Yoga for Brain Injury Recovery [Benefits, Poses, Research]

Research has revealed significant benefits of yoga for brain injury recovery. In this tutorial we will look at how people with brain injury can practice yoga, the benefits, and specific poses (asanas) to try.

I have personally suffered a brain injury a couple of years ago when I passed out and smashed my head on a TV and then on the floor. I fell unconscious and started shaking uncontrollably. I was unconscious for several minutes before the ambulance arrived and whisked me away to hospital for a fMRI scan on my brain. I endured headaches, dizziness, and various mental challenges. And sadly, accidents like these are not rare.

According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, approximately About 1.7 million cases of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) occur in the U.S. every year. [1]

Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) is a major cause of death and is one the rise. Approximately 155 people in the U.S die of TBIs every day according to the Centers For Disease Control And Prevention [2]. A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is defined as an alteration in brain function

Concussions among various sports players are rightly receiving more attention recently. The NFL is one sport with particular prevalence of the problem. The Washington Post says, “Researchers studying the link between football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy found that 99 percent of the brains donated by families of former NFL players showed signs of the neurodegenerative disease,”. [3]

Those who survive a TBI are often affected by side effects for the rest of their lives, including impairment of memory, movement, and sight and hearing, and emotional functioning.

Traumatic brain injuries can occur out of nowhere. A sudden car crash or an accident at work can lead to a serious TBI that has a devastating effect for the rest of the person’s life.

Naturally, those with traumatic brain injuries often seek out new treatments and forms of self help. The good news is, as Wikipedia states, “If an individual survives brain damage, the brain has a remarkable ability to adapt.”

One of the rising forms of self-help treatment for brain injuries is yoga. And science shows that there are indeed significant benefits of yoga for brain injuries.

Yoga is an exercise and healing system dating back thousands of years. Science has shown that there are major benefits of yoga [READ: Different types of yoga and their benefits]. Not only can yoga help with physical fitness, it can also improve brain functioning, balance, and coordination.

Trying to practice yoga with brain injury is not easy. I found that I felt dizzy traying to perform asanas (yoga poses) and my mind would ask me to stop, telling me that I was attempting to do too much too moon. It’s the case for many people with TBI’s. I personally needed to adjust the way I was performing yoga, and practise different yoga poses, as I’ll share below.

Benefits of yoga for head injuries

Research conducted by at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis found that Adaptive Yoga (a practice specifically tailored to the needs of the person with the condition) can help adults with mild or traumatic brain injury, and stroke. [4]

The study looked at one aspect of brain injuries, that being the fact that brain injuries cause disconnection between mind and body.  In the study, participants were given an eight-week yoga program. The results showed that balance increased 36 percent, balance confidence 39 percent, endurance 105 percent, and lower-extremity strength 100 percent.

The researchers state that practicing therapeutic yoga did indeed help with recovery.

Kristine Miller, assistant professor in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences’, says, “adapted yoga as a post-rehabilitation activity is particularly well-suited for patients who are on the road to recovery but not functioning well enough to exercise at a gym… Yoga is different from traditional rehabilitation exercises [because] 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.”

A similar study performed in 2014 between the same team at Indiana University and the YMCA of Madison Country found similarly positive results of yoga on cognitive impairment.

With these benefits in mind, you might wonder how to teach yoga to brain injury sufferers, or how to do it yourself at home (although it is strongly recommended that people with head injuries practice yoga with a certified instruction who specialises in adaptive yoga).

One team that specialises in helping people with brain injuries with yoga, is the LoveYourBrain yoga series, which is available online.  It’s a group created by Kevin Pearce, who himself suffered a brain injury in 2009.  Pearce says, “It’s amazing. You really can improve, but you have to be strict with yourself and get a routine and be consistent.” [5]

Practicing adaptive yoga for brain injuries is a little different to regular yoga, and certainly does need to be done slowly and cautiously.

Flint Rehab, a team dedicated to improving life for people with brain injuries, says that the following are the best yoga poses for brain injuries.

Best Yoga Poses for Brain Injuries (according to Flint Rehab)

Flint Rehab lists the following as the best yoga poses for brain injuries and wheelchair users. [6]

1: Eagle Pose (Garudasana)

This is one of the best yoga poses for brain injuries because it helps to stretch and relax the back and shoulders [read: yoga for back pain]. To perform this pose, inhale and lift your hands to your eyes. Cross your arms at the elbows with the hands intertwined. Exhale. Lift your arms above your head.

2: Side Stretch

Raise your right arm over your head on an inhale. Now, as you exhale, learn your torso to the left, stretching the right arm up over your head. Hold for a few breaths. Inhale and return your torso to regular position. Repeat on the other side.

3: Leg Stretch

The leg stretch is a simple yoga pose for stretching the hamstring. Inhale, lengthen your spine and sit up straight. Breathe out and reach your hands down around eh back of your knee. Lift your knee up (comfortably). Hold for a few breaths and then relax.

4: Cat-Cow Pose

This is one of the simplest and most relaxing yoga poses. Good for brain injuries because it balances the spine and neck.  To do this, get on all fours. Inhale, then raise your chin up as you tuck your stomach in and raise your bottom up (cow pose). Exhale, round your upper body forward and lower your chin.

5: Cactus Pose

Lift your arms to the sides, at shoulder height, and bend your elbows to 90 degrees. Keep your upper arms horizontal, your forearms vertical, then spin your palms to face your head. Press your elbows back, but don’t let your belly or head pop forward.  

LoveYourBrain Yoga and Meditation for Brain Injury

Conclusion

Science has proven that the brain is very adaptable and is capable of recovery. One of the best ways to achieve this is with yoga. Brain injuries can lead to impaired balance, sensations, and cognitive functions, but yoga can help the brain to recover and can improve quality of life.

To compliment your physical yoga exercises you might also like to try some yoga meditation methods.

I hope you found this guide helpful.

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SOURCES:

1: Traumatic Brain Injury, American Association of Neurologicl Surgeons, https://www.aans.org/en/Patients/Neurosurgical-Conditions-and-Treatments/Traumatic-Brain-Injury

2: TBI: Get the Facts, Centers For Disease Control And Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/traumaticbraininjury/get_the_facts.html

3: The latest brain study examined 111 former NFL players. Only one didn’t have CTE., Rick MaeseJuly 25, 2017, Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/the-latest-brain-study-examined-111-former-nfl-players-only-one-didnt-have-cte/2017/07/25/835b49e4-70bc-11e7-8839-ec48ec4cae25_story.html

4:  Study finds adapted yoga feasible, beneficial for adults with traumatic brain injury, Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis https://archive.news.iupui.edu/releases/2016/02/adapted-yoga-brain-injury.shtml

5: Love Your Brain Yoga, Kevin Pearce  https://www.loveyourbrain.com/yoga

6: 9 Best Yoga Poses for Brain Injury Patients, Flint Rehab, https://www.flintrehab.com/yoga-poses-for-brain-injury/


Paul Harrison

Paul Harrison is a qualified meditation teacher and writer with more than 15 years experience in meditation and mindfulness. He studied meditation in Oxford, UK, and Hamilton Ontario Canada, and earned his degree at Staffordshire University. Paul has helped thousands of people to discover their true potential through mindfulness, yoga and meditation. You can read his books on Amazon

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