Yoga for Autism and Surviving COVID

Yoga instructor Serena Azizo
Yoga instructor Serena Azizo

As we humans are being challenged by the physical threat of COVID-19, the mental threat of the pandemic and isolation is taking its toll on many. The effects on the special needs and autistic members of our communities are often even greater.

I recently had the honor and opportunity to speak to Serena Azizo, a master yoga instructor to the stars and a certified yoga instructor to the autistic who has firsthand experience with this fact. This past summer, she taught yoga lessons at the Luv Michael autism homes with great results from the students.

Azizo told me, “If you are breathing, you are doing yoga.” She calls yoga a workout, but also a “work in.” It is an opportunity to align our goals and intentions with soothing and challenging yoga poses called asanas. It prepares us to embrace our day with purpose and calm.

Unlike competitive sports, yoga is a practice with oneself. Group yoga can be a collective force of shared energy in a communal setting. Autistic students who may have coordination issues should not feel the need to compete at yoga, which helps improve self-esteem, as all are equal in yoga classes.

Meditation, visualization and essential oils can all become part of the yoga experience and relieve stress. Azizo has a sibling with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and is familiar with the challenges and exclusions in the special needs and autism population. She creates an environment of unconditional love in her classes to elevate the spirits of her students while giving them tools that help in self-regulation.

Serena describes her yoga classes as a journey together with her students. She is blessed to have clients in NYC, LA and Miami, but she loves her summers teaching yoga. I recently watched a yoga class on YouTube and realized why this healing exercise and art could help take away the stress of our new COVID lives.

Think positive and test negative.

Peter Michalos, MD is Associate Professor of Clinical Ophthalmology, Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons; Past President of Medical Staff and Past Chief of Surgery Southampton Hospital; Chairman Hamptons Health Society. He has been a resident of Southampton for three decades.

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