The lights are dimmed, the yoga mats come out and quiet, relaxing music fills teacher Carole Cook’s classroom at Gates Chili Middle School. Her students are ready for their special weekly low-impact yoga practice. Cook begins by projecting a slide showing a picture of a child in the chosen position, or asana. She quietly describes the movements required to achieve each asana, and then aides and therapists gently help their student partners into versions of the pose. The children stretch their spines, helping to realign vertebrae and release pressure on their nerves. The movements strengthen muscles, increase circulation and tone internal organs. This soothing, aided exercise can even help increase core strength, flexibility and joint motion range.
There are smiles around the room, as children do their best to reach for the sky, sit tall and straight, or twist like a pretzel. “It’s the highlight of the week for several of our kids,” said Cook. “It is fun and very relaxing for children who are often tense and tire easily.”
Cook worked closely with occupational and physical therapists Katie Sassone and Amy Piatek to create the program for her students. She and her team use asanas that have been adapted to her students’ abilities. For these children who can’t easily do other physical activities, yoga offers a path to stronger bodies and greater mobility.