Saturday, March 7, 2015

Yoga Visual: Sharing Yoga with Portland's Special Needs Community

Hi everyone! Sorry for the delay, but...(in other, semi-related news), this humble blogger is almost done with her thesis! So I know you won't hold my lateness against me, will you? :)

Okay, okay, so that being said, my brain fry is preventing me from coming up with a smooth segue in to today's blog topic, so let's just get right into it. Movement! Safe spaces! Activity! Learning opportunities! We all deserve that, don't we? But sometimes it's difficult for parents of children with special needs to find guided physical activities that are designed specifically around their children's needs and abilities. That's a shame, because movement is a powerful teaching tool, and it's important for keeping our bodies and minds healthy.

Cindy Hurlbert, a George Fox alum, recognized this issue and thought that kids on the autism spectrum should have the opportunity to learn life skills in a safe environment while also increasing their coordination, strength, and body awareness. And so, from Cindy's experience with the special needs community and her love of yoga, Yoga Visual was created.

A recent post on the Yoga Visual Facebook page reads: Yoga for Special Needs = yoga adapted to meet each child's needs and capabilities, Yoga for Special Needs = empowerment and tools to help themselves.

“I really feel that way about structuring yoga for the special needs population,” Cindy says. “I want the kids to leave with tools that they can use outside the yoga studio. Everyone should have access to the benefits of yoga.”

Benefits like strength, balance, coordination, and flexibility, but also increased focus, confidence, relaxation, and self-regulation. Yoga can also help promote language and communication skills—after all, body language is the language we all share—as well as give opportunities to connect oneself to others. One student even asked Cindy to write down a savasana relaxation poem he learned in yoga class because he thought it would be helpful for his bedtime.

Cindy is a fluent American Sign Language interpreter and a registered yoga teacher who has completed two 200-hour teacher training programs. The first was taught in conjunction with the Deaf Yoga Foundation, where she learned how to teach Deaf-friendly yoga classes using American Sign Language. The second was an “outstanding program” put together by Dina Lang at Santosha Yoga, a studio that promotes the idea of of yoga for every body. Cindy has also taken a Yoga for Special Needs training course, and has been working with the special needs community in Portland and Beaverton for years.

One of Cindy's feedback tools that is especially
helpful for kids with speech expressive and
receptive delays.
After becoming fluent in ASL, Cindy worked for the Portland public school system as a classroom interpreter. She worked there for five years before switching to a more steady job so she could reach her goal of earning her Bachelor of Arts degree, which she did. She moved up in the company to become Assistant Vice President of Internal Audit, but after the unexpected death of one of her mentors (who was also chairman of the Beaverton School Board), Cindy decided to leave after 17 years with the company.

“He was my age,” Cindy says of her mentor. “It was a shocking loss, and it caused me to take a step back and reflect on what was important in my life. As I evaluated options, I kept coming back to my experience with the kids I had worked with before and how much I had enjoyed working with them, and how much I learned from them every day.”

So she began working as a substitute instructional assistant for special education programs in the Beaverton School District and was eventually placed at Sunset High School to support kids on the autism spectrum.

“Just like my past experience, I learn something from them every day.”

Cindy usually teaches her yoga sessions at Santosha Yoga, where her interest in yoga really took off, but in April, as part of Autism Awareness month, she will be teaching a class for children with special needs at VillaSport, an athletic club in Beaverton. This is particularly exciting because so far, no other athletic club in the area has offered classes to the special needs community. Cindy is excited to explore the possibilities that may come with special needs yoga being made available at different venues.

So check it out! I happen to know that Cindy is a great person who is able to think quickly and creatively, and is very well qualified. For more information, head over to the Yoga Visual website and Facebook page.

(**Note: Yoga classes for the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community are not yet available but will be coming soon!)

Also, enjoy this great weekend weather and take the opportunity to get in some movement of your own! :)

1 comment:

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