An ancient Indian practice which involves body movements and training the mind to achieve balance is called yoga. The purpose of yoga is to make an individual healthy, both physically and mentally. Practicing yoga as part of the daily routine is beneficial for persons with disabilities. The different postures or asanas, in particular the twists and inversions, help in stimulating the internal organs and the nervous system. Yoga for children with cerebral palsy is a technique designed to give natural development to the child. Yoga helps with flexibility and also increases self awareness and self esteem.
Cerebral palsy is the common permanent disability during childhood that is caused due to damage in brain before, after or during birth. The characteristics of cerebral palsy are tight muscles, compromised posture and restricted movement. For children and teens with cerebral palsy the asanas in yoga can help them to stretch, increase flexibility, realign the spine and augment range of motion. Doing yoga poses helps in stretching and relaxing of the muscles and reduces the high muscle tone. Yoga for spine can be done in many ways. The space between the vertebrae is lengthened, relaxes the pressure on nerves and leads to various movements to increase coordination and flexibility.
Usually children with cerebral palsy are very weak, the spastic muscles are not necessarily strong any weight- bearing activities are difficult for these children to maintain mobility. Frequently these children display impaired posture and a common problem seen is the scoliosis. In yoga the stretches and movements bring out one-sided tightness and helps in lateral curvature of the spine. Poses like looking upward and extending the spine makes the child come out of a slouched position. A part of yoga routine is to repeat the movements which help in developing the motor memory. Continuous practice leads to increase in smoothness and accuracy of movement which helps in body control.
While practicing yoga, transitioning between poses is very important which include shifting the weights and transferring the center of gravity by having control on the body. With these transitions the child’s proficiency increases the body’s response and the child can use muscles efficiently to maintain the body balance. Another common problem with cerebral palsy is the respiratory problems. The deep breathing done in yoga exercises the chest and lungs leading to expansion, further helping the child in keeping the airways clear. Breathing exercises also increases the spinal movement, stomach and back muscles are strengthened, and stimulate the internal organs. The nervous system is very sensitive for children with cerebral palsy which makes them stressful. We can overcome this by doing yoga where yoga teaches to concentrate and pay attention to sensations of the body. It also teaches to respond to areas of tension. Over all yoga helps the child to face the challenges calmly.
There are a number of yoga asanas which is essential and very helpful for children with cerebral palsy. Modifying the poses and performing it evenly helps the child to balance and make movements. It is not important how correctly the child does the pose, but how the body, breath and mind are integrated while doing these cerebral palsy exercises.