Can Yoga help my sister?

“A mental disorder characterized by abnormalities in the perception or expression of reality. It most commonly manifests as auditory hallucinations, paranoid or bizarre delusions, or disorganized speech and thinking with significant social or occupational dysfunction. Onset of symptoms typically occurs in young adulthood, with around 0.4–0.6% of the population affected. Diagnosis is based on the patient’s self-reported experiences and observed behavior. No laboratory test for schizophrenia currently exists”.

The above paragraph is a description of Schizophrenia taken from Wikipedia.

Yes…the words in bold aptly describe my sister’s “weird” behaviours. She has had schizophrenia for close to 20 years. It’s really hard to describe the challenge of having to live with people who are mentally unwell. It’s more than just painful and stressful. I would have gone into depression if not for my regular yoga practice for the past 8 years. My sister talks to herself, yells in the public, is awake when others are asleep (thus affecting our sleep), always suspects that there are people out there who want to harm her….etc. I had fought with her before….especially when she “abused me verbally” (she is very good at that). I remembered hitting her with a broom many years ago during the lunar new year. I slapped her whenever she “bullied” my parents. But there was a sense of guilt whenever I got physical with her. I have to admit that there were times I wish she is dead. End of agony for her and the family. Period.

Most people said schizophrenia is an incurable medical condition (Question: Isn’t it worst than any terminal illness? At least there is a closure for terminally ill patients.). My sister will have to take medicine for the rest of her life (that’s what the doctor said). She is young and intelligent but her life is worst off than my elder brother who has down’s syndrome. My brother is happy in his own ways and I love him very much. A cup of coffee or a piece of biscuit will bring smile to his face. That simple. Happiness is obtained by living a life of simplicity and freedom. I know my brother will not live very long and I will do anything that makes him the happiest person every day. 😀

Back to my sister…can Yoga help to alleviate the symptoms of Schizophrenia? 

I did a Google search on “Schizophrenia” and “Yoga”. Some interesting information:

  • Sufferers will often swing in mood from the extremes of rajasic, chaotic energy to the dull inertia of a tamasic state. They may feel apathetic, low in motivation and be affected in speech, movement and thinking.
  • Physiologically, it seems that there is an overreaction of the neurotransmitters in the brain at the synapes, highlighted by an imbalance of chemicals (mostly hormones in the blood – adrenalin, leucine, serotonin and catecholin are possibly four such chemicals).
  • On an energetic level, there appears to be an imbalance in the ida and pingala nadis, causing some of the bizarre reactions.
  • Schizophrenic will often feel low in self-esteem, confidence, motivation and energy. A yoga class needs to be well within their capabilities, energizing for the body, mind and emotions, and supportive and encouraging. The person’s competence can vary from week to week so the teacher needs to be adaptable and encouraging, no matter what happens.
  • During times of extra stress, sufferers can become extremely introverted, their thinking and movement become slow and erratic, and actions can be irrational. Students need to be encouraged to extrovert themselves but not to the extent where they withdraw completely. If a practice is too confronting, they may just walk away.
  • Visualizations, mental activity, practices beyond the students’ abilities and those of an introverting nature should be avoided. Meditation should only be attempted under experienced guidance.

What are the suitable yoga practices for schizophrenic? Some suggestions from the web:

  • Asanas that are excellent in the beginning stages are the pawan muktasana (wind relieving pose) series, relaxation poses, simple standing asanas, marjariasana (cat pose), and shashankasana (hare pose). With some experience, the student could move on to more challenging asanas such as the vajrasana (thunderbolt pose) series, and standing and bending asanas. The trikonasana series is particularly good for building confidence and a positive attitude. Doing surya namaskara in progressive stages can slowly build up one’s ability to practise the series.
  • Pranayama practices have an introverting effect. However, they can also be calming and centering. These practices should not be done for long periods of time, and the teacher needs to be very aware to balance them with something dynamic. Yogic breathing is a good practice for encouraging relaxed respiration. The breath is often short and shallow during states of dissipated energy and psychosis. Bhramari is useful for reducing anxiety, anger and tension. Kapalbhati allows the mind to rest from thoughts and visions. Ujjayi and the cooling practices encourage tranquility. Nadi shodhana is an excellent practice for calming chaotic emotions and is also useful to balance ida and pingala nadis.
  • Yoga nidra needs to be kept very solidly in the body sensations, inducing relaxation and awareness without stimulating visualizations or excessive mental activity.
  • Practices that are unsuitable for schizophrenic are those of a very introverting nature. Eye exercises, forward bending asanas without backward bending counterposes, pranayama, and prana vidya are examples of practices that are introverting. Visualizations should be avoided and also the students’ capabilities should not be exceeded.

The only problem I have now is….I really don’t know how to get her started. 🙁