Cerebral Palsy is a disorder caused by injury to the motor areas in the brain, affecting muscle tone and the ability to control movement and posture. In most cases, the onset occurs during pregnancy or at childbirth. In other cases, infections such as meningitis or traumatic brain injury may result in cerebral palsy. There are three types of movement disturbances associated with cerebral palsy:
Spastic cerebral palsy, where muscles are tense, contracted, and resistant to movement. This is the most common form of cerebral palsy, especially in low birth weight or premature babies.
Athetoid cerebral palsy, where the affected parts of the body perform involuntary writhing movements, such as turning, twisting, facial grimacing, and drooling. This form of cerebral palsy generally involves damage only to the motor centers, not to other parts of the brain. In the past the "strange" and "unnatural" movements were diagnosed as signs of mental or emotional disturbance.
Ataxic cerebral palsy, where the main characteristic is lack of balance and coordination and altered depth perception, due to damage to the cerebellum. Ataxia involves difficulty maintaining balance and swaying when standing.
Sometimes several areas of the brain are involved, so the description of a particular child's condition may involve several of the above terms and symptoms. Also, the severity of the disability will vary from child to child, ranging from mild awkwardness to inability to walk. Other conditions associated with cerebral palsy may include: seizures, ADHD, learning disabilities, vision problems and speech impairment.
The practice of Yoga poses (asanas), followed by deep relaxation, can help to significantly reduce high muscle tone, which is characteristic of most children with cerebral palsy. Holding an asana gives the muscles and tendons a relaxing stretch, releasing overall stress and tightness throughout the musculature and around the joints. At the same time that asanas are relaxing the body, they also provide just enough resistance to exercise low muscle tone areas of the body. In this way asanas actually improve both high and low muscle tone problems in children with cerebral palsy.
Perhaps the most important aspect of asana practice for children with cerebral palsy is its ability to stretch and realign the spine. Asanas flex and twist the spine in all directions. This scientifically designed series of stretches and counter-stretches helps to create more space between the vertebrae and reduce pressure on the disks and nerves that radiate out of the spine. Reducing the pressure on these radial nerves facilitates the release of muscular tension throughout the body and enhances overall nerve function. As a result, the child is able to develop a greater range of movement and coordination, as well as greater independence.