The Christmas movie experience

BY: MARK KONING

“Dear Santa, all I want for Christmas is… the latest and greatest from Twentieth Century Fox!”

I use popcorn at Christmas, but not to string around the tree.

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Yoga your way through the holidays

BY: ALYSON ROGERS

The Holiday Season can be a challenging time for brain injury survivors for a number of reasons; managing gift shopping, busy public spaces and big family gatherings can increase brain injury symptoms and shine a light on what has changed post-injury.  We may not be able to change our brain injuries and all that comes with the holidays but we can mentally and emotionally prepare with a toolbox of self care.

Here is one idea for your Holiday Toolbox- a yoga practice for brain injury survivors!  These poses reduce stress and anxiety, provide a sense of peace, bring joy and can help with managing symptoms.

Some yoga poses aren’t for everyone and can increase symptoms and other health issues.  Please refer to www.yogajournal.com for more information and always listen to your body; if it doesn’t feel good, don’t do it.

Child’s Pose
This pose calms the mind and reduces stress and anxiety.

Child Pose

  • Come onto your knees
  • Point knees to the edges of your mat
  • Bring big toes together
  • Allow upper thighs to sit on heels
  • Lean forward and walk your hands out in front of you (arms can be up or on the mat)
  • Modification: put a block or item under your forehead

Cat/Cow:
This pose helps with focus, coordination, lower back pain, and emotional and physical balance.

  • Come onto hands and knees (knees underneath hips; wrists, elbows and shoulders in a line) with a neutral spine
  • Cow: As you inhale, look up and let your stomach drop
  • Cat: As you exhale, curl your spine and bring your chin to your chest
  • Flow through these poses to the pace of your inhale-exhale

Cobra:

This pose helps with mood elevation, fatigue and relieves stress.

Yoga your way through the holidays

  • Lay on your stomach
  • Bend elbows, bringing hands flat on mat with thumb aligned with top of ribs
  • As you inhale, push up while keeping the tops of your feet pressed into the mat
  • Modification: Baby Cobra- stop when your belly button lifts off the mat

Warrior II:

This pose helps with concentration, stamina and feeling strong.

warrior pose

  • Stand with your legs four to five feet apart
  • Turn right foot 90 degrees to face the front of the mat
  • Align your heels so if you drew a line between them on the mat, it would be straight
  • Bend your right knee to a 90 degree angle (ankle and knee in a straight line)
  • Allow your left leg to straighten
  • Stretch arms out, keeping them parallel to the floor
  • Repeat on left side

Triangle:

This pose is for energy and neck/back pain.

Trinaglepose_Alison

  • From Warrior II, bump your hips towards the back of your mat to create a straight line in your front leg
  • Bring legs closer together if needed to feel stable and balanced
  • As you exhale, bring your right arm down to your ankle, shin, a prop or the floor
  • Lift your left arm up, trying to stack the shoulders on top of each other- keeping a straight line from one hand to the other
  • For an extra challenge, look up to top hand
  • Repeat on left side

Wide-Legged Forward Fold:

This pose helps with headache, fatigue and stress reduction. Use a prop underneath forehead to relieve pressure in your head.

Wide legged forward bend

  • Wide stance as far as feels comfortable
  • Bring your hands to your hips; take a deep inhale
  • As you exhale, fold forward; keep back straight
  • Allow your hands to find the floor, legs, ankles, feet, shins, or prop

Goddess:

This pose is for energy, warmth, concentration and a sense of well-being.

Goddess Pose

  • Widen stance as far as feels comfortable
  • Pivot on heels so toes are pointing to the ends of your mat
  • Inhale; sweep your arms above of head
  • Exhale; bend your knees and bend your elbows, drawing your shoulder blades together
  • Chest should feel open in this pose

Camel:

This pose helps with anxiety relief, problem solving, processing emotions and self love.

  • Come onto your knees
  • Bring hands to the small of your back
  • Inhale; bring chest forward, arching your back and looking up
  • If this feels good, stay here
  • Full Camel: Take hands behind you and guide them towards your heels
  • Do a few rounds of cat/cow following this pose

Legs Up the Wall:
This pose helps for headaches, relaxation, insomnia and slowing down.

  • Lay on your back with your arms on the mat
  • Lift legs in the air as if you are walking on the ceiling
  • Use the wall as a support

Happy Baby:

This pose is for happiness, letting go of emotions, releasing tension and nervous energy.

happybaby1

  • Lay on back
  • Bend knees and bring them into your chest
  • Grab onto your toes, foot arches or chins
  • Explore your inner child; be still, rock a bit, move your legs, listen to your body!

Reclined Bound Angle/Butterfly Pose:

This pose helps to calm the nervous system and is restoring.

butterfly pose

  • Lay on back with upper body relaxed
  • Bring the soles of feet together, finding a bend in your knees and opening in your hips
  • To increase stretch in hips, bring feet closer to your body
  • Modification: This pose can be done sitting up

Alyson is a brain injury survivor that is passionate about raising the awareness of brain injuries by sharing her own experiences.  She teaches studio yoga classes and private classes in peoples’ homes. Alyson has a Bachelor of Social Work from Ryerson University and works in social services in the Niagara Region.  You can find Alyson on Instragram at @_yogabrain and on Facebook as Yoga Brain.

8 tips on how to holiday after brain injury

BY: ALISON

Feelings of apprehension, stress, and loneliness often accompany the anticipation of winter holidays for brain injury survivors and their caregivers. Typical stressors such as finances, unpleasant gatherings, and being too busy are much more difficult to manage.  When brain injury causes changes to employment, cognitive deficits, lowered emotional health, chronic fatigue, and sensitivity to stimulation, things can be that much harder.

Here are some tips and ideas for enjoying the holidays after a brain injury:

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FREE and ABI friendly activities to do in Toronto over the holidays

BY: ALISON

Not feeling the Holiday Spirit?

You are not alone! But in case you want to start feeling those holiday vibes, here’s a list of free, brain injury friendly activities in Toronto. You never know, you may get into the spirit after all.

  1. Check out Amazing Christmas Decorations 🎅🏾

Go for a walk or drive in neighbourhoods that are known for their extravagant decorations. For example, the residents on Inglewood Drive (which happens to be close to the BIST Office, just south of St. Clair and Mount Pleasant, DIRECTIONS) put up giant blow-up Santa Clauses all along the street. But there are more! You can find other incredible decoration displays in Toronto, HERE.

 2. Watch a free or low cost Christmas movie! 🎬

Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema is showing classic Christmas movies for free, a price that can’t be beat! 506 Bloor Street West, DIRECTIONS

On Saturday mornings at 11 a.m., select Cineplex theatres offer screenings of family friendly Christmas movies for $2.99, which isn’t a bad deal either.

Tips: bring ear plugs and sunglasses to reduce the stimulation from watching movies in a theatre. Adding ear muffs and / or a toque will further reduce the noise.

3. Go to (one of many) Holiday Markets! 🎄

Toronto has upped its Holiday Market game in the past few years, and many of them have free admission. Check out some of the more popular ones below.

  • The Toronto Christmas Market in the Distillery District has free admission on weekdays, and begins to charge admission on weekends starting on Friday nights at 6 p.m: 373 Front St E, DIRECTIONS
  • Evergreen’s Winter Village has a charming ice rink, a Christmas Market and other wonders: 550 Bayview Avenue, DIRECTIONS
  • stackt Market is a “unique, ever-changing and curated retail experience” plus it’s indoors and pet friendly: 28 Bathurst Street, DIRECTIONS
  • Nathan Phillips Square Holiday Square, what could be more Toronto than skating at the Square? The Holiday Square is a space where a winter carnival and Christmas Market come together. Best, it’s always free: 100 Queen Street West, DIRECTIONS. How many times can we say square in one bullet point?

 

 4. Soak in the tropics and glitter in the 6ix 🌴
  • The Winter Flower Garden in Allan Gardens is filled with displays of stunning flowers, plants and vines from all over the world. International, natural beauty without the jet lag: 19 Horticultural Ave, DIRECTIONS
  • Did you know there is a bamboo forest in the heart of downtown Toronto?  Check out the The Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research and it’s hidden bamboo treasures: 160 College Street, DIRECTIONS
Tunnel of Glam
PHOTO VIA YONGE + ST. CLAIR
  • Did you know there’s a sequinned-filled tunnel at Yonge and St. Clair, right by the BIST Office? Yes, you read that right. Check out the Tunnel of Glam: 1501 Yonge Street, DIRECTIONS.

This holiday season, I hope that you’ll use all of the energy that you saved to heal and create joy for yourself.


‘Mind Yourself with Alison’ is a collection of self-help tips, research, and personal experiences dedicated to helping people thrive after brain injury (or other health problems). Check out Alison’s other BIST Blog articles Women and Brain Injury: What you need to know and How to be a Good Friend to a Survivor. You can follow her on Twitter, HERE.

New Year’s Eve: midnight is past my bedtime

BY: ALYSON ROGERS

Statistically, the likelihood of me being up to ring in the New Year on January 1st is slim. I can count on one hand the amount of nights I’ve been awake at midnight this year. I’d say for 360 out of 365 days in 2018, I was in bed and asleep before 12 a.m. hit.

Fatigue from a brain injury and the medication that can go with it aren’t exactly what I’m used to mixing on December 31st, which is vanilla vodka and coca cola. Life changes, concussions happen and I’m no longer the life of the party that plays flip cup.

Last year, I spent my first New Year’s Eve at home and alone, a first for me. I’d always gone to parties, bars or a friend’s house to ring in the New Year – but last year was different – I’d had so many concussions with new symptoms that just the thought of staying up until midnight, let alone going out and being social, was exhausting. So I stayed home.

Statistically, the likelihood of me being up to ring in the New Year on January 1st is slim. -Alyson Rogers

At first, I had a lot of negative thoughts towards myself. What 25-year-old stays home on New Years Eve? I logged onto Facebook and Instagram and saw everyone in their nice outfits at parties, and I felt jealous and embarrassed. Jealous, that I couldn’t participate in this holiday and embarrassed that I had no New Years Eve plans. I was prepared for a night of feeling down and mentally pictured answering the dreadful ‘What did you do for New Years?’ questions the next day, but that’s not what happened.

Instead of lining up at the LCBO and going through my closet to find an outfit, I started cleaning my apartment. I had gotten some home décor items for Christmas and wanted to set them up. After that, I ordered a pizza and watched a movie. Then, I lit some candles and put on my diffuser. By just being at home, I was able to think about 2017 and reflect on everything that had happened to me. I looked around at my freshly cleaned and decorated apartment and I felt content; I started to reflect on 2017 and all it had brought me and taken away as the result of concussions.

Around January 1st, the phrase ‘new year, new me’ is very popular. It was a new year but I was still going to be the same me, with the same mystery brain injury symptoms.

By reflecting on 2017, I was hopeful that 2018 would be different, I would find out what was happening to my body and return to my former life.  It led me to write a post for The Mighty about the challenges I had experienced and despite such drastic changes, I still loved my brain. I compiled a list of all of the things I loved about my brain injury.  This was a hopeful turn in what would have been a very dark night.

New Years is drawing close again and it’s amazing what has changed this year. My brain continues to heal and I began medication to control my new and unwelcome physical symptoms. I also shifted my perspective in how I see my brain injury, I never returned to my former life but created a new one that I find joy in. This allowed me to go to New York and Myrtle Beach by myself. I ziplined, rode a bike and held a conversation without my eyes glazing over and so many other things that 2017 couldn’t give me.

My life has changed a lot in the past year but one thing won’t. I’ll be spending New Year’s Eve at home and by myself, but this time I’m happy about it.


Alyson is 26-years-old and acquired her first brain injury ten years ago. She graduated from Ryerson University and is a youth worker at a homeless shelter. In her spare time, Alyson enjoys writing, rollerblading and reading. Follow her on Twitter @arnr33 or on The Mighty.

That time of the year, again

BY: MARK KONING

This time of year, I often find myself singing along to that old Christmas carol, ‘It’s the most wonderful time of the year.’ Having said that, I also often find myself asking if that’s really the case.

We are in a season that can be full of cheer and magical moments, but as a brain injury survivor, the season can also be stressful and tiring. I feel more isolated during the Holiday Season than at any other time of year. It is a tug of war as I go back and forth, I enjoy the festive times, but they take their toll.

I feel more isolated during the Holiday Season than at any other time of year.

I look forward to the memories and experiences the holidays bring; an ‘Ugly Christmas Sweater’ party, watching Die Hard (what I consider the staple Christmas movie), the Santa parade (which, in my home town is done at night where you can get an awesome effect from the lights regardless of how much snow is on the ground), a Christmas Open House and hanging beautiful lights outside my house. I cherish these things, but I also need to pace myself. If I am not careful, it all can become too overwhelming, depressing even.

Where is the snow I remember as a youngster and into my teens? The kind I could build forts from, have snowball fights with, and make snow angels in. It seems to be few and far between.

Maybe I just don’t have the energy I used to. I get a little impatient with an overabundance of too many Christmas tunes, but at the same time they can get me rockin’ and into the festive mood.

There are two types of people in the world: those who think die hard is a Christmas movie and those who are wrong

I love this time of year, and I also dread it. What is up with that? Is it the familiar territory of my brain injury not knowing what direction to go in? I can tell you I’d rather believe in Santa and his reindeer than deal with this ongoing fatigue and confusion.

I love seeing the smiles from my niece and nephew after they unwrap their gifts, but navigating large crowds at the mall can be frustrating and painful. My head can only handle so much, so I try my best to avoid the consumerism of the season. The fact that there seems to be so much build up only to have it all go by so quickly can also be disparaging.

Is it simply the time of year? The lack of sun, the cold and the damp, these elements do not help my fragile mind. Christmas in July then? Perhaps. But maybe I just need to carry this spirit of the holidays with me all year round. Maybe I should put that in a note to leave with the cookies and milk I put out by the fireplace on the 24th.  Hmm.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!


Mark’s passion to lend a helping hand, offer advice and give back, has developed into a moral and social responsibility with the goal of sharing, inspiring and growing, for others as well as himself. His experience as a Survivor, Caregiver, Mentor and Writer, has led to his credibility as an ABI Advocate and author of his life’s story, Challenging Barriers & Walking the Path. Follow him on Twitter @Mark_Koning or go to www.markkoning.com.

From Chef Janet Craig: holiday entertainment hacks

BY: JANET CRAIG

Are you up to holiday entertaining? It is possible to entertain and not feel overwhelmed, with some helpful tips from our favourite Chef Janet Craig!

Buy the Easy Essentials: 

Keep a couple of cheeses and interesting pickles such as mushrooms and olives in the fridge so you can quickly make up an antipasti plate. Have hard boiled eggs on hand to make devilled eggs, which are easy to prepare and a favourite for many! Hit your local Bulk Food Store for nuts, chocolates and other treats to put in small bowls without spending too much on goodies.

Holiday entertaining hacks

Write a Menu: 

Write a menu of what you would like to serve. It helps with the shopping and is a constant reminder of what you are serving (including that salad stuck at the back of the fridge that’s so easy to forget about!) Save even more energy by hosting a potluck and invite people to bring their signature dish, such as a favourite family holiday recipe.

Small Place? No Problem!

If your place is smaller, consider draping a tablecloth over an ironing board to use as a buffet serving board. If your entrance is small, hand out a plastic bag to put wet boots in then the neck of the bag goes over the hanger of their coat.

Go Fancy-Schmancy 

Cider, Thyme + Tonic Mocktail
Cider, Thyme + Tonic Mocktail via townandcountrymag.com

Think about a signature drink, such as these tasty non-alcoholic mocktails. It’s so nice to greet your guests with a beverage in hand rather than running around trying to mix something. Keep a cooler with ice and bottles under that buffet table, just in case. Above all relax and enjoy yourselves.

I always say people come for your company, it’s just a bonus if they get great food.


After suffering a stroke at the age of 40, Janet left the corporate world to open a personal chef business, Satisfied Soul Inc. Now retired, she continues to enjoy her passions of cooking, creating and teaching people how to eat properly.  Find our more about her & her amazing recipes, HERE.