Yoga studio offers classes for autistic children

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published March 6, 2012

BIRMINGHAM — For the 14,000 Michigan children who are affected by autism, it can be hard to find peace of mind. The same goes for the parents, siblings and caregivers who love those children. That’s why the Autism Societies of Oakland and Macomb/St. Clair County have partnered with Belightful Yoga to provide classes to those with autism and their loved ones.

“I noticed there’s a lot of anxiety in children with autism. Dealing with transitions in life is hard for them,” said Lisa Ballo, founder and owner of Belightful Yoga, who teaches the classes. “Some of the simple exercises we do help calm them.”

Belightful Yoga is a mobile yoga studio based in Royal Oak. In the classes, instructors guide participants through yoga motions and train them in basic relaxation techniques, including breathing exercises, confidence-building poses and social interaction. The idea, said Ballo, is to decrease anxiety levels in the children so they and their families can breathe a little easier together.

“The family classes are nice bonding experiences. They can learn tools to support their child during the week.”

Theresa Gabalis, president of the Macomb/St. Clair County Autism Society, said the classes really work. Her son Scott, 16, is autistic, and the two take a class together on Friday evenings.

“We absolutely love (Ballo). I can’t believe these kids who come in there kind of wound up, and by the end of the session you could hear a pin drop in the room.”

Ballo, who also instructs custom yoga classes at the Judson Center’s Autism Connections, Abilities Center and Autism ASK, said she feels as though yoga is a way she can help with a growing national epidemic. An estimated 1 percent of children in the United States are diagnosed as autistic, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“To me I just thought, ‘How can we support them?’”

Ballo’s classes are available on Mondays from 6:30-7:15 p.m. at Our Shepard Lutheran Church. For more information, or to register for the classes, visit www.BelightfulYoga.com or call (248) 761-6815. The church is located at 2225 E. 14 Mile Road in Birmingham.