An 8-week yoga therapy course helped older stroke survivors improve balance, endurance and confidence in a pilot study presented at the American College of Sports Medicine’s 58th Annual Meeting. Researchers from Indiana University–Purdue University and the Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center (Roudebush VAMC), both in Indianapolis, sought to explore whether yoga practice would help stroke survivors reduce the risk of falls, since an estimated 80% of people who have strokes also have impaired balance. Poor balance increases the risk of falls and of hip fractures.

Investigators enrolled 19 men and 1 woman, average age 66, in twice-weekly 1-hour group yoga classes taught by a yoga therapist. The instructor modified yoga postures to meet class participants’ needs. Subjects progressed from a chair routine to standing and floor poses over the 8-week period. The scientists assessed balance and endurance at baseline and at the end of the yoga course. No control group was used.

Data analysis showed that a range of balance items on two different measurement scales improved by 17% and 34%, respectively, and that qualitatively subjects felt more confident and enjoyed the practice. Arlene A. Schmid, a rehabilitation research scientist at the Roudebush VAMC and lead researcher of the study, said that therapeutic uses for yoga are “really taking off,” particularly in mental health fields. She pointed out that a yoga therapist with additional training in anatomy and physiology and in how to work with people with disabilities should design the yoga therapy classes for this population. Larger studies were recommended.