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Natural Awakenings North Central New Jersey

Yoga Is “Sense”sational for Development

Aug 04, 2016 03:32PM ● By Michele L Parkins MS, OTR

It’s common for parents to hear about motor and speech development in their children.  Parents are often asked, “When did she walk?” or “What was his first word?”   To really know what is happening with our children’s development, however, we should be asking about how often children move, balance, and reach.  We should know how often they move their heads in positions other than straight up and how often they wiggle their fingers, use one arm in a different way than the other arm, or balance on one foot.  These movements, which may seem somewhat minor, are at the core of many aspects of development. 

Children develop by taking in the world around them through all of the senses.  We’re familiar with sight, sound, and touch, but may not be as aware of the less well- known senses involving the movement systems in our body — the vestibular and proprioceptive systems.  The vestibular system is located in the inner ear and detects position and movement of the head.  The proprioceptive system carries information about joint position and movement.  Together, these systems are used for all coordinated movements and to maintain balance.

Simply put, our children are not moving enough.  Their sight, sound and touch systems are getting stimulated, but their movement systems are not.  That’s why we see more and more children who have difficulty playing sports, riding bikes, coordinating movements to climb on playground equipment, or swim in a lake or pool. This lack of stimulation may even affect their handwriting abilities.  In addition to not being successful with these movement-based activities, children tend now to gravitate toward sedentary activities, perpetuating the depletion of movement sensations to their bodies, leading to even more balance and coordination challenges.  

At the extreme of this situation is Sensory Processing Disorder, which now impacts at least one in 20 children.  A child with this disorder finds it difficult to process and act upon information received through the senses, which creates challenges in performing countless everyday tasks. Motor clumsiness, behavioral issues, anxiety, depression, school failure, and many other problems may impact those who do not get effective treatment. It’s been found that many children diagnosed with ADHD, autism, or dyspraxia have underlying sensory processing challenges. But there is help, and it can be found through the movements of yoga.

How Can Yoga Help?

Yoga provides countless opportunities to awaken the movement systems.  Through storytelling, children move their bodies into positions that require movement of their heads upside down, sideways and backwards, stimulating the vestibular system and telling their brain how they can move efficiently through space. When they move their hands, arms, legs, feet and bellies through reaches, twists, and bends, information from their joints (the proprioceptive system) is rushing through their bodies to their brain, telling them how they can creatively move body parts in relation to one another.  When children practice yoga —and have fun doing it — they are developing critical senses to support motor development, self-esteem and most importantly skills to enhance and further engagement in the wonderful movement activities of childhood!

Occupational therapist Michele L Parkins MS, OTR, is the director and founder of Great Kids Place in Rockaway and a faculty member of the Sensory Treatment and Research Institute. For more information, visit GreatKidsPlace.com.

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