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.

10 things you need to know about traveling with a brain injury

BY: BLUE HELMET GIRL

My first big trip after my TBI was three years post accident, and I was terrified. Traveling is exhausting for a person without a brain injury, so it’s ten times more exhausting for someone with one. Dealing with symptoms of a brain injury is all about finding what strategies work for you.

Last spring, I traveled to Portugal and Spain for a total of 14 days and it was one of the best trips I’ve ever been on. It was my first time in Europe and I learned a lot traveling to there with a brain injury. Here are the ten biggest things I learned from this trip.

Author looking at ocean view on rocks

1. Plan

Planning your itinerary before the trip is the number one advice I have. Spacing out activities is helpful so you have time to rest. Maybe plan nothing for the day you get in and something easy for the next day. Take it easy at the start so you can adjust to jet lag. No matter where you are, your vacation does not need to be fast paced.

2. Spend on comfort – you’re worth it:

  • Buy the extra legroom on the plane. Long flights suck for anyone, the extra few bucks for that comfort for seven, eight or even 12 hours is the one thing I wouldn’t go without.
  • Stay in a hotel. Having a quiet room is a must have for rests when traveling.
  • Buy first class train tickets. Trains in Europe are extremely bumpy and horrible for someone with motion sickness. Spend the extra 20 euros and get a seat in a first class car. Your ride will be so smooth you won’t even know you’re on a train.
  • Public transportation drains a lot of energy for me. Cabs in Europe are inexpensive, easily accessible and they’re everywhere on city streets. So avoid the mental drain of subways, streetcars and busses by opting for a cab instead.

3. Tours:

Private tours are a good option for someone traveling with a brain injury. It’s more intimate and the less people around the better. Half-day tours are also an option.

4. Flying:

My best advice is a good pair of noise canceling headphones and an eye mask. Also avoid alcohol on the plane.

5. Breaks:

Jet lag is the worst! Having never traveled to a time difference of longer than two hours, the six-hour difference will affect anyone. As mentioned in tip #1, plan breaks into your trip. Every day I had two or three breaks and some included a nap.

6. Alcohol:

Depending on where you travel, alcohol will be different than what you’re used to, if you drink. For example, wine is a lot stronger in Europe. In Portugal, the minimum alcohol percentage in wine is 23 per cent. I’m not a big drinker, but on vacation it’s hard to say no to Portuguese or Spanish wine. For some reason I was never hungover after a glass of wine with dinner. If I have a glass of 12 per cent wine in North America, I’m hungover for a few days. In Europe, I woke up feeling fine. But everyone is different, so if you choose to drink, pace yourself and know your limits!

7. Coffee:

The coffee is Europe is also a lot stronger than North America. Instead of a mug of coffee, they’ll give you an espresso shot by default, which packs a massive punch. My first cup had me shaking for half a day. Start slow with it if you’re not used to espresso.

8. Walking:

Having never been to Europe, the last thing I was thinking about was the cobble stone sidewalks. I didn’t realized how slippery they would be, and as a result, I was constantly looking down and focusing on not slipping. What helped was a good pair of running shoes and not rushing around. You can’t change the way the sidewalks are built, so just take your time.

9. Communicate with your travel companion:

Make sure to travel with someone you trust and who knows your situation. You need to communicate with them when you need a rest.

10. Water, water & lots of water!

Seriously, I can’t stress this enough: drink lots of water.

Traveling with a brain injury doesn’t need to be a scary thing. If you plan for it, take your time and rest you’ll be able to relax and enjoy the full experience. I never thought I’d be able to travel and now I’m already planning my next vacation!


The Blue Helmet Girl is a woman in her mid-twenties who acquired a TBI three years ago, and after three open head surgeries, has recovered remarkably. With a high level of organization skills and self-awareness, she hopes to help others by sharing her unique story and strategies. In her spare time, you can find her hanging out with her dog, taking pictures or writing in her journal.
Follow her on Twitter @theBHjourney, on Instagram @bluehelmetjourney or www.thebluehelmetjourney.com

 

 

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.

Pate anyone? Introducing: walnut lentil pate!

BY: CHEF JANET CRAIG

This is a vegan recipe that even I had a hard time figuring out it was not meat! It’s a quick and easy appetizer or can be spread on a sandwich. Looking for a New Year’s treat anyone? Just saying …

A bowl of lentil walnut pate

Ingredients 

  • Walnut Lentil Pate
  • ¾ cup raw walnuts
  • 1 cup cooked lentils (I prefer Le Puy)
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic chopped
  • 2 tablespoons wheat free Tamari sauce
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tablespoons olive or walnut oil
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • ¼ tsp cayenne or smoked paprika (to taste)

Directions:

  1. Sauté onion and bay leaf in 2 tbsp oil until soft. Then add garlic, continuing to cook until caramelized. Add salt, pepper and paprika. Remove the bay leaf.
  2. Toast walnuts on baking sheet and 400 degrees F for five to seven minutes, shaking the pan. Remove and cool.
  3. Place lentils, walnuts and all other ingredients in a food processor until creamy – enjoy!

Chef Janet Craig recipes are simple, healthy, delicious and ABI friendly. You can find out more about her HERE.

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