Take A Peek Inside: My Experience with Yoga as an Autistic Person

I was never a healthy child. In addition to having autism, I spent many weeks in the hospital for one reason or another due to comorbid conditions. I also always seemed to get the most rare types of illnesses, including cerebella ataxia in the eighth grade. During this time I didn’t know if I would ever be able to dress myself on my own or walk again much less have an active lifestyle. Sports and activeness were mostly inaccessible to me throughout childhood even if I wanted to be a part. The inability to regulate body temperature meant I overheated easily and had to skip field days. Lack of coordination and depth perception made most sports extremely difficult. I never would have imagined that a fit lifestyle would be in my future or that I would ever be physically strong.

 

I am blessed because in my adult life I am healthy. Not only am I healthy, I am the healthiest that I have ever been both mentally and physically. What really changed that for me was yoga.

 

My world is a swirling storm of light and sound that threatens to completely envelop me at any moment. Sensory processing overload that I can mask, but never control. An invisible struggle. I can hear every individual light as it hums and every fork scraping a plate at each table in a restaurant as if it were right next to me. Causing me to see and hear everything, yet nothing because all sensory at the same intensity drowns out most things I try to focus on.

 

When I began my yoga journey I never expected I would become a teacher. Yoga was the most unusual type of activity for me to attempt. It involves strength and balance, both of which do not come naturally to me. I have never had good balance and often walked into walls because of my bad depth perception.

 

How could the girl that walks into walls and that has had so many health battles possibly ever have the physical strength?

 

I have never let autism be a reason I cannot do something; in fact I find a way to use it as strength in most scenarios. Sure, I have certain struggles but we all do. And many parts of autism have led to great strengths and success like not knowing the vibe of a room resulting in never being phased by other people’s energies. However, with teaching yoga I was nervous. How would I ever simultaneously process cuing alignments, filter out the music, and be able to read students when I myself am unable to read facial expressions or basic body language? How would I be approachable when my voice is naturally monotone, and I constantly memorize different tones and their meanings to create fluctuations in my voice? It seemed daunting to say the least. But I love yoga. So like anything else, I decided to try. I probably wouldn’t be able to teach, but just maybe I could learn something.

 

Anatomically, my body has always been different. It brings its own frustrations. I have tight calves because I constantly toe walk, yet I’m hyper flexible in other areas. My entire rib cage is twisted due to growing too fast causing me to often be unaligned in my hips. But yoga is the great equalizer. It is the journey of our own bodies and self-discovery. For me, I discovered how yoga unlike anything else has helped me most in life.

 

I grew up participating in many therapies: speech, occupational, PT, OT, you name it. But yoga is different. It has allowed me to be myself in a safe space while also helping me. Sometimes we flap our hands to warm up wrists. Other times we get to stand on our toes. Both are ways I naturally express excitement but repress in my everyday life. I now had an outlet. A space where it’s actually OK to do these things without the fear of being perceived as odd. Because everyone else is participating too.

 

I went to a handstand workshop where we all flapped our hands to warm up and it was one of the happiest moments for me. I have never been a room where everyone flapped their hands with me. It created such joy within. In a tai chi class I took, we stood on our toes because it activates a pressure point and is said to help with long life. It was in this moment I realized, what I do naturally as an autistic person isn’t actually unusual. In a lot of ways, it’s a very natural way of being. I am toe walking because of these pressure points. Which made me wonder: what else do I do naturally that society says is abnormal and I learned to mask that is actually just expressing the true nature of my body? Here in this class were people actually trying to learn to balance on toes, the state I was naturally in but learned to repress. All this time I was stimulating myself and didn’t even know it. Maybe society costs us more than we imagine when it comes to our true nature.

 

Yoga has opened my eyes. I have been more in tune with my body than I ever thought. I am able to get the weighted feeling I crave from sandbags and the body crashing I seek from different inversions. I always have had trouble feeling connected to the earth, suffering from a floaty feeling as if I could float away at any moment. Never fully a part of this existence, somehow lost in between. With yoga, I finally feel securely grounded to this world. And for the first time ever, I am building muscle and strength. I went from falling off weight charts due to digestive problems co occurring with autism to being at my best weight ever from the muscle I gained. My digestion is much better, and I no longer suffer from shallow breathing or being winded from cardio.

 

I used to look at people doing handstands or even pikes on the wall with a sinking feeling knowing I could never do that. But now?

 

Now I am the one that can go into a pike on the wall and even demonstrate it with ease. Now I can arm balance. I can easily lift things I would never have been able to before.

 

The feeling of getting strong, especially for someone like me who has always only ever known physical weakness, is an indescribable experience.

 

I have seen how much yoga has balanced me, helped me with anxiety, and allowed me to express myself. And I knew I just had to share it with the world. Because I know that other autistic people will benefit like I did. I learned that it doesn’t matter who you are when you are on the mat. This practice is healing. It is so healing that it even has the capability to slightly calm the sensory storm if only for a little while. It’s given me friendships, and ways to connect with people without needing to know all the social cues or nonverbal language. Because in yoga, everyone is there for the same reason. They connect with you without expecting you to know all the social nuances because it is about yoga, not social language.

 

So thank you to yoga for changing my life. For giving me a space to be my full autistic self. For showing me what I am capable of both physically and mentally. And yes, I will be teaching.

 

To all my followers I ask:

What has been instrumental in your life? Where are you able to be your true self?

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3 thoughts on “Take A Peek Inside: My Experience with Yoga as an Autistic Person

  1. I know this wasn’t the main point of your post, but I really relate to what you said: “Sensory processing overload that I can mask, but never control. An invisible struggle.”
    As a small child I was very vocal about it. As I grew older, I became so good at masking that nobody had any idea I had a problem with it, but hiding the problem never makes it ok because the problem is still there. Now I understand what it is, I can mask and deal with it if I have to, but am less likely to make myself stay in a situation if it’s becoming too much. It’s still an invisible struggle though.
    I’m glad that yoga has been such a positive experience for you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I would love to do yoga with you by the lake! It’s been so long since I’ve practiced yoga. Over 5 years but my back felt to good!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. healthywithjamie October 10, 2018 — 4:03 pm

    You have motivated me to start trying yoga! Thank you. Awesome story!!

    Liked by 1 person

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