At a recent yoga and craft night, kids made malas with affirmations. 

Melisa Doran Cole knows first-hand how yoga can ease anxiety.

She's living proof.

Her experience made her realize that yoga could also help children with special needs. 

"I was a public school teacher for eight years and became a yoga teacher during that time," Doran Cole said. "I used it to help my anxiety and I started realizing how beneficial it could be, especially for kids with special needs. So, that's where I started to focus my energy."

Last year Doran Cole started her business, Whole Child Yoga, which offers inclusive and adaptive yoga classes for kids.

Classes are appropriate for all children, she said. But she specifically works to make yoga accessible to kids on the autism spectrum, with sensory processing disorder, ADHD and anxiety.

"I really strive to make it inclusive, supportive environment for both kids and parents," Doran Cole said. "I want it to be a place where they feel comfortable and safe bringing their kids. I know it seems like there’s not a lot of places for their kids to go."

Doran Cole has gone through two different training programs for teaching kids with autism, sensory processing disorder and anxiety. She learned different strategies to make classes "less overly stimulating."

One strategy is a social story, which is something she sends to parents ahead of time that they will read with their kids and tells them what they can expect when they come to yoga.

"It really helps with anxiety," Doran Cole said. "They feel secure knowing what's going to happen."

Classes give the children tools to calm themselves, improve body awareness, improve sensory integration and regulate emotions. 

Yoga "helps with coordination, builds strength and self esteem...There are so many benefits," Doran Cole said. 

Cara Gibson, an assistant professor at the University of Arizona, said her 4-year-old son, Felix started taking classes with Doran Cole in April.

Felix has sensory integration issues and going to yoga has helped him to handle his anxiety better. 

"Melisa has helped Felix to come into his body and person better," Gibson said. "She has helped him find confidence being upside down, which used to cause him panic, and much better integration in his core. She has also given him some mindful breathing tools and poses that he will spontaneously remember on his own to calm himself down when he is feeling anxious or upset. Most importantly I think though Melisa has helped him to see that he is not a “sad boy,” but that he sometimes feels sad or anxious."

Whole Child Yoga offers group and private classes.

A package of four group classes is $48. The summer session is close to full with only a couple spaces left. The fall session will start in mid-August.

In the meantime, parents can either sign up for private classes or go to a monthly yoga and craft night, which consists of a short yoga class and a yoga related craft.

To learn more about Whole Child Yoga and to see upcoming events, check out the FB page or website


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Angela Pittenger | This Is Tucson