How To Use Yoga As An Empowering Alternative Therapy For A Child With Cerebral Palsy

How To Use Yoga As An Empowering Alternative Therapy For A Child With Cerebral Palsy

UK-based charity Pace estimates that there are currently around 30,000 children with cerebral palsy (CP) in the country. CP is a common motor disorder, caused when the brain is damaged during development, and it can cause stiffness in the muscles, a lack of muscle coordination, and variation in muscle tone. If you’re the parent of a child with a motor disorder like CP, you may be surprised to learn that yoga is gaining in popularity as an alternative therapy… although when you think about the overall benefits you experience from yoga yourself, it may not be difficult to see why.

How yoga can help a child with CP

The most obvious benefit yoga has to offer children with a motor disorder is increased muscle strength and flexibility. The rigid muscle tone and tension commonly seen in children with CP can be helped by yoga stretches, and working on holding poses over time allows them to build their strength. The benefits run further than this, however: yoga can also help children to increase their awareness of their own body and improve their coordination. The repetition of movements and poses helps them to learn how to control their movement, developing their confidence in the process. Yoga also benefits a child’s concentration, and learning breathing techniques gives them a tool to help them focus their minds – a skill they can then take into other areas of life. Furthermore, regular practise can reduce stress and anxiety, giving them a coping mechanism for life.

Consult with your child’s care team

While children with CP and other motor disorders stand to benefit substantially from yoga, it’s important to realise that sessions must be adapted to meet their needs. The best place to start is to consult with your child’s doctor or physical therapist (PT), who will be able to recommend experienced professionals. Alternatively, you may be able to work directly with the PT to incorporate yoga exercises into their daily routines. 

How much poses and movements need to be adapted will depend on your child’s specific needs, and working with professionals who understand their needs, abilities and limitations will ensure that asanas are safe for your child. There may also be some children for whom yoga will not be appropriate, and your child’s medical team will be able to tell you this. It’s important to note that yoga can complement a child’s other treatments, but it should not be seen as a replacement for physical therapy or other interventions.

Making yoga fun for kids

If your child’s medical team gives you the go ahead, you can start introducing yoga to your child in a fun and straightforward way. Your PT or the specialist yoga teacher they’ve directed you to will help you adjust the poses for your child, and you can guide them through meditations yourself. Remind your child that they should stop if they feel discomfort or pain and that they shouldn’t try to force a position that’s uncomfortable for them.

Encourage your child to focus on their achievements rather than on positions they currently find too challenging. They will reap the most benefits from yoga if they feel relaxed, and as soon as they begin to feel stressed out, it will start to lose its power. One way you can help to keep things light and engaging is to rename the poses in fun language that encourages their imagination to work. For example, a ‘tree’ pose can be guided by telling a child to grow their branches as long as they can rather than simply telling them to stretch. Using familiar objects when you describe the poses will help them to understand the exercises better and is also simply just more fun for them. Make the process collaborative by challenging rather than instructing them: for example, rather than telling them to keep their arms stretched, you could say, “How long do you think you can hold this position?”

Yoga can give children a greater sense of control over their bodies and improve their confidence enormously. Work with your child’s care team to come up with adaptations to the asanas that will work best for them, or consider joining a yoga class designed specifically for children with special needs. This has the added benefits of enabling your child to make new friends and allowing you to meet with parents who face similar challenges to your own. As you probably already know, special needs organisations are essential to families and are crucial to networking, and they’re a great place to start if you’re looking for classes aimed at children with special needs.

If you have a child with special needs, you might find the following helpful:

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