Visualization can help boost movement recovery after stroke.
It may sound too good to be true, but it’s a scientifically proven phenomenon:
By visualizing yourself moving mentally, you can help your body relearn how to move physically.
And it all boils down to neuroplasticity.
In this article, you’ll learn why neuroplasticity is your greatest ally and how visualization can help stimulate movement recovery after stroke.
Rewire Your Mind
Before we can dig into the specifics of visualization for stroke recovery, you need to know the fundamentals of neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity is the process that your brain uses to rewire itself and make new connections.
And the best way to engage neuroplasticity is through repetitive practice. The more you practice something, the better you get at it.
For example, each time you repeat a movement during your stroke rehab exercises, your brain strengthens the new connections. So you need to practice rehab exercises over and over and over in order to regain movement.
But what if you can’t move enough to practice a movement? Or what if your results have slowed down and you need something to nudge your progress along?
That’s where visualization comes into play.
Visualization Is Mental Magic
Visualization is the art of imagining. Well, specifically in this article, visualization is the art of imagining yourself moving.
And when you mentally visualize yourself moving, you stimulate your brain the same way that physical movement does!
So if your left arm is affected by stroke, for example, then you can visualize yourself using your left arm. This will stimulate neuroplasticity in the area of your brain responsible for controlling your left arm, and it will help you slowly regain movement!
This discover has amazing potential for all stroke survivors – especially those suffering from significant motor impairment.
To get yourself started with a visualization practice, try the following exercise.
A Simple Visualization Practice
For a simple visualization exercise, lie down on your bed with your eyes closed. Take a few deep breaths to relax. Then, visualize yourself moving like you did before stroke.
Try to incorporate as much sensory detail as possible because it engages more of the brain. Visualize what it looks like, smells like, and feels like – and maybe even tastes like.
For example, if you’d like to work on your gait (your manner of walking) and balance, then you can visualize yourself walking down the beach. Imagine the cool ocean breeze ruffling your hair, the soft sand between your toes, and the warm sun on your face.
The more creative and engaging your visualization is, the more of your brain will be engaged. And the more your brain is engaged, the more neuroplasticity you will benefit from.
How Other Stroke Survivors Have Benefited from Visualization
A stroke survivor and yoga teacher named Isabelle greatly benefited from using visualization during her recovery. We share her story in depth in our stroke recovery book Healing and Happiness After Stroke.
In short, Isabelle used visualization (along with many other mindfulness practices) to boost her recovery in a big way.
For example, each day Isabelle would lie in bed and simply visualize herself lifting her leg. And each day she would get better and better at lifting her leg in real life.
Once she regained enough movement, she started visualizing herself doing certain yoga poses. And each day she would get a little better at each pose.
Isabelle’s recovery took a swift six months, and her neurologist commented that Isabelle’s experience with yoga and visualization likely had a lot to do with the speed and quality of her recovery.
Stories like these affirm what we know is true: you have the power to achieve an amazing recovery if you put your mind to it. Literally.
Add Daily Visualization to Your Regimen
Visualization is a powerful tool that all stroke survivors should add to their regimen.
Make a goal of spending at least 5 minutes every day visualizing yourself moving the way you did before stroke. And when you’re in a pinch – even 30 seconds a day can help!
Be creative and include as much sensory detail as possible. You have the power to rewire your brain and regain movement faster than with regular exercise alone!
Have you tried visualization for stroke recovery before? Share your experience with us in the comments section below!