Are you or a loved one grappling with a traumatic brain injury (TBI)?
Research indicates yoga may be an effective treatment option.
While every TBI is unique—some cases may result in permanent disability, while others cause only short-term cognitive challenges—the condition can have severe health implications. TBIs range from mild to critical, from a temporary change in mental status to permanent memory loss or an extended period of unconsciousness.
According to the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke, TBIs may cause changes in areas such as:
· Thinking (i.e., memory, cognition and reasoning)
· Emotion (i.e., depression, aggression and personality)
· Language (i.e., speech, understanding and communication)
· Sensation (i.e., vision, balance and fatigue)
Yoga, however, can play a substantial role in helping TBI patients treat these symptoms and ultimately improve their condition. Here is what you should know about yoga for traumatic brain injury.
Adapted Yoga for TBI
Adapted yoga can significantly enhance the lives of individuals with TBIs. When researchers at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) assessed the impact of an eight-week, one-on-one adapted yoga program on TBI patients, they found the group’s balance increased by 36 percent, their confidence went up by 39 percent and their lower-extremity strength and endurance increased by 100 percent and 105 percent, respectively.
What is adapted yoga? The specialized practice caters to individuals with chronic health conditions, and focuses on the yoga postures themselves—known as asanas—which can be tailored to accommodate the practitioner’s ability and comfort level.
Upon completion of the IUPUI study, one participant stated adapted yoga “changed my life…I mean physically, emotionally, mentally, it’s given me my life back.”
So with their doctor’s approval, TBI patients may choose to incorporate specific asanas into their daily routine. Restorative postures like savasana (corpse pose), where the practitioner lies flat on their back with their palms facing the ceiling, promote what is called pratyahara—that is, the act of looking inward to calm the nervous system and improve sleep. Literally, pratyahara refers to the mastery of external factors.
These asanas can also promote recovery among TBI patients:
Hastapadasana: This asana, a standing forward bend, can increase blood supply to the brain, enhance nerve function and calm the mind.
Shishuasana: In addition to relaxing the nervous system, shishuasana—also called child’s pose—can alleviate aches and pains.
Padmasana: This cross-legged seated asana, otherwise known as lotus pose, can help quiet the mind and relieve headaches.
While these postures may enhance TBI patients’ wellbeing, adapted yoga isn’t limited to asanas. It also includes pranayama, a yogic breathing technique found in most forms of meditation.
Meditation for TBI
Meditation—also known as dhyana—encourages practitioners to stay present by being mindful of their thoughts, feelings and any sensations they may experience. Consequently, it can help TBI patients manage stress and regulate their emotions.
A study facilitated by neuropsychologist Dr. Joanne Azulay found that meditation strengthened TBI patients’ memory and attention while decreasing their irritability and anxiety. The participants also improved their problem-solving skills, self-efficacy and overall quality of life.
Meanwhile, Dr. Ruwan M. Jayatunge—in his paper Meditation and Brain Plasticity—listed a number of other ways meditation can offer TBI patients relief. The researcher found that a consistent meditation practice encouraged the following:
Increased attention and awareness
Higher neuroplasticity and cerebral blood flow
Enhanced cortical mapping and brain function, as well as changes in gray matter that can improve learning, memory, emotional regulation and perception
The process of meditating generally involves sitting up straight yet comfortably, with the hands relaxed and the eyes closed. By keeping present and focusing on the breath—on pranayama—TBI patients can reap the benefits of meditation.
Yogic Philosophy for TBI
The National Institutes of Health classifies yoga as a form of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM), and touts its modern health benefits. That said, yogic philosophy—specifically with regard to healing—dates back 3,000 years. Four basic principles underlie the healing components of yogic philosophy:
1. The human body is a holistic entity composed of connected dimensions.
2. All individuals have unique needs and must adapt their practice to meet those needs.
3. Students serve as their own healer.
4. The quality and overall state of each practitioner’s mind is crucial to the healing process.
The takeaway here? Both clinically and philosophically, yoga is meant to be integrative, which means a union of mind and body is essential. In short, it focuses on all aspects of a person’s wellbeing, and can therefore address various TBI symptoms—the physical, the neurological and the emotional. This largely accounts for why traumatic brain injury researchers view yoga as such a compelling treatment approach.