Stretch Your Brain: Yoga Class for Special Kids

  • Vanessa Kahlon, MA, RYI

    Kids develop self regulation, listening skills, and confidence through yoga

    After running ABA programs and working with different modalities in my Masters program, I found that many children with special needs suffer from anxiety. I felt that there was a need for more emphasis on self-regulation and body awareness. That is when I turned to yoga and created Yoga Education for Autism Spectrum.   This yoga program is a tool to help children understand their body and calm their minds.

    The children in my program are the best spokespeople for what I do. So, here they are, five children (see pictures) who have been in my class, Stretch Your Brain, at Arbor Bay School in San Carlos, which is a K-8 multi-disciplinary program for students with learning differences. I’ve been teaching there for the last two years.

    We start with meditation through music. This helps to calm the body and relax the mind and is especially helpful for children who have special needs because it improves focus and self-regulation. Early in the program, most of the children were able to stay focused for no more than 30 seconds. Today they request longer meditations where they can practice their deep breathing.

    The children typically have difficulty standing on one leg and at times will use one another to help them stand on one leg. After two years of doing tree pose weekly, one girl was able to stand on her own for four seconds. She cried, “Look at me, I did it!”   Since then she has been able to increase her balance in every yoga pose that requires her to be on one leg. As she improves her skill, her confidence improves.

    There are two children in the class who especially come to mind when we are working on body awareness. Well before I am finished giving instructions on what to do next, they are in a pose. Often they have moved too quickly and are in the wrong pose. Having the children slow down their bodies is something we work on every day. Having to listen to what is coming up next and moving along with the group is a critical life skill. By mastering the yoga sequence, the children learn to improve their listening skills along with their body awareness. These two students can now do an eight-step sequence and stay with the group.

    Each child is now responsible for teaching part of the class. The child is tasked with coming up with a pose that he or she wants to teach. This increases self-esteem and language skills. Success with this is a very long, systematic process, which utilizes 3D yoga figures and 2D cards. It begins with the child telling the class, “Do this” and getting in the pose. After two years, the children can name and demonstrate the instructions. This increases trust with group, improves social skills, and builds friendships.

    Focus, self-regulation, balance, body awareness, listening and language skills, and social skills – these are some of the important life skills that our program, Yoga Education for Autism Spectrum, emphasizes and helps children with special needs develop for themselves.


                Vanessa Kahlon has been working with families who have children with developmental and learning challenges for over fifteen years. In her various capacities, she has directed and supervised in-home Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) programs for children on the Autism spectrum, facilitated social skills programs using Yoga in both school and community settings. She has extensive training in DIR-Floortime, Sensory Integration Disorder, Early Childhood Mental Health, and Trauma. In addition, Vanessa developed YEAS Yoga Education for Autism Spectrum where she trains other professionals to teach yoga in different cities.


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