After a stroke, group yoga builds balance

INDIANA U. (US) — Group yoga improves motor function and balance for stroke survivors, even if they don’t begin yoga until six months or more after the stroke.

For a new study, forty-seven older adults, three-quarters of whom were male, were divided into three sections: One group engaged in twice-weekly group yoga for eight weeks; the second met twice weekly for group yoga and was provided with a relaxation audio recording to use at least three times weekly; and the third received usual medical care that included no rehabilitation.

The yoga classes, taught by a registered yoga therapist, included modified yoga postures, relaxation, and meditation. Classes grew more challenging each week.


As reported in the journal Stroke, improvement in balance was statistically significant and clinically meaningful. It was also greater than previously found by other post-stroke exercise trials. Participants reported they increasingly attempted new activities in different, more challenging environments and, while aware of potential fall risk, grew confident in maintaining their balance.

“For patients, like those in our study, natural recovery and acute rehabilitation therapy typically ends after six or, less frequently, 12 months,” says Arlene Schmid, assistant professor of occupational therapy at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. “We found that yoga exercises significantly extended rehabilitation beyond the first year after stroke.”

Yoga may be more therapeutic than traditional exercise because the combination of postures, breathing, and meditation may produce different effects than simple exercise, says Schmid, who plans to further study the effectiveness of group yoga to improve balance, quality of life, and participation in everyday activities. Yoga’s mind-body connection may be what makes it more powerful and engaging than other strengthening exercise.

Schmid is a Regenstrief Institute investigator and a rehabilitation research scientist with the Center of Excellence on Implementing Evidence-Based Practice at the Richard Roudebush VA Medical Center.

The study was funded by the VA Quality Enhancement Research Initiative, or QUERI.

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