LOVE YOUR BRAIN

Yoga Journal - - LIVE WELL -

AF­TER KYLA PEARCE’S BROTHER

IN-LAW, Kevin, a pro­fes­sional snow­boarder, ex­pe­ri­enced a ca­reer-end­ing trau­matic brain in­jury dur­ing one of his train­ing runs in 2009, his en­tire fam­ily got a sud­den crash course in this type of in­jury (more than 2.5 mil­lion peo­ple sus­tain one each year) and the hard­ships that come with them. They learned that trau­matic brain in­juries can cause deeply chal­leng­ing phys­i­cal, cog­ni­tive, and psy­choso­cial symp­toms long af­ter pa­tients re­ceive med­i­cal care, in­clud­ing poor bal­ance, at­ten­tion deficits, and anx­i­ety, which can re­sult in feel­ings of iso­la­tion and de­pres­sion. What’s worse, while trau­matic brain in­juries typ­i­cally re­ceive ex­ten­sive care in the weeks im­me­di­ately fol­low­ing the trauma, as time passes, friends and fam­ily are of­ten un­sure of how to best of­fer con­tin­ued care and sup­port.

Three years ago, as Pearce was fin­ish­ing her 200-hour yoga-teacher train­ing in Dharam­sala, In­dia, her hus­band, Adam called with some news about his brother: Kevin was fi­nally find­ing a sense of peace, ac­com­plish­ment, and vi­tal­ity through yoga and med­i­ta­tion. “Adam said, ‘Let’s bring this feel­ing to ev­ery­one with a trau­matic brain in­jury. Can we? Should we?’”

As Adam sup­ported Kevin on his con­tin­ued path to re­cov­ery, he rec­og­nized the great need for cre­at­ing a com­mu­nity for oth­ers im­pacted by trau­matic brain in­juries. This com­pelled him to found the Love Your Brain Foun­da­tion, which brings brain­health pro­grams to trau­matic brain in­jury sur­vivors. Pearce—a yoga teacher, doc­toral stu­dent at Dart­mouth Col­lege, and se­nior di­rec­tor of the Love Your Brain yoga pro­gram—sup­ported the mis­sion from the begin­ning.

Even­tu­ally, Love Your Brain part­nered with Dart­mouth Col­lege to con­duct an eight-week yoga study in­volv­ing 30 peo­ple with trau­matic brain in­juries. The study found that par­tic­i­pants who prac­ticed yoga ex­pe­ri­enced sig­nif­i­cantly greater im­prove­ment in qual­ity of life com­pared to the con­trol group. These find­ings in­formed the de­vel­op­ment of Love Your Brain’s six-week yoga pro­gram, which is now be­ing in­te­grated into 24 part­ner stu­dios across 14 US states and one Cana­dian prov­ince. “We part­ner with stu­dios that are ge­o­graph­i­cally close to a re­hab fa­cil­ity for trau­matic brain in­jury pa­tients, so that the pro­gram is avail­able to them, for free, as a next step for out­pa­tients,” says Pearce. Each class fol­lows a sim­i­lar struc­ture: 10 min­utes of breath­ing ex­er­cises to calm and fo­cus the mind; 45 min­utes of gen­tle yoga to im­prove strength and bal­ance; 15 min­utes of guided med­i­ta­tion; and 20 min­utes of dis­cus­sion based on em­pow­er­ing themes.

“The gap in care fol­low­ing in­pa­tient ser­vices and re­hab is a ma­jor is­sue for those with trau­matic brain in­juries,” says Pearce. “We of­fer re­search-driven phys­i­cal, emo­tional, so­cial, and spir­i­tual sup­port for this com­mu­nity. Af­ter all, yoga is a prac­tice of hon­or­ing our in­ner ex­pe­ri­ence with­out re­sist­ing or grasp­ing. Learn­ing how to do this can help those who’ve ex­pe­ri­enced a trau­matic brain in­jury re­gain a sense of pur­pose, which is crit­i­cal to the heal­ing process.”

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