Teaching yoga for special needs can be a rewarding experience. But I have found that each class is as unique as the population you are teaching. Here are some great tips to use as you work for any fitness class with individuals with special needs.
First of all, I knew that I needed to be aware of the class I was teaching. One season it was filled with Special Olympics clients so I needed to do stretches and strengthening for the various sports. Another had a heavy autistic population so I knew I needed to have students do yoga games with the purpose of teaching social skills and interacting with one another. Another season it was stress relief since many of my participants suffered from anxiety and fear. I would always start class with an introduction of the class, a brief answer and question session about each person’s week, and sometimes things we were grateful for.
I found that I needed to vary directions to the class I was teaching, from showing steps in a simple form and cueing with both visual, kinesthetic, and verbal to having the participants repeat the directions and taking turns with each person having a turn being a co-teacher or demonstrator. Yoga for a special needs group is typically not quiet and you do a lot more talking than with other classes you might teach. Music is still the same but I try to find tunes that are pleasant to the group. I find that like any class, it is helpful for review moves learned the previous week. But there is nothing wrong with trying something new or having more than required for the class but having more activities than you have scheduled time for. If someone or persons particularly liked some tunes, I would find similar tunes for the following week.
Next, using a visual schedule proved helpful for both me, my staff, and students. They knew what was happening and it kept me on track. Also, I had an inspirational poem that was geared to something I wanted them to think and ponder during the week. During a few seasons, I gave fun homework such as dressing thematically, colors or bringing something inspirational to class or a prop for the exercise. I always ended my class with a poem that was either themed, season related, or thought to provoke. When someone we knew was struggling, I would encourage at the end to stop and pause with good thoughts or prayers for that particular individual. I would also take the time to ask that person about that particular need the following week. Also, due to my Christian beliefs, I chose not to give the Namaste (my God salutes your God in me) ending but instead gave the glory of the practice to my fellow teachers and students. Many times they applauded my staff. It brought instant connection with all participants.
Lastly, remember to have fun. The great thing about working with a special population, you will rarely hear a complaint and they are your biggest supporters when you make a mistake. By learning to accept everyone as they are, you are not only teaching them to be free to try new things but being prepared for the challenges of life.
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