Individuals with Downs have an extra or part copy of chromosome 21. This changes child development resulting in mild to moderate language, cognitive and motor delays as well as a having smaller stature, shorter limbs, and hypotonia (low muscle tone). This means that those with Downs are at a greater risk of injury due to increased flexibility and Yoga can help to counteract this by strengthening the muscles, tightening ligaments, and providing body tone. For example, standing yoga poses can help strengthen unstable and weak joints and ligaments. What with specific asanas, Yoga helps with core, balance and co-ordination in this respect.
Yoga also helps with intestinal digestive health (acid reflux/constipation is common in Downs individuals), such as through twists and relaxation (improving the rest and digest response) and psychological well-being by pranayama and the mind/body practice of yoga – in reducing the stress response in relation to the brain, vagus and endocrine system, which encourages healing and repair as the immune system is improved, thus reducing inflammation and preventing nasal, ear and lung congestion, obstructed sleep apnoea, celiac disease as well as pulmonary hypertension common in those with Downs.
Individuals with Downs are also prone to weight gain and yoga is the ideal physical systems by balancing thyroid function often a contributory factor. Overall, Yoga places the body in parasympathetic state (rest, digest and heal) and its mind/body system in reducing the stress response also helps to works on concentration and memory regarding developmental delay in Downs individuals. This is done by reducing the amygdala high-jack over the rational memory parts of the brain (pre-frontal cortex). Epilepsy is also more common in Downs individuals and reducing stress through Yoga helps to reduce seizure incidences.
However, it is VERY important to note, those with Downs are more likely to have cervical instability and should not participate in poses that place their necks at risk. This is because of their increased flexibility and low tone. For those with cardiac problems, inversions should be at a minimum. Hypertonia may cause unstable hips which means hip openers need to be cautioned against.