Yoga for Children with Cerebral Palsy
Yoga for Children with Cerebral Palsy
by Dara Ryan
Cerebral Palsy (CP) is a group of disorders that affect movement and occur when the child’s brain is damaged during pregnancy, labor or in the first 3 years of infancy. There are many associated effects of CP ranging from bone deformities to intellectual disability. Hence the symptoms of each child with CP differ greatly.
There are currently a wide range of treatments and therapies available for CP, which vary depending on the specific needs of the child. Complementary and alternative medicine such as Yoga and meditation can support these treatments.
In this post we look at the benefits of Yoga for children with cerebral palsy, and in it we have listed a number of asana, pranayama, chanting and meditation are presented.
What is Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral palsy is a group of disorders that affect a person’s ability to move and maintain balance and posture. CP occurs when the parts of the brain responsible for muscle movement are damaged during pregnancy or infancy.
According to the Surveillance of Cerebral Palsy in Europe (SCPE) cerebral palsy is the most common cause of motor deficiency in young children and it occurs in 2 to 3 per 1000 live births.
Causes of Cerebral Palsy
The early signs of cerebral palsy usually appear before a child reaches 3 years of age. The majority of children have congenital CP (that is, they were born with it), although it may not be detected until months or years later. A small number of children have acquired CP, which means the disorder begins after birth.
Some causes of acquired cerebral palsy include brain damage in the first few months or years of life, brain infections such as bacterial meningitis or viral encephalitis, problems with blood flow to the brain, or head injury from a motor vehicle accident, a fall, or child abuse.
However, although CP is the most common cause of physical disability in children, in many cases the cause remains unknown.
The below video by Osmosis gives a great explanation of the causes and symptoms of Cerebral Palsy.
Yoga for Cerebral Palsy
With regards to Yoga and cerebral palsy early intervention gives the child the best chance of learning how to manage his or her impairments and achieve optimum movement and overall health. According to the British Institute of Learning Disabilities:
‘research and practice have proven that Early Intervention produces immediate and long-term benefits for children with disabilities, their family and society’.
Benefits of Yoga Asana to Bones, Muscles, and Joints
– The practice of Yoga asana followed by deep relaxation can help to significantly reduce high muscle tone, which is characteristic of most children with cerebral palsy. Holding an asana gives the muscles and tendons a relaxing stretch, releasing overall stress and tightness throughout the musculature and around the joints.
– At the same time that asana are relaxing the body, they also provide just enough resistance to exercise low muscle tone areas of the body. In this way asana actually improve both high and low muscle tone problems in children with cerebral palsy.
– Yoga asana involve all the muscles in the body to hold and balance the poses. The various Yoga postures strengthen feet, legs, hands, abdominals, lower back, legs, and shoulders.
– Yoga’s stretching exercises improve flexibility, helping joints, tendons, and muscles stay limber. People suffering from osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis will see a noticeable improvement in stiffness, pain, and other arthritic symptoms.
– Yoga asana can relieve chronic back and neck pain, since the poses and postures gently stretch and strengthen back and neck muscles.
– Yoga is an excellent weight-bearing exercise that can improve bone density.
Benefits of Yoga Asana to Posture and Spinal Alignment
According to the National Center on Health, Physical Activity, and Disability (NCHPAD)another important benefit of Yoga for children with CP is that it stretches and realigns the spine. A scientifically designed series of Yoga stretches and counter-stretches can help to create more space between the vertebrae and reduce pressure on the disks and nerves that radiate out of the spine. Reducing the pressure on these nerves facilitates the release of muscular tension throughout the body and enhances overall nerve function. As a result, the child is able to develop a greater range of movement and coordination, as well as greater independence.
Benefits of Yoga Asana on Digestion and Elimination
Children with CP often have problems with their digestion or suffer from constipation. A number of yoga asana, such as forward folds and spinal twists, aid in digestion and elimination by massaging and stimulating the key organs involved in these processes.
Benefits of Yoga Asana on Anxiety
Simply attending a Yoga class has a number of potential benefits for children with CP. It creates a more physically active lifestyle and decreases anxiety by:
1. Creating an interest in physical/emotional well being
2. Providing a physical activity that is enjoyable and is tailored to each individual’s needs and abilities
3. Providing a means to handle stress in daily life
4. Providing a social outlet
Asana for Children with CP
The asana practiced with children with CP should be a balanced set which include postures that work on balance, strength and flexibility; twists and inversions and forward and backward bends. They should also include postures done in the following positions: seated, standing, prone, and supine.
Tadasana (Mountain Pose): Improves posture. Strengthens thighs, knees, and ankles. Firms abdomen and buttocks. Relieves sciatica. Reduces flat feet. (Closed eyes to practice balance).
Utkatasana (Chair Pose): Strengthens the ankles, calves, thighs and spine. Stretches the shoulders and chest and stimulates the abdominal organs and diaphragm and heart. Reduces flat feet.
Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose): Stretches the hips, hamstrings and calves. Helps relieve anxiety, improves digestion and strengthens the legs.
Seated and Twist Poses
Dandasana (Staff Pose): strengthens the back muscles, improves posture and stretches the shoulders and chest.
Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose): Stimulates abdominal and elimination organs which aids with digestion and constipation. Helps relieve anxiety and fatigue. Stimulates the heart and improves circulation.
Modified Upavista Konasana (Wide-angle Seated Forward Fold): Stretches the inside and backs of the legs, strengthens the spine and calms the mind.
Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Lord of the Fishes Pose): Stretches the shoulders, hips and neck. Energizes the spine. Stimulates the liver and kidneys.
Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide-legged Forward Bend): Strengthens and stretches the inner and back of the legs and the spine. Tones the abdominal muscles and calms the mind.
Padangusthasana (Big Toe Pose): Stretches the hamstrings and calves. Relieves anxiety. Improves digestion. Strengthens the thighs. Stimulates the liver and kidneys.
Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog): Improves digestion. Helps prevent osteoporosis. Relieves fatigue. Energizes the body. Stretches the shoulders, hamstrings, calves, arches, and hands. Strengthens the arms and legs.
Setu Bandhasana (Bridge Pose): Stretches the chest, neck, and spine. Calms the brain and helps alleviate stress. Stimulates abdominal organs, lungs, and thyroid. Rejuvenates tired legs, improves digestion and reduces anxiety.
Urdhva Dhanurasana (Wheel Pose): Stretches the chest and lungs. Strengthens the arms and wrists, legs, buttocks, abdomen, and spine. Stimulates the thyroid and pituitary glands. Increases energy and prevents osteoporosis.
Pranayama refers to the breathing technique in Yoga, which can work wonders in improving the overall health and the function of all the organs in the body. Practicing the proper techniques of breathing can help you become more aware of your breath and therefore pranayama benefits are physical, emotional as well as spiritual.
Pranayama has a wide range of benefits for people of all ages. As children with CP often have associated respiratory problems pranayama can be especially beneficial once practiced in a safe environment under supervision.
The cleansing breath is beneficial for children who are congested. This exercise is also known as “Fly the Flag” breathing. Place one hand on the belly to feel the movement during this particular breathing exercise. With the other hand, hold a piece of facial tissue in front of the face. Take a slow, deep breath in, followed by a very quick, forced exhalation. You should be able to see the tissue move with the exhalation.
The bellows breath strengthens the diaphragm; saturates the lungs and blood with freshly oxygenated air; and aids in digestion, thereby benefiting the entire body. Place one hand on the belly to feel the movement during this particular breathing exercise. Start with a rapid inhalation, immediately followed with a rapid exhalation. Start with doing one set of 10. Clear the nose after each set. For children, a helpful cue is to have their breathing imitate that of a “choo-choo” train.
These breathing techniques will also have a calming effect on the mind and can be practiced anywhere.
Beginning a class with a simple chant such as 3 ‘Oms’ or a familiar song can help to focus a child’s attention. Music therapy has been known to have a calming effect on children especially those with anxiety; behavioural problems or attention disorders. Encouraging children to chant along can help a child to find their voice and will improve language delays. Chanting opens the throat and strengthens the vocal chords. It encourages controlled breathing, which stimulates the diaphragm and lungs and improves pulmonary function. Once a child learns a particular chant their confidence will also increase.
Meditation is a technique used to train the mind to focus. This is achieved by either turning the awareness inward or being fully present in the moment. Guided meditation is best suited for children. A simple story or visualization encourages focus, and calms the mind.
Meditation has other benefits for children with CP. It is known to enhance the immune system & aid stress management. It has been shown to improve self-confidence because it increases serotonin production, which influences mood & behavior. It also leads to a feeling of greater compassion, not only for others, but as importantly, for ourselves.
An example of a guided meditation would be getting the students to close their eyes and picture themselves as a butterfly flying in the sky and guiding them through various imagery.
Taken from Himalaya Yoga Valley Internship assignment ‘The Benefits of Yoga for Children With Autism’ by Dara Ryan