May is National Stroke Awareness Month

Yoga May Help Improve Balance After a Stroke

Maintaining your balance can be a challenge after a stroke. Falls may happen when you least expect them, causing injuries that extend and complicate your recovery. Fortunately, enrolling in a yoga class offers a simple way to improve your balance naturally.

Yoga Helps You Avoid Falls

Balance issues can increase your risk of a fall after a stroke. If you've become unsteady on your feet, the fear of falling may prevent you from doing the things you normally do. Unfortunately, restricting your activities can make it much harder to regain your mobility and independence.

You can benefit from yoga even if you can't spend time on the floor. Chair yoga is an excellent way to begin your yoga practice after a stroke. As your strength and flexibility improve, you may find that you can transition to more active forms of yoga.

Yoga improves balances in several ways, including:

  • Strengthening Your Muscles and Joints. Strong bones and muscles are required for good balance. Performing yoga regularly will help you ensure that your muscles and bones are capable of supporting your body.
  • Coordinating Your Movements. Walking requires careful coordination of your movements, which can be challenging after a stroke. During yoga class, you'll focus on perfecting small, individual movements that make up a pose and learn how to gracefully move from one pose to the next. In addition to enhancing your coordination, yoga may also improve your perception of the way your body occupies space, allowing you to correct your posture or gait to prevent balance issues.
  • Improving Flexibility. It's much harder to maintain your balance if your joints and muscles are stiff. Yoga loosens tight muscles and joints, enhancing flexibility and range of motion.
  • Smoothing Your Gait. After a stroke, you may discover that your normal gait has changed. Gait refers to the way you walk. A hesitant or uneven gait can be a key factor in balance issues that lead to falls. Strengthening your muscles and joints while also improving your flexibility with yoga can help you improve the fluidity and stability of your gait.
  • Enhancing Confidence. Strengthening your movements with yoga can restore your confidence when walking, which may help you avoid falls.

What the Research Says

Multiple research study confirms yoga's benefits on balance after a stroke. A study published in the International Journal of Yoga evaluated the effect of yoga on a group of 14 seniors who had a history of falls. During the course of two months, the participants performed chair yoga. Poses were specially selected to improve balance and agility along with strengthening bones and muscles.

At the conclusion of the study, participants recorded improvements in balance, ability to reach with arms, length of time it took to get out of a chair, and fear of falling. Improvements were also noted in the use of assistive devices. Three participants stopped using the devices completely, thanks to their yoga classes.

In another study published in Stroke, participants performed yoga poses seated, standing, and on the floor for eight weeks, while a control group remained on a waitlist. The group that performed yoga experienced a significant improvement in balance, according to researchers.

Participating in yoga classes offers an effective way to regain your balance after a stroke.

Sources:

Oxford Academic: Age and Ageing: Yoga-Based Exercise Improves Balance and Mobility in People Aged 60 and Over: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis, 1/16

International Journal of Yoga: Safety and Feasibility of Modified Chair-Yoga on Functional Outcome Among Elderly at Risk for Falls: July 2012

Stroke: Poststroke Balance Improves with Yoga, 7/26/12

American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine Rehabilitation and Tips for Balancing the Body After a Stroke

American Stroke Association: About Stroke