by Marion Thornley

I was asked recently whether yoga could be used to alleviate the debilitating effects of stroke. In helping to lower blood pressure, many of the tools of yoga that promote relaxation help to avoid the possibility of a stroke in the first place.

However, yoga also provides powerful techniques for recovery from stroke and other similar problems. In this particular instance, I was reluctant to provide specific advice, not having met the person in question, and also not being qualified to provide yoga therapy in cases of severe disease.

It is very important if you are looking for yoga therapy for severe ill health, that you find someone who is has qualified as a yoga therapist with a reputable organisation, and who also is experienced in the specific illness or problem that you have.

As far as stroke goes, of course there is a whole spectrum of disability, from speech impairment to total paralysis. What I would like to focus on in this article is not a specific strategy for one individual but a practice that is of value to all of us, whether we have had a stroke or not, as we can learn to nourish all parts of our system, physical, mental and emotional through the tools of yoga.

I once met a 70-year-old lady who had been the victim of stroke a few years previously, and had, as as result, been bedridden. She told me that doctors had told her she would never recover the use of her body, yet day after day she lay in bed and imagined that she was moving her feet, her legs, her arms and so on, and little by little, her body came back to life.

I have read another story by a well-known yoga teacher who, after suffering partial paralysis, spent time each day focusing on one part of the body at a time and repeating a mantra to himself, for example, “feet, namah”, that is, “feet, I honour you”. Then moving to the next part and repeating the mantra for that part. And again, gradually, his body recovered.

These stories are all evidence, albeit anecdotal, for the power of mind over matter. The principle in both cases is the same, whether or not we have power of movement over any particular body part, we can still bring the focus of our attention to that part and direct positive thoughts towards it.

Using a vocal mantra, whatever you would like that to be, is also very powerful. The important points are
(1) that when you are doing the practice, the mind is fully engaged and not wandering off elsewhere, and (2) that you have full faith that the practice will work; without this it will be a waste of time and energy. This practice is of value not only to someone who has lost all or partial control of a part of their bodies, but also to those who wish to nourish and bring health and energy to every part of themselves.

A useful by-product is that this technique brings with it increased awareness and sensitivity to our bodies, thus helping us to react sooner when part of it starts to go wrong, and to treat it more kindly on a day to day basis.

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