Adapted Yoga Practices Aid in Brain Injury Recovery

New research found that a therapeutic yoga practice increased mind-body connectivity in subjects who’ve sustained traumatic brain injury or stroke.

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According to the CDC, an estimated 1.7 million Americans sustain a traumatic brain injury (TBI) every year, with nearly 75 percent of those cases diagnosed with concussion or other forms of mild head injury. While the good news is that the majority of these accidents and incidents do not result in death, there are millions who still suffer from residual post-traumatic effects and long or short term disabilities.

New research conducted at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis found that adaptive yoga—a specialized practiced tailored to the needs of a person with disabilities or chronic health conditions—is beneficial for adults who have suffered a stroke or traumatic brain injury. The study tested whether the mind-body-spirit function of yoga had more of a profound impact on its subjects than traditional rehabilitation exercises. Since mind-body disconnection is commonly diagnosed after brain injury and head trauma, scientists concluded that incorporating therapeutic yoga practices were integral to recovery.

The IUPUI Newsroom has more:

With the number of rehabilitation sessions limited for most patients after a brain injury, adapted yoga as a post-rehabilitation activity is particularly well-suited for patients who are on the road to recovery but not functioning well enough to exercise at a gym, said Kristine Miller, assistant professor in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences’ Department of Physical Therapy.

“Therapeutic yoga is one option we’ve latched onto to see if it can help fill that gap,” Miller said. “One of the things about yoga that is different from traditional rehabilitation exercises is that it is more whole-body focused. It helps people learn to take their nervous systems to a more calm and relaxed state, which helps with healing.”

The traumatic brain injury study examined the impact of an eight-week yoga program delivered in a one-to-one setting for three people. Among the results for the group, balance increased by 36 percent, balance confidence by 39 percent, lower-extremity strength by 100 percent and endurance by 105 percent.

The same research team partnered with the YMCA of Madison County in 2014 to  determine whether community-based adaptive yoga programs could yield the same positive results in adults who’ve sustained similar cognitive loss. They’re continuing to study these populations to assess the needs for such recovery programs on a community scale. Their hope is that specialized yoga practices will be able to help adults with other mind-body diseases like multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, or chronic pain sufferers. Because of yoga’s remarkable ability to strengthen muscles, and improve balance and flexibility, researchers are optimistic that the practice will produce similar results to their initial study of TBI and stroke patients. 

It is extraordinary to consider that loss of brain and body connectivity incurred by trauma and head injury could be restored—if even the slightest amount—by incorporating traditional mindfulness practices. Cultivating present-moment awareness is the key to rewiring and changing the brain, improving physical performance and overall health. But it isn’t some kind of spiritual magic… in fact, it’s science. Yoga is far more than just exercise and relaxation—the powerful health and healing benefits of this practice only continue to be validated by extensive scientific research, changing our minds and bodies for the better, indefinitely.

AndreaRiceNewHeadshotAndrea Rice is the Practice and Community Editor for Wanderlust Media. She is also a writer and yoga teacher. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times, Yoga Journal, SONIMA, mindbodygreen, and a variety of online publications. Her teaching style is a blend of her love for music and intuitive movement, with emphasis on core strength. You can find her regular classes at shambhala yoga & dance center in Brooklyn, and often as a guest teacher for Deep House Yoga. Connect with Andrea on Instagram and Twitter.