Exploring the Effects of Yoga on Cerebral Palsy
Yoga is a form of exercise that combines stretching, bending, breathing, and meditation to help participants maintain good health, manage stress, and improve everyday body movements. Significant research suggests that yoga may help make the body stronger and supports incorporating even low-impact versions of the practice for many conditions. Even gentle yoga may help many people develop muscles for strength, and yoga poses for cerebral palsy may be beneficial in other unique ways.
What Are Some of the Benefits of Yoga for People With Cerebral Palsy?
Yoga poses, known as asanas, may make the body more robust and the mind more clear. They help stretch muscles and tendons gently to release stress throughout the body.
Yoga has demonstrated benefits to multiple systems of the body for patients with CP. The regular practice of yoga mimics some of the benefits of physical therapy, such as stronger muscles, improved flexibility, and better balance. The benefits for patients with CP include:
- Relaxing muscles: People with CP often have tense muscles that need relaxation. Those with spastic cerebral palsy often have high muscle tone or muscles that stay tight and stiff even when not in use. Yoga may help reduce high muscle tone.
- Straightening and realigning the spine: Children with cerebral palsy may benefit from yoga’s tendency to bend and stretch the spine. The movement creates more space between the vertebrae, reducing pressure on the discs and nerves. This release of tension may enhance the nerves’ ability to perform and improve range of motion.
- Using mindfulness and meditation: Yoga encourages mindfulness, which is a focus on the position of the body and breathing. These skills may help people with CP learn new ways to control stress through greater body awareness. The person with CP learns to recognize the signs of tension in the body and how to combat them.
- Strengthening vital muscles: While muscles and tendons stretch with some asanas, other asanas incorporate balance, which can target vital muscles in the arms, legs, and core. Continued practice with these asanas can strengthen muscles that are weaker overall.
- Promoting better balance: As muscles strengthen, coordination and balance improve, too. That’s because muscle strength directly relates to muscle control and movement for walking or even sitting up straight.
- Improving mood: Yoga often involves meditation and focused breathing, which may reduce stress, improve sleep, and elevate mood.
What Types of Yoga Are Best for Cerebral Palsy?
Though every person with cerebral palsy has different abilities and challenges, yoga is something that almost every CP patient can enjoy since movements are adaptable for participants of different ability levels. However, a few types of yoga are lower-impact with customized asanas for people with CP. Those types include:
- Hatha yoga: Hatha uses meditation (dhyana), breathing (pranayama), and physical movements (asanas). Hatha is beneficial for those with CP because most of the moves are easily modified to work for clients who have limitations in mobility.
- Restorative yoga: Restorative yoga is ideal for participants with CP because it focuses on slowing down and opening up areas of the body. The restorative practice uses props such as blocks and straps to help gently ease the body into position.
- Nadi yoga: Nadi means tube, flow, or channel in the Sanskrit language, and it refers to the pathways through which energy moves through the body. Nadi yoga for cerebral palsy uses breathing and chanting to move life energy through the body. People with cerebral palsy report greater calmness, better sleep, and sharper mental clarity with Nadi yoga.
With these types of yoga or in CP-specialized yoga classes, practitioners may go through the following asanas that offer many benefits to people with CP:
- Downward dog: This pose involves bending at the waist with the head down toward the floor and the arms stretched out, hands touching the ground. One possible modification for those with CP is to pile pillows into a pyramid shape so that the client may stretch over them. Downward dog is a powerful asana for those with CP as it may help increase muscle strength and lengthen high-toned muscles.
- Mountain pose: A foundational pose for many other asanas, mountain pose involves standing with the big toes side by side and the heels slightly apart. It is easily modified for clients with cerebral palsy since it can also be performed in a seated position. Modified mountain pose may help improve posture and straighten the spine.
- Cat pose: The cat pose is usually performed on the hands and knees by bowing or rounding the back up to resemble a feline. An instructor may help the client maintain the position by stabilizing the sides. Cat pose may be beneficial for those with cerebral palsy as it helps to lengthen the spine and builds muscle strength in the arms and legs.
Where Can a Person With Cerebral Palsy Go To Try Yoga?
Many yoga classes are available specifically for patients with CP. Sessions with these modifications are known as adaptive yoga classes. The instructors strive to provide something for every level of ability, from beginner to more experienced, including those in wheelchairs. Adaptive yoga classes modify traditional poses using props such as chairs, blocks, and mats to help participants safely achieve the asanas.
No matter which format you choose to learn, be sure you’re working with or following a certified professional teacher. Look for a trainer educated in working with clients with cerebral palsy, such as Yoga for the Special Child. You should also confirm with your child’s doctor and care providers that yoga is a good option for your child with CP. With the right guidance, you may find that adaptive yoga is a life-changing form of exercise for their body and mind.
If you believe that your child’s or loved one’s cerebral palsy was the result of an avoidable medical error, contact the Cerebral Palsy Family Lawyers at Janet, Janet & Suggs, LLC to see if you have a case that may get you compensation and justice.
William R. “Topper” Cramer, RN, MBA, MS, CCRN, CFRN, EMT-P
Legal Nurse Consultant | Nurse Paralegal
Topper has been involved in emergency, transport, and critical care medicine since 1978 when he became an EMT in high school. A United States Air Force veteran, he remains active as a pre-hospital RN/paramedic, certified flight nurse, and critical care nurse. In addition to his professional role as a nurse consultant/nurse paralegal, he is the Chief of Operations at Walkersville Volunteer Rescue in Frederick County, Maryland. READ FULL BIO