If you want to start teaching yoga to special needs students, you might want to do some research before you begin offering these classes.

This guide will cover altering your classes to suit particular needs, including:

  • 9 Key Tips On Teaching Yoga To Those With Special Needs
  • 3 Skills You Should Prioritise When Teaching Yoga To Special Needs Students
  • How To Get Started Teaching Yoga To Those With Special Needs

Before we get straight into our tips, if you’re yet to get your qualification, then why not enquire about one of our yoga teaching courses here at OriGym? 

You can find this and more in our downloadable course prospectus here.

9 Key Tips On Teaching Yoga To Those With Special Needs

special needs yoga class

Any class member with additional needs may require some alterations to your usual yoga class plan, which is why it could be a good idea to have classes dedicated to making yoga a more enjoyable experience for students that require some extra attention.

Below, we have some tips and suggestions on yoga for special needs students, so you can plan an effective session.

#1 – Consider Your Music Choices In A Special Needs Yoga Class

yoga for special needs

Depending on the disabilities that your class has, it might be helpful for you to avoid using music or at least lower the volume.

For example, some people who are on the autism spectrum (ASD) may be sensitive to sounds. Auditory sensitivities are extremely common among children and adults with autism, and so creating classes that are quiet and don’t have any sudden sounds could really benefit their overall experience. 

If your students feel safe in the knowledge that they can have their yoga class without fear of any sudden noises or unexpected sounds, they could actually enjoy the class and not feel worried. 

However, this isn’t the case for every person with a disability. In fact, in some cases it could be beneficial to include certain kinds of yoga music.

It would be incredibly important to get some knowledge of the disability from each member of your class to ensure that you aren’t alienating anybody. This would then mean you can divide the class into 2.

yoga special needs students

One could be for those who would prefer silence throughout the class, and some who enjoy calming music to accompany the practice. 

In fact, there is such a thing as music therapy for individuals with ASD. You could ask each individual in the class (or their guardian if their disability permits them to make their decisions) if they enjoy certain music. 

You could test it out on groups of clientele that have the same taste. For example, if you have 50% of people who prefer less stimulating atmospheres, then you can have a safe-space yoga class.

teaching yoga to special needs students

On the other hand, you may see some similarities between people who would enjoy a gentle tone in the background of their class.

You could then hold another class that permits this. Before you do this though, it would be a good idea to share the playlist that you intend to play before the class. This would give the students time to listen to it prior and know what to expect.

Sometimes sound can be alarming to those with particular disabilities due to the nature of the unexpectedness of the sound. However, if it is something they’re able to become familiar with prior to the class, it could reduce any element of surprise and increase their overall enjoyment.

 

#2 – Some Special Needs May Be Physical As Well As Mental

how to teach special needs yoga

When teaching yoga to special needs students, you need to keep in mind that ‘disability’ is a huge blanket term for many different disabilities, and while some may be mental, others may be physical. 

This is why prior to onboarding students, you should get a full fitness consultation done, which will help you to understand their disability and what assistance they may need to enjoy their class to the full potential. 

Some disabilities will need more assistance than others, for example, some students that have disabilities such as the following may need more physical and practical assistance:

  • Cerebral palsy
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Amputations
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Arthritis

These can have various ranges of extremity, so finding out what kind of assistance they might need and also the consent to provide any hands on assistance is important. 

This way, you can teach variations of yoga poses to suit those who may be in a wheelchair or who have limited range of motion.

special needs and yoga

This again reinforces the importance of not alienating your clients, it is vital that you make the classes for their abilities. On the other hand, there might be disabilities that make it difficult more so on the mental side of things. 

This means that, while their body may be completely able, their mind could struggle to keep up with particular poses or they could be easily triggered by things in the studio. This could include disabilities such as:

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (including Asperger’s Syndrome)
  • ADHD (Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder)
  • NVLD (Non-verbal learning disorder)

These can even sometimes be classified as invisible disabilities as, because the spectrum is so wide, there are hugely varied severities. 

With that in mind, the bottom line is to ensure you are well equipped to deal with the disability of your students. If you don’t feel equipped or you are not able to cater for particular severities then you may have to refer the student to a more well equipped yoga teacher.

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#3 – Consider Changing Your Class Size For Special Needs Students

yoga for students with special needs

Class sizes matter when it comes to teaching yoga for special needs students. Larger classes can become overwhelming for those with certain disabilities. 

For example, people who struggle with social interaction may find larger classes intimidating. By making classes smaller but more frequent, you can avoid any losses and focus on making the class an enjoyable experience. 

Up to 8 people could be a good sized class, depending on the severity and type of disability that they have. If you’re working with students that have more severe disabilities than it is important that you have the capacity to attend to them all individually.

This will help to ensure that you have what it takes to concentrate on making the class enjoyable and more importantly safe.

leading yoga for special needs

Some disabilities are more susceptible to struggling in social situations than others, for instance things like: 

  • Asperger’s syndrome (Autism spectrum disorder)
  • ADHD
  • Deafness 
  • Blindness

These are the kinds of disabilities that make general communication more difficult, so thinking about the class size if you have students with disabilities such as the aforementioned and alike you should consider limiting the numbers.

#4 – Make Your Classes Fun For Special Needs Students

lead special needs yoga

You really want to make sure that your classes are fun, they should be a place for students with or without disabilities to feel as though they’re taking a break from reality and enjoying themselves.

So what are some ways you can inject some fun into your yoga classes?

First, find out what your class actually enjoys. Do they enjoy certain types of music or themes? If they do, choosing yoga class themes based on what they collectively enjoy could make it a much more enjoyable experience.

For example, people with the following disorders / disabilities can often show tendencies of hyperfixation:

  • Autism spectrum disorders (ASD)
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Schizophrenia
  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders

With that in mind, there are some particular themes that they may seem more passionate about. If you can reach a common ground among your class on changing themes week on week, based on the passions of each class member, you could create a comfortable and enjoyable environment. 

Aside from that, you could incorporate social events for your classes and begin creating a team of like-minded yoga lovers that can become friends and gain some sociability from your yoga classes.

#5 – Consider Extra Safety Precautions For Your Special Needs Students

yoga with special needs students

Safety precautions are something that should be considered in yoga classes for every ability, but depending on the disability that your student has, some may need extra precautionary measures than others.

For example, if you have any students that struggle with their balance more than what would be typical of an able bodied student, it would be a good idea to invest into things like:

  • Thicker yoga mats
  • Wall fixtures to hold onto 
  • Extra yoga equipment such as blocks and straps to assist with poses.

These are simple upgrades that can help to keep your students that bit safer in your care. 

Aside from the equipment, the general tempo of your yoga class might need to be slowed down to ensure any movements aren’t going to impose any risk of injury.

yoga teaching for special needs students

The good thing is that yoga is typically performed slowly regardless, so think more about the type of yoga style that you’re going to teach. 

Often, the go-to is Hatha yoga (simply because of its slower, more gentle nature) and there are plenty of variations to choose from when it comes to simplifying the poses.

You should also consider the students who are in wheelchairs. You could take some guidance from chair yoga classes to adapt your poses to fit people who only have movement capabilities within their upper body. 

Consider the disability then decide on the safety precautions you need to implement since they can vary dramatically.

#6 – Do Your Research On The Disabilities Your Students Have

being a special needs yoga teacher

We briefly mentioned earlier the importance of researching the disability that your student has, this is crucial in ensuring that you can run a class that is as enjoyable and inclusive as possible.

While before offering the classes at all you should do some research into the most common disabilities, this doesn’t mean that you should consider your research done. 

You should always keep learning about how yoga can benefit those with disabilities and how to make your practice as effective as possible.

Everytime you get an inquiry from a new class member, ask about their disability. The more detail that you can get from them or their guardian the better, try to find out things such as:

  • Triggers
  • Likes and dislikes
  • Disability severity
  • Age

These will help you to teach special needs yoga that will be enjoyable and inclusive without running the risk of alienating any students regardless of their disability.

#7 – Implement A Consistent Structure For Special Needs Yoga Classes

yoga poses for special needs children

Finally, one last thing that is important when it comes to certain disabilities is the structure of it all. 

With some learning disabilities, structure and routine is incredibly important, particularly for those with ASD. People who have autism spectrum disorder can have the tendency to feel more comfortable with routines and structure.

This would mean keeping your classes at the same time each week. Using similar (at least) routines each week would be an ideal way of not shocking any participants.

For example, if you do want to introduce new poses or styles of yoga, it is a good idea to introduce it gradually so that you don’t alarm any students with unexpected changes. 

Even if you decide on introducing one new pose every week, soon after you could have a whole new routine that has been implemented without triggering anybody.

If you’re looking to lead better yoga sessions for those with special needs, our other articles can help:

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3 Skills You Should Prioritise When Teaching Yoga To Special Needs Students

skills for teaching special needs yoga

There are some skills that matter more whether you’re teaching yoga to children with special needs, or adults. With that being said, here are three top skills to prioritise when teaching yoga to special needs students.

Exercise Patience When Leading Special Needs Yoga Classes

special needs yoga classes

Patience is something that is absolutely necessary in a special needs yoga class. Some things may take longer to do, like setting up your class or instructing students. 

For some people, depending on the severity of their disability, it may be harder for them to understand particular instructions. 

Things like using the right visual yoga cues could be more beneficial for your students and having the patience to understand that people learn at different speeds is vital.

Planning & Organisation Are Essential Skills For Teaching Yoga To Special Needs Children

become a special needs yoga teacher

We have reiterated the importance of routines when regarding specific disabilities, and while this isn’t all people, everyone will appreciate the smooth running of a class.

This is because it becomes much easier for them to know what to expect, there are no sudden changes which could trigger them and thus, makes for a better atmosphere overall.

Planning and organisation is also crucial for you as the instructor. You need to be thinking ahead of potential triggers, researching each class member’s disability and having a well thought out plan that will make for an enjoyable experience for all class members regardless of their disability.

Good Communication Is Key In Any Yoga Class For Special Needs Students

yoga for special needs teacher training

Communication skills are important in many different walks of life, but when you’re teaching a class that requires more care you may need to think about this some more.

For example, if you may typically raise your voice if you’re not heard at the back of the class this may not be appropriate for those who find shouting triggering. Instead, you could still communicate effectively by moving around the class and speaking in a regular tone.

The point is that you should be thinking before you speak and not to expect that students can adapt as easily as this may not always be the case.

How To Get Started Teaching Yoga To Those With Special Needs

leading yoga classes for special needs

So, is there special needs yoga teacher training or can you create a class for varied abilities with any yoga training?

First, you will need a Level 3 in Yoga Teaching to teach yoga to any ability. This is typically a minimum of 200 hrs, but the more the better, especially if you lack experience before training.

It is good to check prior to applying for roles if you need a specific qualification as this can be subjective job to job.

However, one thing you may need when dealing with children or disabled people of any age is a DBS clearance certificate.

yoga classes for special needs

You can apply for this on the UK government website here. It is simple and having this under your belt is likely to make you a much more preferable and prepared candidate compared to others who don’t. 

We would recommend looking for yoga for special needs teacher training if the place of work you want to work requires it but, the standard 200 hrs or more is likely to be accepted. 

The bottom line is that you should always check with the job you’re applying for, it can vary dramatically so ensuring you either gain further qualifications like a Level 4 in Advanced Yoga Instructing, or specific training for disabilities.

Before You Go!

Whether you’re starting classes for children or adults with disabilities, hopefully you feel more confident in starting to build a class that is a safe space. 

Don’t forget, if you’re ready to venture out and take the first step, enquire today about one of our yoga courses here at OriGym. Find this and more in our downloadable course prospectus

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About the Author: Kimberley Mitchell

kimberley mitchell origym authour
Having gained a B.A Hons degree in Media, Culture and Communications, Kimberley has gained experience in areas of web journalism, website production and marketing. Alongside this, Kim expanded her knowledge and passion for fitness, by becoming a fully qualified fitness instructuor and personal trainer. Kim has also gained specialist qualifications in yoga, nutriton, spin and many more. After working in the industry as a PT, Kimberley went on to study an MA in Digital Marketing and continues to expand her knowledge in the industry. Her main focus is to keep up with current trends and communications with a focus around health & fitness, writing and being creative.

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