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  • Writer's pictureBecky Aten (they/she)

What is Yoga for Neurodiversity?

What is yoga?


Yoga is a practice that originated in South Asia at least five thousand years ago. That’s respectively old. We’re not even sure how many thousands of years old it is, because it existed as an oral tradition in a time before written history. Yoga is a Sanskrit word meaning to “yoke,” or “connect,” so contextually the practice of yoga always involves connection or union. Anything else is an appropriation of the language.

It’s crucial to understand the cultural context in which you are practicing yoga, and how society has influenced the way the practice is presented. If you live in the US or another region colonized by people of white European descent (the "west") and have been exposed to yoga through popular media, you may have been shown an incomplete or distorted version of the original practice. Decolonization of yoga, in part, is a movement to correct this distortion and help us to honor the roots of yoga while practicing in our current, but evolving, global environment. 


Yoga began as a spiritual practice intended to prepare the physical body for union with that which cannot be directly observed. Yoga is not a religion, and each person has the freedom to bring their own personal beliefs into their practice. The teacher's role in yoga is ultimately to share the practice, and safely guide each person to have their own experience.


Yoga is much more than “asana,” the Sanskrit term for physical postures and shapes, which tend to be overrepresented in mainstream yoga classes and taught in ways that are inaccessible for many people. Yoga addresses our wellness as human beings from all perspectives, including physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. There are numerous paths that a practitioner of yoga can take that involve physical, mental, and spiritual development. The Eight (8) Limbs of Yoga refers to the many different ways we can practice yoga in our daily lives, including concentration practices, ethics, self-discipline, non-judgmental self-observation, radical acceptance, and deep experiences of awareness and connection that can evoke feelings of profound awe and joy. 


One way that I personally like to think about yoga as a practice is that it is the art of observing and experiencing connection between mind, body, and our conscious awareness. Everything exists in relationship, and this is rather wondrous to me. If you are a living, breathing human being, then yoga is for you, too! The practice of yoga does not require anything beyond what you were born with. While comfortable clothing and props can be helpful, you don’t need a mat, stretchy pants, access to a yoga studio, or any specific abilities.


P.S. Check out the Resources page for some of my favorite neurodivergent-friendly and accessible online yoga teachers and studios.


What is Neurodiversity?


In this section, Neuro means “pertaining to the nervous system,” which consists of the brain, spinal cord, and all of the nerves that run through your body.

The term and concept of neurodiversity was developed in the 1990s within Autistic communities on the internet (Botha et al., 2024) as a way to describe the neurological diversity of human beings. In short, all human brains & nervous systems are different; we all think, feel, move, and connect with the world around us in our own ways. The idea that there is a "normal" way of being is a social construct that results in the marginalization of people born with nervous systems that significantly diverge.

Neurodiversity intersects with disability when a person is excluded from full participation in society because of their differences. Sometimes disability is due to a medical concern, but oftentimes it's better explained by the fact that environments and systems in schools, workplaces, healthcare centers, etc. (and yes, even yoga studios!) have been designed with neuromajority humans in mind, and without consideration for universal design from a neurodiversity lens. 

There are a lot of unique terms and labels associated with neurodiversity. Some may be helpful in certain contexts, but not others. However, they provide a place for us to develop a common vocabulary and help give voice to a community that is being marginalized. Here are a few you might come across...

What is Neurotypical (NT) and Neuromajority?


Neurotypical (NT for short) refers to individuals whose brains and nervous systems receive and process information in the most commonly understood ways. While the majority of human beings are considered neurotypical, anyone can have neurodivergent traits. Some people use the term "neuromajority" in place of neurotypical. Neurotypical/neuromajority individuals are all different from one another when comparing their individual traits, but the degree of difference between two neuromajority people is less significant than between a neurotypical and a neurodivergent person.


What is Neurodivergent* (ND)?


Neurodivergent refers to individuals whose brains & nervous systems work in ways that are very different from the neuromajority. Neurodivergent people who are born different (innate neurodivergence) may receive clinical diagnoses such as autism spectrum disorder, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, Down syndrome, and learning disabilities. Neurodivergence can also be acquired through lived experience, including trauma and mental illness.

Neurodivergent (ND for short) is a social label, not a diagnosis or disorder. Neurodivergence is neutral; there is nothing wrong with being different, but many of us are suffering because we live in a world that isn't designed with neurodiversity in mind.

Many people self-identify as Neurodivergent without a formal diagnosis of any kind. Those who do have a specific diagnosis may also use related identity-first language such as "Autistic person" instead of "person with Autism." Other identity labels that more specifically define certain forms of neurodivergence and their intersection with disability include neurominority and Neurodistinct (coined by Tim Goldstein). When it comes to using Neurodivergent or its alternatives as a social label, there is no right or wrong way to identify; it is up to the individual to decide what fits.


*The term Neurodivergent was coined by a multiply-neurodivergent activisits named Kassiane Asasumasu (Sibley) circa 2000.

What is the Neurodiversity Movement?

The Neurodiversity Movement is a social justice movement that seeks civil rights, equality, respect, and full societal inclusion for the neurodivergent (Walker, 2022).

Neurodivergent people aren't broken and in need of fixing; we're struggling in a world not designed for us, and in need of acceptance and support. Neurodivergent human beings have always existed on our planet, and neurodiversity is as critical to the survival of the human race as biodiversity is necessary for the survival of an ecosystem. Neurodivergence is not a deficit just because it relates to disability, and each person deserves to decide how they feel about their differences.


Advocacy work by proponents of neurodiversity include efforts to remove value judgments and stigma from expressions of neurodiversity. Support is prioritized through cultivating environments and approaches that are accepting and attuned to diverse needs. Because all nervous systems are different and neurodiversity is intersectional, embracing neurodiversity helps everyone.

So, what is Yoga for Neurodiversity?


“Yoga for neurodiversity” is just yoga.


Yoga is for everyone and encompasses the entire being, so saying “yoga for this or that” is a bit misleading. It’s the approach or intention that makes a yoga practice “for something.” You can practice yoga with the intent to move the body, manage pain, to calm the nervous system, to promote digestion, or to improve concentration. Regardless of your intent or focus, you are still receiving other gifts and benefits from the practice of yoga even if you’re not aware of it.


That said, my mission with the Yoga for Neurodiversity project is to help fellow humans approach the practice of yoga with an awareness of the differences in our own bodies and brains. We all think, feel, move, and connect with the world in different ways; we might not know how to name and communicate the ways we differ, but our experiences are real. Neurodivergent ways of being deserve to be affirmed, celebrated, and supported so that the benefits of yoga can be made accessible to all of us.

Yoga is a lifelong practice; there is no "end" and the journey looks different for each person, but you always can start exactly where you are each day. Practicing yoga over time can result in subtle and not-so-subtle changes in the way we feel about who we are, regardless of how we may look to other people. Yoga does not cure anything, nor does it take the place of professional medical and mental health care when we are ill, but it helps create an environment within the physical, mental, and spiritual body that promotes health and healing through connection.


By practicing yoga in ways that fit our individual nervous systems, we have an opportunity to gradually change the relationship we have with ourselves, and by extension, our environment, including the other people in it. We can learn to use our mind and body to regulate our nervous system so that we can show up in the world in the ways that are authentic to our neurotype, and with grace and presence. We can learn how to feel our physical bodies in different ways to accommodate differences in balance and motor control, and strengthen ourselves to help prevent injury and disease. We can change the relationship with have with our thoughts, especially our thoughts about ourselves, to improve our self-esteem and even embrace our different ways of being in the world. By getting to know ourselves more intimately on a physical, mental, and spiritual level, we can learn to more easily identify and name our needs so that we can ask for support and self-advocate confidently. The practice of yoga provides opportunities for self-study and exploration of connection that are expansive and deep, so no matter how many lifetimes you practice, you will never stop learning and discovering!

We are each responsible for our health, and balanced health looks different for each person. Regardless of the way we identify, we all can benefit from learning about ourselves so that we can better meet our own needs and communicate those needs to others. In doing so, we can express the magic of connection through our whole beings, wherever we go, and in our interactions and relationships... in this way, the whole world benefits.



A Neurodiversity-Affirming Yoga Teacher… Values all forms of self-expression and ways of being. Affirms that each person is having their own experience. Makes space for all experiences to happen safely. Emphasizes bodily autonomy & freedom of choice. Empowers students to explore their own inner wisdom.

Image caption: A Neurodiversity-Affirming Yoga Teacher…

  • Values all forms of self-expression and ways of being.

  • Affirms that each person is having their own experience.

  • Makes space for all experiences to happen safely.

  • Emphasizes bodily autonomy & freedom of choice.

  • Empowers students to explore their own inner wisdom.


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