3 Benefits of Yoga for Florida Autistic High Schoolers

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Autism affects many lives. It greatly impacted mine. I had the opportunity to teach six yoga, breathing and anger management workshops for autistic teens at Nathan B. Forrest and First Coast High Schools in Jacksonville FL. These 60 Florida autistic high schoolers and I experienced how effectively yoga works. In 45 minutes we noticed marked significant change in mood, behavior and cognitive abilities. Incredible!

3 Benefits of Yoga were easily observable. Each one was instant, tangible and experienced based.

1. Change in Mood – Increased Happiness. We laughed a lot! Celebrated our successes. It’s awe inspiring to see how celebration like clapping hands and high fives make a difference. Celebrating produced increased willingness and ability for the teens to learn faster while having fun. Together we invented the “high thumb” it’s like a high five except you give each other a thumbs up and push your thumb into theirs. As the yoga practice progressed we observed collective and instant innovation taking place among the students. Finishing a pose they were proud they’d lean forward give me a thumbs up and press their thumb into mine and smile. The smiles just melted my heart.

2. Change in Behavior – Calmer. Yoga helps you to calm you down. At one point we had a heighten sense of nervous energy in the room. One teen demonstrated his nerves by hopping around the room without noticing people or the desks in the room. I began to teach them to breath through their nose. He stop jumping, listened to the other teens breathing and he quietly sat down. His nerves were calmed by hearing the breath and soon he was joined the crew in breathing. Amazing! In fact they were all quiet. Soon they also were able to communicate clearly and help each other to follow along. The standing and balancing poses created a sense of calmness. You could feel it in the room. We all focused on one thing, balanced on one leg and took deep nostril breaths. Which for those of you who have and/or work with autistic high schoolers is a monumental task in and of itself. This is from only 45 minutes with a group! The longer we practiced their behavior became increasingly calmer with gentler body movements and softer voices. Some of these kids had severe range of motion limitations and were so calm they were able to focus enough to practice with us. If you think you cannot practice yoga because you’re not flexible enough. Think again!

3. Change in Cognitive Abilities –  Easily Able to Demonstrate. They learned to use yoga and breathing to help them feel better while in school. Some were able to tell me what they could do if they were having a bad day at school. One guy sat up tall when asked how to handle a bad day and said, “Take three breaths.” Touched his nose, closed his eyes and on his own demonstrated nostril breath. Remember this is new information. I’d only been working with them for 30 minutes at this point.  The kids were thrilled to show or tell me how their body felt after taking just three breaths in child’s pose. Their retention of new experienced based  information was groundbreaking. They remembered names of poses and easily demonstrated them. On their own they began to teach each other to breath through their nose!

In essence yoga works! In 45 minutes these kids now have a chance at being able to calm themselves down. We saw significant change in mood, behavior and cognitive abilities. These teens are smart! They each have their own way of seeing the world. Their own challenges to live with that are unique to them. Yet in the midst of all their living with, they smile. Willing to try new exercises like yoga. We worked together as a unit and cheered each other on. These kids are shining examples of pure spirited human beings. They are now empowered to create their own happiness, calm and shift their thinking. May we ever strive to smile no matter what. Give high thumbs. Try something new and take deep breaths.

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Be Present: Four Things To Listen To

The 4 things I’ve learned to listen to…

I practice yoga and it has taught me to bring a keen level of awareness to my life. I’ve learned to listen to four specific areas of awareness. All areas of my life have been impacted on a fundamental level based on this simple practice of being present. Be present, you just might be missing out on your life.

1. Listen to the excitement – When I’m doing something that I’m passionate about I light up like a Christmas tree. I know I need to move forward with it or towards it. I feel a source of immeasurable energy rise up inside. I can do and be everything all at the same time. I could talk about it for hours, smile about it, dance to it, experience it and be endlessly joyful. Stop, listen, and  look.

2. Listen to the angry – When someone makes a comment and I immediately bristle, I stop. I take a look at it and explore the fact that there maybe truth there. If I get angry, it usually means I’m bringing the past into my present even though the past has no place in the present moment. Stop, listen, and look. 

3. Listen to the nothing – There are some experiences I that I feel nothing about. It’s rare, but it does happen.  I’ve learned that even when I feel nothing it’s also a moment to bring my awareness to. Once explored if there’s nothing there, then there’s nothing there. Stop, listen, and take a deeper look.

4. Listen to the persistent – If it keeps coming back up again, I take a look at it. I experienced two weeks not long ago that everyone I met was wearing the color purple. I don’t know why, but in my conscience was the color purple and it was manifesting it’s self every where I went. I still don’t know what that was about, but I took a look because it was so apparent. In your life there maybe a person, feeling, or experience that keeps coming back up. Stop, listen, and look.

Noticing what occurs for you in your body, mind, heart, and emotions will tell you about how you are as a person. What you’re thinking, language, practices, and ways of being are. What you value and even the sensitive parts you don’t want anyone else to go into. Notice what you notice every where you go: what gets you excited, angry, feel nothing, and what’s persistent in your life? Notice like your an observer just looking on as you move through your day. I’m inviting to stop, listen, and look. Be present, you just might be missing out on your life.

As Much as I Dream

“Only as high as I can reach I can grow,

Only as far as I can seek can I go,

Only as deep as I look can I see,

Only as much as I dream can I be.”

Light bulb moment: I am living my dream life; as a life coach, writer, and yogi. I know it’s true because; today all the lights were on, heart beating fast, and proudly wearing a 100 watt smile. Viola! I’ve lived a dream day! It’s true, “only as much as I dream can I be.” Please tell me, what’s your dream?

Turn to Stone

“Let’s take a better look, beyond a story book, and learn our souls are all we own. Before we turn to stone…” Ingrid Michaelson

There’s a moment in time that you know you must jump and go all out. Or sit down. Watching a dance performed on the wildly popular TV show So You Think You Can Dance to the song ‘Turn to Stone’ by Ingrid Michaelson prompted me to take a deeper look at humanity. The dance took my breathe away and gave me chills, tears, and a sense of awe in return.

Perspective has shifted, this is the moment. There is no other moment in which to live. A burning desire to  take the leap of faith. Heart beating so loud, as if it would pop out and float into the world. To live fully as you’ve dreamed must happen. There are small moments when the bed beckons. You may want to climb in and pull the covers over your head. Then out the blue and from a random person kind words are spoken. Water to a dry and thirsty soul. The fire builds again and you dance. Whirling in your element once again. The air is fresh, the sky clear, and the light is back in your eyes. This dance of life happening right now is breathtaking.