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Your Rehab Options
Yoga Can Assist in Stroke Recovery
By Megan McCraken
It was a particularly
special and rewarding day at my yoga studio. In my gentle chair yoga class,
Gloria got every instruction correct, even through the twisting series, which
can get tricky. She flowed through class with ease, grace and a gentle smile.
And at the end of class we all celebrated her 90th birthday.
When I first met
Gloria, it had been six months since she had suffered a major stroke. She and
her daughter came to a free yoga class that I offer to seniors each week. For
most of the class, she only sat there, unable to tilt her head when we did,
twist when we twisted or even stand when we stood. She could, however, do the
breath work that we were doing, and I could tell she was trying to process the
movement. The next week she returned with her caregivers and she has been here
every week for a year making inspiring progress each class. She can now not only
navigate all of the repetitive movements that we do, she has her right and left
sides correct and can even process the new poses that we are learning.
Though she has
worked with a lot of different therapies, Gloria says that yoga has been a big
part of her recovery. “It helps me to
relax, regain my balance and get strong. It’s also a lot of fun, we laugh a lot
and it makes me happy,” she says.
Many other stroke
survivors are adding yoga to their recovery process to regain mobility,
coordination, strength, balance and flexibility. They find it also helps with
focus, relaxation, anxiety and depression. Talk with your healthcare
professional about introducing yoga into your rehabilitation and fitness
routine to find out if it would be helpful and safe for you.
Maarten A. Immink of the University of South Australia is conducting a
scientific study on yoga and stroke recovery. He is studying the effects of
yoga on movement ability, improved mood and self-reported quality of life with
stroke survivors. The results should be out later this year. In the meantime:
A study by Continuum Center for
Health and Healing in New York found yoga improved fine-motor coordination in
patients and helped with language impairment.
- A study conducted by Julie Bastille
and Kathleen Gill-Body, published in the Journal of the American Physical
Therapy Association, suggests that yoga helps stroke patients who suffer
from hemiparesis or weakness in one side of the body.
I’m sure there will be many more studies proving the benefits of yoga for
stroke survivors, all the proof I need is Gloria’s huge smile as she stands
balanced with ease and confidence in her most graceful Warrior One pose.
up to Yoga
Check with your doctor to make sure yoga is a
recommended activity for you.
Find a gentle yoga class, preferably one that uses
Find a teacher who is knowledgeable in yoga
therapy and who is willing to work with you one on one for a few private
Be sure to keep your head positioned above your
hips when you first begin; going too deeply into a forward bend or any form of
inversion can be dangerous if your blood pressure is high.
Keep your neck neutral and in line with your
Use breath to help you
relax and become fully present. A deep belly breath is the best place to start.
Let the breath guide your practice. If you can’t take a deep, full breath in a
pose, you might need to modify.
Go often. The more you practice, the greater
Have patience with yourself. Enjoy the process,
have fun and laugh!
Megan McCraken, registered yoga teacher, is
owner/instructor of Simple Yoga Montana.
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