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Managing My Autism with Yoga

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People across the world do yoga regularly. Sometimes called moving meditation, yoga improves mindfulness, fitness, and sleep quality while reducing stress. As an autistic adult, I’ve benefited in those ways and more from the flexibility, strength, and awareness taught through yoga.

I started practising at home because I was having lower back pain. I was in my mid-20s and working in retail, so I was standing and walking for most of my week. I couldn’t afford good shoes or a chiropractor. After a particularly achy shift, I remembered a yoga class I’d gone to with a friend. I’d walked out feeling physically and emotionally refreshed. Why not try it again?

That night, I found Yoga with Adriene on YouTube. I rolled out a mat and, at the end of the hour, I was aware of how stiff and out-of-touch I felt with my entire body. I hadn’t been able to relax or perfectly emulate the poses, but I couldn’t deny that my back and legs felt a little better.

I’ve done yoga almost every day since. I still practice alone in my living room. I have a small collection of equipment and an arsenal of online videos to choose from. This morning habit makes my body feel peaceful like I’ve just finished stimming.

Stimming in autism refers to repetitive body movements, like hand flapping or rocking, that autistics use to better regulate our nervous systems. In plain English, repetitive movements help us think and express our thoughts and feelings better than when we must remain still. Setting aside dedicated time to stim through yoga every day helps me prevent meltdowns and get more work done.

As you might expect, long-term yoga has increased my strength and flexibility. Yoga uses the whole body, appreciates it, and invites you to quietly reflect. Frequent gentle exercise like this was physically therapeutic for the tight muscles in my back, neck, and shoulders and improved my posture.

It also encourages mindfulness of my senses. A hallmark indicator of autism is heightened or reduced sensitivity to sensory stimuli. Interoception is a lesser-known sense that makes you aware of sensations within your body like temperature, discomfort, or hunger. Autism can change the sensitivity of an individual’s interoception.

Interoception problems can be especially tricky because they mean you may not sense why you’re uncomfortable, exactly where the feeling is coming from, or even notice you’re uncomfortable at all until it’s too late. When this happens, it’s stressful and can trigger meltdowns or shutdowns. The best medicine is prevention.

Yoga teaches how to listen to your body and make small adjustments to improve your comfort, which can offset a dull sense of interoception. How does this position feel? Can I name this sensation? How can I change my circumstances to improve my comfort? These questions may be something you take for granted, but to me they are learned skills, helping me manage my disability on and off the mat.

I recommend at-home yoga any time it seems relevant to anyone who will listen. There are dozens of creators across the web who produce guided at-home yoga for free. Most of these platforms are focused on adults, but there are also resources geared specifically for children. If you’re able, I challenge you to try it – just once.

Hailey Wang is a freelance writer for hire on topics surrounding ASD, ADHD, and neurodiversity.

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