IU researcher launches community-based yoga program for people with brain injuries, strokes

October 20, 2014

Kristine Miller

Kristine Miller

An Indiana University School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences researcher is leading efforts to implement a sustainable, community-based adaptive yoga program in Pendleton, Ind., for people with brain injuries or who have had strokes.

Joining forces with the Pendleton YMCA, in partnership with the St. Vincent Anderson Regional Hospital, Kristine Miller and other members of her research team are drawing upon lessons learned from a yoga efficacy research study at the Richard L. Roudebush Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Indianapolis of veterans who had strokes or brain injuries.

“We hope to determine whether it is possible to translate the results of those studies conducted in a controlled research environment, including specific participant recruitment criteria, to a program in the community,” said Miller, assistant professor in the Department of Physical Therapy at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. “If we accomplish that, our long-term goal is to develop additional yoga programs for people with other disabilities.”

Yoga benefits those with physical impairments because it requires participants to be more aware of their bodies, stay focused in the moment and challenge themselves physically with controlled movements and sustained postures. It has the potential to help manage chronic conditions such as decreased strength and flexibility, poor balance, pain, depression and anxiety.

In the yoga study of veterans, researchers saw significant improvements in balance and fall risks. They also saw improvements in the distance participants walked as well as walking speed. Participant’s perception of how their health impacted their lifestyle also improved, Miller said.

The yoga program at the YMCA, like the program created for veterans, was developed with physical impairments in mind. Yoga movements during the first two weeks of the program, for example, are done from a sitting position, either in a wheelchair or a sturdy seat. As the program advances, no one is asked to perform movements they are uncomfortable with.

Miller said she and other members of the research team have worked with the staff at the YMCA to implement the yoga program there. A total of 24 participants are being recruited for two classes. Each class will run eight weeks, with participants exercising twice a week. The first class began Oct. 6.

The Y program expects to draw patients who have completed rehabilitation at the St. Vincent Anderson Regional Hospital and need to transition to a community-based exercise program.

“This type of community program is difficult to find,” Miller said. “When we finished the study of veterans, the common comment we heard was ‘We liked the program, but now what?’

“We spend a lot of time talking to our patients about the need to be engaged in meaningful exercise, but we really don’t have good recommendations as to where they can go to get help and support or if there is an appropriate program they can join.”