fridays" for 15 minutes.  First and foremost, I allow any of the breathing or movement to be optional. All children need to feel as if they have choices - it is one great way to empower them."

I've noticed breathing techniques to be the most helpful to students with anxiety. Having a daily practice makes it easier to remind students of their breathing tools when they feel overwhelmed.  Yoga offers access for all unique learners - whether it be auditory, visual and/or kinesthetic. Yoga brings JOY. The students who choose to participate wear the feeling of pride and joy on their sleeves!” - Mary, Rosalyn Charter

What advice do you have to educators who work with students with autism, ADHD, SPD, disabilities, or any other unique needs in terms of how they can incorporate yoga and mindfulness?

“Start small with a short amount of time and fewer poses to allow students to have a sense of success and feel comfortable incorporating these practices into their day.

Allow extra time and patience between the transition of poses. It’s helpful to have extra adult support to help the students model and prompt the poses.” - Marie, Algoma Elementary

“Don't be afraid to try it out!  There is something for everyone in yoga. Don't assume it will be "too" anything (chaotic, difficult, frustrating). Choose a handful of standing poses to start with and focus on one at a time to make it less overwhelming.”  - Mary, Rosalyn Charter

What brings you joy with teaching your students?

“The sincere smiles, the students’ willingness and effort to try new things, along with the calming effects of the practices are a few reasons that bring me so much joy! From the time they walk through the door, up until when they help roll up the mats, practicing yoga with the students has been my absolute favorite part of the day!” - Marie, Algoma Elementary,

“When they recognize the need for mindfulness and count to ten, ask if they can take a walk, or a teacher tells you a student was practicing a yoga pose during a 3 minute break during a Benchmark test.” - Tanya, Union Intermediate

“It's hard to choose! I love knowing them like family, and building a family culture in the classroom. It always feels amazing when I can assist or empower students to overcome challenges.” - Mary, Rosalyn Charter

“Working with students who have different abilities is FULL of surprises and I have been amazed at how quickly and confidently my students are able to pick up these practices and benefit from them. Many students with autism have a desire to engage in movement of some kind, so to provide them with structured ways to move is key. My students feel a sense of pride and ownership over these practices. They are able to verbalize any frustration or anxiety they may be feeling and recognize that taking mindful breaths or movement can bring them back to a place where they are ready to work.”  - Emmi, Gleason Elementary

Are you an educator or know one that works with unique learners? Grant applications for our programs are open until April 19th!