Yoga is frequently thought of as a mind-body activity, where we strengthen ourselves physically and also learn to focus and relax. This process of gaining awareness and finding a balance in life is key to how Yoga is inherently therapeutic. Yoga Therapy is gaining prominence in the area of alternative remedies, as it can be individualized according to one’s unique condition. One such instance is Cerebral Palsy.
Cerebral Palsy is a neurological condition usually caused by brain damage before or during birth, or due to a traumatic injury to the spine during the infant years. There is impairment of motor function, and this can surface in mild forms where it’s barely discernable, or more severe cases such as uncontrollable jerks and trembles. These are symptoms of over-active muscles and low muscle tone and may lead to other conditions such as scoliosis (unusual curvature of the spine) in the growing years. Statistics show that around 2 to 3 out of 1,000 children have cerebral palsy. The condition does not worsen with age, and intellect is not affected.
How can Yoga Therapy help?
Teacher War War describes how she would motivate the child through fun and manageable activities. For example, to learn to breathe properly, War War would create a simple ‘path’ for the child to blow a ping pong ball along it. The ‘path’ can be made more challenging over time. The child is also tasked to teach her parents to learn this activity at home so that she takes pride in it and develops mastery over the simple but important technique of breathing.
In the case of lovely 4-year-old Ariel, she is a typically curious little girl, and she learns to relax her easily-tense muscles through simple cues – are her hands tight or uncurled? With such awareness, she learns to catch a softball by not jerking her arms and hands too much. She is also stiff due to low muscle tone, and to increase muscular strength, War War starts easily by having Ariel lean against a chair, and gain awareness of grounding her feet on the floor. In the next step, Ariel is guided into poses such as a balancing tree pose on one leg. It is necessary to repeat the exercises several times to develop muscle memory, and thus be seen as different levels of ‘fun challenge’ to encourage the child to persevere.
For most children with cerebral palsy, their neurons are firing roughly ten times as fast as other kids, hence it is essential to help them to calm down the too-rapid brain chatter. They even find it difficult to sleep and lay still. Yoga can help by introducing simple meditative activities such as deep breathing, chanting or singing nursery rhymes to reduce distractions and focus on relaxation. Physiological changes in the body occur over time, as the child grasps coordination skills and refined awareness of her body and mind.
Hence, children become more confident as they gain awareness of their condition in a positive setting, cultivate motor coordination and patience, and feel motivated to stay healthy and happy!