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Yoga program connects mind-body movements to heart surgery patient recovery

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The MY (Modified Yoga) Program customizes traditional yoga movements and modifies them for the specific needs of patients who have undergone a heart operation. (Video: UHN/PMCC)
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A casual conversation with a cardiac patient about a book got Barbara Bailey's wheels turning.

"As we were talking about mindfulness, it really sort of came to me that this is something that so many of our patients would benefit from," says Barbara, Nurse Practitioner, Peter Munk Cardiac Centre (PMCC). "So the idea is based on an idea from a patient."

That idea was to examine the benefits of yoga for heart patients, following surgery — to help them cope with recovery and enable further healing. The key though lay in customizing traditional yoga movements and modifying them for the specific needs of patients who have undergone a heart operation.

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"Obviously a lot of our patients have anxiety and stress associated with the surgery as well as delirium," Barbara continues. "Essentially, I reached out to Dr. Rima Styra, who is a psychiatrist here and who is actively involved with our cardiac surgery patients. She was interested in the concept and it has just flourished from there."

In the few months since the birth of the MY (Modified Yoga) Program, the results have been surprising, interest growing and the patient clientele taking part refreshingly different than expectations.

"Often men are the ones you have to really convince because they think it's something for women only – they're new converts," says Sharon McGonigle, Nurse Practitioner, PMCC.

"We are the first hospital, as far as I'm aware, in Canada, to be offering this type of intervention to post-operative cardiac patients so as such, we are sort of starting to lay the groundwork towards having that body of evidence to support this intervention going forward," adds Dr. Arianne St. Jacques, instructor in the MY Program.

For Carrie Madahbee, a Manitoulin Island, Ont. resident, the results of the MY sessions speak for themselves. The 29-year-old was born with her heart on the right side of her body rather than the left. She recently spent more than two months at PMCC most of that time, bedridden, with heart and kidney problems.

"When I was in bed, I barely moved. It was really hard. And now, since I started doing this (yoga), I was able to move a lot in bed and you know everywhere."

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