How to Use Your Breath to Heal Faster during Stroke Recovery

How to Use Your Breath to Heal Faster during Stroke Recovery

Mindful breathing is the best thing that ever happened to stroke rehab, but no one is talking about it.

What gives?

We’ve seen a couple stroke survivors talk about it, like Amy over at My Cerebellar Story and Marcelle at Up Stroke. However, no one else seems to be talking about the benefits of mindful breathing during stroke rehab. No studies, no publications, no random articles, nada.

So we’re here to spread the word:

Linking your breath to movement during stroke rehab makes a big, awesome difference!

Breath/Movement Connection

The breath/movement connection is a well-known practice in yoga.

When you think about it, stroke recovery and yoga have many things in common. They focus on movement, body-mind connection, meditation, and breath. Each aspect is extremely important, and your breath plays a role in all of them.

In fact, yoga is centered on your breath.

Supported by Wind

When you move, your breath supports you.

In a typical yoga class, your instructor will remind you to link your breath to your movement multiple times – ideally many, many times. Breathe in, move one way. Breathe out, move another. Breathe in, expand. Breath out, release.

This breath/movement connection pulls you into the present moment and into your body, making it wildly therapeutic and healing.

For these reasons – among many, many others – your breath it’s one of the biggest contributing factors to the many benefits of yoga, like:

  • Reduced stress
  • Improved movement
  • Increased sense of spirituality

So the lesson here is this:

If you want to feel better and move better during stroke rehab – and for the rest of your life – start focusing on the link between your breath and movement while you exercise.

And if you can participate in yoga – do it! You won’t regret it.

What to Do

During your rehab exercises, try your best not to hold your breath.

You may not have the ability to remain conscious of your breath during your rehab exercises in the beginning of your recovery, and that’s okay. As long as the intention is there and you’re trying, then it will come with practice.

Once you can remain aware of your breath during your exercise, focus on linking your breath to your movements. For example, if you’re doing some Side Leg Raises to improve your balance, breathe in when you lift your leg and exhale when you lower.

Breathe in one movement, breathe out the next.

Again, it won’t come all at once, but you can get there with awareness and practice.

Heal Faster

You’ll notice that mindful breathing will slow your exercises down – and that’s a good thing.

Intentional movement pulls you into the present moment and helps turn your exercises into moving meditation. And you know about the benefits of meditation right? They’re insane! Read about them here.

And don’t let the whole ‘slow down’ thing make you think that it will slow down your recovery. Mindful breathing will help you reap greater benefits from your rehab exercises and move things along in a positive direction with momentum, which builds speed.

Which makes for a faster recovery. (The following story provides proof.)

Once you can gain the ability to link your breath to movements during stroke rehab, you can experience the benefits of meditation and rehab all at once – and your recovery will improve greatly.

A Speedy, Stroke Surviving Yoga Teacher

Yoga teacher Jacquie Boychuk suffered a stroke that left her entire right side immobilized. During rehab, she witnessed how the principles of yoga rapidly moved her recovery along.

Jacquie’s recovery took just over 3 months, which, according to her physiotherapist, was remarkable. Jacquie attributes her success to the healing powers of mind/body connection, breath/movement connection, and living in the present moment.

It only took Jacquie a week to regain control of her breath and coordinate it with her movement. According to her physiotherapist, it can take people who have never practiced breath control 3-4 months to coordinate their movement with controlled breath.

So if you’re having trouble linking breath to movement at first, give it time, and trust that things will soon progress rapidly.

Have you tried linking breath with movement during stroke rehab before?

Did you notice any changes in your progress?

Leave us a comment below and share your experience with our community!

  • Tamara Pots

    I’ve had breathing therapy and heart coherence training, which focused on breathing slower, but somehow nothing changes for me. I can’t seen to shake this moodiness and anger. Breathing exercises just make me more bored and frustrated.

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  • Victoria Rehn

    My recovery from hemorrhagic stroke proceeded remarkably rapidly, fueled by a 20 year yoga practice. I immediately began applying yoga principles, including breathing with my movements, to the exercises they had me doing in rehab. I was frustrated because my bed was alarmed, so moving in bed to practice yoga set the bed alarm off. All I could do was finger yoga, so I did that hour after hour. Repetition works — my fingers are more dexterous than my arm or leg.

    About 3 1/2 months after my stroke, I was walking a mile in 20 minutes with very little assistance from a single point cane. Then, I broke two bones in the foot of my affected side. I wasn’t coordinated enough to use crutched or balanced enough to use a knee scooter, so I was reduced to crawling from bed to toilet. (The doorways in my home are too narrow for a wheelchair.) That lasted two months and was a huge setback in my recovery.

    I should have been using mindfulness to avoid injuries, but I was pushing myself to recover fast. I ended up slowing my recovery. Nurses and therapists had been telling me to be more careful with myself, but I was strong, flexible and determined so I thought I knew my limits. I was wrong.

    Move mindfully with your breath. Don’t rush your recovery. It backfired for me.

    • Flint

      Great advice Victoria. It’s good to hear that applying yoga to your recovery helped a lot (we actually wrote about that in our book “Healing & Happiness After Stroke”). But finger yoga? That’s new! How do you do it?

      And I’m very sorry to hear that you sustained injury during your recovery. It sounds like you’ve recovered from that injury though, so keep up the great work!