Yoga offers significant benefits for stroke patients, especially when it comes to improving movement and independence.
You’re about to discover these benefits. After that, you’ll learn how a yoga teacher used this practice to speed up her recovery from stroke.
We hope it inspires you to safely start your own yoga practice to aid your recovery.
Yoga Is About More than Cool-Looking Poses
First, let’s clarify who can do yoga. (Hint: it’s not just for bendy people.)
You don’t need to be flexible or have perfect posture or balance to do yoga. It’s about much more than cool-looking poses. In fact, poses are only a small part of yoga.
Yoga involves a combination of poses, meditation, breathing, and observation techniques. It’s about fostering your mind-body connection, which can greatly benefit stroke recovery.
In fact, mind-body connection is at the core of stroke rehabilitation. Physical and occupational therapy revolve around rewiring the brain (through neuroplasticity) to improve movement in the body for increased functional abilities.
As the brain rewires itself, it improves communication between the brain and body (i.e. your “mind-body connection”).
Best of all, yoga can be adapted to meet your ability level. For an example, here’s a video that demonstrates a classic yoga pose adapted for stroke patients:
The simplicity of the yoga practice allows stroke patients to reap many different benefits.
Benefits of Yoga for Stroke Patients
Soon, we’ll we share a success story for yoga and stroke recovery. But first, you should understand why yoga is helpful.
Here are some major benefits of yoga for stroke patients:
1. Improves Mind-Body Connection
Yoga is therapeutic for stroke recovery because of the intense focus and attention required. Each movement is slow and deliberate.
Even if you can’t accomplish the movement perfectly, the stimulation helps your mind-body connection. More movement, especially if it is repetitive, helps the rewiring process of neuroplasticity.
2. Improves Balance, Range of Motion, and Strength
In a study from 2014, 37 stroke survivors participated in yoga twice a week for 8 weeks. By the end, patients experienced improved pain, neck range of motion, passive hip range of motion, upper extremity strength, and endurance.
These are major benefits. During the study, patients were guided through a yoga practice that included postures, breathing, meditation, and relaxation while sitting, standing, or on the floor.
This goes to show that you don’t need to be flexible or make fancy postures to benefit from yoga for stroke patients. Even simple elements, like meditation, can have a profound effect.
3. Improves Walking and Balance
Stroke survivors that suffer from mobility issues may experience poor balance and gait (manner of walking).
Fortunately, in the same 2014 study on yoga for stroke recovery, researchers discovered that yoga helped stroke survivors improve both balance and gait speed.
The quality of their gait improved, demonstrated by longer steps and better coordination. Best of all, the study didn’t even intend to discover a correlation between yoga and gait improvement!
Researcher Tracy Dierks reported, “The yoga intervention was designed to improve balance, not gait; we did not focus on improving gait at all. Yet we saw major improvements in most clinical gait measurements.”
Researchers found benefits outside of their original purpose. This speaks volumes for the power of yoga for stroke patients.
4. Accessible for All Stroke Patients
Yoga is also helpful for stroke patients because it can be tailored to almost any stage of recovery.
As you work on recovery from post-stroke paralysis, perhaps you regain some mobility.
From there, you can try chair yoga or use props (like foam blocks) to support your poses.
Here’s a chair yoga flow demonstrated by a stroke survivor who credits yoga to her amazing recovery.
Additionally, even if your stroke affected you more cognitively than physically, yoga may still be able to assist in your recovery process. Practicing yoga requires sustained attention, sequencing skills, and potentially even problem-solving abilities, all of which could be affected by a stroke. Frequently participating in activities, such as yoga, that require these higher-level cognitive skills facilitates improvements in these areas through the brain’s neuroplasticity.
For survivors of an occipital lobe stroke, who may have developed visual impairments, practicing yoga can provide an opportunity to encourage individuals to utilize newly learned compensatory techniques. For example, the visual demands of yoga, from watching the instructor move throughout the room to examining one’s own positioning, would allow those with a visual field deficit to practice scanning techniques throughout the session.
Yoga is great for helping with many aspects of stroke recovery.
5. Reminds You to Breathe While You Exercise
Breathing is important during all forms of exercises – especially rehabilitation exercise.
However, when stroke patients struggle with movement, sometimes they may hold their breath without realizing it. This limits the amount of oxygen available to the body and brain, which isn’t good – especially during rehabilitation.
Fortunately, yoga places a heavy emphasis on linking breath to movement. Breathe in, move one way. Breathe out, move another way.
This emphasis on your breath will help prompt you to breathe when you’re doing yoga for stroke recovery – and when you’re going about your daily life.
As you can see, there are many benefits of yoga for stroke patients. Next, we’ll share a success story to help inspire you to get started.
How a Stroke Survivor and Yoga Teacher Boosted Her Recovery
A 51-year-old yoga teacher named Isabelle suffered a stroke, and her recovery was remarkably fast. It took her 3 months to reach a robust recovery, and she gives the credit to her experience with yoga.
Specifically, she noted that her breath/movement connection and mental practice helped a lot. (Mental practice is a top rehabilitation technique for overcoming post-stroke paralysis or boosting mobility in general.)
Isabelle’s mental practice involved visualizing herself doing various yoga poses.
Each day, she’d lie in bed and visualize those yoga poses, and then she would try to practice them in real life. And every day, Isabelle noticed that she could do the pose a little better.
(This example came from a chapter of Healing & Happiness After Stroke.)
Mental practice and yoga are both great for stroke recovery because they help rewire the brain.
This doesn’t mean that everyone will recover quickly after stroke through yoga. It’s likely that Isabelle sustained a mild or moderate stroke, resulting in secondary effects that were faster to remedy than others.
Yoga is just one of many rehabilitation methods that you can use to boost recovery from stroke.
Start Your Yoga Practice for Stroke Recovery
There are many benefits of yoga for stroke recovery. We recommend that you look into starting your yoga practice as soon as possible.
Hop online and see if there are any yoga therapists in your area. Then give them a call to see if they have experience with stroke survivors.
Be safe and have fun!