Yoga and Meditation Can Help Young Adults with Learning Disabilities Manage Stress and Anxiety
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Yoga and Meditation Can Help Young Adults with Learning Disabilities Manage Stress and Anxiety

by Briana Nahoul, Career Development Coordinator/ILS Instructor, CLE Costa Mesa/Certified Yoga Instructor

Yoga and meditation helps lower stress in students with learning disabilitiesStress and generalized anxiety are two of the largest issues that impact young adults today. Stress and anxiety can present themselves in the classroom, in personal relationships, and in day-to-day functioning. The fantastic news is that there are wonderful resources and practices that can greatly help young adults cope with and manage their stress. This month I would like to discuss the ways in which yoga and meditation can transform the way our CLE population views and manages stress and anxiety.

Yoga and meditation are extremely beneficial in helping our students attain relief, serenity, and a general sense of well-being and contentment. The concepts that are introduced to our students in their yoga practice become excellent coping tools they can implement off the mat as well. Below are some of the key concepts and benefits of yoga and meditation.

Breathing

Perhaps the most valuable coping tool we have access to is our breath. Yoga and meditation have the potential to introduce our students to new ways of breathing that can greatly help to ease their symptoms of stress, anxiety, and even panic attacks. Since the way we breathe can have profound positive effects on our physiological and psychological well being, yoga is a perfect place for students to learn specific techniques and styles of breathing that they can use in every area of their lives.

EXERCISE: Diaphragm Breathing

  • Lay down comfortably on your back with one hand on your heart, the other hand on your abdomen. Relax the muscles in your body, and have the intention of breathing from your abdomen. Watch the hand on your abdomen rise as you inhale, filling your lungs with air and expanding your chest. (If you are breathing from the abdomen, the hand over your heart should barely move, if at all.)
  • INHALE for a count of 4 – Hold the inhale for two seconds-EXHALE for a count of 4-Hold the exhale for 2 seconds
  • TIP – Imagine your stomach is a balloon that is filling with air on the inhale and deflating on the exhale
  • About 6-8 breathing cycles per minute is often helpful to decrease anxiety, but find your own comfortable breathing rhythm and listen to your body.

Posture and Alignment

Yoga for students with learning disabilitiesIn Yoga, students are introduced to exercises that can help counteract unhealthy posture caused by heavy backpacks, hunched shoulders, typing on the computer, and stress.

EXERCISE: Yoga Posture – Rag Doll

  • Start in a standing position.
  • Bend your knees, and fold forward allowing your torso, neck, and head to hang.
  • Grab opposite elbows, and shift the weight forward towards the balls of your feet.
  • TIP – Bend your knees as much as you need to in order to relax the upper body completely, even resting the torso on the thighs if this helps.
  • You may sway the upper body gently from side to side if you choose, or remain still. Let go and allow your torso, neck, and head to hang like a dead weight. Perhaps nod your head yes, and shake your head no to help you release any remaining tension from your neck.

Grounding and Centering

Tree root visualization for students with learning disabilitiesFeeling grounded is an essential component of feeling comfortable and safe in our own bodies. Through yoga and meditation students are able to feel more connected to their physical bodies, as well as their emotions. The yoga postures themselves can help our students feel more grounded and balanced, but in addition it can be helpful to go out into nature or practice a visualization technique.

EXERCISE- Tree Root Visualization

  • In a standing position, set the intention of grounding all four corners of both feet firmly into the floor. (This can be done seated as well.) Focus on this contact between your feet and the earth. Notice how supported you are by the ground underneath you.
  • Imagine that you have roots growing out of your feet and into the ground. Stand or sit up tall and visualize your roots anchoring you into the ground like a tree. Breathe deeply and slowly and use the affirmation “I am grounded.”

Letting Go of the Past

Yoga and meditation can help our students release painful experiences from the past. I believe this is an issue everyone faces, as it is part of the human condition, however a yoga practice can help us to release our past so that we may be more fully in the present moment. Some of the postures practiced in yoga can bring up old emotions that have been suppressed, so it gives us a wonderful opportunity to notice them when they arise, feel them, then let them go.

Surrender

Many of our students have a difficult time with change, which is something we can all relate to. Since a yoga sequence can push us out of our comfort zone, and introduce us to new postures we have never tried before, it gives our students an opportunity to become more comfortable with the unknown. If a posture is uncomfortable and they continue to breathe and remain in the moment, this is a valuable skill that will serve them in other areas of life. Yoga promotes flexibility of the body, mind, and spirit.

Stillness

Meditation for students with learning disabilitiesA yoga and meditation practice is an ideal way for our students to practice being the observer of their thoughts and feelings. In a safe and nurturing environment they can begin to explore and accept what is inside of them, without judgment.

EXERCISE – An Introduction to Meditation

  • Lay down on your back, and start by bringing stillness to the physical body. Relax your muscles, cease all movement, and allow your arms to rest gently at your sides, palms facing up. (This exercise can also be done in a seated position.) Come to a place of absolute stillness in your body with the exception of breathing.
  • Once your body is completely still, begin to engage your diaphragm breathing. Inhale for a count of 4, hold the inhale for 2 seconds, then exhale for a count of 4, hold the exhale for 2 seconds. Do this 5 times, and then begin to let go and breathe naturally.
  • As thoughts come into your mind, simply notice them and imagine that each thought is a cloud in the sky drifting by. As each thought or feeling arises, observe it without judgment then let it go. Maintain stillness in your physical body as well as steady breathing as you practice becoming the observer of your thoughts. Ask yourself: Who is the one noticing my thoughts? Who is the one noticing my feelings? This begins to teach students that they are not their thoughts or feelings, and a new coping tool is born.

Affirmations

Unconditional self-love is a wonderful theme for a yoga and meditation practice. The incorporation of affirmations is powerful, and can be an effective way to improve self-esteem over time. I encourage students to use positive affirmations when negative thoughts about themselves arise.

AFFIRMATION

“I love and accept myself fully, exactly as I am.”
– Louise Hay, Author of You Can Heal Your Life

Unplugging from Technology

Yoga and meditation give our students a much-needed break from the over stimulation day-to-day life brings. During our yoga and meditation classes as CLE, we dim the lights, and technological devices are put away. When students have an hour of the day dedicated to their well-being and personal growth, it can help them to manage the demands of the rest of their day.

CLE Students share how Yoga and Meditation help them

“Yoga helps me feel at ease and appreciate everything that life has to offer. When I practice yoga, I feel less stress overall when doing daily school assignments, group projects, among other things. Without my yoga practice, I would have a harder time eradicating my stress. Not to mention, it has also made me more fit. It helps me with my back problems, and whatever physical pain I am experiencing. There are many reasons why I practice yoga, and I think it is important that people find an even balance between yoga and their individual lifestyles.”
– Ben Rosenmayer, CLE Costa Mesa

“Meditation cools the mind.”
– Charlie Quigg, CLE Costa Mesa

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