MIAMI – Through the centuries, yoga has proven to be an important exercise for both mind and body. It is also becoming a promising form of therapy for children with autistic spectrum disorder.
Twice a week, Matthew Lopez meets with his yoga teacher, Maraike Harten. They stretch muscles, practice breathing techniques and work on postures.
"It's a fun way of learning relaxation skills, body awareness and self control without it being another therapy that they have to go through," said Harten.
The boy was diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorder when he was 4 years old.
"Having a child with autism is not easy. It presents a lot of challenges," said Cristina Lopez, Matthew's mother.
Lopez said yoga helps Matthew relax. She said it used to be a battle to keep her calm for more than a few minutes.
"The breathing techniques and the poses that he learns calm him down and makes life more enjoyable for him," added Lopez.
Other children are also benefiting from yoga therapy. Author and yoga guru Louise Goldberg has worked with children with autism for the last 10 years at Miami Children's Hospital's Dan Marino Center.
"Yoga is very different from other therapies," she said. "There are lots of opportunities for play. It helps kids get stronger and more flexible. It also improves their balance and creates social interaction."
Goldberg has a published a book called, "Yoga Therapy for Children With Autism and Special Needs." In her book, she explains why yoga therapy is effective and provides classroom techniques.
Lopez, who discovered yoga therapy through a friend, said doctors told her Matthew would never be able to speak. However, Matthew has learned to form words and to communicate verbally with others.
"You learn to appreciate the little things and you also learn to appreciate progress, not perfection," she said.