Self-regulation is the ability to control our arousal (energy/activity) level. One’s arousal (or alertness) level refers to how calm and composed, how alert and focused, how anxious and restless, or how energetic one is at a particular moment. When we are functioning at an optimum arousal level, we are calm, alert, focused, ready to learn, and able to perform our daily tasks.
The transition from external regulation to self-regulation is one of the most important tasks of growing up. Healthy self-regulation is related to the capacity to tolerate the sensations of distress that accompany an unmet need.
Yoga offers many tools for the development of self-awareness and effective self-regulation for everyone, including children with sensory processing dysfunction. These tools and techniques enhance sensory processing and one’s ability to maintain an optimal state of alertness. Yoga class provides an excellent opportunity to offer children with special needs a multi-sensory experience that includes vestibular, proprioceptive, olfactory, and auditory input, all of which can support self-regulation. Controlling and deepening the breath are integral aspects of a children’s yoga class that can move disregulated children away from their usual fight or flight mode toward their restorative parasympathetic nervous system.
To quote the creators of the Alert Program for Self-Regulation, “To know thy nervous system is to love thy nervous system.” The alert program uses the analogy of a car engine running too high, too low, or just right, to help children better understand their own nervous systems. During yoga class, connections can be made between sensory-motor and breathing exercises, how they tend to affect “one’s engine”, and ultimately how they can be incorporated into everyday life situations “to get one’s engine just right”.
Working with Sensory Processing Issues:
• Weight bearing poses that give strong feedback to muscles and joints, and deep-pressure provide proprioceptive input, which increases body awareness and is grounding and organizing.
• Movements such as bouncing, jumping up and down, and rocking back and forth provide linear vestibular input, which tends to be organizing.
• Activities that involve spinning, rolling and turning the body upside down provide a different type of vestibular input that tends to be alerting and arousing.
• The same vestibular input can have a calming or exciting effect, depending on the child and the circumstance.
• You can rarely overdo proprioceptive input but you can overdo vestibular input.
• Olfactory and auditory inputs can be used to regulate arousal levels as well.
• The most beneficial regulatory tools we can provide children are those they can incorporate independently in discrete and socially appropriate ways.
• Connections can be made during yoga class between specific movements and activities and their impact on one’s arousal level to help children better understand their own nervous systems.
• Many children need to move and take in sensory-motor input in order to pay attention.
• Over-stimulation or under-stimulation can impact a child’s functional abilities.
• We need to be sensory detectives to determine what kind of movement or sensory-input a child is craving so we can provide them with what they need and ideally teach them to provide it to themselves.