Sometimes unexpected things occur in life that shake us down to our core. For many people, a stroke can really cause them to feel the vulnerability of the human form. During a stroke, the oxygen to the brain is cut off due to a blockage in a blood vessel which supplies blood to the brain or because a blood vessel in the brain ruptures. When a person experiences a stroke fragile brain tissue is damaged on some level. Post-stroke, many individuals suffer from issues with balance, speech, one-sided weakness, and memory. Can you imagine...waking up one day to find your physical and mental abilities drastically decreased? Thoughts and feelings of doubt, fear, and frustration rise up to the surface and stroke victims have an important journey of rehabilitation ahead of them. More importantly, strokes can reoccur doing more damage each time. A well-balanced lifestyle geared towards reducing buildup of plaque and inflammation, while maintaining a healthy blood sugar and blood pressure level is integral to a healthy stroke-free future.
As with anyone starting a new yoga practice, it is important to study with a qualified and knowledgeable teacher. Yoga can be an incredibly beneficial practice, however, if practiced incorrectly it can do damage. Seek out a Registered Yoga Teacher and preferably one with years of experience. Inform your teacher of any physical or mental obstacles you are facing so they can cater the practice to your unique body.
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In my perspective, sometimes it takes a combination of things to really heal a person or situation. It's usually not just one thing that helps us shift in our life... it's many. Practicing Yoga can be an integral part of a stroke recovery program. However, it is not a replacement for a standard rehabilitation program. There is now scientific evidence to support that yoga helps to improve balance in stroke rehabilitation. Yoga is much more than a physical practice, it is a holistic system to promote union of the body, mind and spirit. As part of a therapeutic yoga program, you might practice: breathing, meditation, postures, concentration exercises, chanting, relaxation exercises, laughter, etc. Yoga therapy interweaves the many healing traditions of yoga into a customized program for each individual student.
Yoga Practices for Stroke Recovery and Prevention:
Full Torso Breathing: deep breathing practice, which encourages practitioner to breath fully into both the abdomen and chest. With each inhale the abdomen and chest inflate. With each exhale the abdomen and chest deflate. Sometimes it is helpful to place one hand over your chest and one hand over your abdomen and feel the breath flowing in and out. You should feel your chest and abdomen rise and fall. Can practice this breathing in seated meditation, asana practice, or even reclining. If breath is very shallow do not get discouraged, do what you can and keep practicing. Take 5 deep to 10 deep breaths minimum.
- Why it Matters: Full torso breathing helps to maximize the capacity of your breath. When you use the full torso to breath you are taking in lot of oxygen and expelling a lot of carbon dioxide. Taking in more oxygen allows more oxygen to be available to the brain tissues. Some research suggests that deep breathing helps to rebuild the brain after a stroke. This style of breathing also helps to relax and calm the mind and whole being.
Shoulder Shrugs and Rolls: Sit in a comfortable seated position in a chair or on the floor.
- Shoulder Shrugs: Inhale shrug your shoulders up to your ears and squeeze. Exhale, let out a sigh as you relax your shoulders back and down. Inhale, shrug and squeeze. Exhale, let go as you relax shoulders. Repeat 3x-6x total.
- Shoulder Rolls: Inhale, roll your shoulders forward and lift them up your ears. Exhale, rolls your shoulders back and then down. Repeat 3x, then reverse. Inhale, roll your shoulders back and up to your ears. Exhale, roll your shoulders forward and down. Repeat 3x.
- Why it Matters: This posture will help to loosen up and soften the tissues of the upper body. By softening imbalance between the right and left upper limbs, one can develop strength and flexibility in a balanced way. By loosening the upper body, we also help to clear away tension and stress that many people house in their shoulders, necks, and upper back.
Lateral Reaches: Sit in a comfortable seated position in a chair or on the floor. Lengthen your spine. Center the crown of your head over the middle of your spine. Inhale, lift your left arm up. Exhale, stretch your left arm to the right so you come into a side bend. Inhale, raise your spine to neutral. Exhale, release your left arm down and then reverse. Inhale, lift your right arm up. Exhale, stretch your right arm to the left. Inhale, raise your spine to neutral. Exhale, release your right arm down. Repeat 3-6x moving with the breath.
- Why it Matters: Lateral reaches help to lengthen the side-waist and promote flexibility of the upper body. Also, postures and breath movements which cultivate awareness of the right and left side of the body are good for the brain.
Warrior One at the Wall: Stand facing towards a wall. Press both hands into the wall shoulder height and shoulder distance apart. Step your right foot back about 3-4 feet. Plant your right heel down and turn your toes out at an angle. Even your hips out so that you right and left hip are balanced. Press firmly down through both feet.
- Why it Matters: This posture helps to open up the hip flexors on one side, strengthens the legs, and ankles. This pose may help train the body and mind to balance again.
Walking Meditation: Stand near a wall either touching it or close enough to touch it if you need to. Place one heel down and begin to walk slowly from heel to toe. Bring flexibility into the soles of the feel by taking time to press into the toes, ball mount, and heel of both feet each time you take a step. It's not a race...in fact moving slowly will help you build more strength, more awareness, and more balance. Be mindful of your breath and body as you take each step.
- Why it Matters: This posture will help to strengthen your legs, feet, and core all while improving your balance. It may seem scary to take that first step... take a deep breath. You can do this one step at a time!
Keri Marino is an internationally Registered Yoga Teacher, Yoga Therapist and Propmaker. She owns and operates Yoga Unique offering Yoga Therapy, Classes, Workshops and Yoga products. It is her mission to empower others to have improved quality of life through the practice of Yoga!
I'm a Yoga Therapist, Teacher & Mama Bear who is all in on mindful authentic living. This blog is a collection of my passion for all things yoga, nutrition, health and cooking. Subscribe to the blog for monthly goodies delivered right to your email!