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A New Approach to Healing: Yoga for Autism

The thought of teaching a yoga class to individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) could be intimidating for most instructors. But as Samadhi Spectrum teachers will tell you, it doesn’t take long for these amazing people to steal your heart and change your life forever. You stop seeing the behaviors and start seeing the person. You see not with your eyes but with your soul.

Created by Sharon Manner, founder of Ashrams for Autism, Samadhi Spectrum strives to connect the autistic community with yoga.  Classes are tailored to help individuals on the spectrum deal with everyday issues through the use of yogic techniques.  Samadhi Spectrum also offers training to yoga instructors who want to improve the lives of those with ASD.  Current graduates work with Ashrams for Autism to teach yoga classes free of charge to members of the autistic community.

About Samadhi Spectrum

Sharon Manner’s greatest inspiration for Samadhi Spectrum is her 21-year old daughter, Kerri, who is diagnosed with ASD.  Sharon, already an established teacher (E-RYT-500) and a member of the International Association of Yoga Therapists, began teaching classes for children on the spectrum.  She saw major improvements, which ultimately led to the creation of an autism yoga training.

Sharon Manner and co-creator John Margabandhu Martarano, director of the Integral Yoga Institute in Fair Lawn, have extensively researched the causes of symptoms associated with ASD.  Together they created Samadhi Spectrum training to help alleviate such symptoms as poor digestion, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and mania in those with ASD.

Samadhi Spectrum teachers learn to use yogic practices and basic applied behavior analysis (ABA) techniques in addition to teaching simple yoga poses. Margabandhu, who is an expert herbalist,informs trainees of the importance of a conscious  diet, while Manner’s teaching expertise lends to easy understanding by participants.  An ABA expert walks trainees through the challenges faced by ASD individuals so teachers can properly approach these issues with students. 

Samadhi Spectrum in Action

Sharon Manner has seen yoga transform the lives of individuals with autism. She says, “The science of yoga as a therapeutic tool and lifestyle can help to heal and balance anyone on every level, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Our bodies and minds want to be healthy and in balance. A yogic lifestyle makes this possible. This yogic lifestyle has made a profound change in my daughter’s life and, I believe, in the lives of many other students.”

The Center for Independence also employs Samadhi Spectrum instructors to teach part of its curriculum. “We can't praise the amazing instructors from Ashrams for Autism enough.  Since the initiation of our program, clients have experienced a decrease in anxiety symptoms such as panic, scripting, and generalized worry,” says Kim Rushmore, the center’s director.  “We have also seen an increase in communication and positive social skills.  Clients have been more open to coping skills and handling frustration by using the breathing and visualization techniques they practice in yoga. The group is learning to connect on a broader level with their peers.”

Students look forward to the positive support and innovative teaching techniques. Some were resistant to yoga in the beginning, but are now practicing the breathing and trying some of the poses. As Rushmore notes, “This is directly related to the positive motivation given freely by these instructors. This compliments the philosophy of our program and enhances our personal development, social skills and life skills training.”

Those who witness the approach believe that this program has the power to transform lives.  Samadhi Spectrum yoga students at The Center for Independence look forward to quality time with instructors.  As one student says, “Yoga makes me feel relaxed.” Another student says, “Yoga teaches me to breath.  Now I can stay calm and not have as many panic attacks.”  And yet another student, concerned about a very stressed relative, decided to share the treatment approach by buying his uncle a yoga video “so he could feel calmer.”

An Ashram for the Autistic Community

Since its inception in 2011, Ashrams for Autism has begun to receive worldwide recognition within the yoga and autistic communities.  In February 2014, the Ashrams team travelled to the Yukon, Canada to train 14 special needs teachers and yoga instructors.  On April 25, for the second year in a row, they will be in the Yoga Journal NYC Marketplace. 

This month, Ashrams starts work in Harlem as part of a program initiated by a Columbia University professor and is partnering with the Newark Yoga Movement to bring its program to children on the spectrum.  The annual Summer Intensive training will be held May 27–31 in Madison, New Jersey, and a second training is scheduled for Yogaville, in Buckingham, Virginia, in October.  Ashrams will be taking the training to the west coast in 2015.

Ashrams for Autism was created to help build a safe space for all to live, work and play through the healing practice of yoga. The ultimate goal is to build an ashram, a sanctuary following a yogic lifestyle.Sharon Manner and her dedicated teachers know that yoga has the power to transform lives, but that transformation is not always easily explained in words.  You just have to see for yourself.

For more information, visit AshramsForAutism.com.

Jennifer Kimak is a 200-hr RYT through Samadhi Sun.  She completed the Level 1 Samadhi Spectrum Training in 2012 and teaches at The Center for Independence. 

Sandy Marotta is Sharon Manner’s daughter and a 200-hr IYI Instructor. She recently completed both the Level 1 Samadhi Spectrum Training and the 300-hr Samadhi Sun Teacher Training.

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