Just Say Om: Adelphi Professors Find Yoga’s Benefits Extend Beyond the Gym

Thousands of years after its introduction in India, yoga is an international phenomenon. Once practiced in the West by a select few, yoga has gained mass following. Yoga mats are available at Walmart, Target, and Rite Aid. There’s hot yoga, vinyasa yoga, yoga in New York City public schools. What’s behind the craze? Two Adelphi professors have some interesting answers.

Professor Susan Lederer, who teaches in the Ruth S. Ammon School of Education’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, has practiced yoga for more than 20 years, since she was in her late 20s.

“It’s the one form of exercise that I’ve been consistent with,” she says. An expert in emergent literacy and speech and language disorders in young children, Dr. Lederer facilitates a number of outreach programs for children and families through Adelphi’s Hy Weinberg Center for Communication Disorders. Among them is KIDTalk, a guided play group for two-and-a-half to three-year old children with delays in their spoken, or expressed, language. Although the program emphasizes vocabulary development and speaking more clearly, Dr. Lederer realized, and wanted anxious parents to grasp, that language is one of many signs of intelligence.

“One of the things I was really interested in was being able to bring parents to the understanding that just because your kids are having trouble learning to talk, doesn’t mean that they’re not great at other things or that they’re not smart,” she says. This impetus and collaboration with her colleague Esther Kogan, then an associate professor in the Ruth S. Ammon School of Education, fueled research into the applications of Howard Gardner’s Multiple intelligences theory, which asserts that intelligence can be understood in seven ways, including bodily- kinesthetic, or body awareness.

With support from Adelphi, Dr. Lederer became certified to teach yoga in 2003 and, through a serendipitous series of events, began leading a yoga program at the University’s on-site preschool, then known as the Child Activity Center, the predecessor to the recently opened Alice Brown Early Learning Center. While there, she developed a signature style of teaching yoga, which she branded StoryBook Yoga, in which she used children’s books to frame her yoga sessions. She incorporated yoga poses into the reading of a story, typically one with animals. She also played children’s songs with tunes or lyrics that corresponded to the different poses and story themes. By blending reading and yoga, Dr. Lederer says she helped the children hone their literacy skills as well as their social, motor, aesthetic, and other cognitive abilities. Teachers at the Center told her that her approach “really made a huge difference” for children with special needs.

Dr. Lederer has since released a CD, StoryBook Yoga, a Whole Child Development Program, designed for parents and teachers to use her method at home or in school. She has been invited to give full-day presentations on her concept and is conducting a literature review of existing studies on the benefits of yoga for children, particularly those with developmental delays.

While Dr. Lederer admits that research on yoga’s impact on children is scant, particularly compared to the scholarship on yoga and adults, she says that evidence is mounting on its potential to reduce hyperactivity and anxiety and strengthen attention, IQ, and neuro-motor development.

“Yoga teaches you how to be present,” she says, and she describes her goal as helping children take their yoga “off the mat and into the world.”

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