YOGA: Benefits of Yoga for Stroke Rehabilitation

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By Geeta Maraj
July 31st, 2013 Edition

While yoga has become a general term used to describe a form of exercise geared to those with greater flexibility, there is much more to this magnificent art.  Studies continue to show that yoga is beneficial in aiding stroke survivors improve their balance, flexibility, as well as, restore muscle strength and tone.

When a person suffers from a stroke, the brain is deprived of a steady supply of oxygen-rich blood which is vital to its efficient functioning. A stroke occurs as a result of a blockage or a break in one of the vessels which supplies blood to the brain. This creates damage to the fragile brain tissue, and depending on where this occurs, various limitations to the body is the resulting factor.

The consequences of a stroke can be paralysis on one side of the body, speech impediment, and difficulty with memory, coordination and association of ideas.  More so, stroke victims often suffer from balance issues which result in a greater risk of falling and bone injuries.

Routinely, after a stroke, there is a rehabilitation program in which the sufferer is enrolled, so as to improve balance, coordination and muscular tone. Adding a yoga routine to help with rehabilitation can greatly enhance recovery rate.  Yoga not only tones and stretches specific muscles that are affected but also helps with emotional and psychological recovery.  The latter is mainly through a variety of breathing and relaxation routines.

Always seek your doctor’s consent before starting a yoga routine as some yoga stretches should be avoided based on the victim’s health status.  Equally, seek a yoga therapist who is qualified to render such therapy.  Most often, such a routine requires a personal yoga therapist as there are not many yoga classes geared solely to victims of stroke.

Also of importance is finding ways to prevent a second stroke from ever occurring. Depending on the type of stroke from which one has suffered, the preventative measures differ.  However the basics for preventing a stroke in the first place, or have a recurrence of a stroke includes: not smoking, control of your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, a healthy diet, and having a balance between work and leisure time.

There are a number of exercises in yoga which help to tone the facial muscles after a stroke.  These exercises can be routinely performed whether you have had a stroke or not, for they help to strengthen the facial muscles.  As we get older, it is equally important to strengthen the extrinsic and intrinsic muscles of the tongue. The extrinsic muscles help the tongue move up and down, from side to side and in and out.  These muscles keep the tongue in place by being latched to the jaw bone. The intrinsic muscles are within the tongue and aid in the tongue’s ability to alter its shape.  This feature is important for clear speech and correct swallowing or deglutition. By strengthening the muscles of the tongue, choking on solids and liquids when eating can be prevented. Choking allows small particles to be pushed into the lungs, gradually increasing pneumonia risks.

Here are a few exercises which can be performed to strengthen facial and tongue muscles:

Trace the shape of each of your tooth with the tip of your tongue.  When tracing the shape of each tooth, be sure to trace over the entire front of your tooth, the surface of each tooth and the back of your tooth. Start from the upper left back molar and move slowly around to the upper right back molar.  Then trace with tongue, the bottom teeth beginning with the right back molar and move along to the left back molar.  This will be difficult to do at first as your tongue will ache but persevere and the ache will be less as you strengthen the tongue muscles.  Try to do this exercise at least 2 to 3 times a day.

A second exercise is to push the cheek away with your tongue.  This exercise is done by reaching around the circumference of the mouth with your tongue and push away the cheek from the gum line.  Again, begin from the back, upper left side of your teeth and move your tongue across to the right upper teeth, pushing the cheek from the gum line with as much strength as possible.  Then proceed in the same manner from the bottom right lower jaw and move over to the bottom left lower jaw.  Remember it is the strength in the push of your tongue between your cheek and gum line that tones the tongue muscles.

Relax the facial muscles by blowing a huge air bubble onto the right cheek, and then push the air bubble to the left side, pushing out the left check.  Then switch the air bubble back and forth between the two cheeks as often as is comfortable.

Remember to always breathe as you do these exercises and do not hold your breath.  It is the oxygen which helps to work and strengthen the muscles.  If you hold your breath while doing these exercises, you are robbing your muscles of the energy rich oxygen which it requires, leading to cramps in the muscles. Best of all, these exercises also help to keep the face glowing and shapely.

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