You may have heard of Occupational Therapy, or “OT” as the commonly used acronym is concerned. But what exactly is OT? “In its simplest terms, occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants help people across the lifespan participate in the things they want and need to do through the therapeutic use of everyday activities (occupations)” (www.aota.org). Now you may be thinking to yourself what does Occupational Therapy have to do with kids, they are just kids, what occupation could they possibly have? Well just that, being a kid.
While you may be scratching your head at this point thinking to yourself how hard could it possibly be to be a kid, it can actually be very cumbersome for some children. With an increase in demands being placed on our children these days, a decrease in recreational time, as well as overwhelming stimuli being thrown at them from every angle, it is a wonder any kid is able to even get through childhood at all, let alone enjoy the simplest aspects of being a kid.
When we think about the sensory system we can immediately bring to mind the five we have been taught since we ourselves where children; sight (Vision), hearing (Auditory), touch (Tactile), taste (Gustatory), and smell (Olfactory). Although these five have been embedded in our minds, there are far more senses that comprise our intricate sensory system. Two of the less commonly known senses that greatly affect our daily living are Proprioception and Vestibular; Proprioception being an awareness of our bodies in space, and Vestibular being balance, gravity, and movement information through our inner ear. With these senses our bodies process information and organize it in the central nervous system (CNS) of our brain and spinal cord, so that we are able to understand, react, and interact with the world around us. But what happens when our bodies, or our children’s, don’t quite interpret this information quite as it should, throwing the balance of our processing and understanding of the world around us completely off kilter?
In children with sensory processing delays, or disorders (SPD), there tends to be an inability to respond appropriately to their environments, which can cause hypo and hypersensitivities, as well as adversarial reactions to compensate for this confusing stimulus. We tend to see those with sensory processing delays become over-reactive or under-reactive (hyper and hypo aroused) depending on the way their bodies perceive the given sensory input. These reactions can present themselves in a multitude of behaviors from avoidance and withdrawal, opposition and aggression, fear, fidgets, attention issues, and so on and so forth.
So here is where our yoga comes in. You may or may not hear a yoga teacher saying the quote, “Yoga is the control of the activities of the mind” (translation by Georg Feuerstein). Yoga teachers of many years ago had a very deep understanding of how we can use yoga to create clarity and balance between the mind and the body. These ideologies are something, to which modern Western science is now catching up to, in the present time where more open dialogues are occurring between Western and Eastern philosophies on Health Care.
Now the question remains how can we take this ancient theory and apply it to modern science and health, and even more specifically to our littlest of yogis that are struggling to find and feel balance in their world. Occupational Therapists use therapeutic sessions that include sensory experiences (sensory integration) that helps to elicit adaptive responses that can help patients have a more accurate picture of the world, and in turn have more appropriate responses to promote a general sense of ease in their daily lives. Yoga provides a means for this sensory experience that can be done in an OT’s office, yoga studio, home, school, or just about anywhere.
In yoga we can practice manipulating our bodies in space to receive the sensory input we need to process the world around us. From there we can learn those adaptive skills needed to see the world around us in an accurate way. As we work through the heavy work of the yoga asanas and pair it with a mindful breathing practice and mindful meditation or focus practice, we can begin to clear the pathways within our nervous system to work towards achieving balance and clarity that can occur when the mind and body are working together in a synchronized cadence.
ABOUT JESSI (OT YOGI)
Jessie is currently working on her Masters Degree focusing on Occupational Therapy. She is an RYT, RCYT with Yoga Alliance, and has taken a number of yoga trainings. She is a graduate of Little Flower Yoga and uniting her passion of yoga with children and helping others.
NY1 News came to visit us recently at one of our school sites, PS 205 in Bayside, Queens. Little Flower Yoga is very proud to be teaching Yoga and Mindfulness to these incredible kids, and they had a blast posing for the camera. Check out the interview below, to hear thoughts from the kids, their classroom teachers, and School Yoga Project director Mayuri Gonzalez.
Some students are turning to yoga as a way to relax and unwind. NY1's Shazia Khan filed the following report.
At PS 205 in Bayside, fourth graders gather once a week for breathing, mindfulness, stretching and other elements of yoga. "Wellness, respect for their bodies, self love," says Cassandra Laugan, a fourth grade teacher at the school.
Little Flower Yoga brings yoga to schools across the city. Its School Yoga Project Director, Mayuri Gonzalez, says this ancient practice is a necessary tool for today's child. "We tell our kids to sit down, pay attention, focus, listen, but have we actually taught them how?" says Gonzalez.
Classroom teachers Aleisha Castelli and Cassandra Logan championed to make yoga part of the curriculum. "They need that downtime and to empower them and create a mindset where they can persevere and develop some resilience as they navigate complex tests and testing," says Logan.
With each breath and each stretch, the young yogis say they've started to feel more connected to their brains , bodies and to each other - both on and off the mat.