I would like to share a confession: I am a yoga teacher who can’t do a headstand. Phew! In my life, I work in truths, and the truth is, I know how to do a headstand, step by step, working my way into it. I also know I am anatomically and physically capable of doing a headstand. My limitation in this case is fear; fear of falling over, fear of hurting myself, fear of the unknown mostly. I know my limitation and I work with it, and one day, with perseverance, I shall overcome it.
In our family limitations are something we are very familiar with. Three of our family members are on the Autism Spectrum, with my son Bailey, being non-verbal and severely autistic. Our life is pretty different from a typical family but we live it fully and joyously. What this means though is that routines are extremely important. When introducing new people, places, or activities it is a planned event with strategies that would make a military general envious. Sometimes to accomplish simple achievements, ones that others might take for granted like riding a bike, it takes weeks, even years to accomplish. However, when we succeed in mastering something, the reward is so sweet after all the perseverance it took to get there.
Yoga for us is far more than an exercise practice. Yoga is a tool that is woven into the success of our daily lives. The Bhagavad Gita says “Yoga is the journey of the Self through the Self”; through the practice of self observation we learn about ourselves and what our boundaries are. Often for Bailey, too much stimulation, through noise, bright light, texture of clothing, too many people or anxious energy, can all be overwhelming and push him to meltdown status. A meltdown usually includes tears, uncontrollable anger and sadness, and just an overall sense of being overwhelmed. When we reach this level it is very hard to come back from and the day is often written off.
When we know the boundaries of ourselves we can use the tools of yoga to work within those parameters and expand them.
Pranayama, the tool of moving energy on the breath is a technique we use often. A long, deep, Durga breath in the belly helps Bailey to ground himself and it slows the tears when he is feeling overwhelmed. By focusing on the breath it also limits the amount of sensory input to the brain that may be overwhelming him in the first place.
We use the Asana practice or postures to add deep pressure to the head, the arms, the legs, and back, making Bailey feel safe and grounded when the world doesn’t make sense. Child’s Pose brings back the safety of the womb and it allows his visual input to be minimized. Moving through the poses also helps to release built up energy and agitation in a constructive way.
Our Meditation practice might not be typical but finding one thing to focus on, again, helps to relieve the sensory overload from everything else as well as helping to recover from a meltdown. In therapy, they call it redirection.
We live our yoga, on our mat and off our mat. We also believe in Tapas, the energy of transformation; knowing that what our limitations and boundaries are today, with practice, might not be the same tomorrow. We also practice Santosha: having gratitude for who you are, what you have, exactly where you are in this moment, knowing that it is beautiful and the way it should be.
Our yoga may not be the kind you see in Yoga Journal, but what I love most about it is that it isn’t about what you look like or what you can’t do. Both Bailey and Yoga have taught me it is about what you can do and that possibility is endless. Did I mention that Bailey can do a perfect headstand?
Amber is a joyful parent and grateful teacher of Yoga at Janati Yoga School. She is RYT200, is currently working on her RYT500 and is also trained in Yoga for the Special Child Level 1. She enjoys sharing her love and passion for yoga with anyone who has the want and will to try! Flexibility not required.