Yoga, Meditation, and Community for individuals affected by traumatic brain injury
Last summer, I took a jaunt to Chicago to become certified to teach yoga and meditation classes designed especially for people who have experienced traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). It was an incredible weekend of learning, and I came home inspired to be able to share the gifts I’ve experienced from yoga with a population who may be able to uniquely benefit from the practice.
We are all familiar with concussions and brain injuries that occur in the course of sport. This is big news these days, especially in the NHL and NFL. But TBI is far more commonplace than most of us realize. According to the Journal of Neurosurgery, 69 million people worldwide experience TBI annually, and the World Health Organization predicts it will become the third leading cause of death and disability in the world next year.
That’s a lot of people.
Many of us who practice yoga regularly have experienced the benefits of enhanced strength and balance, decreased levels of stress, improved attention and memory. A growing science has shown these practices are especially beneficial for the TBI community.
The Love Your Brain (LYB) Foundation was developed by brothers Kevin and Adam Pierce. Kevin was a world class snowboarder who suffered a near-fatal TBI while training for the 2010 winter Olympics. Several years later, when Kevin was introduced to a yoga and meditation practice, it changed his life.
A Path to Resilience is a 6-class series that is based on the Love Your Brain program. Class begins with 10 minutes of focused breathing, followed by 45 minutes of asana. Each posture has been chosen to address or compensate for common TBI symptoms. The sequences progress slowly in order to prevent cognitive processing overload.
After the asana come 15 minutes of guided meditation and then 20 minutes of facilitated discussion.
The series is offered at a discounted rate to individuals who have experienced TBI and their caregivers. TBI-friendly classes are offered at the lower rate for all students who successfully complete A Path to Resistance.
If you have experienced a brain injury or know someone who has, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.
I have to admit that keeping up a daily yoga practice is something I struggle with. I know all the benefits. I know my practice would improve dramatically. And I know I would feel SO MUCH BETTER. But you know…life gets in the way. There are only so many hours in a day. And I do a lot of other good practices every day. So, I tell myself that some yoga is better than no yoga. And that’s true, of course. No judgement, right? That’s another good daily practice.
In the weekly class I attend, we work on inversions almost every class. I’ve been working on my headstand. I’ve been struggling with the concept of rolling up rather than kicking up. And this isn’t great for my neck. I also practice near the wall because of course, when I kick up, I over-compensate and end up against the wall. Every time.
(by the way…this is a “do as I say, not as I do moment.” Do not do at home!)
But I’ve been close to my headstand. Very close. So close that I said to my husband a few weeks ago that, if I’d just practice every day, I’d have it in no time. And then I went back to making my choice not to practice every day.
I’ve also been seeing a physiotherapist who has helped me in amazing ways. Pretty close to graduating from there and I’m super excited about the improvements! If you need a reference, give me a shout.
Fast forward to last week. My physio and I are now to the point of practical, yoga-related movements to help me get back to my full practice without pain. She asked me last week which poses I am working on where I am pushing myself just beyond my physical capabilities. Of course, I mentioned the headstand.
So guess what she recommended? Practicing every day! Just practice the “rolling up” part, she said. But do it every day, a few times a day.
The next morning, I practiced rolling up. Practicing only this part changed my thinking and my approach. I used a lot more control, and a lot more patience. I incorporated some other instructions from my yoga teacher. And I almost rolled up.
The next day, I did it again. And the day after that, I rolled up to my headstand for the first time. Five days later I am rolling up consistently, every day, not even touching the wall, and holding my headstands for 30 seconds each.
All this after a week of daily practice. So, there is clearly reason that the experts recommend daily practice. Duh. That’s why they are experts! And it pays off in big ways. Even as a kid I couldn’t consistently do a headstand. And now, at 50, I can!
Next up? Pincha mayurasana. That one will be a little more of a challenge. But now I know that if I practice every day, it will happen, and probably pretty quickly. The proof is in my headstand. Stay tuned for pics… 😊
What might you be able to accomplish if you practiced every day? I challenge you to try it. And let me know how it goes!
Many years before yoga, lifting weights was one of the few activities I could do and be fully present (although I didn’t use that term at the time). I challenged myself every time I lifted a dumbbell or a barbell; it took all my concentration. I’ve always approached it this way. This is fun for me, believe it or not! And It turns off my monkey brain. I can be in the NOW. No analysis of yesterday. No worry of tomorrow. I can forget whatever else is going on in my life and come back to it all later, refreshed. Besides, angst can make for a fantastic workout!
I decided years ago that weight training was the closest thing we have to a fountain of youth. It strengthens muscles, increases bone density, can have an impact on cardiovascular health, depending on your practice. These are all things we tend to lose as we age.
Sidebar: I worked with a guy in my 20s, with whom I had many conversations about the benefits of weight training (I was pretty hard-core, at this point). This guy was not only not hard-core; I don’t think he’d ever set foot in a gym. He was also the most methodical person I have ever met (an excellent trait in a collections officer).
Which brings me to my point (finally!). He agreed with me about the fountain of youth. His plan was to start lifting weights when he turned 40. He reasoned that this was when the human body began to degenerate and so what better time to start lifting weights? I always found this peculiar, yet so in keeping with who he was as a person. I’ve mentioned this little anecdote many times over the years and it always makes me smile.
Back on track now.
What weight training doesn’t necessarily improve though, is mobility. If you focus exclusively on building muscle, you can lose mobility. There are plenty of muscle-bound gym rats walking around. And they just don’t look comfortable to me (and somehow, I doubt that’s what they’re going for).
I always included some stretching in my workouts, and I’ve been blessed with a natural flexibility (which I’ve learned can also be a curse, but that’s for another blog post).
And then I discovered yoga. OK, it was many, many years later but again, I digress. Yoga helps develop mobility and flexibility. And yoga, all by itself, also develops strength. It’s a weight bearing exercise, after all. Yoga might also be a fountain of youth, physically speaking. And yet, yoga is so much more than all of that. It too helps me turn off my monkey brain. I can find stillness and calmness. Again, I can just be in the NOW.
Physically I get very different things out of these two practices. And ironically, I get many of the same mental and emotional benefits from them. Who would have thought?
So, I’ve changed my thinking a little bit. I think this combination of practices might be my fountain of youth. At any rate, I certainly intend to find out!
Have you identified your fountain of youth? Does yoga play a role in yours, too?
I just had a birthday. Coincidentally, I was out of the country on the big day. February is a great time to get away when you live in Ottawa. By this time of the year, I’m just at the point I’m not sure I can stand another day of winter hurting my face.
I’m not from here, you see. They don’t have winter where I’m from (sorry, PNW peeps, but it’s true), so I really didn’t know what I was getting into when I came here. But in fact, the weather had little to do with why we chose to go this year after 4 years without a winter getaway.
This was a milestone birthday for me. A pretty big milestone. The kind that people like to make a big deal out of. And I didn’t want a big deal made of it. So, it was no coincidence that I was out of the country on the big day. I wasn’t sure how I would feel about it, to be honest, and I just didn’t want to deal with it in public. I wanted a quiet celebration with my husband. In a place where winter couldn’t hurt my face for a few days.
And that was exactly what I got. It was lovely. We relaxed, had some adventures, ate great food, read and relaxed on the beach. I largely managed to escape getting sunburned. And I enjoyed the Facebook, email, and text message birthday wishes from afar.
And it really didn’t bother me too much, this milestone birthday. In fact, I think all the previous milestone birthdays (yes, even my 25th!) made me more uncomfortable. Which I thought was kind of interesting.
Maybe not so strange though. I spent a good part of my younger years feeling like a fraud. I actually said these words on more than one occasion. I felt like people were going to somehow realize that I was faking it all along. I’m not really who you think I am and one day its all going to come to light, whatever “it” is.
Of course, I wasn’t a fraud. I think maybe I just didn’t know who I was. As part of all this milestone birthday self-analysis I realized recently that this feeling has disappeared. And its been gone for a while now. I’ve been slowly figuring out who I am. I’ve given myself the space and opportunity to do some deep thinking and have made some pretty significant changes in my life that better allow me to be me and to be comfortable in my skin.
Yoga has played a huge role in all this. I’ve had some very important mentors at key points in my life who helped me to learn how to be present and observe rather than react. It’s a practice and it doesn’t come easy. I have to keep at it. But the insights I’ve been able to gather from the practice have led me to understand how changing what I do allows me to better reflect who I am. I am a strong woman, a business owner, a yoga teacher, and now a yoga studio owner.
And many, if not most, of these insights would only come with time. Sometimes I think I might be a slow learner (ha!) but then again, until I had certain experiences, I couldn’t possibly have gotten to the place I am now.
A few years ago, a friend of mine corrected one of our colleagues when he mistakenly took two years off her age in an offhand comment. “Don’t take those two years away from me. I earned them!” she responded. At the time, I just filed it away, but the comment came back to me recently.
She’s right. She did earn those years. And so did I. So do we all. It’s a much more beautiful way of looking at it. I earned each and every one of these years. And I’m proud of it! Happy birthday to me.
What milestone birthday insights have you had?
Well, he was on board once we got beyond the idea that I was taking over half of “his mancave”. A point with which I take exception by the way: that part of the basement was a family room.
Once you give this guy a project, he gets right into it. And he loves to design with me…especially over a nice bottle of red. In truth, this is really when my involvement in many of these projects peaks. That and decorating. Of course (I like to say).
Designing with my handy hubby is lots of fun. We have different ideas, see different opportunities, and almost invariably one’s ideas are made better by suggestions and ideas of the other. We do good work together.
The studio was a labour of love, and it shows. The studio design takes the overall rustic look of the original mancave and family room and extends it. The basement had a brick wall running the length of one side of the house, barnboard window wells and a reclaimed wood mantel over the fireplace.
All the colours in the space were chosen based on the colours in the brick: dark grey paint and stain accents and a pale lavender primary wall shade (which oddly, isn’t at all weird in the mancave!).
This worked perfectly with the yoga props that I happened into, and a theme was born. The Yoga Walls complement the existing stain; shutters and shelving to house the props are made of more barnboard. It is a warm, cozy, comfortable space in which to practice. And I love it.
We had our inaugural yoga class in the new space this week, and it was lovely. Interestingly, though I’ve been teaching in my home for quite some time, I was a little nervous teaching in this new space. I was surprised by that! I guess anytime you’re doing something, somehow new, that might be the case.
I also think though, that it has something to do with the fact that my handy hubby really captured “me” in his completed project. “Me on a plate” is what a chef will say about a signature dish. I think this studio might be “Me in a space.”
Teaching in that kind of a space may take a bit of getting used to.
In the last several years, there have been many situations where I have stepped, or been pushed in some cases, well out of my comfort zone. I’m not sure why that’s been the case, but it has. I think we all go through phases. Growth phases maybe. Or just times of change. Its been scary sometimes. Exciting for sure. But last week, when I was getting ready to publish my Facebook page for Kali’s Gift, I think that might have been right up there with the best of them.
Start with doubt? Check. Hands shaking? Check. Start where I am (ready or not)? Check. So, I clicked Publish. The world didn’t come crashing down. Some people liked my post and my page. I started, and now I keep going.
Kali's Gift Yoga Blog
I began practicing Hatha and flow, and fell in love. Not only did my body get stronger, my mind quieted and I was better able to focus. I began to develop more steadiness and ease not only on the mat, but in the rest of my life as well.