For children and teens with Cerebral Palsy yoga may help stretch and realign the spine, increase flexibility, and augment range of motion. Holding yoga poses in a gentle stretch helps relax the muscles, reducing high muscle tone, and exercising areas of low muscle tone.
Twisting poses are especially beneficial. A simple seated twist begins while sitting, rooting into the pelvis, inhale as you extend the spine/sit tall, exhale as you twist. Repeat two more times working deeper into the twist with each exhale. The last thing to rotate should be your neck with you gazing behind you. Release and return to centre. Repeat the process on the opposite side. This same exercise can be performed while lying on a mat or the floor.
There are numerous other yoga asanas which may prove especially helpful. Modify the poses as necessary, even performing many while lying on a mat or supported by an adult. Remember the goal is not a perfect pose, but the integration of body, breath, and mind. Some suggestions include:
- Standing poses (Mountain, Compass, Warrior, Chair)
- Inversions (Downward Dog, Dolphin, Rabbit)
- Backbends (Cobra, Dancer, Camel)
- Yoga Eyes
- Foot Massage
Yoga will exercise the spine in many ways, lengthening the space between vertebrae and relaxing the pressure on nerves. As a result, nerve function is enhanced and muscle tension released, providing greater range of movement, increased coordination, and flexibility.
An exercise which is highly beneficial for children with Cerebral Palsy is to make a bolster out of a rolled-up blanket or large pillow. Have the child lie back on it with their arms resting by their sides. Gently roll and rock the bolster back and forth. This is a wonderful way to energize the spine and open the front of the body.
In addition, a focus on breathing exercises will increase spinal movement and strengthen stomach and back muscles while stimulating internal organs. Learning to use a complete breath will loosen muscles throughout the torso and increase respiratory control.
Chanting and using music will also provide needed stimulus and is most enjoyable. Often activities involving moving to music, or sitting quietly and feeling the reverberations of “Aum,” are the ones which bring the greatest happiness and contentment as the connection with sound becomes more vital than any physical limitations.
An example of yoga for children with Cerebral Palsy as well as other special needs is here from the Special Yoga Centre in London. They are doing amazing work. [media id=26]
Sonia Sumar’s book Yoga for the Special Child is an essental resource for those wanting to use yoga for children and teens with Cerebral Palsy. In addition read this terrific article by NCPAD with video attachements of yoga exercises for children or youth with Cerebral Palsy.
For a more compelte understanding of Cerebral Palsy read What is Cerebral Palsy?