CHARLOTTE, N.C. — No matter how much they learn in class, some students are held back due to a lack of independence. But one program making its way across Charlotte-area schools is using yoga to help those students.

"Exceptional Yoga" is a simple and effective program for individuals with special needs. It was co-founded by Bridget Zapolnik and Emily Reindollar.

Zapolnik’s sister has special needs. Zapolnik said she wanted to take her places, like yoga on Friday. That made her realize she wanted to combine her two passions.

Reindollar was an exceptional program teacher at Kennedy Middle School in Charlotte, which provided the perfect opportunity to introduce the program to her students. From there, Zapolnik has expanded the program to over 14 Charlotte-area schools.

The program teaches the physical, mental and emotional aspects of yoga to all individuals with special needs.

Zapolnik says yoga is for everybody. 

“It’s not just for a specific population," she said. "It’s not just about the poses. It’s about being in the moment. It’s about learning breathwork. It’s about enjoying yourself, adapting what you learn in here to transfer it off your mat. That’s the most important thing.”

Over the eight week program, individuals participate in a 45-minute instructor-led session once per week, learning the different aspects of yoga.

Carolina Has Heart: Yoga class helps students with special needs

Physically, the program can increase strength and mobility. Emotionally, it can teach problem-solving strategies to help increase positive behaviors and coping skills. Mentally, it can help memory retention, language comprehension, and expressive language skills.

Students say they like doing yoga because it makes them feel peaceful and calm down. Teachers say they can see progress in the classroom as well.

Exceptional Yoga is funded through grants and donations. On Sunday, February 23, Charlotte Yoga will have a donation yoga class for the program. That class will be held at 11 a.m.

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