Stroke survivor group reaps rewards of yoga

Mar. 15, 2013 @ 05:01 AM

Many had replacement joints. Most were afflicted with aches and pains. All were stroke survivors, and all of them practiced yoga Thursday afternoon.

A typical group of 15-20 people came to the Enrichment Center for the monthly Sanford/Lee County Stroke Support Group meeting, featuring a special presentation by Raleigh-based yoga instructor Howie Shareff. Shareff, an energetic former dentist in his 50s, taught the mostly elderly crowd "chair yoga," which he said he took up himself several years ago after having a multitude of health problems including a stroke, arthritis, hip surgery and neck surgery. It can be done sitting down, and it mostly focuses on improved posture and breathing, which he said can improve confidence and mood as well as impact physiological factors like blood pressure, nerves, oxygen intake, line of sight, alertness, back pain and core strength.

He also taught the participants how to use long breaths and backward counting — key tenets of meditation — to help them fall asleep easier, regain composure under stress or take their mind off of situations like long waits at the doctor. He also noted that yoga and meditation only require participants to change how they act and react.

"Yoga is not a religion, it's a health practice," he said, also calling it a type of self-preservation.

One audience member agreed, saying she learned yoga as a young girl and has always used it for pain management, even when she was battling cancer. Several others volunteered tips and personal anecdotes while Shareff was available to assist — helping make sure they had the best posture possible.

That type of self-confidence is exactly what group facilitator Joy Phillips Murphy, herself a 30-year stroke survivor, said she loves to see in the group although she never expected it when she started these meetings in January 2012. Stroke survivors, their loved ones and caregivers are invited to the regular gatherings, which take place on the second Thursday of each month at 1 p.m. at the Enrichment Center of Lee County

The group is quickly approaching another milestone this spring with the observance of National Stroke Awareness Month in May — a time public education to increase awareness of different aspects of stroke.

"A stroke is a lifelong journey, mild or severe," said Murphy, who had a trauma-induced stroke at the young age of 27 that left her whole left side paralyzed for a time. "You have quite a lot of mental things to deal with, as well as the physical. ... Being with other people going through the same things you're going through really helps.  You say, 'They're doing it. I can, too.' It gives you courage."

Those wanting more information about the stroke support group can contact the Enrichment Center at (919) 776-0501, ext. 2230. Those wanting more information about Shareff, the book and DVD he made about chair yoga, or the schedule of classes he teaches in North Raleigh, can email him at howie@youcallthisyoga.org or call (919) 522-2646. Free instructional videos of his techniques are also posted at www.youtube.com/user/howie1055.