Key Benefits of Yoga for Improving Speech and Learning

October 30, 2013 No Comments » Blog

By Christine Ristuccia, M.S. CCC-SLP,
Speech Pathologist Entrepreneur

I work at a school as a speech language pathologist with children who have stuttering problems, difficulty producing their sounds or are unable to express themselves due to lack of  vocabulary or understanding what others say to them.

When the kids first walk into my room before doing yoga, they are full of energy, so it’s challenging for them to sit down in a chair, focus and learn the lesson for the day.

I can sense their frenetic energy as they sit at the table. Instead of starting the lesson and having to stop due to fidgeting and frenetic energy, I incorporate four-to-five yoga moves which connect breath with movement and cross the midline of the body (e.g. right arm crosses over the left arm). Research has shown that crossing the midline of the body with movement helps to coordinate the two hemispheres (sides) of the brain and that the two sides begin to work together in a synergistic manner.

Another benefit of doing yoga in a learning environment is that yoga moves incorporate knowledge of basic directional concepts such as right and left, up and down. Kids who have challenges with learning these concepts required for following verbally presented instructions in the classroom greatly benefit from learning through yoga.

Following a series of five yoga moves combined with mindful breathing, I decided to interview the students. The general consensus was that after yoga their brains felt ready to learn, whereas before, they were not.

I have noticed a profound difference in my student’s ability to focus, understand and respond to their speech therapy lessons before and after yoga. I’ve seen a difference even after only three-to-five minutes of combining breath with movement.

What is your Yoga?

What is your Yoga?

What about bridge pose? To bridge the gap between yourself and your breath.

I love yoga because it helps me restore a sense of balance and self reflection.  When I wake up in the morning or after a long day, I need a way to reconnect.  I do this through mindfully moving my body.  This could be through a series of asanas (poses linked with breath), a long walk with my kids, alone, or just simply quiet time; doing nothing, being nothing, and not being responsible for anything even if just for a few moments.  Taking this time, helps me recharge and self nurture, so that I can be of service to others.

Many other people, especially children, have their own yoga.  Surfing, shooting baskets, playing with legos, climbing a tree, bird watching, to name a few. These could also be considered forms of yoga.  When I instruct children, I encourage them to find an activity that they enjoy which links them to the present moment and where they come out of the activity better than when they came in.

That in my opinion is yoga.  

Inhale/Exhale Pose-Yogic tool box series

    Tools to deal with default behavior!

Last week we talked about default behavior.  What do you do when life and events get a little heated.  There are specific tools which yoga brings to the table to handle these default behaviors.  When I feel myself getting stressed, or having a tight feeling in my belly which I have come to recognize as fear, I mindfully begin to breathe.

I learned from one of my yoga instructors, her method of staying calm and centered is to say to yourself as  you are breathing, I am breathing in, I am breathing out as you inhale and exhale out of your nose.   This self-talk brings mindfulness to the breath, which in turn calms the mind and the nervous system.  I teach this to my own kids and when I teach yoga to children.

Having  this simple, yet powerful tool, can turn a potentially crazy situation into a calm one by the use of the breath.


Let’s take a look at a theme today and use it in our every day lives. The theme today is, “What is your default when things get a little uncomfortable?”  This can apply to yoga practice and life (off the mat).  Do you flee, distract or indulge yourself, become angry, have fear?  How do we know what our default is?  Being mindful and learning to become an observer instead of a participant.

What is it that you are avoiding?  The way we handle difficult things can be an opportunity for growth and can enlighten us about ourselves.  Are we avoiding growth.  What would happen if we embraced the growth and looked at the challenge straight in the face?  Points to ponder for sure.

This concept can be helpful when instructing kids yoga.  If they are acting crazy or distracted during certain poses that may be difficult for them, this may be their default behavior.  This can be pointed out to them so that they become aware of their tendencies.

Remember that yoga is all about awareness. It requires focus on the breath, the body, the mind, and the spirit. Sometimes when we get uncomfortable we forget where we are and what we are doing and give in to our emotions, when it is best to step back and evaluate them. Practicing yoga and finding your breath is a great way to step outside of yourself and see things from another perspective, offering us enlightenment. Children are highly intuitive and have the ability to do this as well; even with their ever changing emotions. They just need to be guided in the right direction and taught how to recognize these emotions and perspectives, and how to deal with them in a positive and healthy way to prepare for the life ahead of them; where there will constantly be twists and turns and new challenges for them to conquer.

  A great pose for recognizing your inner emotions and taking a step back is yogic sleep, which is in our ABC Yoga Cards for Kids Deck. Share your experiences and thoughts as well. We would love to hear them!