Daily yoga regimen boosts socialization, mind-body connection, and focus among autistic students

Step one: Mats out. Step two: breathe deep. Step three: assume poses. Step four: tense and relax muscles. Step five: sing.

According to a study by NYU Steinhardt researcher, Kristie Koenig, these five steps, 17 minutes a day, five days a week, for 16 weeks, resulted in a significant decrease in aggressive behavior, , and hyperactivity for Autistic attending District 75's P.S. 176X in the Bronx. The school serves the largest population of students on the Autism Spectrum in the nation.

"We found that teachers' ratings of students who participated in the daily routine showed improved behavior compared with teachers' ratings of students who did not," said Koenig, assistant professor of occupational therapy. "Our aim in this research was to examine the effectiveness of an occupational therapy yoga intervention. Our research indicates that a manualized systemic yoga program, implemented on a daily basis, can be brought to public school classrooms as an option for improving classroom behavior."

"Get Ready to Learn," (GRTL) the intervention program used in the study, was designed by occupational therapist and yoga instructor Anne Buckley-Reen in 2008, in collaboration with Barbara Joseph, District 75 deputy superintendent. District 75 is the nation's largest special education district in an urban public school system. GRTL uses yoga postures, breathing, and relaxation techniques to help energize, organize and calm ASD students. It helps prepare students mentally and physically for the day's lessons.

"GRTL gets children out of the stressed state and prepares their brains and bodies to learn," Reen explained. "Children with often exhibit characteristics of 'fight-or-flight' response. They are in a constant state of stress and struggle with staying calm, trying to concentrate, communicating clearly, or even controlling their movements. Many students with ASD and other challenges have missed critical developmental stages which impact body awareness and perception of self. How can we expect these students to connect to others, if they are not connected to themselves? GRTL provides opportunities to make and strengthen these mind-body connections."

With GRTL training supported by both the district and participating school, teachers led the daily routine that includes eight minutes of varied postures, three minutes of weight-bearing poses, three minutes of deep breathing to help reduce stress, three minutes of muscle tension and release, and concludes with a circle of song.

"This circle of song creates a vibrating of the lungs which helps students to find their voice and contribute to classroom harmony," said Reen. "We sing the name of the students in back and forth exchanges. This encourages engagement from all students, even those with limited speech."

GRTL is currently being implemented in more than 500 classrooms in District 75 across the city of New York with students ages five through 21 with significant disabilities. It is also in typical classrooms in Arizona, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Vermont.

"This research points to new ways that can help students self-regulate their behavior for longer periods of time. This type of daily programming provides them with a foundation for function so they can focus and attend for longer periods of time. This is one way they are able to learn effectively," said Joseph. "Programs like this can enhance communication and socialization skills. Parents have seen changes in their children at home. They tell us they have seen improvement in their children's speech, communication, and behavior."

The study, conducted by Koenig, Reen, and NYU Steinhardt doctoral student Satvika Garg, is titled "Efficacy of the Get Ready to Learn Yoga Program Among Children with ASD: A Pretest-Posttest Control Group Design." It was recently published in the September/October 2012 issue of The American Journal of Occupational Therapy.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Poor behavior doesn't always lead to poor academics

Mar 29, 2011

Despite popular belief, a new study published in the latest issue of the Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions (published by SAGE) finds that students who have poor behavior in the classroom do not always have poor grades.

Calif. schools don't get kids moving

Jun 09, 2006

Just over half of California school districts that include elementary school students fail to provide an average of 20 minutes daily of physical activity.

Validating preschool programs for children with autism

May 19, 2011

Researchers from the University of Miami (UM) Department of Psychology participated in a multi-site study to examine different teaching models for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The study is one of the first ...

Recommended for you

'Integrated Play Groups' help children with autism

Oct 27, 2014

It's an often-agonizing challenge facing any parent of a child with autism: How can I help my son or daughter socialize with his or her typically developing peers? The solution, SF State's Pamela Wolfberg found, may lie in ...

Autism after high school

Oct 27, 2014

Melanie Tyner-Wilson is facing one of her toughest battles yet. She wants nothing more than to help her son Jay Tyner-Wilson, who is a person with autism, land his first real job.

Association between air toxics and childhood autism

Oct 22, 2014

Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) were more likely to have been exposed to higher levels of certain air toxics during their mothers' pregnancies and the first two years of life compared to children ...

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.