A brand-new health breakthrough published in the journal “Stroke” shows that an ancient type of meditative exercise could help stroke survivors. Those who don’t receive rehabilitative care any longer can turn to group yoga to improve balance — and thus improve their lives.
In this study, researchers tested the potential benefits of yoga among chronic stroke survivors who had suffered their stroke more than six months earlier. Yoga in a group environment is both inexpensive and appears to improve motor function and balance. The study comprised 47 people, about three-quarters of them male veterans. They were divided into three groups: a twice-weekly group yoga for eight weeks; a “yoga-plus” group, which met twice weekly and had a relaxation recording to use at least three times a week; and a usual medical care group that did no rehabilitation.
The yoga classes, taught by a registered yoga therapist, included modified yoga postures, relaxation, and meditation. Classes grew more challenging each week.
The key finding: compared with patients in the usual-care group, those who completed yoga or yoga-plus significantly improved their balance. This is important, as balance problems frequently last long after a person suffers a stroke, and are related to greater disability and a higher risk of falls. Plus, yoga led to great scores for independence and quality of life.
For chronic stroke patients, rehabilitation therapy typically ends after six months or a year. But improvements can take longer to occur, because the brain can still change. So now researchers have found out that, with some assistance, even chronic stroke patients with significant paralysis on one side can manage to do modified yoga poses.
The oldest patient in the study was in his 90s. All participants had to be able to stand on their own at the study’s outset.
Yoga may be more therapeutic than traditional exercise, because the combination of postures, breathing and meditation may produce different effects than simple exercise. The issue will be finding a qualified yoga therapist to work with. A positive sign is that occupational therapists are beginning to work yoga into their treatment plans.
The study was fairly preliminary, so the researchers would like to hold a larger, better-designed trial to see what’s really happening here. One thing they did notice, which is important, is an improved mindset of patients about their disability. The participants talked about walking through a grocery store instead of using an assistive scooter, being able to take a shower, and feeling inspired to visit friends.
It can lead to a great upturn in confidence, which is a very meaningful change. And one that doesn’t have to be studied to be true.