Yogas citta vritti nirodahah “yoga is the mental modifications of the mind”

~Patanjali, Yoga Sutra 1.2

At a time when tens of millions of people around the world are practicing yoga, little research has been conducted utilizing yoga as a rehab tool, particularly in terms of yoga and aphasia.

With the hope of one day being able to integrate yoga therapy into language rehab, I conducted a case study. The subject, Sally, was a woman in her late forties. Her second and third strokes had left her with Broca’s aphasia and right-sided weakness. Additionally, Sally suffered from depression, which was only being treated pharmacologically.

Individuals with aphasia often suffer from more than just a loss of language. They can suffer from all of the feelings and consequences that result from that language loss including stress, depression, and anxiety. Not only are these emotional states damaging in themselves but they can impact memory performance, attention, and neuroplasticity. Necessary capabilities when using language, attempting to regain language, or compensating for lost language.

Research shows that yoga can provide individuals the opportunity to regain feelings of relaxation, confidence, and a connection between the mind and body, one that is often lost following a stroke or other brain injury. After 12 weeks of biweekly yoga sessions, Sally was reevaluated using formal language testing and spoke with me about her yoga experience. The final formal language testing demonstrated some, albeit minimal, improvement in expressive language ability. This result was nice for research purposes, but the valuable information was the personal feedback from Sally. Following each yoga session, Sally reported feeling more relaxed and felt a mind-body connection that had not existed before the session.

These feelings persisted throughout the day and generally into the evening. Sally expressed an interest in continuing yoga therapy if given the opportunity. With time, if a yoga therapy practice can ameliorate concomitant disorders, it could enhance the success of language intervention, allowing the speech-language pathologist to hone in on improving the individual’s ability to communicate, read, or write.

Working as a therapist with individuals with aphasia, I have been able to integrate a yogic approach, one focusing on breath and mental focus, into therapy with some patients. Sometimes just allowing someone a moment to breathe and clear the mind can make all the difference in the world.

 

Natalie Rivkin, Speech-language pathologist and certified yoga teacher

 

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