Yoga, Meditation and Breath: A Traumatic Brain Injury Healing Trio

Mind and Body

The interconnectedness of the mind and body is highly complex. After sustaining Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI), it becomes even more complex because you may be struggling to have your mind and body function in unity. Yoga has proven to be highly effective in restoring this connectivity. Yoga uses mindful-based practices that focus on strengthening the mind and body connection by encouraging the brain to relax and allow itself time to heal (TBI Therapy, 2020). Since yoga is a practice that focuses on the entire body, its calm and relaxed nature can lead to a more productive healing process for those suffering from a TBI.

When you have a TBI your brain is simultaneously going in 100 different directions. Yoga can help you focus on slowing down, allowing yourself to experience calmness (Yoga Journal, 2015). Yoga encourages you to listen to your body, and rather than pushing yourself past your limits, to respond to it with compassion (Brain & Life, 2020). It is about acceptance.

An Adaptive Practice

TBIs can cause you to experience frustration and overwhelmedness because your body and mind are no longer functioning at the pace and strength you are accustomed to. These brain injuries can impact a person’s quality of life by impairing them cognitively through decreased attention span, memory loss, dysregulated mood, stress and anxiety (Adler Griesch, 2017). They can also impair them physically through atypical energy levels, disturbances in their balance and disconnectedness of their body and mind. 

An adapted yoga practice is incredibly TBI-friendly and a meaningful healing tool. The pace of the practice is modified in order to prevent dizziness and nausea, which are both common symptoms for those managing TBIs (Brain & Life, 2020). The practice also involves less up and down movement and is often slower and more repetitive to accommodate those who are experiencing fatigue, attention deficits, as well as, concentration and memory difficulties. The adapted practice also eliminates bright lighting and loud noises, which are both common triggers of TBI symptoms, by maintaining smaller crowds and reducing the strength of lights in the studio.

Benefits

One of the biggest challenges for TBI patients is their balance. Balance requires a complex collaboration of sensorimotor control systems including vision, touch and vestibular. Yoga helps to have all of these systems work together. Yoga finds the harmony between getting a TBI patient moving, while focusing on muscle pain, breathing conditions and core strength (Brain & Life, 2020). 

Another area of challenge for TBI patients is communication problems. The coordination of breath and movement is what causes this difficulty. Yoga’s focus on deep breathing and movement, as well as the use of simple “oms”, can help with diaphragmatic breathing (sometimes known as belly breathing) and the coordination required for speech (Brain & Life, 2020).  

Stress, anxiety and overexcitement often interfere with an adequate healing process for TBI patients. Through aiming to quiet the mind, so that the body can focus on building strength and flexibility, yoga can also reduce these anxious feelings. This powerful tool helps to mitigate stress and aids TBI patients to escape from their own self-judgment.

Not only can yoga improve physical limitations experienced by TBI patients, it also builds optimism and confidence (TBI Therapy, 2020). Many of the mantras used throughout a yoga practice, such as “I love myself” and “ I am enough”, can help those with TBIs change their thinking patterns about how they don’t like their bodies and that their brain doesn’t work the way that it used to (TBI Therapy, 2020). 

Meditation

Meditation is interworked into yoga, especially the practice adapted for those with TBIs. Its practice teaches the brain to become present, aware of our feelings, emotions, thoughts and sensations. It hopes to quiet the mind and turn its attention over to breath. Research has also shown that meditation can improve neuroplasticity of the brain and increase cerebral blood flow, which are both important for TBI healing (TBI Therapy, 2020). Another study also stated that meditation for TBI survivors improved their attention span and memory, while also decreasing their frustration, irritability and anxiety (Social Work Today, 2014). The meditation practice allowed them to feel more self-efficacious and improve their problem solving skills, which both led to a higher perceived quality of life. 

Further Explanation of Breath

Pranayama breathing is a voluntary regulated yoga breathing technique that involves deep breathing with slow rhythmic inhalations and extended exhalations. There are multiple different techniques, however their overarching goal is to strengthen the connection between your body and mind.

For TBI survivors, Pranayama breathing improves awareness and health related quality of life. The importance of this practice lies with the ability to correctly use one’s breath to induce calmness and release. In one study it was found that Pranayama breathing practices:

  • increased melatonin levels
  • improved sleep
  • reduced stress levels
  • decreased depression rates by 50%
  • anxiety rates by 30%
  • increased overall well-being by 65% (Sengupta, 2012). 

The results also showed reduced blood pressure levels that could be attributed to lower stress levels. Reducing blood pressure is also beneficial for the TBI population who experience blood flow issues. The lower stress levels can also lead to improved attention, memory and decision making skills, which are typically negatively impacted by TBIs. 

Overall

The adaptive practice of yoga has proven to be highly effective in the healing process for TBI survivors. Research has shown that light aerobic exercise can be supportive in recovery for some TBI patients, so long as they have been identified as appropriate candidates by their health care providers (Brenda Lovette, Emerson Hospital). The combination of yoga, meditation and deep breathing gives TBI survivors the capability to exercise and get moving, while still considering their healing process through promoting calmness and relaxation. While TBI survivors are practicing yoga, it is important they listen to their bodies, move at a slow pace, practice in a monitored environment and focus on their breath (Brenda Lovette, Emerson Hospital). Adaptive yoga practice can quiet the mind and heal the brain. 

Where does Power of Patients fit in?

It is important for TBI survivors to constantly monitor how they are feeling. The Power of Patients personalized symptom tracker can help TBI patients to track the changes in their day to day symptoms. If you decide to incorporate yoga into your healing process, be sure to continue to use our customizable dashboard to track your progress. The symptom tracker also provides easy to understand data reports that can be presented to healthcare practitioners and care providers to ensure yoga is a beneficial practice for you. 

Reap the benefits of yoga practice with LoveYourBrain, a non-profit foundation that helps to improve the quality of life for TBI patients through yoga retreats. Shilo Zeller, the manager for the Mindset Program and Community Outreach for LoveYourBrain Yoga will be speaking in our next webinar. Shilo spearheads efforts across all LoveYourBrain programs to engage clinical, community-based, advocacy, and academic stakeholders in their mission. Her neuroscience background, yoga teaching experience and personal experience with a brain injury, makes her perfect to learn from. If you want to learn more about Shilo, Love Your Brain and how yoga could be the missing piece to your TBI recovery, register here for our webinar.

Together, LoveYourBrain with the Power of Patients symptom tracking dashboard, you can take control of your life after a TBI, today! Visit powerofpatients.com now, to get started!

 

Denman L. THE INFLUENCE OF PRANAYAMA BREATHING TECHNIQUES, AFTER TRAUMATIC BRAIN INJURY ON SELF-PERCEPTION OF HEALTH RELATED QUALITY OF LIFE. 2015. http://libres.uncg.edu/ir/asu/f/Denman%20Thesis_8.3.15.pdf

Fuller, K., Pransky, J., Allen, C., Houseworth, K., & Sturgis, I. (2015, March 16). The Healing Power of Yoga for Brain Injuries. Yoga Journal. https://www.yogajournal.com/lifestyle/health/healing-power-yoga-brain-injuries/

Haines, M. (2017, November 13). Yoga and Meditation for Brain Injury. TBI Therapy. https://tbitherapy.com/yoga-meditation-brain-injury/

(2019, January 17). Yoga as Therapy for Traumatic Brain Injury Survivors. Adler Giersch. https://www.adlergiersch.com/blog/yoga-as-therapy-for-traumatic-brain-injury-survivors/

Lovette B. Yoga and Holistic Interventions for the PCS Patient. Emerson Hospital.

Watts, S. (2020, February). How Yoga Can Help People with Traumatic Brain Injury. Brain&Life. https://www.brainandlife.org/articles/how-yoga-can-help-people-with-traumatic-brain-injury/

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