A Neurodivergent Yogi

May 26, 2023

woman standing on her head doing a yoga poseMy name is Magdalena and I am one of the yoga instructors at Bella Prāṇa Collective and I am neuro-divergent. As an adult I was diagnosed with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) as well as some additional co-morbidities that create a struggle for me as I live in an Allistic world. I would like to share with you a little of my journey with Autism and Yoga. 

When I took my first 90 minute Hot 26/2 yoga class in 2006 (which used to be called Bikram), I fell in love with this style of yoga right away from that first sweaty minute. As the sweat began to encase my body in this 104 degree room, I felt an increased proprioception of my physical body dimensions and curves. With the increased sensitivity of my skin due to the heat, I felt a closer mind body connection than ever before. To this day, each time I take a hot class, whether it’s 26/2 or Vinyasa or Gentle Slow Flow, etc. I reestablish that closeness to myself with each hot minute. Proprioception and body awareness are struggles for many autistic and other neuro-divergent people.

The structure of having the same 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises, appealed to the aspect of my autism that thrived on regimen. It is so calming to my nervous system as I step into a hot 26/2 class to know what is coming even if each day I experience the class differently. Even though I have now broadened my scope of practice to include Vinyasa, Yin, Restorative and more, which provide a class that is different each time, I always come back to my hot 26/2. As you look into the mirror and are confronted with yourself in all the sweaty glory as you struggle through breathing while finding out what depth of the pose will be achieved today, there is an amazing mix of drive with surrender and confidence with humbleness. Drive to achieve the full expression of the pose and the gentle surrender to acceptance of the different limitations your body presents each day. The confidence in yourself and your abilities needed in order to even attempt to balance on one leg and the humbleness in knowing that more training will make you better but not necessarily the best. 

The breathing exercises that have become so second nature to me, assist me greatly in finding breath when I am feeling heightened anxiety. Like on grocery shopping days for example. Or when I’m having a panic attack after too many tasks taken on in a day with too much driving and having been away from the safe sanctuary of my home. Breath is life. If I can breathe through this, I have a valuable tool to help me live through this. 

Although some autistics are extroverts, many are introverts and I definitely fall into that latter category. I struggle with the chaos of the outside world and the people that are part of that chaos. The chaos overwhelms me and beats at my senses until I overload. And yet, yoga. Not all yoga studios will fit for everyone. Like anything else, finding the right community for where you are in life now, makes a huge difference. Yet, in general, the yoga community with its teachers and students, present me with a group of people that generally overwhelm me less. Each student and teacher usually comes to the studio intentionally trying to leave the chaos at the door. The simple but often challenging act of showing up on your mat and trying to hold space for yourself lends itself to better being able to hold space for others. This act of holding space creates room for grace, tolerance, reflection and acceptance. This energy of my fellow yogis allows me to present myself more freely with less masking and also allows me to interact with others more freely without as many shields put up to protect myself from the battering assault of chaos, because that chaos is being barred entry. 

Sometimes, I get through so many days in my high-functioning, with what can pass for regular fatigue from a normal day of activities. Then I get blindsided by an autistic trigger of noise and the confident competent person that I usually am is gone. I am broken and battling my panic and embarrassment in the face of confusion from my peers for the extreme reaction of a trigger they barely notice, and so I am painfully reminded that I have a disability. Those same peers will wordlessly sit with me regardless of their lack of true understanding, holding space for me in silence with gentle presence. I love my yoga community and feel absolutely blessed by the quality of class, grace and open-mindedness of my colleagues, students and teachers at Bella Prana Collective. I have found my yoga home.

By Magdalena Adams
Hot 26 Instructor and Yogi