Yoga & Tai Chi with Brain Injury

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Join us for weekly yoga/Tai Chi Sessions in May & June!

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.

Join us for 10 Saturdays starting in May for our "Stretch For Success: Brain Injury Yoga & Tai Chi Series!"

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Why is Yoga Beneficial after Brain Injury?

Yoga for People Living with Brain Injury:  An Evidenced-Based, Clinical Practice, Perspective

 

Keywords: Yoga, brain injury, traumatic brain injury, acquired brain injury, rehabilitation

 

Yoga as a wellness modality has been present in the healthcare field for many years in the United States through pioneering efforts which have advocated for greater inclusion of this complementary and alternative practice for all people into Western Medicine. Moreover, based on this author’s perspective, yoga as a modality is demonstrated to be a viable agent to enhance the holistic wellness of people living with brain injury based upon experience through evidenced-based, clinical practice in post-rehabilitation, community-based, day programs for people living with brain injury and or through individual sessions.  These venues have demonstrated the realistic opportunity of shifting the rehabilitation paradigm from surviving to thriving in life post-injury through the practice of yoga for people living with brain injury.

 

Along the far continuum of care for people living with brain injury, rehabilitation services are likely to have been discontinued due to maximum medical improvement; as such, people living with brain injury may be physically challenged and de-conditioned with reduced mobility, strength, stamina and endurance.  Simply moving is often a goal before the colloquial, “the pretzel of yoga.”  Additionally, the psychosocial adjustment to disability has further challenged the spectrum of recovery.  However, the evidenced-based, clinical practice demonstrated in post-rehabilitation, community-based, day programs indicates that yoga as a modality can enhance the holistic wellness of people living with brain injury.

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The qualitative, testimonial responses from a yoga practice from people living with brain injury highlight positive, self-perceived experiences and the health benefits that they feel themselves.  This is clearly expressed in the responses, “I have experienced great health benefits from yoga. I would like to continue yoga as much as possible”, or “greater strength, more flexible, and adaptability (mentally, physically, emotionally).”  Additional comments include, “I love it [yoga] as it releases stress and it is fun!” to the health orientation of, “All of the connections for your heart, mind and body.  Trying to understand what is going on in your body. To be able to quiet it down and control it a little bit. That is a wonderful thing,” and, “I’ve been a yoga student (regularly) since just after my accident in August of 2001. The benefits I receive are consistent, beneficial, and increase as my capacity to accept them grows.”

 

The self-report testimony of people living with brain injury has encouraged the benefits of a gentle yoga approach to wellness, versus more physically intense yoga.  Gentle yoga and or chair yoga have been embraced by people living with brain injury, “I definitely believe that gentle yoga is more accessible, easier to do which keeps enjoyment up & frustration at a minimum.”  Instructors can teach a combination of standing, floor, and or chair yoga poses, not unlike the variety experienced in an introductory or intermediate class in a studio, which can be tailored to individual needs with the addition of props typically found in a yoga studio, such as straps, bolsters, pillows, blocks, etc.  A variety of poses seem to be enjoyed by people living with brain injury, “I can’t really remember much of the poses, but they all have seemed to work out great for me, at least.” Through experiential practice, savasana or relaxation pose, especially with eye pillows, and yoga nidra are poses most enjoyed.

 

Challenges or risks associated with yoga indicate that the physicality aspects of yoga such as balance, mobility, and flexibility, as well as the residual challenges effecting people living with brain injury, such as cognitive, linguistic, and memory, pose difficulty in a yoga practice.  Simply “being on a mat” is challenging, however, through accommodation accessing modifications, people living with brain injury can do yoga.  Instructional methods encourage auditory, visual and kinesthetic learning styles.  Managing risk through medical clearance that specifies functional capacity and physical restrictions from a primary care physician, physiatrist, or medical, health care provider is a critical accompaniment to yoga practice for people with disability.  Additionally, knowing a person living with brain injury’s challenges, ensuring an individualized level of care and or an appropriate level of staff to member ratio, and incorporating a realistic series of yoga poses in a class are important dimensions to consider.

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Balancing poses and poses “that are more complex – maybe because they are harder and require too much concentration and becoming frustrating” as one yoga instructor pointed out are challenging for people living with brain injury.  Moreover, the initiation to become engaged in and sustain physical activity is also compromised as yoga instructors often feel like a cheering squad or motivational speakers, “Sometimes, the biggest challenge, for some people living with brain injury, is for them to overcome their fears or reduced self-perception of themselves, in order to fully engage in the posture.”

 

Yoga as a form of mediation seems to be a welcomed synergy of relaxation, compared to the life-long, trauma experienced along the journey of recovery, as one yoga instructor so eloquently stated, “One of the challenges is helping someone have their ‘first-experience’ of comfort, calmness, and contentment.”  People living with brain injury responses such as, “You think of your life, while you are doing it,” “It takes my mind away from stress. Everything has gone away,” “It is a great way to relax yourself.  Calms your mind away from reality,” extol the health benefits of yoga as a meditation form.

 

Pranayama or breathing techniques as a foundation of yoga ensures an “I am in-the-moment” experience where learning “how to breathe and become breath focused” is taught. One yoga instructor’s perception of the meditation component of yoga highlights several benefits that she has witnessed over the last years, “more centered, breath awareness, calmer, clearer thinking, fights depression, lower blood pressure, and relieves stress.”

 

Post-rehabilitation, community-based, day programs for people living with brain injury and or through individual sessions have demonstrated that yoga is indeed a complementary and alternative to the medical model of healthcare, as well as a health and wellness practice for a post- rehabilitation and chronic population.  People living with brain injury self-perceived the health benefits of yoga and this is validated by objective observations from yoga instructors.  As the voice  of the once silent epidemic is heard, yoga becomes a viable wellness practice to promote a higher quality of life, management of psychosocial and behavioral sequelae, and an improved physical portrait.

 

Finally, as the goal of community integration programs are to integrate people with disabilities into the vibrancy of life activities on Main Street, USA, integrating people living with brain injury into regular yoga classes at a studio offered to all people with or without a disability would be a more progressive consideration for inclusion. By managing accommodation needs for modification, or by providing a dedicated assistant to an individual or small group within a studio class, people living with brain injury may find the elusive normalization and independence that this people living with brain injury seek along their journey of recovery through yoga.

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About The Author:

 

Trinity Health and Wellness, LLC’s President and Director, Will DeGrauw, MS, CRC, CCM, CBIS, RYT has over 30 years in the health and human service and rehabilitation fields.  He specializes in serving people with disabilities, brain injury and/or spinal cord injury, seniors, and veterans with combat and non-combat injuries and polytrauma, and families.  Will is a nationally Certified Rehabilitation Counselor, Case Manager, Brain Injury Specialist, Yoga Teacher, and has completed a Tai Chi in Rehabilitation Certificate.

 

Will is a seasoned clinical and administrative, rehabilitation professional with a theoretical orientation of health and wellness, empowerment, positive psychology, psychosocial adjustment to disability, trauma informed healing and nurturing, longitudinal recovery, career development, employment/volunteerism, rediscovering meaning and purpose in life.  Will designed, established, replicated and oversaw operations of day and residential programs in New Hampshire and North Carolina for people with brain injury empowering health and wellness for themselves, families and caregivers.

 

As a Yoga instructor, Will teaches full spectrum yoga (chair, standing, mat poses) individualized for all people, specializing in teaching yoga for seniors; veterans; people living with disabilities, such as traumatic and acquired brain injuries, developmental disabilities, chronic mental health, blind and visual impairments; and people who are marginalized in society and unlikely to attend a class at a yoga studio.  Will also completed a Tai Chi in Rehabilitation Certificate, specific for Orthopedic Conditions, Cardiovascular and Neurological Disorders.

 

Trinity Health and Wellness, LLC

Will DeGrauw, MS, CRC, CCM, CBIS, RYT

President and Clinical Director

719 Emma Claire Lane

Davidson, NC 28036

C: 919.609.9890

E: trinityhealthandwellnessllc@gmail.com

 

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