COLUMBIA - Experts say stroke is now the leading cause of disability and the fourth cause of death. The practice of yoga can help people recover after a stroke, as the exercise focuses on balance, building strength, breathing and stretching.
Studies have shown improved performance physically from taking yoga after a stroke. Impaired mobility and dependence on self care are two of the biggest problems stroke survivors have. People go through the traditional rehabilitation program early on, and then yoga is beneficial in the chronic phase after the rehab interventions.
A unique aspect of yoga is a lot of the postures are done sitting down, so people that may have trouble standing can still take part in the exercise.
Joseph Burris is the Stroke Rehabilitation Director with the University of Missouri and Rusk Rehabilitation Center. He recommends yoga to his patients three months after a stroke.
"Two specific problems people have after a stroke is balance and problems with strength, not only in their arms and legs but also in their body," Burris said.
Columbia resident Dale Karr had her first stroke in August of 2010 and a second one the following January. She lost all movement temporarily in her left side after the first stroke. Then in January 2011, the stroke hit the upper left part of her brain, affecting everything on her right side. The right side of her face was impaired for some time, which affected her speech. She still doesn't have fine motor skills in her right hand, and must focus on her speech everyday.
Karr has had a very successful recovery, and yoga two to three times a week is part of her healing process. Along with a few other classes, she tries to make the Gentle Yoga for Joints class at the ARC several times a week.
"One of the things they told me I needed to do was stretch, and more importantly was the correct breathing, so learning to breathe correctly and relaxing and stretching," she said.
Karr enjoys the group exercise environment in yoga classes, as that was what she grew accustomed to in her therapy sessions after the strokes.
Rehabilitation specialists encourage this kind of community exercise after a stroke. Experts also stress the importance of continuing exercise after the rehab to avoid regression of any kind.