Yoga Therapy for Autism

Oct 7th, 2017

Autism is a disorder of neural development characterised by impaired social interaction and verbal and non-verbal communication, and by restricted, repetitive or stereotyped behaviour. Symptoms gradually begin after the age of six months, become established by age two or three and tend to continue through adulthood. If detected early, there may be ways to help autistic individuals to face life in adulthood.
“Yoga is the only Self Development System which works to shape up the individual itself.” Yoga therefore aids to improve and understand oneself through the journey ahead.

What is Autism?

Autism is a group of neuropsychiatric disorders or a serious of developmental problem. It is also referred as autistic spectrum disorders (“ASD”). It is a complex neurobehavioral disorder in the early childhood, which is diagnosed under the age 3 and last through adulthood.

The main signs and symptoms of autism involve communication, social interactions and repetitive behaviours.

A child with autism may either have a sudden drop in Bouncy Castle talking or have problems talking with people. They either stop looking at people’s eyes or avoid direct eye contact with others. They could have certain repetitive behaviours like speaking the same thing again and again, throwing objects repetitively or similar behaviours.

Some severe cases limit normal life activities and needs institutional care both physically and mentally.

Autistic individuals could live in world of their own and ignore the happenings round them. However, not all people with autism are nonverbal. In some case, they are extremely intelligent. One therefore needs to understand the symptoms for proper diagnosis. In most cases, there is no cure for autism. Due care and early treatment can nonetheless make a big difference in their lives. Yoga


Each child with ASD may have his/her own individual pattern of problems or behaviour. But overall, it is categorised into three different areas, social development, communication, and behaviour.

Problems with socialisation
• Poor eye contact
• Failure to respond to their names
• Appear not to hear others at time
• Appear unaware of other feelings
• Appear to be in own world
• Do not ask for any help or request for anything

Problems with communication
• Delay in or lack of spoken language
• Stammer or say incomplete sentences
• Difficulties with starting or continuing conversation
• Inflexible or repeating use of same words
• Do not appear to understand simple questions

Repetitive and inflexible behaviours
• Repetitive body movements such as jumping, hand-flapping or spinning in circles
• Visual self-stimulatory behaviour like eye gazing or looking at objects
• Auditory stimulatory behaviour like repeating sounds or notes in order to hear them
• Oral self-stimulatory behaviour like grinding the teeth or putting objects in mouth
• May be sensitive to touch, sound or light, which is called tactile system
• May have repetitive smelling behaviours such as smelling an object before use or smelling the hands


According to the Autism Society, there is no known single cause for autism. It is however generally accepted that it is caused by abnormalities in brain structure or function. Brain scans show differences in the shape and structure of the brain in children with autism versus in neurotypical children. Researchers are investigating a number of theories, including the links among heredity, genetics and medical problems.

Researchers have studied four possible causes of primary ASD. These are:
• Genetic factors – Certain genetic mutations may make a child more likely to develop an ASD.
• Environmental factors – During pregnancy, a child may be exposed to certain environmental factors that could increase the risk of developing an ASD.
• Psychological factors – People with ASD may think in certain ways that contribute towards their symptoms.
• Neurological factors – Specific problems with the development of the brain and nervous system could contribute to the symptoms of ASD.

Yoga Therapy
With autism, the action of the mind is often disintegrated with the action of the body. Yoga therapy for autism focuses on overall individual development of the child to improve strength, flexibility and breathing. A practice of asana and pranayama integrates the body and mind, enhancing connections. The practice helps the child feel calmer and become more comfortable with the body, reducing pain and anxiety. It aids better control of the behavior, learning new skills and enjoyment of social interactions.
Children tend to prefer movements and activities. Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation) is dynamic and generates benefit. Inverted postures let the body rest and rejuvenate. Forward bending is soothing for the entire nervous system and calms the mind. Twisting and backward bending poses improve flexibility and vitality. Pranayama regulates the breath, improving breath thereby controlling emotions and state of mind.

Purvottanasana (Table Pose)

1. Sit in Dandasana with straight legs and hands on the side of the hips.
2. Bend the knees; spread the hands and the legs either mat-width or shoulder-with apart.
3. Press the palms and raise the hips up; then drop the head backwards.
4. Press both hands and legs evenly so the pose resembles a table. With practice, eventually the legs can be straightened with toes pressing on the mat.
5. Stay for 20 to 30 seconds with normal breaths; then relax.

Benefits : This stretches the nervous systems and strengthens the arms and leg

Salamba Sirsasana (Supported Headstand)

1. Place both forearms on the mat with elbows shoulder width apart. Interlock the fingers firmly.
2. Rest the crown of the head on the mat, so that the back of the head is touching the palms which become the support around the head.
3. After keeping the head position, lift the knees from the floor by moving them closer to the head.
4. Stay here with the straight legs – Ardha Sirsasana (Half Headstand), which is for beginners to practise initially.
5. Once you have mastered Ardha Sirsasana, try going into Sirsasana (headstand) next to the wall with the help of a teacher.
6. Inhale, raise both legs up with the inner legs pressed together, toes pointing upwards.
7. Keep the body in a straight line and with locked knees. The elbows and the shoulders should be in line but not spread wide. 8. Stay for 2 to 5 minutes and relax.

Benefits: It improves circulations and vitality. It keeps the mind calm and the brain passive


Halasana (Plow pose)

1. Stay in Sarvangasana (Shoulder Stand), keeping the legs straight. Exhale, take the legs over the head, resting the tips of the toes on the mat.
2. Raise the hips and take it over the head to curve the trunk slightly. Tuck the kneecaps in and lift the thigh, shins, and the ankles. Keep the feet vertical, with heels stretching away from the trunk.
3. Stay in the position, breath evenly for 3 to 5 minutes or longer.

Benefits: This stretches the nervous system and improves flexibility, the brain relaxes.

Viparita Karani (Half Shoulder Stand)

1. Sit on the edge of the Sugatha Prop and hold onto either the side handles or the outer edge of the prop.
2. Lie on the back and raise the legs up straight. Another option is to sit near the slanting edge of the prop and roll over the side to straighten the legs upwards.
3. Once the leg are straight, hold onto the bottom edge handles. Move the back closer to the slanting side. Rest the shoulders and head on the square cushion of the prop.
4. The shoulders and the body trunk are well supported with the body weight resting on the prop. The legs are relaxed. The pose becomes lighter.
5. Stay for about 2-5 minutes with normal breathing. Slightly bend the knees if necessary.

Benefits: This promotes circulation and secretion of hormones, enabling proper functioning of body and the brain. It stretches the entire nervous system and keeps the spine supple.

Padahastasana (Feet and Hands Posture)

1. Stand in Tadasana. Inhale, stretch the arms up.
2. Exhale, stretch the trunk and bend forward, placing the palms either beside the feet or a little further back.
3. Catch the ankles from behind and bend the elbows outwards. Pull on the ankles to stretch the sides of the trunk down and to release the spine.
4. Bring the hips, abdomen, and chest closer to the legs and place the head against the shins.
5. Extent the trunk downward, relaxing the neck and the head. 6. Stay for 20-30 seconds breathing evenly.

Benefits: This pose relaxes the body as the body elongates passively and calms the mind.

Balasana (Child Pose)

1. Sit in Vajrasana. Raise the arms up, pressing the palms together.
2. Lift up the trunk by stretching the arms up. Lengthen the spine and bend forward with the palms forward on the mat.
3. Extend the arms, waist and the chest forward. Rest the forehead on the mat.
4. Stay for 20 -30 seconds.

Benefits: This pose calms the mind, improves digestion and relives fatigue.

Nadi Sodhana Pranayama (Alternative Nostril Cleansing Breathing)

This is an important pranayama as the name states its benefits. Nadi means the veins or arteries which circulate the Prana.
1. Sit in a comfortable posture like Padmasana or Sukhasana.
2. Stretch the left arm forward, resting the back of the left wrist on the left knee. Let the left thumb touch the left index finger in Jnana Mudra.
3. Bend the right arm. Bend the index and the middle finger towards the palm. Bring the ring and the little finger towards the thumb.
4. Press the thumb to block right nostril completely. Inhale slowly and deeply through the left nostril filling the chest. 5. Bend the head down and rest the chin between the collar bone on the head of the sternum.
6. Keeping the left nostril completely blocked with ring and the little finger, now open your thumb and exhale slowly through the right nostril.
7. Repeat the same by inhaling through the right nostril, closing the right and exhale completely through the left nostril.
8. This form one complete cycle, continue about 6 rounds slowly and rhythmically.

Benefits: This helps harmonise the left and right hemispheres of the brain.

Paschimottanasana (Back Extension Posture)

1. Sit in Dandasana.
2. Inhale, raise the hands up; exhale, bend forward and catch the feet.
3. Inhale, pull on the feet and extend the back upwards.
4. Exhale, bend the elbows to the side and take the trunk forward towards the feet.
5. Pull the abdomen and the chest forwards and stay in the pose.
6. Stay in the pose for 20-30 seconds with even breaths.

Benefits: The extreme extension of the back keeps the spine, back and the mind quiet and refreshed.mind quiet, and refreshed.


Autism cannot be prevented but there is a solution to cope with it and move ahead. If there are symptoms of autism in the child, seek professional help for treatment. Many have overcome autism with right treatments.

Yoga therapy is a natural treatment which regulates anxiety and emotions. By taking yoga classes, practitioners share the experience and become part of a community, making new friends. As indicated, yoga is a self-development system. It is a lifelong journey, unifying the sense of perception with the sense of action.

Asana Journal

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