An Indiana University study that exposed older veterans with stroke to yoga found that a range of balance items measured by the Berg Balance Scale and Fullerton Advance Balance Scale improved by 17% and 34%, respectively, by the end of the program.
The pilot study involved 19 men and 1 woman, average age 66. For 8 weeks, they participated in a twice-weekly hour-long group yoga class taught by a yoga therapist who dramatically modified the poses to meet the participants' needs. The veterans initially performed poses while seated in chairs then progressed to seated and standing poses. Eventually, they all performed poses on the floor.
On average, participants began the study with a score of 40 on the Berg Balance Scale and then improved to 47, moving them past the fall-risk threshold. Study participants also showed significant improvements in endurance based on a seated 2-minute step test and a 6-minute walk test.
Lead researcher Arlene A. Schmid, PhD, OTR, said research into therapeutic uses for yoga is "really taking off," particularly in mental health fields. Clinically, she has been watching a small trend of occupational therapists and physical therapists also becoming yoga therapists. The yoga performed in the study was modified to the extent that Schmid said it would be very difficult to find a comparable class offered publicly. Such a class should be taught by a yoga therapist who has had additional training in anatomy and physiology, and how to work with people with disabilities. Schmid hopes to expand the study so she and her colleagues can explore whether such classes are effective on a larger scale.