From the Windsor Star:
Yoga for girls with Down syndrome
by Kelly Steele Dec 06, 2012 – 9:30 AM EST
For Windsor’s Nicole Daignault, teaching yoga is more than just poses and deep breathing. It’s a chance to share her love with others.
That’s why Daignault started Yoga for Exceptional Girls at Windsor Squash and Fitness Club. The class is geared to girls 12 years of age or older who have Down syndrome. Daignault, who goes by the nickname Coco, admits she is excited to see the girls and women sharing her love.
“It’s the first time I’ve done something specific to a special-need group,” she said. “However, over the years I’ve had the pleasure of having several people come into my classes with various special needs. I’ve taught wheelchair-specific yoga, people with Down syndrome, multiple sclerosis and quite elderly people.
“I really love to do those special group classes where they come to realize that yoga isn’t just all about these big fancy moves, but that everyone can do it,” she said. “It’s inspired me over the years to work with those groups.”
It was a class Daignault taught this summer that got the wheels turning.
“One girl who participated in the group class had Down syndrome,” she said. “She did everything. I was very inspired by that and she never left my mind.”
When she returned from vacation, the owners of Windsor Squash and Fitness asked Daignault about her plans for the yoga program.
“I knew I wanted to work with this group,” she said. “I know what it’s like to be a 12-plus girl and I know what it’s like to be a 12-plus girl with physical problems.”
Daignault was born with scoliosis, an abnormal curving of the spine which has caused a lot of pain and problems over the years. She also has leg-length discrepancy, which caused her to walk with a limp into her early 20s.
“People with Down syndrome seem to have overly unstable joints,” she said. “So the yoga is, for them, much more for the strengthening and stabling of their joints. They are very flexible. But the feet, knees, hips need stabilizing, and add on slower metabolism and weight gain, it just exacerbates what’s going on.”
Studies have shown yoga is beneficial for people with Down syndrome because it helps them improve muscle tone, flexibility and balance while promoting a sense of inner peace. Yoga poses may also help internal organs and rejuvenate the endocrine glands. Simple breathing exercises may help calm and restore the nervous system.
For children with Down syndrome, yoga helps bring body awareness and increases concentration and memory skills.
“I tweak what I normally do in my classes,” said Daignault, who’s been teaching for 13 years. “One thing I bring into the class for them is rhythm. Keeping consistency for people with Down syndrome is also important. They need regular routines and patterns.
“We have a set pattern as to what we will be doing. The poses may change a bit. But we will be starting the classes off with drum beat rhythm to help them get the beat of their breathing. Less on the flexibility, more on the strengthening and stability.”
Sound therapy includes chanting, mantras and drumming. Sound vibrations have healing qualities and children respond readily to any activities involving instruments or singing. For that reason, Daignault incorporates the drum beats into her program.
She has six people in her class, ranging in age from 14 to 22, and everyone seems to be embracing yoga.
“There are always obstacles, everyone has their own internal problems,” she said. “Balance is a problem. They will go to the wall to balance themselves.”
Daignault loves sharing her skills with the class. “Yoga builds community in general, ” she said. ” People make friends and you start to get involved in the yoga community. My hope is that not only do they build nice friendships here but I’d love them to ultimately have the basics they need to go into any yoga class.”