Mental distractions, such as over excitement, anxiety and other mental stressors are hallmarks of traumatic brain injury (TBI) and can interfere with the healing process. Also after a brain injury, the body and the mind struggle to function together in unison as they once did; actions our brain tells our body to do are slower and less efficient. Using mindful-based practices can help strengthen the mind-body connection while also teaching the brain how to relax and allow itself to heal.
Yoga for Brain Injury
Yoga is more than just stretching and awkward poses. The practice of yoga incorporates the use of breath, focus, balance, and muscle strength. As a therapy for both the mind and body, yoga can bring a new focus of what one can achieve, building optimism, confidence, and balance. By quieting the mind, stress and anxiety is reduced and the body can focus on building strength and flexibility.
“One of the things about yoga that is different from traditional rehabilitation exercises is that it is more whole-body focused. It helps people learn to take their nervous systems to a more calm and relaxed state, which helps with healing.” –Kristine Miller, assistant professor in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences’ Department of Physical Therapy
One study found that adapted yoga is feasible and beneficial for adults with traumatic brain injury. Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis conducted this study to determine the impact of an eight-week yoga program on traumatic brain injury. With one-on-one instruction of adapted yoga, subjects were found to increase their balance by 36%, their balance-confidence by 38%, their lower-extremity strength by 100%, and their endurance by 105%. Adapted yoga allows participants to complete movements even while in a wheelchair or sitting down. The movements are slow and can increase with complexity according to the participants needs. One participant in the study said that adapted yoga “Rocked my world. It’s changed my life. I mean all the different aspects. I mean physically, emotionally, mentally, it’s given me my life back.”
For Kevin Pearce, a professional snowboarder and candidate for the 2010 Winter Olympics, yoga and meditation has contributed to his recovery after a life changing TBI. Kevin’s accident left him dependent on wearing glasses to correct his vision after his head injury, among other physical and mental limitations. Miraculously, he found that after his first yoga class, he was able to drive home without the aid of his glasses that he had depended on for five years. Although the significant change did not last indefinitely, he has found that consistently attending yoga classes have allowed these positive changes to continue. In 2014, Kevin and his brother Adam began the LoveYourBrain Foundation, a nonprofit aimed at offering support to TBI survivors throughout the country by way of providing affordable yoga and meditation classes. These classes are tailored to the needs of TBI survivors.
“Finding yoga and that ability to be exercising and be moving, but at the same time be meditating and be calm and be so relaxed and so mellow, has been so helpful and healing for me in the most amazing way,” Kevin said. “It has changed my life in a way that I could have never imagined, so I want to share what I have found with the rest of the world” (yogajournal.com).
Meditation for Brain Injury
The practice of mindfulness meditation teaches how to be present and aware of our thoughts, feelings, emotions, and sensations. When the body and mind can be quiet and the attention is focused on the breath, everything else can disappear: our judgments, limitations, pain, anxiety, and depression. This powerful tool can help mitigate the stress response and even create beneficial neuroplasticity. Attention and emotional self-regulation can be common symptoms following a TBI, which can be improved through this process of mental training.
“In the last few decades the neuroimaging research has shown evidence confirming meditation and brain plasticity. Meditation enhances cortical remapping and brain functions. Neuroimaging studies have shown the increased regional cerebral blood flow during meditation. Also the studies have indicated neural pathways and synapses changes among mediators. These results indicate that meditation is not merely an altered state of consciousness / a state of relaxation. Meditation helps to uplift mental health and causes healthy changes in the brain. Therefore mediation is one of the unique modes to improve mental health.” -Dr. Ruwan M. Jayatunge, Meditation and Brain Plasticity
- Initiates neuroplasticity
- Increases cerebral blood flow
- Decreases stress and anxiety
- Improves attention, awareness, and emotion regulation
- Leads to significant changes of gray matter in areas of learning and memory, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perception
In a study led by Joanne Azulay, PhD, a neuropsychologist at JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute, a professor of neuroscience at Seton Hall University, and an assistant professor of rehabilitation at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey, it was found that mindfulness meditation for TBI survivors improved their attention and memory while decreasing frustration, irritability, and anxiety. The participants gained self-efficacy, problem solving skills, and a higher perceived quality of life. Dr. Azulay finds that meditation is not about changing, but rather it is about accepting.
To discover meditations that can help you reach acceptance and peace, visit the meditation movement offered by LoveYourBrain Foundation. Here you will find several different guided meditation tracks at various lengths of time or according to the type of mediation you would like to do.