There is one crucial competency that helps our kids to thrive in the big world out there. That competency comprises successful navigation of social environment. Social interactions are major drivers of children's learning and development. That is why it is crucial for the kids to master effective ways of interacting with both peers and adults at school and on playground.
Psychologists call for two sets of skills that enable children to master social interactions effectively. These are motor skills and imitation skills. Important for all kids to develop, they are especially crucial to pay attention to for kids on Autism Spectrum who often have difficulty with both motor proficiency and imitation ability. Not surprisingly, therefore, these two sets of skills were the ones to be evaluated when researchers studied how yoga affects social communication skills in children.
In the nutshell:
Enhanced proprioception, increased attention, and reduced anxiety that physical yoga cultivates maybe the key to therapeutic potential of yoga.
Recent research demonstrated that eight weeks of creative yoga significantly improved motor abilities and imitation skills in children with autism. Kids improved their bilateral coordination that is crucial for proper communication between the two brain hemispheres: left and right. Improvement of this motor skill may be attributed to enhanced body awareness, or proprioception, that yoga is known to cultivate. Children also got better at imitation, pointing to improved attention and reduced anxiety. These findings are in line with previous research demonstrating yoga's ability to increase attention and decrease anxiety in both children and adults. Overall, improving proprioception and attention whilst decreasing anxiety are the three benefits commonly reported by yoga practitioners in both, research settings and common day-to-day.
What's in it for me?
Both motor and imitation skills are essential for all children to navigate social environment and communicate with peers at school and on playground. While being the major drivers of learning and development, social interactions are especially challenging for persons on the spectrum. Yoga intervention that improves both motor ability and imitation skills may, as a consequence, improve social communication skills, thereby helping children to socialize. While the results of this recent research are promising, larger studies with long-term follow-up are in order to draw more definitive conclusions.
24 children with autism (5-11 years old) participated in the study. Half of the children were in the control group doing arts and crafts, while the rest were practicing creative yoga. Creative yoga comprised traditional yoga poses and breathing exercises, as well as creative elements such as contacting hands/feet with a partner and gazing towards stimuli. The intervention lasted for eight weeks with 25-45 minute sessions held four times each week. Pre- and post-intervention standardized tests measured motor ability and imitation skills.
Participants who practiced yoga significantly improved their bilateral coordination and imitation skills. One of the strengths of the study was the inclusion of children with wide IQ range – from 47 to 119 (Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scales). All children were able to successfully participate in yoga sessions, demonstrating that yoga can be taught to children with wide range of ability. Other studies previously found that yoga practice may improve executive function and decision making proficiency, suggesting yet another potential benefit to kids' yoga. Important to note, parents whose kids participated in this study reported that they found yoga beneficial for their children. Moreover, all but one parent said they would continue practicing with their children after the study was over.