Just Breathe – Yoga For Autism

by Shawnee Thornton | April 23, 2015 12:58 pm

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The words “just breathe”, sounds simple but can be a challenge for children who experience heightened levels of anxiety, anger or frustration. The tendency for many children is to use chest breathing or to breathe rapidly when anxious or upset. This can lead to hyperventilation, panic attacks and increased agitation and anxiety. Along with emotional triggers, many children with autism and other special needs may struggle with self-regulation, sensory integration difficulties, communication deficits and a variety of other challenges that contribute to higher levels of anxiety and difficulty coping with stress. Teaching children with special needs breathing strategies supports them with self-regulation, calming the nervous system and coping with stress. Reduced stress and tension leads to better sleep, improved behavior, increased focus and concentration and a greater sense of well-being.

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In the book, Asanas for Autism and Special Needs – Yoga to Help Children with Their Emotions, Self-Regulation and Body Awareness, there are many suggestions for breathing strategies to help children with special needs soothe their nervous systems in order to reduce anxiety and tension. One suggested breathing strategy is 3-part breathing.

3-part breathing can be a helpful breathing strategy for reducing anxiety and soothing the nervous system. Benefits of 3-part breathing include:

Increased body awareness
Reduces anger and frustration
Awareness of breath
Improved concentration
Supports diaphramic breathing which focuses on deepening and elongating the breath
Builds greater lung capacity
Soothes the nervous system
Slows the heart rate

Instructions:
Pre-pose preparation: Identify parts on body. Put hands on belly say “belly”. Have child model hands to belly and repeat “belly”. Put hands on ribs and say “ribs”. Have child model hands to ribs and repeat, “ribs”. Put hands on chest and say “chest”. Have child model hands to chest and repeat “chest”.

1.  Sit up tall in cross-legged position on mat or in chair.
2.  Close lips.
3.  Hands to belly, breathe in to belly through nose like a balloon. Breathe out through nose.
4. Hands to ribs, breathe in to ribs through nose, feel ribs puff out. Breathe out through nose.
5.  Hands to chest, breathe in to chest through nose, feel lungs fill up. Breathe out through nose.
6.  This time we will breathe in to belly, ribs and chest with one long breath.
7.  Breathe in through nose, fill up belly, then ribs, then chest until lungs are full. (Guide can move hands to each body part while giving breath cues).
8.  Exhale – breathe out through nose, empty breath from lungs, empty breath from ribs, empty breath from belly.
9.  Repeat 2-3 times.

Modifications: Allow the child to breathe out through the mouth if breathing out through the nose is too difficult. Always encourage the child to breathe in through the nose. Even if the breath is not done exactly the way it is instructed, simply having the child focus on breathing will support him/her in feeling more relaxed and less anxious or agitated.

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