Yoga is supposed to bring about relaxation, helping one to clear their minds of all the dark anxieties that plague them and allowing to attain a state of peace of tranquillity… while also becoming a bit more flexible in the process.
So how I have managed to go 2 and a half decades without it? For me, peace of mind is like an overactive pet, always running away from you whenever you try and catch it. So, when I heard of a class called Yoga for Autism ran by the Be Happy Yoga Project, naturally I was intrigued. The first thing I found myself asking was’ how is autism yoga different from regular autism?
….that wasn’t a rhetorical question by the way, I’m legitimately clueless.
Suffice to say, I decided to give the session a go, seeing as I had nothing to lose. So I journeyed to Leicester on the morning of 13th April 2017 where the session was taking place at LCIL on the edge of Leicester where I met the session’s instructor Dani. I made sure to remove my boots and took my place on a mat and waited for the others arrived.
As the other members entrered the room, I was met with an uneasy pattern.
They were all wearing loose-fitting clothes.
And there was me sat there in my usual long-sleeve purple shirt and jeans. It occurred to me that my lack of dress sense may have sabotaged me for this session. But it was too late to turn back now.
For some reason, I came to the session assuming that there would be a lot of meditation… although in hindsight, I may have been confusing yoga with something I saw in a film(nothing new there).
We commenced with a few stretching activities, which seemed easy at first. I don’t suppose it takes much effort to wave your arms around. Overtime, we tilted our heads to the side, moved around with our eyes (it makes sense in context), flexing our shoulders, raising our legs and hugging our arms to our back.
We also worked on some controlled breathing exercises, such as breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth, as well as breathing in and out through the nose with our finger over one nostril (I have never been more grateful to not have a cold as that could have seriously backfired). Over time, we integrated body movements into that exercise, twisting our arms and legs in all directions. Times like this, I wish I had considered a career as an acrobat.
These were all incredible lessons, and in a normal scenario, I would have taken down notes on my computer, but I had neither my computer, nor my notebook, only my pens, so I decided to take a page out of Guy Pearce’s book from Memento…
…yeah, I basically became a human notepad for the session. At the time, it seemed like a good idea. Of course, I didn’t take into account the excessive scrubbing I’d need to do later.
As the session progressed, I noticed that some of the other participants had difficulty with some of the more limber exercises. But overtime, a lot of improvement came about. And that’s when I remembered how autism can lead to some delays in cognitive development, so for people whose physicality isn’t particularly reactive, the session was perfect for improving their cognition.
One of the movements involved adapting the mannerisms of a cow and a cat (cat=head down, back bent up and cow=head up, back bent up) as an exercise for increasing the spine’s flexibility. I don’t imagine a real cat or cow have ever put so much thought into their posture(!)
We then moved on to some muscle-oriented exercise, including some brief sit-ups, followed by standing on our left leg while keeping our right arm in the air before reversing the position, motioning into a marching format. Now, I’m ashamed to say, even at my advanced age, I still get my left and right mixed up, which made for some… embarrassing results.
We then moved on to retaining a constant balance, clutching one of our feet while keeping one arm in the air. Unfortunately for me, given that I retain the balance of a hippo on stilts, the balancing exercise quickly became hopping act, keeping one arm holding my foot up and one foot infirmly on the ground. There was a brief moment when I thought I was going to tread on my phone lying nearby. I noticed that some of the other people had taken the chance to balance by learning against the wall with one free hand. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done this, then I wouldn’t have ended up turning into a cross between King Kong and a collapsing Jenga tower.
One of our final exercises was shifting our backsides up against the wall and keeping our legs into the air, which is a bit more difficult than one might expect.
From my limited understanding of yoga, I was under the impression that there would be some meditation exercises. And there was… right at the very end.
Despite the new territory, I found the exercises to be incredible in helping you expand your flexing limitations, but also as a way of freeing up your head space from all of that neurotic clutter. You don’t even realize until you’re in the midst of stretching your body that you’ve attained some peace of mind or something close to it… and that was just one 75-minute session. I would definitely be open to doing more yoga in the future, and for autistic people who struggle with anxiety from time to time, I cannot recommend this service more highly. Dani said that we didn’t have to do anything we didn’t want to do, but for the most part, even though this was uncharted territory for them, they still gave it a go. That was a really pleasant thought to take away from the session.
In addition to the various tips I learned from Dani – and remember thanks to the Forearm of Scribbles – I learned a valuable sum that I will carry with me for future reference.
Yoga + shirt and jeans = stiff movements! I have a habit of being hoist by my own petards, in this case, it was my atrocious dress sense. Moral of the story is… invest in joggers!
For more information on the Be Happy Yoga Project, check out their official website: http://behappyyoga.org.uk/