Using Therapeutic Yoga in Occupational Therapy

I first discovered occupational therapy in my late twenties, having had many years of being dissatisfied with my work and wondering what path was meant for me. My first year learning about occupational therapy felt like a dream and I felt alive and exhilarated. I fell in love with the holistic nature of the practice and totally believed in the underlying principles of healing through meaningful occupation, being empathetic, client centred and present with the people who needed our help.

Then I started actually working!

Although I still wholeheartedly believe in these principles, embodying them is the challenge! The combination of two different behaviour patterns coming together, each with their own story and idiosyncrasies, means that staying totally present and client centred can sometimes be an elusive state. I have been working as a paediatric occupational therapist for about 9 years now and am also a mother of two young girls, and on a constant journey to stay present and open with the children I work with and my own girls (not that easy believe me!).

I found Therapeutic Yoga after having my first child and it immediately resonated with me. It gave me another tool to use professionally, but also, most importantly it gave me a tool for facilitating my own ability to be a true occupational therapist (and a better mother).

An example of how this practice has helped me to be a better therapist happened just recently. For these accounts of my professional experiences, I will not divulge names or give specifc details of the conditions or diagnosis. In other words (or in ICF terms) I will try and keep it relevant to occupational therapy in terms of activity, participation and environment.

My therapeutic yoga epiphany

After completing a session with one of the children I work with (let’s call him Jack) I was feeling particularly yucky (to put it in technical terms). Unsure whether it was my own stuff or the emotional projection of a very troubled and anxious child I started to reflect on my session. I had been having more difficulty engaging Jack over the last few weeks and seemed to be getting more polite refusals than ever before when offering activities.

After sitting quietly with my breath for 10 minutes and returning to my reflections, I realised one very important thing. I had once again (this has happened on a number of occasions) ended up getting more and more wrapped up in my own plans for the sessions, without allowing for any spontaneity. I recalled an image of Jack mounting the platform swing, laying prone with his arms outstretched and I realised I had totally missed the message he was giving me at the time!

In previous sessions we had played a game of Jack swinging forwards to catch my hands and, instead of picking up on his cue for this game to start, I went into a discussion about goals and introduced a new activity. I had failed to use therapeutic yoga here. As a result, I missed an opportunity for engaging in Jack’s child led ‘just right challenge’ which would have not only provided the appropriate warm up for his body structure and function, but also resulted in him feeling understood and therefore more confident and invested in his occupational therapy session.

The strength of truly meeting another soul without judgement or expectation has been highlighted time and time again when I’ve used therapeutic yoga as my tool of choice during my sessions. Another child (let’s call him Daniel) who is only two and really struggles to move any of his limbs voluntarily, has engaged with a therapeutic yoga practice much to his mother’s surprise. Over a very short amount of time, Daniel has allowed me to share yoga with him on a mat in his front room.

For his first therapeutic yoga session about a month after first meeting Daniel, he not only allowed but even actively engaged in the session by smiling and laughing. His mother turned to me and expressed her disbelief. She reported that it took him near to a year to stop having tantrums when other, various therapists tried to engage him in movement and she couldn’t believe that he had seemed so relaxed during my facilitation.

On these occasions I feel truly blessed to have found this tool and will continue to strive to share it with as many of the children I work with as possible. However, the most important thing for me to focus on to enable this to happen is ensuring my own regular mindfulness practice. More time for this would of course be very welcome. But, for now, the sporadic morning sessions (controlled by my children) and the 10 minutes at the end of each day I dedicate to this will have to do. I will of course always be aiming for more!

Namaste.

Posted in Mindfulness, Occupational Therapy
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