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Stroke Smart Magazine

Fall 2010

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Stretch 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.

Currently, Dr. 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.

Though 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.

Opening 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 chairs.
Find a teacher who is knowledgeable in yoga therapy and who is willing to work with you one on one for a few private sessions.
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 chest.
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 
the benefits.
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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National Stroke Association’s mission is to reduce the incidence and impact of stroke by developing compelling education and programs focused on prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and support for all impacted by stroke.

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