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Stroke Recovery With Yoga, Meditation, And Breath with Dana Rivera
We have a special announcement. We’re on iTunes’ New and Noteworthy for health and alternative healing, which is a big deal. This means that our community of guests, readers and everyone who’s been a part of our show in the last couple of months has been sharing and writing five-star reviews. Getting the word out there that this podcast is something that’s helping people. If you’ve read this and you have someone in your life that needs to read one of these episodes, take a moment and share it with them and let them know that you care. You never know what might help someone to start their healing journey. We’ve seen that time and again on the show. Sean, you’re a perfect example.
It’s been unbelievable. When you think that it gets bad, it gets better because someone comes in with a story, a technique and a solution like Dana Rivera, who I’ve never met in person. I feel like she’s a friend of mine because we met through social media, through my other show, through Facebook, through 5 Minutes with Seany. She’s amazing because she’s taken her therapy where she needed to be. She chose to look for alternative healing, meditation, breath work, stretching. She’s powerful. She’s a great wife, a great mother. She’s such a role model to us people who survived a stroke or a brain injury in Los Angeles or the world. I look up to her. When we have her on the show, she talks all about meditation. Share with us what that does for us and why that helps me and helps her.
Meditation often can be complicated, esoteric topic. What it’s doing for someone in terms of healing is it’s getting them out of a state of survival, a state of fight or flight. It’s putting them into a state of ease and a state of relaxation. In this state, the body is intelligent and smart enough to heal itself. It doesn’t ever allocate resources to healing and recovering if it feels it’s in danger. The first way to jumpstart your healing is to flip the switch off. Meditation happens to be the practice of flipping the stress switch off. When you flip the stress switch off, your body says, “I don’t have to allocate resources to surviving anymore. I can take this abundance of resources that are within me. I can start putting those towards healing.” It’s such a simple yet profound aspect of healing when you get yourself out of stress and you put yourself in the state where your body can almost breathe metaphorically. You deepen the breath and it allows you the space to soak it all in.
Be in the moment too. It’s not easy. I’ve been trying for so long. I’ve been introduced to it by many people. It’s taken me about a month-and-a-half and I love it. I can do it at any time. It’s quieting everything down and visualizing on what you can do and allowing your body. I fly all over the world. I have both arms working. I’m running. I’m climbing. It’s sending the message to my brain that this body is working in it. I can heal myself.
You’re talking about the power of beyond getting out of stress, the power of visualization. If you get into a deep state of meditation, you’re doing visualization where for you both arms are working and you’re flying and whatever it may be. Your brain starts to find this fuzzy area where it doesn’t know the difference between what you’re visualizing and reality. If what you’re visualizing is everything completely working, your brain, your body and you’re starting to produce the experience in your physical body like you are in your visualization. You start to rewire your neural pathways to resonate with what you’re visualizing versus what you are right now.
Let’s bring on Dana because she’s so much fun. She’s smart too.
She’s got a positive, optimistic outlook.
You’ll learn from her.
Dana, welcome to the show. How are you doing?
I’m good. Thank you.
Seany, how are you doing over there?
Just a couple of good friends here to have a conversation.
We’re meeting for the first time. We met on Facebook. We spoke a few years back. We’re just getting to know each other even better right now.
How did you meet on Facebook?If you keep moving and you keep putting one foot in front of the other every day, you can obtain a successful recovery. Click To Tweet
Somebody threw out Sean’s name to me a few years back. I contacted him. He was creating some of his ideas for the stroke community. We stayed in touch through social media. That’s how we’ve been connected with stroke and our stories.
Dana, your story is also a stroke warrior story.
I am a ten-year stroke survivor who had left-side paralysis, who overcame all of that paralysis to be 100% fit and fine as a stroke survivor living now.
Anyone who’s not in the stroke community, what’s the significance of getting 100% full mobility back?
It’s about getting your independence back and being hopeful that you can share your resources, your determination and your motivation with other stroke survivors who are having struggles to get to where you have achieved to get to in your recovery.
Sean and I were talking about this whole idea for him of making 100% recovery. Sean, what were you saying was significant about it to you?
I want to be 100%.
Significant on more of recovering from a stroke in general. Most of the community says six to eighteen months?
They count you out. After eighteen months, you’re finished and you’re done. Don’t hope for anything else.
That’s science and we have to go beyond science. We have to go on the stories we hear about and people share about their recoveries. Stroke has such a different look to it now than it did many years ago. What people would walk away with then if you had not gotten better with three to six months to a year, you were counted out as a survivor. Now, there are many young survivors, older survivors, middle-ground survivors that are fighting their way back from stroke recovery with these inspirational stories that Sean is sharing. I hope to be sharing to prove that if you keep moving and you keep putting one foot in front of the other every day, you can obtain a successful recovery. Will it look like it did before the stroke? Maybe if the cards fall in your favor, but most likely sometimes you have to accept the small wins you gain along this road to recovery. Hopefully, in the end, you can mount it as a big win and a goal you’ve achieved.
I’m curious to go into your story so we can provide your evidence that what you’re talking about is possible. If we start from the beginning, go through what exactly happened. What was the result of your stroke?
What exactly happened was before my stroke, I had gone on a twenty-plus-hour plane ride trip with my husband. We had gotten back to the United States. About a couple of days later when I was on my way to a routine pick up of my children at summer school, I went into a store to kill a few minutes before picking up the children. My body gave out and collapsed on the floor. The sales people didn’t know was I a drunk? Was I a druggie? What was going on with me? When I couldn’t respond, they called 911 where paramedics came and drove me to the nearest hospital where upon arrival, I was not showing signs of stroke. I was showing signs of a major migraine. Unfortunately, the doctors released me and sent me home.
On the way home, the stroke may have been a typical TIA turned into a major stroke whereby the time I got home, I was incoherent. I was vomiting. I was having a hard time balancing. My father took me back to the hospital. By the time I got back to the hospital, I had lost all feeling in my left side. Finally, the doctors were like, “We made a mistake by letting her go the first time. Let’s do the MRI and the CAT scan.” They’ve come to find that I had this condition, which is a hole in your heart that goes beknownst to many people until they suffer a stroke. I was admitted to the hospital in ICU and had to figure out what the next steps were. Sometimes the next steps are not as easy for everybody. For my case, I was able to join in an acute setting over at the hospital where I was admitted to. I’d spent a few weeks trying to learn how to lift my arm, my hand, my wrist, my leg, and my buttocks.
That was a jumpstart of my recovery. That was a scary time because you don’t know what you’re up against and what the future will unveil at that time. I spent a few weeks in that setting. I was stepped down to my home life where I incorporated a structured routine of walking every morning in a favorable place of mine that had good memories with my husband. Doing all my therapies throughout the day and anything extra I could get my hands on at that time. I threw myself into my recovery to try to get back to what I was before the stroke. It was a hard time and a hard road, but with a lot of support and encouragement and my self-motivation and determination, I’ve taken throughout my life. I applied those things to my recovery. Within a short amount of time of about a few months, I was physically able to be independent. It took me about a year to feel cognitively like the old Dana I was. I would say it took a whole year for me to feel it was somewhat of the old Dana. I had changed. You change in these situations for either the good or the bad. I took what I learned from my recovery and the year I devoted to it. About a year after that, I was ready to share my story with young stroke survivors at the time because you didn’t hear about many of us at that moment in time several years ago.
From what I read, it’s rare to have a stroke on the younger side.Whatever you achieve or don't achieve, move forward with hopefully a new perspective on life. Click To Tweet
It was considered rare. In nowadays timetable, it is common because there are many more risk factors that are contributing young stroke survivors more. Doctors are identifying those risk factors. They’re not pushing them to the side. A lot of women have extreme migraines. Doctors referred to them as menopausal migraines, which was the first instinct that my doctor originally had that I was having, which was wrong. They’re not quick to release you now. They do more invasive testing as they should before something bad happens to that person. I’m glad that all the stories have come to the surface to prove you can’t disregard somebody’s symptoms as migraine and look hard into it as a major risk factor that it could be a stroke.
In the first year where you were intensely working on your recovery process, was there any one aspect of your recovery that stood out to you like the most impactful?
All the therapies, physical therapy, occupational therapies are important because of the repetitiveness of exercises and the daily timeframe of doing those. It’s every day, every couple of hours doing something repetitively. I incorporated other things into my recovery. When I say yoga, I wasn’t doing your typical down dog poses. I was doing poses that fit my body at that time that I could achieve and feel good about. In turn, those exercises helped with the movement of my wrist, my hand, my arm, my leg and my foot to balance. We forget about this component in recovery about breathing because we hold tight to all of our emotions and wanting to be back to the way we were. We’re struggling to get back there so much. We build up this frustration, anxiety, impatience. It teaches you how to breathe through those moments of getting through those harder days. I incorporated that. I incorporated meditation. I found those were helpful tools to regain my physical, emotional and cognitive well-being again as well. There are many different parts to this puzzle. It’s not one piece we have to work on. We have to fit a lot of different pieces.
I’m wondering in your perspective, how does the breath help someone release emotion? A lot of people might find that as a weird idea.
When you take on the yoga breathing exercises and what we call the breath, you breathe in and you breathe out. That in itself calms the mind. It calms the anxiety, the body’s way of calming down. It’s helpful in this process to calm ourselves down because we want to be back to who we were. Everybody is telling us, “You’ve got to do this. You’ve got to do that.” It’s like, “We want to be who we are.” We sometimes have to do that. We have to find those breaths on our own and not always draw from other people. We have to draw from within ourselves those breaths.
Did all these different elements come together in this first year of healing for you? Would you say by the end of the first year you had made a complete recovery or was that the initial step of feeling back to being Dana?
I would say back to Dana. I kept moving forward with everything I had learned from my recovery in shifting the way I looked at things, my relationships with my friends, with my family. It gives you different mindfulness of the gifts we were given in this horrible event of time, even to make it out alive is the first gift. There forward is rehabilitation. It’s continuing that and what becomes of our purpose now that this is maybe who we are. We’re not always going to stay where we are. We’re going to move forward, whatever that looks like, whatever we achieve or don’t achieve. You’re going to move forward with hopefully a new perspective on life and what our purpose is at this point and there on out.
I feel every day is a recovery day for me. It’s not that one year. I always feel empowered to learn and to grow. I have done so in the last several years of my stroke in all different ways of my life. I look at it as a blessing in disguise because some of the things maybe I wouldn’t have looked at before having the stroke. It would have been the same way of thinking about my whole life. It’s opened up a cavity for me to see different sides to things and not be black and white, be grayer, be more patient and understanding to different circumstances. I feel you’re in the race to get back. Along with this race, Sean, it would be a great thing to take it all in day-by-day and count your blessings and your achievements day-to-day. You are amazing, my friend, where you’ve come from and where you’re going. You’re doing a great job yourself.
Thank you so much, Dana.
The mindfulness, talk to me about that.
Mindfulness to me is an awareness that sometimes we’re dormant before any event we’re dealing with before it happens in our life. I feel the mindfulness and the meditation opened myself up to be mindful of the things that were most important to me. It’s always like that saying, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” Worry about the bigger picture of things. Worry until you have something to worry about. It’s taught me how to calm myself down from a lot of fears I have had in the past and the present. Every time something comes up in my world, I go back to that mindfulness. I take stock of what I learned from that.
It could be three minutes of your day where you sit and you try not to have any thoughts about anything negative. Being silent for that three minutes and breathing and taking in those breaths to make you aware of what it is you’re trying to continue to do with your life. Hopefully, inspire other people and encourage other people not to give up on this journey. I’ve worked with many people over the last few years with my stroke support groups at hospitals and outside communities that lose their drive. They do not see it as fast as they would like it to be there. They lose their drive.
Everybody is born with resilience. It’s in your power to do what you want to do with that resilience that will get you to where you want to be. If you don’t have the right support systems or the right team in place, whether it is your therapist, your outside social group, find the people that inspire you, that continue to lift you and keep moving forward. When you’re feeling at a plateau, that tells you it’s time to shift up your team and change up your structure to do new things. Not to give up, but to do new things and move forward with your recovery in that way.
What was one area during your recovery where you might have experienced where you felt like you plateaued? A shift happened and you progressed to the next level?
It was doing your traditional therapies. It was like physical therapy was a must. Occupational therapy was a must. I did not have speech therapy. I had those two therapies that I was juggling. I wanted to draw from some other areas. Where I drew from was the yoga and the meditation. Acupuncture was a big help in calming the voices that come into your mind when you’re striving to race to get back to who you were. I went outside the traditional therapies. I sought out things like the meditation, the yoga and the acupuncture to bring in more to my recovery and see how that unfolded. If it had helped me progress even further than I already was, which it had. I always say it had a lot to do with progressing.
What we’ve heard a lot in conversations on the show and with people is often there’s this hybrid type of healing going on where you’re doing the traditional therapies because those are helpful and necessary for the recovery. You’re going above and beyond and exploring these areas you find personally helpful.
A lot of people will tell you, “I don’t have the money for these things.” There are resources out there. I’m going to give you one right now. It’s called Emeritus College. It is a nonprofit college over in Santa Monica and it’s free classes for stroke survivors. They offer a lot of these things; yoga, meditation, and a computer. Things that will help you come along the typical stroke survivor who’s trying to incorporate them into a new normal lifestyle after that having their stroke and sitting in their new normal. A lot of people will say, “We don’t have the extra money to do these extracurricular things.” There are many resources out there that are free. You have to know how to tap into them and get to those places and draw from them. I find there’s no excuse. That’s just me. I’m a determined person. I would have done anything to get back to myself. I knew that originally wasn’t going to be the same Dana, but I was hopeful I would be somewhat of my old self but with a better version.
Do you feel you’ve achieved that?
Yeah. I feel there are some miracles in this world. I feel I am one because where I began to where I am now, I was dealt a very lucky hand. What was left for me to do was to share with the community and everything I do, all the support groups, all the events I do are volunteering and they’re for free. I’ve never gotten paid for one thing I’ve done over the last few years. It all comes from my heart and the gratitude I have that I’m okay and that I can help somebody else. I feel that if you’re lucky enough and you’re in a position that you can do this, it’s our duty as people walking this planet. Few people think this way. It’s our duty to do these things. There have been times where people are like, “You should get paid for this.” I said, “You can’t even put a price on this for me.”There is life after recovery and life after stroke. Click To Tweet
I feel lucky that I get to do what I get to do. The way I started in doing so with all these stroke support groups is if I helped one person, then that made me happy. I have gone on to help many people. Helping not just the stroke survivors, but the family members and the caretakers of providing the education and the resources I’ve learned over the last few years. Giving them the playbook they need to keep moving forward. The thing with stepping out of an acute setting is you don’t know what the next step is. Nobody is guiding you. There’s no playbook. A lot of people are leading with a blind eye not knowing where to turn. If I can help somebody make those steps a little easier, I feel lucky to be able to help them.
We’re speaking our language, Dana, because that’s what we’re all about here is starting to provide more answers, more solutions, and more options. When people are out of that acute setting, they start to have these areas to explore like, “I listened to Dana on the show. She let me know all these different amazing ways I can heal beyond simply the traditional therapies.” That’s what inspires me and Sean is learning from people like you about all the possibilities out there if you do your due diligence and if you’re motivated enough to push through it all.
It also has a lot to do with your caretaking. Whether it is your spouse or this inner circle I was talking about before, them being on board with your recovery and finding the right team players for you to keep moving forward. You never want to settle for, “This is it. There’s no more to do. I can’t put another day forward with any therapy or anything alternative.” Anybody who says that is the wrong team player. You need to surround yourself with positive people because this is a negative disability. It can tear a lot of things like families, marriages, relationships. It’s the number one disability in the US. It’s time-consuming. It wears on the caregivers. It wears on the survivors.
You say every day is a recovery day. It’s been several years since your stroke. What are you most interested in terms of your healing and growth?
I am ready to grow in different directions. I have been doing more with the recovery end of it as far as the acute setting. I find that the most critical time of a survivor’s time in the hospital is matching a veteran survivor with a rookie who is coming out of the hospital or who’s still in the hospital. Bridging those two together so that the veteran survivor can share their story and listen to the survivor’s story. Help guide and encourage that survivor to recovery and to show them there are hope and encouragement with all the tools we’ve discussed, determination, motivation, the right support system. I want to find that avenue to be more of an advocate end. It’s difficult to get yourself into that arena because there’s a lot of political tapes that hold you up that it’s not easy to get into and tap into. That’s my goal to shift and try to bring that awareness to the acute setting of survivors and the hospitals.
Is that something you’re hoping to do personally?
I’m hoping to do it personally. It’s not lack of trying. It’s the roadblocks that get in my way. I’m not going to let it stop me. I’m going to keep moving forward until I get there. I know I’ll get there some way somehow. To tap into the right people is what I have to do. It takes one person to hear your ideas and say, “That’s great. We’re going to go with it.” I haven’t been connected with that right person yet.
What are the roadblocks? It sounds straightforward to me.
It is if you’re outside of a hospital setting or an acute setting, but when you’re in an acute setting, there are many rules. There are many confidentiality rules, HIPAA laws and things of that sort. My main objective is to try to reach the hospital settings, which that’s the roadblocks. It’s not a hop, a skip and a jump into those situations.
You’re trying to get in at the ground floor to have the biggest impact as soon as possible.
It doesn’t work easily. There’s no ASAP in this arena, unfortunately. If maybe the shoe was on the other foot, they would see the necessity more so than putting it off and not looking at it as an important tool in somebody’s recovery. I’ve seen it over and over again the importance of the first time a survivor sees a veteran survivor who has worked the program and who’s come out a few to several years or even many years later. What that inspiration does to a new rookie taps into their motivation and they say, “I want to be like you.” It encourages them that they can be like you. It gives him hope to see a visual example of what they want to be.
What’s wonderful about you sharing this message and many people like you could do the same is that these various media that Sean does can all be shared in that setting. If people are reading this and they know someone who is going through this, share this with them so more people can read this message sooner and Dana can get on the ground floor. Dana, you’ve had many wonderful things to say but I have one more question. This is a question we like to ask everyone. What’s your inspiration?
My inspiration is to inspire people not to give up hope because hope is the word of the day. You have to have hope and you have to have something to look forward to, optimism to look forward to in a recovery like this. If you’re hopeless, then it’s going to fail you. If you’re hopeful, it’s going to progress you to get to where you need to be down the road. You have to be hopeful in this fight. That inspires me. What inspires me is that stroke is not just a name to me anymore. It’s something I’ve been through. It’s something I know well about. It is important to share with others that there is life after recovery and life after stroke. You have to be your inventor to whatever that will look like. Sean, thank you so much for the opportunity.
Thank you, Dana.
About Dana Rivera
Dana Rivera is a stroke warrior who has made it her mission to give back to others who have had experiences like hers. She believes that she was given a gift and aims to make the most of it during her life. She helps other stroke survivors to get back to independence and heal.