This article was written by -A. Follow her on Instagram @_yogabrain
I didn’t wake up one day and decide I was going to start practicing yoga because it would be beneficial for my brain injury. When I moved to the big city of Toronto to start university, I bought a yoga mat because yoga seemed to be a thing that city people did. I went to a few classes here and there with friends but never added it to my life. My yoga mat mostly sat in the corner of my apartment, untouched and collecting dust.
In the past year and a half, I’ve had four concussions on top of a permanent brain injury I had acquired 10 years ago. Between recovering from concussions and the daily grind of a stressful social service job, I needed something to help me relax. I don’t remember what pushed me to lay out my yoga mat and sit on it but I did- I sat down to just breathe and started piecing together some of the physical poses I remembered from classes to create a routine. The deep breathing and physical practice allowed me to relax and the gains I made in flexibility, balance and ability to do more poses made the ex-athlete in me feel pretty good about myself.
My last concussion was more than just a physical blow but also an emotional one. I had just been through multiple concussions that brought on new and more debilitating symptoms; I was finally on medication for the physical symptoms and felt like I had finally come to terms with my new limitations and lifestyle. The day of my last concussion, I stomped out of work- more angry than anything- and attempted to carry on with the life I had carved out again but couldn’t.
At this point, yoga had become apart of my “self care” routine and I continued to practice. One night, I couldn’t do a simple pose without losing my balance and that was my breaking point. After falling over for the 10th time, I slammed my fists down onto the mat and cried; I cried about the new symptoms, the old one’s that never resolved, the constant adjusting required after each concussion and for having a brain injury in the first place. Yoga was supposed to be something I was able to do in a world where there’s a lot I can’t do. I could have easily packed up my mat and put it back in the corner but I realized that in that moment of me pounding my fists (very out of character for me), was when I needed yoga the most.
That week, I found the book Yoga Mind by Suzan Colon; the book is a 30 day guide to enhance practice beyond the physical aspects of yoga and revolves around the idea that anyone can do yoga. Colon demonstrates this by using her friend’s experience of doing yoga after an accident that resulted in him being paralyzed. As I read through the principles and continued my physical practice, I was able to recognize the aspects of my brain injury that were impacting my mental health and wellness.
When I went to neurologists and rehabilitation, I never checked the “yes” box for having anxiety and depression as symptoms because I didn’t. Although I wasn’t depressed or anxious- that didn’t mean I wasn’t angry or upset about what I had lost after my brain injury. Words like anxiety and depression didn’t suit what I was feeling so I checked the “no” box and focused on improving my physical symptoms.
Now here I was- 10 years later with concussion symptoms that included crying everyday, a temper and was contemplating if I had depression. Spending time on the mat has not only helped me explore these feelings but has given me the confidence to talk about symptoms that are not physical. Yoga has also allowed me to become more accepting of all of my symptoms and limitations- both physical and emotional- and love my brain again.
I think yoga should be included in brain injury recovery plans; when your body is running one way, your mind is bouncing around in your damaged brain and your spirit is trying to hold all of this without breaking- having something that brings all of these things together in harmony is more healing than checking a “yes” box on a clinical form for having completely rational feelings about the big life changes a brain injury can bring.
Follow me on Instagram @_yogabrain