Yoga and Tai-Chi for TBI and Stroke Patients

Posted on August 6, 2022

Giles Yeates, a clinical neuropsychologist for the past 17 years, is also a Tai Chi instructor for stroke survivors and brain injury patients. He uses Tai Chi as a physical rehabilitation tool and a mental and emotional process to help with range of motion and balance, anxiety, mood, fatigue, and sleep quality. 

Research has been carried out on the impact of Tai Chi on traumatic brain injury symptoms, with one study finding that it was associated with decreases in sadness, confusion, anger, tension, fear, and increases in energy and happiness. 

Research also finds that Tai Chi can be particularly helpful for those with brain injuries as it is gentler and lower impact than other forms of exercise and puts less strain on the body. This makes it more accessible to those with reduced mobility.

In Chinese practice, doing Tai Chi improves vitality and energy. In the West, the concept is that it is an option to increase your energy holistically without side effects. When you have a depleted supply of energy, you must manage it wisely. 

Brain injury survivors are exhausted and bad-tempered. They have a lot of movement, agitation, and fatigue issues simultaneously because the energy isn’t going where it needs to be.

It’s the idea that the movement of vital energy for many people is less than optimal. It doesn’t get circulated through the body and used to its best advantage. The concept of stagnant energy, focusing attention on breathing and using the body through relaxing and stretching, seems to impact whatever energy is available to the person.

Yeates trains rehab professionals to incorporate tai chi movements, train yoga, and tai chi instructors on adapting their classes, and learn how to use cognitive strategies to make practices more accessible. Benefits for fatigue come from approaches from tai chi, yoga, and mindfulness which all encourage regulated breathing, stretching, and attentional focus.

Yoga and Brain injury: 

Brain injury survivors can follow gentle yoga and/or chair yoga. Gentle yoga is more manageable and easier to do, keeping frustration at a minimum and fun too. Instructors can teach a blend of standing, floor, and or chair yoga poses, which can be personalized with the addition of props, such as straps, bolsters, pillows, and blocks, typically found in a yoga studio. Through realistic practice, savasana or relaxation pose, especially with eye pillows, and yoga nidra are poses most enjoyed 

Challenges or risks associated with yoga:

 The physicality aspects of yoga, such as mobility, balance, and flexibility, and the long-lasting challenges affecting brain injury victims, such as cognitive, memory, and linguistic, pose difficulty in practicing yoga.  

Simply “being on a mat” is perplexing. However, people living with brain injury can do yoga through instructions encouraging visual, auditory and kinesthetic learning methods.

Balancing poses and poses “that are complex – because they are harder and require a lot of concentration can become frustrating” for people living with brain injury. Sometimes, the biggest challenge for brain injury survivors is overcoming their fears of reduced self-perception and to fully involve in a yoga posture.

Yoga as a form of mediation seems to be a welcome synergy of relaxation compared to the life-long trauma experienced along the recovery journey. The greatest challenge is to help a brain injury survivor have their ‘first experience’ of comfort, calmness, and contentment through yoga.   

Pranayama or breathing techniques make an ‘I am in-the-moment experience, where learning ‘how to breathe and become breath focused’ and ‘more centered’ is a basis of yoga. A calmer, clearer thinking, fights depression, relieves stress, and lowers blood pressure.” 

Post-rehabilitation and community-based day programs for brain injury victims through individual sessions have demonstrated that yoga is an alternative to the medical model of healthcare and a health and wellness practice for a post- rehabilitation and chronic population.

As the voice of the silent epidemic is heard, yoga becomes a feasible wellness practice to promote a higher quality of life, psychosocial and behavioral sequelae management, and an improved physical portrait.