Mention yoga and it conjures up a picture of health-conscious, modern age hippies intoning cryptic chants and contorting their bodies into uncomfortable positions. However, in its most basic form, yoga is a system of physical and mental exercises, originating in India over 3,000 years ago, designed to reinforce the mind-body connection. In particular, yoga’s “pranayamas” (breathing techniques) improve concentration, retention and oxygenate the brain; while its “asanas (poses) strengthen, flex and align the body. These sets of exercises work in tandem to bring about balance in one’s physiological states and clarity in one’s emotional states.
Advocates view yoga as an effective therapy for chronic conditions that are less responsive to traditional therapeutic methods. They note that unlike other physical activities, yoga is not a contest of brute strength, making it easily accessible to all segments of the population, including those with disabilities. It is well-documented that Yoga’s effectiveness as part of the treatment plans for Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, autistic and ADD/AHD patients is well documented. It also shows great promise as a therapy for various speech language pathologies.
What is the common denominator between yoga and speech therapy that makes it a potentially effective tool in this application? The answer is simple…..respiration. For the practitioner of yoga, breath is “prana”, the central energy of the body. Learning to increase this energy can result in a healthier body and mind. Our brain cells require three times the amount of oxygen than other body cells, but we average only about one-seventh of our total lung capacity, which greatly diminishes distribution of that essential brain food. Breathing properly increases oxygen intake.
At the same time, for the SLP, respiration is the basic building block of speech. Sentence production occurs on an exhalation, with quick inhalation between sentences, and lasts between two to fifteen seconds. Completion of each sentence therefore requires adequate breath control using our abdominal muscles and diaphragm. In the case of newborns, those muscles are underdeveloped, and respiration is rapid and irregular rhythmically. But, breathing slows and regulates as the child grows, allowing them to reproduce sounds and acquire language.
Children with disabilities affecting control of the diaphragm and abdominals are likely to exhibit developmental delays in their language acquisition accompanied by the rapid and irregular breath production seen in newborns. Repetitive yogic exercises serve to isolate, strengthen and align the muscles of the child’s neck, shoulder and trunk, the ribs and diaphragm move more freely, breathing becomes less constricted and oxygen flows to the brain, resulting in improved quality of speech production. In short, muscle tone directly impacts one’s ability to communicate.
Muscle tone may be low (hypotonia), high (hypertonia) or fluctuating. The hypotonia of Down syndrome children results in poor coordination of their jaws, lips and tongues. This coupled with a tendency to mouth breathe, due to enlarged tonsils/adenoids and recurrent allergies/colds, affects speech fluency, articulation, and more. Adding yoga to their routines can significantly improve muscle tone, align their bodies, and encourage nasal respiration, all of which result in marked improvements in speech. Cerebral palsy children suffer from either hypertonia or fluctuating muscle tone. In their case, the poses followed by deep relaxation techniques at the end of yoga sessions, cause a normalization of high or fluctuating tones. At the same time, breathing exercises calm and enhance nerve functions for improved motor functions.
Enhancements in muscle tone, motor function, respiration and speech production are just a few of the benefits of yoga. Because it is non-competitive and highly individualized, yoga boosts self-confidence, reduces stress and improves social interactions; and since it is kinetic, practicing yoga encourages the development of vocabulary, decoding, fluency, spatial and metacognition skills. Increasing numbers of SLPs are becoming aware of the many benefits of this ancient art for their patients’ conditions and adding it to their repertoire of therapies.
If you are an SLP looking to enhance your career or seek new challenges contact the Centra team at 800 535 0076 and let us get you started on an exciting new path.