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Yoga and Occupational Therapy

As a former special education teacher in Florida for over sixteen years, I worked side by side with many occupational therapists (OT). When a student receives occupational therapy as part of their Individual Education Plan (IEP) the OT will work with them on improving upper body strength and fine motor skills to include handwriting, manipulating scissors, feeding skills, and hand-eye coordination. When a child’s upper-body strength is weak, they may tire easily. They may have poor posture. They may prefer sedentary activities over activities requiring physical movement. Their handwriting, drawing, or cutting skills may need improvement. They may have difficulty with independent living skills, such as tying shoes, manipulating buttons or zippers, and opening and closing food containers.

So, what does this have to do with yoga? There are many asana, or poses, that help improve upper body strength in fun and engaging ways:

  • Plank pose increases the strength of muscles around the spine which helps improve posture as well as strengthens core muscles such as abdominal muscles, chest and lower back.
  • Downward Dog pose helps improve the strength of hands, wrists, back, and shoulder muscles.
  • Upward Dog pose helps improve the strength of muscles around the spine which can help improve posture; strengthens arms and wrists; and provides a stretch for the chest, lungs, abs, and shoulders.
  • Cobra pose provides much of the same benefits as Upward Dog, as well as strengthens the muscles of the shoulders and can improve flexibility.
  • Sphinx pose provides a stretch for the chest, lungs and shoulder muscles as well as strengthens the muscles around the spine.
  • Dolphin pose increases the strength of arms and legs, strengthens core muscles which can improve posture, and opens the shoulders and chest.
  • Extended Child’s pose is a calming pose that can help reduce stress and tiredness as well as stretch the muscles of the lower back.
  • Do Donkey Kicks (starting in Downward Dog) to strengthen lower back and core muscles.
  • Walking like a Crab (begin in Table pose) strengthens triceps, shoulders and abs.

Now, as a private tutor for special needs students and a children’s yoga teacher, I use yoga with many of my tutoring students to help build their upper body strength using songs, games and acting out stories. As they become stronger on the mat, the hope is to see improvements in their writing in both form and endurance.

Have fun with your children or students impersonating animals while building strong upper bodies all at the same time!

Want more? Check out these blogs about inclusion and adaptive yoga:

Teaching Yoga to Kids with ADHD and Autism:

Adaptive Yoga for Children:

The Yoga Tree:

You can also listen to an inspiring podcast about incorporating yoga into Special Needs classrooms:

And here’s an interview with Laura Petix (The OT Butterfly) all about sensory processing and self-regulation:

Like what you read here? There’s so much MORE to explore and learn with Kidding Around Yoga. Check out our website for our live and online teacher trainings, Yoga Alliance-approved 95-hour RCYT trainings, specialty online courses, original music, merchandise, podcast, and beyond! KAY even offers a 6-hour workshop designed to teach school educators and homeschool families how to bring yoga and meditation right into their classrooms (EduKAYand an online course specifically for families to incorporate these practices in their family’s routine (Mindful Parenting)

Mariann Primus is a certified ESE teacher in Florida and a certified Kids Yoga teacher through Kidding Around Yoga. Mariann taught in a self-contained setting for students with disabilities, primarily ASD, for 16 years before becoming self-employed through her company, Spoonful of Spirit LLC, as a Kids Yoga teacher and private tutor. She also creates on-line downloadable products tying together yoga and literature through her Teachers Pay Teachers store.


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