Yoga With Down Syndrome: Sarah Schaffer's Story

The stretching from yoga helps this high school student run and relax.

Sarah Schaffer practices yoga with hand weights
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Have you ever tried yoga? It's not just for the thin, fit and athletically-built. Just about anyone who can breathe can practice yoga to some extent and reap its many benefits. We'll prove it. In this series, U.S. News talks with people who are changing the face of yoga.

Sarah Schaffer is a senior at Free State High School in Lawrence, Kan. When she's not playing the cymbals and triangle in the concert band, she's sprinting and shot-putting on the school's green and silver Firebirds track team. Sarah is a fan of country music – especially songs by Blake Shelton – and she also has Down syndrome.

Sarah is one of more than 400,000 people in the United States living with Down syndrome, according to the National Down Syndrome Society. Individuals with the condition have an extra full or partial copy of chromosome 21, which alters development and can result in mild to moderate cognitive delays. While every person with Down syndrome has unique traits and degrees of abilities, a few of the condition's common physical characteristics include smaller stature, slightly upward-slanting eyes and low muscle tone, according to NDSS.

This low muscle tone is part of what prompted Sarah's mom, Rose, a nurse with a degree in exercise science, to introduce her daughter to yoga. Rose felt yoga would help develop core strength, which would in turn boost Sarah's coordination and ability to breathe deeply – a practice that would circulate more oxygen to her brain, Rose says. She soon discovered that yoga before bedtime also helped Sarah relax and sleep better.

Now, Sarah practices yoga regularly – even the "sculpting" variety with hand weights. She practices at after-school classes and at home with DVDs. (Her favorite DVDs are those hosted by fitness instructor Denise Austin because they're fun, calm and relaxing, her mother says.) Sarah tells U.S. News more about her yoga practice. Her responses have been edited.

What's your favorite part about yoga?

I like the music in the background, and I like the stretching because it's fun, and it feels relaxing. The stretching helps with my running because I'm more stretched out.

Do you have a favorite stretch?

I like the bridge, and I like doing child's pose at the end.

What's been your biggest challenge with yoga?

I have a hard time balancing on one leg sometimes, but I've gotten better.

Do you have any advice for people new to yoga?

Do the same video every day until you get good at it. Keep doing yoga, even if it's hard. It gets better the more you work at it. And you will feel so good after you're done.