Yoga has become a popular form of exercise in American culture. It is important to recognize that yoga is more than just physical exercise, it is also beneficial for the brain and the central nervous system. Yoga works on balancing out the right and left hemispheres of the brain by increasing the communication at the level of the corpus callosum, which is the master communicator between the right and left hemispheres.
Many of the kids I work with as a speech-language pathologist also have sensory processing disorders or motor incoordination disorders in addition to their language differences. These disorders involve the vestibular system, which contributes to balance and the sense of spatial orientation. When the vestibular system is not functioning properly, many side effects can happen in speech therapy sessions and classroom environments. These include clumsiness, erratic movements, difficulty staying in a defined, wiggling and having to move. These behaviors are a result of the body's need to feel stable and balanced.
It is important to realize that these motor impairments do not resolve with age. In fact the gap between these children and normally developing children actually widens. Obviously kids who are constantly moving and unable to sit still are left untreated for their speech-language diagnoses. That is why we need to intervene, to stop the problem from persisting even more.
Why I Added Yoga
I was a yoga practitioner and felt stress release and more balanced after a yoga practice. I also learned how to relax and let go of that which I could not control. I wanted to teach the kids the same gifts that I have gleaned from practicing yoga. I wanted my own children, along with speech and language students, to experience what I was feeling. That is when I decided to embark on a series of yoga teacher trainings for both adults and children.
I have been using yoga in speech therapy for approximately three years. My kids and other speech students had shared with me that they do not feel comfortable in their own bodies. They move and squirm because they do not feel comfortable. After a session of yoga, they feel more grounded and comfortable.
A typical session depends upon how wiggly or tired and lethargic the students appear. I start the speech session as a group. If students are moving around, I will have them do "get it all out pose" where they stomp their feet on the floor as hard and long as they want to get their energy out. Sitting up straight helps with breathing, which mindfully helps the student relax and helps with speech. Inhaling and exhaling raises awareness of breath. A warm-up with ocean breath connects breath to movement. Shoulder rolls warm up the throat center.
I then have them take their speech turns and between each turn, I give them a pose to do to stay focused and not bother other students. Articulation students can practice their words and sounds while simultaneously doing a pose. I have a yoga mat in the corner of the room where students can do the poses on the yoga cards that I have given them. If frustration occurs during intervention, I have them punch the air as hard as they want and for as long as they want and then smile when finished.
If the entire group is unfocused, I will have everyone in the group do a 5 minute sequence. The poses simultaneously work on spatial concepts and awareness, body awareness, emphasis on the breath, which helps speech production, and the parasympathetic nervous system which stimulates the relaxation response enabling a much more productive therapy session.
For more on yoga poses for speech therapy, see our corresponding photo gallery.
Christine L. Ristuccia, M.S. CCC-SLP, is president of Say It Right.