“My biggest fear is that I’ll never be able to dance again and I’ll stop growing,” stated 15 year old Talia in response to how she felt about her diagnosis of severe scoliosis. For 18 months, she had been sent from doctor to specialist as her scoliosis got worse. The analysis she had been given was to stop all sports and prepare for spinal fusion.
This was the moment when Talia and her mum turned to yoga therapy. The X-rays highlighted a huge curve in Talia’s upper back that the specialists had been trying to straighten, but nothing had worked and it was getting worse. During the next hour we talked, assessed, did specific yoga therapy corrective exercises for the unstable vertebrae at the base of her spine and finished with a twist to reverse the upper back curve. Talia lay down on her back and with tears in her eyes, told her mum she could feel her spine fully on the floor for the first time in 18 months. Her spine had just clicked back into place.
This is the power of yoga therapy. Having a system that works to bring the body and mind back to health naturally can be life changing and immensely empowering, especially when nothing else has worked.
DIAGNOSE, TARGET, FIX
The style of yoga therapy I refer to is a specialised discipline of Japanese yoga that works by bringing the body back into balance. Combining specific exercises, postures, relaxation and breathing, the body and its systems are cleansed, strengthened and rejuvenated. This unique style of yoga therapy provides the benefit of being able to diagnose, target and fix issues relating to organ function, energy flow and body structure.
The difference between a normal yoga class for children and using yoga therapy is that we focus on corrective movements and breathing techniques to target a specific issue. It is the difference between choosing a series of general poses and hoping it may lead to change or choosing the right yoga therapy corrective exercise that will have a specific impact and bring a direct result.
Yoga is on the increase for children in Australia and is being taught at pre-schools, day care centres, primary schools, high schools, selective schools, Catholic schools, Steiner and Montessori schools, special needs schools, hospitals, adolescent mental health units and detention centres. Not only have I introduced yoga programs into each of these places but so have the thousands of teachers I’ve trained throughout Australia.
From spending 20 years teaching yoga in schools, I have observed the decline in children’s physical, mental and emotional health. Australia has one of the highest rates of asthma in the world, one in every three children will suffer from a mental illness, allergies are increasing for children under the age of five, children as young as three are suffering from stress and anxiety, and the use of drugs for ADHD is so high in Australia that the United Nations has issued a warning.
There is much focus on exam results, but very little focus on the health and wellbeing of our children’s physical, mental and emotional health. That is where yoga comes in and when we look at the rising statistics, I believe that yoga therapy is the solution.
Two of the most recent issues I’ve been getting the most questions about are digestive issues and bed wetting. Children are being born with weakened digestive systems that, if not fixed up, will lead to a whole host of problems. An underfunctioning digestive system could lead to allergies, constipation, diarrhoea, coughs, colds and flus, belly pains, headaches, lack of focus and concentration, fogginess, sinus problems, lower immunity, a lack of energy, and brain processing disorders. These can all be solved with a few yoga therapy corrective exercises and dietary changes.
Tom came to see me because he had belly pains and constant diarrhoea. His little four year old belly was bloated and weak and his large intestine didn’t have the contractive power to eliminate properly. I gave him three exercises to strengthen the contractive ability of his intestine, wrote a list of healthy foods that build intestine power and contraction, such as brown rice, and suggested he stop foods that weaken and bloat the belly – mostly fruit in Tom’s case. It took 24 hours for Tom to have the first solid stool in his life. This is the beauty of using yoga therapy with children; you see results quickly. What may take a few months in an adult, can often be resolved in a few days in children, or just 24 hours in the case of Tom.
Bed wetting is another issue on the rise with girls and is continuing well into late tween years. Sarah was nine years old when I first met her and had been wetting the bed since she was three. As her younger sisters didn’t have the same problem and they had tried everything the doctor and specialists suggested, it was presumed that Sarah was bed wetting on purpose and being defiant. Her energy was low, she was tired all the time and school labelled her ‘lazy.’ By the time I met Sarah, her self esteem had hit rock bottom. One hour long session, five corrective exercises later and diet change suggestions, namely reducing fruit and stopping sugar, resulted in her first dry night.
Five months on, the bed wetting has completely stopped but the most rewarding outcome is that her level of confidence has blossomed, she has had her first sleepover and even been allowed on holiday with friends. The immediate results that occur when working with children and teens make it all the more profound to witness. Learning to have control over their own health and healing is incredibly empowering for children and teens, and one of the most rewarding aspects of being a children’s yoga therapist and teacher.
YOGA THERAPY WORKS ON MIND AND BODY
These are not isolated incidents. Yoga therapy works time and again with children suffering not only from physical problems such as asthma, diabetes, digestive issues and back problems, but just as well with emotional issues and the mind. Children with ADHD, Asperger’s, Autism, behavioural issues, stress and anxiety also benefit. I have seen a seven year old boy with severe ADHD lie completely still within 45 mins of a yoga therapy session, another eleven year old boy with behavioural issues find a place of calm inside for the first time ever, and a fifteen year old boy with Asperger’s enjoy 20 minutes of relaxation in his first ever yoga therapy class.
Every day I see the benefit yoga therapy is having and am so grateful that hundreds of people are also learning these skills to heal themselves, their families and the children in their communities. This is the gift of yoga therapy. In the words of Jeanette, a 17 year old girl, who suffered from debilitating stress and anxiety during her final year at school, “after yoga I am so happy”.
Can you imagine if this was taught in schools and every child had these tools at their fingertips?