Yoga Teacher Finds New Life After Stroke by Going Deeper into Yoga

Anna Kerry went from yoga fan and enthusiast to Yoga teacher. Then the pandemic hit. A   year later, at age 35, she had a stroke due to as PFO.

In this episode she shares her story. She tells us how yoga got her through stroke recovery and how it informs her work today. Anna talks about the relationship between trauma and yoga, and she talks about the impact stroke has had on her life with her husband.

As Anna has gone through this journey and continued both her studies and her teaching, she developed a yoga program specifically for stroke survivors.

And Anna explores the power and near sacredness of her own yoga mat.

If you don't see the audio player below, visit http://Strokecast.com/Anna to listen to the conversation.


Who is Anna Kerry?

In Anna's own words:

Anna Kerry has long dark blond hair. She wears glasses and looks at the camera in this headshot

I had a stroke aged 35 in March 2021. I've had a regular yoga practice for about 10 years and decided I loved the practice so much that I wanted to learn how to teach and share my love of yoga. I qualified in Aug 2020 and had only been teaching for around 7 months when I had a stroke. As the stroke came out of the blue I had to dig deep into my yoga practice to help me through and believe that my yoga practice has helped my mindset and my mental health during this traumatic time.

I'm now in a position where I want to help other stroke survivors through their recovery so I designed The Life After Stroke Programme -- a 6 week programme designed to help stroke survivors regain their life and confidence through a holistic and embodied approach to recovery.

What is a PFO?

Anna's stroke was caused by a PFO. She found that out a month after her stroke, and she will likely get it fixed eventually.

A PFO is a hole in the heart. Roughly 25% of the population has one. I have one. Guests Misha Montana and Christine Lee both had PFOs that led to their strokes.

After we are born, our blood follows a path through the heart. It comes in the right side. When the heart beats, the blood on the right side heads out of the heart to the lungs. There, it drops of CO2, picks up oxygen, filters out clots, and heads to the left side of the heart. It will pour into the left side and when the heart beats, it sends that oxygen-rich blood on to the brain and other parts of the body. Then that blood drops off its oxygen, picks up CO2, and heads back to the right side of the heart to start the whole cycle over.

Before we are born, though, the process is different. While we are developing in our mothers’ uteruses, we don’t breath air. All the oxygen and nutrients we need to build fingers and toes and kidneys and hearts and brains comes from the umbilical cord.

Since we’re not breathing air, there’s no point in sending blood to the lungs. Instead, in utero it goes straight from the right side of the heart to the left side of the heart through a hole in the middle. That hole is called a Patent Foramen Ovale, or a PFO. It normally closes on its own shortly after we are born.

A quarter of the time it doesn’t close after birth, and that allows unoxygenated, unfiltered blood to sneak across the heart, skip the lungs and drag a blood clot to the brain.

So, if you’ve had a stroke, and you have a PFO, should you have surgery to close that hole?


Christine and Misha had their PFOs closed. I did not. Anna is waiting to get her PFO closed.

I talked about this issue in a lot more detail with Dr. David Thaler. You can listen to that conversation at http://Strokecast.com/pfo.

A Place of Her Own

Anna Kerry has a special place in this world -- it's her yoga mat.

At first glance, it's just a piece of material, but once she is on her mat it becomes a portal to take her to another special place.

The mat allows her to center herself. It's a place she can experience joy and agony; happiness and anger; tears and laughter; and everything in between. When Anna is on her mat she can take a break from the rest of the world so that she can deal with the rest of the world. It triggers a mind shift to put her in a place where she can process things and, well, do yoga.

Lots of us have things like a yoga mat. Maybe it's a special blanket or a childhood toy. Maybe it's a trinket that takes us back to a trip we took years ago or it's a gift from a lover or friend. Perhaps it’s a special chair that holds our memories of the past.

Once we touch or engage with that thing -- whatever it is -- we can feel a change in our own energy.

Is that a bit woo-woo? Not really. Perhaps it is a metaphysical portal to a different plane of time and energy.

Or perhaps it's another example of the core principle of neuroplasticity -- cell that fire together, wire together.

Our brains work on patterns and shortcuts. That's why therapy works. The more repetitions w get in PT, OT, or Speech Therapy, the more we drive new neural pathways so we can walk, speak, or bake cookies again. Repeating a process reinforces those connections until we can almost do it automatically.

A special place -- like Anna's yoga mat -- can do that, too. Sitting down on that mat can kick off those routines in the brain that shift us to a different place. The object starts the program running in our brains, and our brains do the rest.

And the really great thing about Anna's yoga mat is that when life dictates, she can roll up her special place and take it with her.

Other Yoga Themed Episodes

Teaching Yoga after a Stroke with Leslie Hadley

 Leslie Hadley went from Corporate executive to yoga teacher to stroke survivor and back to yoga teacher. Along the way she added life coach and tapping expert to her repertoire. She joins us in this episode to share her journey and explain what tapping and the Emotional Freedom technique is.

Stroke, Naps, Gratitude, and Yoga with News Anchor Kristen Aguirre

Kristen worked as a news anchor in Denver, survived a stroke, and was fired. She worked to pick up the pieces of her life, returned to the anchor desk back east and found gratitude is the key.

Win of the Week

Shelly shared her win of the week with us. You can hear it in the episode. Here's what she had to say:

My name is Shelly, and I had a stroke four months ago.

I was at the hospital for two weeks of acute rehab. I came home in a wheelchair, but I've been working really hard, and this week I did my farthest walk -- 4.2 miles.

Things are still not 100% for sure. My arm isn't working that well. I can't feel in the arm.

But the leg -- I've just been walking so much that I think things have improved. The more I've done, the more I think things improve.

I didn't understand that when I first had the stroke. In physical therapy, when they would say that I could learn to walk without feeling, but as I've done it and now people can't always tell that I had a stroke when I walk, so that's been exciting for me.

Thanks for letting us be part of your recovery, Shelly!

What is a recent win you've had?

Maybe you walked a lot. Or said a complete paragraph out loud. Or got a new job. Or slept a whole night. Or chewed and swallowed regular food without incident. Or booked a new OT appointment.

I want to know what's gone well with you, big or small. And I want to share it with the listeners.

You can record a brief message telling me who you are, when your stroke was and what you accomplished. You can do this with the voice memo feature on your phone or another recording process and email that recording to Bill@strokecast.com.

Or you can do it the simple way. Simply call (321) 5stroke, any time day or night, and leave a voicemail describing your win.

I'll share wins in future episodes so we can all celebrate with you.

Hack of the Week

Anna explained we need to take time to check in with ourselves. Yoga breathwork is one way to do that. It doesn't need to be yoga, though. Anna offered 3 key ways to do this.

First, don't shy away from your feelings. A therapist can help you explore them further.

Stroke is trauma. Grieving is natural. Clinical Depression is a common result of stroke (see http://Strokecast.com/depression for more information). It's a major life change and it's perfectly normal to feel feelings about it.

Ignoring them won't make them better. Therapists can help. Neuropsychologists are also available with special training to help folks with brain injuries (see http://Strokecast.com/karen for more details).

Second, acknowledge and recognize anger, anxiety, and other uncomfortable feelings. Those feelings are trying to tell you something. Talk to your anxiety like it's a small child. It wants attention and it's throwing a tantrum. Why?

Third, offer yourself kindness and compassion. You're not an expert in this new body, brain, and life. You'll get things wrong, and that's okay. Forgive yourself for not having it all figured out.


Where do we go from here?

Here is the latest episode of The Strokecast


Dark Moon Shine: Stroke Dialogs from Jeri and her Dad

Jeri Goldstein built an online business coaching musicians who want to book more gigs. After all, success as a musician requires working in the music business. Many aspiring stars are hugely talented with the music side, but not so much the business side. Jeri helps them.

Then the phone call came, and Jeri's life changed. It a good thing her business was highly portable

Her father survived a massive stroke, so Jeri did what she had to do. She packed up the car and the dog and headed down to Florida to help her family navigate the post stroke world and learn to adapt to her father's aphasia.

Jeri chronicled her experience with her dad in her book Stroke Dialogs: Conversations with Dad*. She sent me a copy, and we talked about her experience in this conversation. And she explains what "Dark Moon Shine" is all about.

If you don't see the audio player below, visit http://Strokecast.com/MSN/Jeri to listen to the conversation.


Who is Jeri Goldstein?

Jeri Goldstein sits out side, smiling with her head resting on her hand.

Jeri Goldstein is a career development coach for professional performing artists and entertainment industry professionals. She coaches musicians performing in all genres of music from traditional acoustic to jazz, classical to world music, children’s music to blues and rock and hip-hop to rap. Jeri has also worked with authors, actors, storytellers, visual artists, and other small business owners. Her specialty is to help her clients discover their unique niche market and to create strategic business and marketing plans.

For twenty years, she was a booking agent and artist manager for touring artists on the acoustic music circuit. She worked with musicians, actors, and dancers.

A picture of the cover of the book Stroke Dialogs: Conversations with Dad

She is a music and book publisher. In addition to Stroke Dialogues*, Jeri has written two other books. Her award-winning book, How To Be Your Own Booking Agent THE Musician’s & Performing Artists Guide To Successful Touring*, is used by musicians world-wide and has been a textbook used in music business courses throughout the U.S. and Canada. It reached #1 on Amazon in the Music Business category and has sold over 60,000 copies world-wide. The Tiny Guide to Huge Success* is a collection of 100 blog posts taken from thirteen years of over 650 entries designed to help performing artists build and maintain a successful touring career.

Jeri presents in-person seminars and keynote lectures at universities, conferences and for businesses and organizations in the music and entertainment industries. Her online course Booking & Touring Success Strategies & Secrets has been taken by hundreds of professional touring artists.

In 2020 she launched her first podcast, Get Great Gigs which featured interviews with artists and other entertainment industry professionals that discussed inspiring career strategies before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jeri began her internet-based business in 2008. Her use of internet marketing strategies and social media provided the perfect platform for her to work from anywhere. In November 2012, she set up shop in Florida to be with her dad during his recovery from a stroke. After selling her home in Charlottesville, VA, she relocated to Delray Beach, FL permanently in August 2015 and continues to live there today.


The homunculus is a representation of the brain and various parts of the body. The more you use a part of the body, the more neurons it takes up in the brain. For example, the hands and tongue take up more space in the than the elbow and pinkie toe.

The more time and energy you dedicate to something, the more space in your brain is dedicated to that task. For example, a homunculus of my brain would likely show a much larger segment dedicated to speaking than to throwing a baseball.

A drawing of the homunculus of the human brain

One way I think about how this applies to survivors (and I may be stretching the homunculus analogy) is that a skill from the prestroke days that a survivor was an expert at may come back before a skill one had limited experience with simply because despite the damage there were simply more nerves dedicated to it.

In the case of Jeri's dad, we have someone who lived a life of numbers. When he lost his words and names with aphasia, he still had numbers.

As you continue to work on a skill post stroke, a larger portion of the brain will be dedicated to it. More nerves, dendrites, and synapses will become involved. This is neuroplasticity at work.


Jeri talked a little about negotiation in this conversation. It's an important skill. It's also important to recognize that negotiation isn't just about resolving an argument. It's a process of working with others to meet everyone's needs as much as possible.

When folks are in a negotiation, it's helpful to articulate and understand priorities and preferences for all participants. And that involves knowing what you care about and why you care about it.

Understanding that "why" is the thing that will keep you open to new and even better solutions.

Self-Publishing and Know your Audience

Jeri self-published her book because she knew her audience. She also knew the process and had done it before when it was a lot harder. The key, though, is she knew the audience.

When selling a book in a hyper-niche space, an independent writer or small, specialized publishing house can have a lot of success.

I like this approach a lot. Often authors self-publish for control because traditional publishers aren't interested. There are plenty of other reasons, too, as previous guests have described.

From a traditional marketing and sales perspective, Jeri started with her audience -- her customers. She knows who will buy her book, and then worked backwards from there, asking, "What is the best way to get this book in their hands?" She concluded that a major publisher would not be as effective with their focus on big retailers.

As an entrepreneur who has sales and marketing skills, she knew she could more effectively reach the niche audience of the stroke world. She opted to self-publish.

Cluster Brainstorming

Cluster brainstorming is a way to identify things that you find important and to drill down on those ideas to get more clarity.

It starts with an idea and then you define that idea in greater detail. And then you go into those definitions and try to understand the.

For example, maybe a goal is to recover from stroke. What does that mean? My successful recovery may look very different from that of a more athletic individual who lived for sports, hiking, and lifting heavy things.

Cluster brainstorming helps you unpack that. You start by writing a word or goal that matters to you. Then you start writing down words associated with that first one. Then you take the most interesting of the words you wrote down and do the same things for those.

At the end of the process, you have a whole bunch of thoughts and ideas on the page, and these are the things that matter to you. These can define the "Why" of your recovery. You can see how smaller or more tactical items. It's easier to do an exercise or activity when it's clear how that exercise or activity fits into the broader picture of your life.

The brainstorming activity can help you identify your priorities, but it's all just a pretty paper until you put it into action and turn these ideas and concepts in the SMART goals that can drive your recovery. You can learn more about SMART goals in episode 86 on this page.

The Tongue Twister

When you're positive and patient,

When you are persistent in practice,

Full recovery is possible

and anything is possible.

That simple tongue twister is one of the tools Jeri worked out for her dad. He needed practice pronouncing his Ps and this did the trick. It also had the extra benefit of providing a positive perspective on his present predicament.

Repeating phrases like this also help you to believe it. It's the repetition that drives neuroplasticity.

It's also a good phrase o use to practice your mic technique for a podcast to keep your plosives under control

Win of the Week

I walked more than 6000 steps in one day during a weekend getaway with my GF. It's quite a bit considering my pace, brace, and cane.

You hear a lot about my wins and my guests' wins on the show. Now, I want to hear about yours.

I'm starting a new feature called the win of the week, and I want to know what went well for you.

Maybe you walked a lot. Or said a complete paragraph out loud. Or got a new job. Or slept a whole night. Or chewed and swallowed regular food without incident. Or booked a new OT appointment.

I want to know what's gone well with you, big or small. And I want to share it with the listeners.

You can record a brief message telling me who you are, when your stroke was and what you accomplished. You can do this with the voice memo feature on your phone or another recording process and email that recording to Bill@strokecast.com.

Or you can do it the simple way. Simply call (321) 5stroke, any time day or night, and leave a voicemail describing your win.

I'll choose from the wins and share my favorites in future episodes so we can all celebrate with you.

Hack of the Week

Jeri cited 3 tips for helping and empowering her dad in his recovery.

First, she placed Labels around the house on objects to help her dad recognize and retain the names. This is similar to the approach that Anna Teal took with her husband is making lists of seasonal phrases to stick on the refrigerator. The reminders and repetition can help rebuild those neural pathways.

Jeri's dad also liked games and puzzles. Playing Bridge with his friends was a highlight of his day before stroke and relearning it after stroke was a priority. It was also an important way to help him interact with friends beyond his immediate family.

Working on puzzles is great practice after stroke. It works on skills around visual processing, pattern recognition, logical and process thinking, and, of course, manual dexterity. Can assembling puzzles solve the missing piece of recovery?

The most important element, though, was letting her dad drive his recovery. Identifying his priorities and his concerns and making them the focus of his recovery efforts kept him involved in his recovery. The more interested we are in the activities of therapy and the goals of therapy, the more likely we are to do the activities of therapy.

Plus, making sure the survivor has agency in this process matters. Because therapy is not something done to a survivor. It's something done by a survivor.


Where do we go from here?

Here is the latest episode of The Strokecast