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Stroke Patients Feel Better, Regain Strength After Yoga

Update Date: Jul 27, 2012 09:35 AM EDT

Yoga, the physical, mental, and spiritual discipline originating in ancient India has seen growing popularity worldwide in the last couple of decades. Regular practitioners report improved mental and physical health; researchers are now keen to know the effects of Yoga on the life of people who practice it. 

A latest study conducted by occupational therapists at Indiana University in the US, on a small group, has revealed that performing yoga can help people regain their balance after a stroke. It prevents them from falling over and maintains their independence, the study says.  

The researchers put stroke victims on an eight-day yoga course and found that the practice significantly improved their self- balancing capability when compared to those who were not put on the regime. The participants also reported feeling more able in their lives as a whole.

The researchers had examined 47 stroke victims at least 6 months before they were put on yoga regime. 

Strokes generally cause paralysis on one side of the body and patients often need rehabilitation in order to gain back independent movements and physical functions. Very few stroke victims can afford long-term rehabilitation regime since its expensive and also because there is a notion that the brain 'rewires' itself only for a limited time after the stroke. 

The researchers thus wanted to find out if yoga classes could help people who had suffered a stroke some time ago. For the study, the researchers randomly selected participants who could stand on their own and divided them into three groups. Two groups were put on yoga regime, while the third group received the usual care.

It was found that people who participated in the yoga regimes felt much better and they hardly feared falling down. They were more independent and seemed much happier with their lives when compared to the group which was given the usual health care.

"For chronic stroke patients, even if they remain disabled, natural recovery and acute rehabilitation therapy typically ends after six months, or maybe a year. But we know for a fact that the brain still can change. The problem is the healthcare system is not necessarily willing to pay for that change. The study demonstrated that with some assistance, even chronic stroke patients with significant paralysis on one side can manage to do modified yoga poses." Arlene Schmid, assistant professor of occupational medicine, was quoted as saying by the Telegraph.

It was noted that the participants of yoga also reported feeling more confident. "It has to do with the confidence of being more mobile. Although they took time to unfold, these were very meaningful changes in life for people," Schmid reported.

Schmid and her colleagues recommend yoga and suggest that the benefits of it might be better than traditional exercises since yoga involves a combination of poses and meditation, which make the brain work harder. 

However, a larger study is need in order to draw conclusions, they cautioned. 

"Many stroke survivors have problems with balance which puts them at an increased risk of falling. We know that even the smallest amount of exercise can be an effective way to improve balance and this early research shows how yoga can also help," Dr Clare Walton, of the Stroke Association said according to Telegraph.

"Stroke can be an extremely isolating condition and many stroke survivors are left with depression as a result.  Therefore, as well as helping with balance and movement problems, group activities such yoga can also help survivors reintegrate into society and get back to life," Walton added. 

 The findings were published in the journal Stroke.

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