Step one: mats out. Step two: breathe deep. Step three: assume poses. Step four: tense and relax muscles. Step five: sing.
According to a study by Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development researcher Kristie Patten Koenig, these five steps, 17 minutes a day, five days a week, for 16 weeks, resulted in a significant decrease in aggressive behavior, social withdrawal, and hyperactivity for autistic students attending District 75’s P.S. 176X in the Bronx. The school serves the largest population of students on the autism spectrum in the nation.
“We found that teachers’ ratings of students who participated in the daily yoga routine showed improved behavior compared with teachers’ ratings of students who did not,” says Koenig, assistant professor of occupational therapy. “Our aim in this research was to examine the effectiveness of an occupational therapy yoga intervention. Our research indicates that a manualized systemic yoga program, implemented on a daily basis, can be brought to public school classrooms as an option for improving classroom behavior.”
Get Ready to Learn, or GRTL, the intervention program used in the study, was designed by occupational therapist and yoga instructor Anne Buckley-Reen in 2008, in collaboration with Barbara Joseph, District 75 deputy superintendent. District 75 is the nation’s largest special education district in an urban public school system. GRTL uses yoga postures, breathing, and relaxation techniques to help energize, organize, and calm students. It helps prepare students mentally and physically for the day’s lessons.
With GRTL training supported by both the district and the participating school, teachers led the daily routine that includes eight minutes of varied postures, three minutes of weight-bearing poses, three minutes of deep breathing to help reduce stress, three minutes of muscle tension and release, and concludes with a circle of song.
GRTL is currently being implemented in more than 500 classrooms in District 75, with significantly disabled students ages 5 through 21. It is also in classrooms in Arizona, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Vermont.
The study, conducted by Koenig, Reen, and Steinhardt doctoral student Satvika Garg, is titled “Efficacy of the Get Ready to Learn Yoga Program Among Children with ASD: A Pretest-Posttest Control Group Design.” It was recently published in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy.