This article has been fact checked by a Board Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner. Sources of information for the article are listed at the bottom.
For any content issues please Contact Us.
Yoga for cerebral palsy could be beneficial for many people. Yoga is an ancient physical and spiritual exercise known to relieve stress, improve flexibility and strength, and have other health benefits. Yoga modified for individual needs can have a positive impact on the quality of life of someone living with cerebral palsy.
Yoga and its Proven Health Benefits
While some studies into how yoga can benefit people with cerebral palsy are inconclusive, there is already a wealth of evidence for how yoga provides health benefits in general.
Yoga is an ancient practice that comes from India. There are several branches of complete yoga practice, including breathing exercises and meditation, but most modern practitioners focus on asana, the postures, or poses.
Asanas are specific postures held for a period of time and designed to prepare the body with strength and clarity for meditation. While these are the original and authentic purposes of the asanas, in modern practice, they provide several health benefits, both physical and mental.
Most people practice hatha yoga, which is a series of poses that are held for a period of time with a focus on breathing.
Some of the general benefits that have been proven through studies of people practicing yoga, primarily hatha yoga, include weight loss and better eating habits. Not all forms of yoga are strenuous or intense, like Ashtanga or Power Yoga. But all can help stimulate metabolism while assisting with weight loss and weight management.
The mindfulness practiced during yoga also helps people eat more mindfully, consuming smaller portions and making better choices. Other important and proven benefits of yoga are overall better physical fitness, improved cardiovascular health, and lower blood pressure.
Potential Benefits of Yoga for Children with Cerebral Palsy
Physical therapy is already a well-known and effective type of therapy to help children with cerebral palsy strengthen their muscles, improve balance, gain mobility, and get other benefits that improve symptoms. Yoga can be used similarly, often modified for an individual’s needs or limitations, to help children see benefits.
Many of these benefits are similar to the benefits that people can get from practicing yoga. For instance, a child with cerebral palsy may struggle with poor muscle tone. Yoga is a good way to help strengthen muscles in a way that is gentle, and that can be adapted for a range of ability levels.
Another benefit of yoga is that it stretches the body and improves flexibility. For a child with cerebral palsy, this can help increase flexibility, range of motion in joints, and overall mobility.
Especially important is that yoga can stretch the spine and help realign it better. This kind of stretching of the spine increases the spacing between vertebrae, which releases pressure on nerves.
The overall result is a feeling of lessened muscular tension and relaxation throughout the entire body. There are also the less tangible benefits of yoga that can help kids with cerebral palsy: relaxation, less stress, better body image, and an overall better sense of well-being.
An essential factor to remember in helping children, and even adults, with cerebral palsy use yoga for relief of symptoms, is that it often needs to be an adapted form of yoga.
With any degree of physical disability, performing the asana postures precisely as they are described is not possible. This doesn’t mean that someone with a disability cannot benefit from the poses, only that they need to be adapted.
One example of adapted yoga often used with people with cerebral palsy is chair yoga. This allows people with a range of disabilities, including those that confine a person to a wheelchair, to enjoy the benefits of yoga. The poses are modified from the perspective of sitting in a chair.
So, for instance, a person struggling with balance can still use a pose but while sitting. Other adaptations for yoga involve various other props, like blocks or straps, and the assistance of a trained practitioner or coach who has experience working with disabled participants.
Mindfulness and Meditation
Although asanas are the most common way people in the west experience yoga, an essential part of this ancient practice is mindfulness. Participants should be mindful—which means focusing on the body’s position and breathing—while performing the poses.
Yoga can also include the active practice of meditation—sitting still and focusing on the present, most often by focusing on breathing.
Meditation is proven to have a number of benefits, which can help children and adults with cerebral palsy. These include lowering stress and anxiety, reducing gastrointestinal symptoms, improving sleep, and reducing feelings of depression.
Getting Started with Yoga
If you live with cerebral palsy or have a child with the condition, trying yoga is a valid way to see real and positive benefits. The important thing to keep in mind is that you need to work with a professional, someone who is not only trained in instructing yoga postures but also in working with people who have physical disabilities.
The poses will need to be adapted, and it takes an experienced professional to know how to adapt them to each individual. Start with your doctor or physical therapist for a recommendation of a professional you can work with.
Yoga is thousands of years old, but today it is being modified and adapted in varied and positive ways. For children with cerebral palsy, this can mean participating in an activity that helps them move better, feel better, and have a greater sense of self-confidence and control. The many benefits of yoga are why everyone with cerebral palsy should give it a try.
- Veneri D , et al. (n.d.). Using the international classification of functioning, disability, and health model to gain perspective of the benefits of yoga in stroke, multiple... - PubMed - NCBI. National Center for Biotechnology Information.
Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29406768
- Yoga: What you need to know. (2019, May). National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health
Retrieved from: https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/yoga-what-you-need-to-know
- Effectiveness of Iyengar yoga in treating spinal (back and neck) pain: A systematic review. (2015, January). PubMed Central (PMC).
Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4278133/