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.

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.

Cook Up Some Happiness

BY: ALISON

Working with our hands to makes things reduces stress, anxiety, and depression, symptoms common to people living with brain injury.

Examples of rewarding and therapeutic activities include, but are not limited to: gardening, crafting, and my favourite, cooking. The entire process of preparing a meal – from the planning and anticipation to the execution, eating and sharing – promotes mindfulness, creativity, and happiness.

Cook up some happinrdd

I love that cooking can be as simple or as complex as you’d like and that there is always something new to learn.  There are many benefits to making your own meals, such as:

  • saving money and time
  • improving mental and physical health
  • avoiding unhealthy ingredients found in processed foods
  • challenging yourself to try new things, acquiring new skills and knowledge
  • raising confidence and sense of independence
  • spending quality time with family and friends when you cook and eat together

Food is a conversational topic that many people are passionate about. You might even consider starting your own blog to journal your culinary experiences, post favourite recipes, and share helpful tips and tricks.

Look for some inspiration!

CookingwithAlison.com is a food blog, written by an ABI survivor, that shares recipes from different cultures that vary in difficulty. You will also find information about different ways to save money on groceries.

Don’t forget this blog’s own recipe column by Chef Janet Craig, Blow Your Mind Recipes, which features easy and nutritious recipes for the ABI Community, featuring delicious recipes such as:

Gluten-free Almond Rice Bars

Egg Foo Yung

Fruit Breakfast Bars

Homemade Ketchup

Cream of Roasted Garlic & Onion Soup

Baked Cocoa Wings

Not convinced?

Psychologists explain that baking feels really good, especially when you share your baked goods with other people, because it is an outlet for creativity, self-expression and communication.

There is evidence that connects creative expression with overall well-being. Whether that expression is through painting, creating music or baking, it can be very effective at helping you cope with stress, because it requires all of your attention, involves all of your senses, and results in being present and mindful.

Psychologists liken the act of baking to art therapy in that it can be used on a type of therapy called behavioural activation. And simply put, we feel good about ourselves when we share our baked goods with others. 

Personally, I love the feeling when I find a new favourite recipe or when I’ve finally perfected a technique. It takes a few batches to get there. Happy cooking and baking!


‘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 trauma). 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.

June 2018 Community Meeting Recap: Face Mapping with Amee Le

BY: JULIA RENAUD

I’m pretty sure I know what you’re thinking right about now:  what on earth is face mapping? Those were my thoughts exactly, and to put this question at bay, Amee Le, occupational therapist and founder of Mindful Occupational Therapy Services came to this month’s BIST community meeting to explain what face mapping is all about.

Face mapping with Amee Le
Amee Le

Amee shared that she first learned about the enjoyable and artistic activity from seeing a face map made by information designer, Anna Vital. Amee liked the way that the visual representation, encompassing a picture and short bits of text, enabled her clients to reflect on their experiences. She also thought it was a great way for her to learn about her clients and the experiences that helped to shape them.

Face map of Anna Vital, co-founder of Adioma.
Face map of Anna Vital, co-founder of Adioma.
Source: http://anna.vc/post/89097409207/life-surfaced

Making a face map is simple enough to do, and also fun. If you couldn’t make it to the community meeting, I encourage you to give face mapping a try on your own. I’ll do my best to take you through the process so you too can make a face map of your own.

What you’ll need:

  • A blank piece of paper
  • A picture of your face (bigger is better in this case)
  • Glue or tape (or if you’re tech savvy, like the fine employees at BIST, you can print the picture directly onto the sheet of paper)
  • Plenty of colourful writing utensils (pens, pencil crayons, markers, etc.)

Four easy steps for making your face map:

  • Glue or tape the picture of your face onto the middle the blank piece of paper.
  • Above your picture, write the year that you were born and/or a goal that you have for your future.
  • Starting at whatever age you’d like, chronologically write down some milestones in your life around the picture with your corresponding age for each.
  • Draw a line from each milestone to a point on your face that you feel represents that milestone.

For example, I was very happy about buying my first car, so I linked that milestone up with the corner of my smile.

The milestones that you choose to highlight can all be related or have no theme whatsoever, it’s entirely up to you. Maybe you need to do a rough draft like I did to get your events in order – picking out milestones is a lot harder than I thought! Be creative and have fun with it.

Julia's face map

Above, you’ll find a picture of my own face map that I made at the community meeting. I decided that my goal is to find a new hobby, so I wrote that at the top. My milestones don’t have any particular theme although I tried to include a variety of big moments, starting from age 12 through to 28. For me these big moments mostly revolved around my numerous concussions, as well as my academic and career achievements. Since my most recent concussion, my milestones revolve around perseverance, and celebrating the small victories that come with brain injury recovery. I also chose to write each milestone in a different colour to make my face map more visually interesting.

Amee was absolutely right in saying that face maps are an excellent way to get to know others. As much fun as I had making my face map, my absolute favourite part was meeting and learning about other members of the BIST community. Those sitting alongside me making their own face maps had a breadth of life experiences, some of which we had in common, others that we didn’t. I had the opportunity to learn about many of the triumphs and tribulations that shaped the present of those sitting around me. Most of all, I took with me the compassion that everyone shared with one another while putting our stories down on paper. We are all so fortunate to have such a wonderful community and support network through BIST, its staff, and its members.

Lastly, I’d like to point out that our face mapping meeting leader, Amee, is also blogger and creative mastermind! You can check out her wonderful blog here for more art project ideas.

Next Community Meeting: Wednesday, August 29th, 6-8 p.m.

TOPIC: Brain Fitness with Paul Hyman of Brain Fitness International 


 Julia Renaud is a very talkative ABI survivor with a passion for learning new things, trying new activities, and meeting new people – all of which have led her to writing this column. When not chatting someone’s ear off, Julia can be found outside walking her dog while occasionally talking to him, of course!   

 

 

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I live with brain injury: walk a mile in my shoes and you will understand

BY: LEAH DANIELLE KARMONA

Living life with a brain injury is difficult. People who do should be commended for trying their best and never ridiculed for their situation.

Everything takes more time to do. Depending on which part of the brain is injured, your hands may not work right, you may have learning challenges, your speech may be hard to understand, mobility may be an issue, you may have personality changes, your reaction time may be slower.

Living with brain injury

Everybody says, ‘Just stay positive about it.’ But they don’t live with a brain injury. People say the most inappropriate things like, “Oh you have got to be less sensitive about this.” They aren’t in my shoes. They have no right to say this. A brain injury can cause massive problems. People don’t realize this until they actually have lived the experience of someone with a brain injury. Then they realize, “Holy Hell!” What did I sign myself up for here? I know nothing about living with a brain injury.”

And then a whole new life begins. People who live with a brain injury are heroes and should be commended for doing their best. Walk a mile in their shoes and you will understand.

 

 

May Community Meeting Recap: Chair Yoga with Kristina Borho

BY: JULIA RENAUD

During this sunny time of year, the days are long, the weather is warmer, and the flowers are wonderfully fragrant and in bloom. The true question is: do you take the time to smell the roses? Fortunately for us, Occupational Therapist, Yoga Tnstructor and the owner of Empowering Mind & BodyKristina Borho, brought her mindfulness and encouragement to lead May’s Community Meeting about chair yoga.

Kristina Borho

A whole lot of positive energy filled the room at this month’s meeting and Kristina’s passion and compassion kept the group intrigued and asking for more yoga therapy tips and techniques. She encouraged all of us to live in the moment and to engage with body, mind, and breath during the session, as well as in our daily lives.

Intention Setting

I was lucky enough to be one of the many participants at this very special community meeting and I am happy to share my experience with you!

One of the first things that Kristina told each person to do was to set an intention for the session. Intention setting, as I learned, is a very powerful way to gain perspective on how you’re feeling, and to recognize where you may need to focus your energy in order to feel better. Like Kristina, I decided that my intention for the following hour would be to find patience – something that I am slowly but surely learning – and definitely something that does not seem to come easily to me; allow me to digress.

I am known as a goal-setter and I have the ruthless determination to persevere to achieve any goal I set my sights upon, regardless of how much work it will take. Since my most recent concussion three years ago, I have had to face the fact that, while goal setting can be very helpful for some things, recovering from post-concussion syndrome (PCS) is not really one of them. PCS, like many brain injuries, is an unpredictable road that has its ups and downs and twists and turns much like a roller coaster. It also has the capacity to turn even the most realistic of goals on their head; hence my need to force goal-setting to take the back seat (as difficult as that is), and instead to persevere at being patient with the path that I’m on!

Chair Yoga Exercises

I believe I can speak for the group when I say we all need more yoga, chair or otherwise, in our lives! For this reason, I would like to share some of my favourite chair yoga poses that Kristina coached us through. I have given each of them a name so they’re easier to remember.

As you go through the poses, keep in mind our word of the night, elongated. What I mean by this is, for each pose, sit nice and tall, like there’s a string attached to the top of your head, pulling your head toward the sky and keeping your spine nice and long. Also, try to remember to think about the intention that you set earlier!

Down to Earth Neck Stretch:

  1. Sit tall in a chair with your feet flat on the ground, and your arms dangling at your side
  2. Breathe in while turning your head to look over your right shoulder
  3. Breathe out while tilting your head down to look at the floor while keeping your head turned to the right
  4. Switch sides

Shoulder Rolls:

  1. Sit tall in a chair, place your fingertips lightly on your shoulders
  2. Rotate your shoulders in backward circles
  3. Rotate your shoulders in forward circles
  4. Try to coordinate your breath if you can – breathe in when your shoulders rise, and out when they fall (this part can be tricky!)

Side-to-Side Slide:

  1. Sitting upright in your chair, place your right hand on your right hip, breath in
  2. As you breath out, side-bend your body to the left and toward the floor
  3. Inhale as you come back to centre
  4. Switch sides

 

Meditation

Kristina concluded the session with a brief body-scan meditation, thoughtfully conducted to take the mind away from all of the stressors of daily life, and instead to bring focus to various parts of the body, one by one. Doing a body scan is a great way to connect with how your body is feeling. I find it especially helpful in understanding the severity of my PCS symptoms and use it to check in with how my brain and body are handling the tasks that I am asking of them.

Generally, a simple way to compose a body-scan is to either go from head to toe, or the other way around. This helps to relax the mind while ensuring that you aren’t skipping over any important body parts that may require your attention. Your meditation can be as long or as short as you want, the key is to remember to remain relaxed and non-judgmental. If your mind drifts away to a thought unrelated to the task at hand, simply acknowledge that your attention has drifted, and regain focus on your body scan. At first this may seem really difficult, but try not to get discouraged!

With time and practice (in my case, a whole lot), you will begin to notice that your ability to keep your attention on the meditation will improve.

Collective Energy

I was able to feel how Kristina’s yoga therapy was able to change the energy in the room from buzzing and a bit chaotic, to happy and relaxed. By the end of the meeting, the group shared a true sense of togetherness, and isn’t that so important in brain injury recovery!

If you or someone you know is living with a brain injury, remember that these things can take time to heal, and you are never in this alone. So, take the days as they come and on your next walk or roll, don’t forget to take in that fresh air, and take the time to smell the roses!

Chair yoga - a group of 4 people sitting in a circle doing chair yoga, their arms stretched up

Next Community Meeting: Wednesday, June 27, 6 – 8 p.m.

TOPIC: Face Mapping with Occupational Therapist Amee Le

Everyone is welcome!


Julia Renaud is a very talkative ABI survivor with a passion for learning new things, trying new activities, and meeting new people – all of which have led her to writing this column. When not chatting someone’s ear off, Julia can be found outside walking her dog while occasionally talking to him, of course!   

 

I’ve had 4 brain injuries in 10 years – and I’ve met so many doctors who still don’t understand how to treat ABI

BY: ALYSON ROGERS

June is here and that means Brain Injury Awareness Month is here once again. Last year, I wrote a post about how awareness isn’t enough and we need to see action, in particular in terms of how concussions are responded to and prevented.

I wrote this piece from a very interesting standpoint: I had my first brain injury nine years prior and had experienced a concussion again in April of 2017. What I learned was, not a thing has changed in terms of what happens when you go to an emergency room with a head injury.

Even after nine years of increased awareness, it could have been 2008 all over again. My  diagnosis was slow, multiple doctors were unfamiliar with symptoms and none took them seriously.  My analysis of our healthcare system failure ended at the emergency room doors when I exited and returned to work two weeks later.

Brain injury action

It is said that once you have had one head injury, you are likely to be susceptible to another, and surprise, I had another concussion in September 2017.  I bent over to get something I had dropped on the floor at work and hit my head on the edge of a desk.  Depth perception issues were apart of my original injury so this isn’t too shocking. Based on my last experience, I skipped the whole emergency room circus, I knew the drill at this point and wasn’t showing any signs of a serious head injury such as vomiting or loss of consciousness.

I thought I had recovered from my head injury until I started experiencing, by far, the oddest and unfamiliar brain injury symptoms I’ve ever had. Between the rapid blinking eyes, stiff arms and shaking, it looked like I was having seizures yet all of my tests for epilepsy were normal. Fortunately, I found a great neurologist who has been successfully treating these symptoms through medication but it was an uphill battle to get to him and to treatment.

Last year, all I wanted was for the medical profession to put brain injury awareness into action. After my latest brain injury, I’ve seen them in action and it isn’t pretty. This wasn’t the action I was hoping for and isn’t what I need as a person with a brain injury.

In the past six months, I have had doctors tell me the type of brain injury I had ten years ago was impossible with no proof otherwise, attempt to diagnose me with mental health issues and not consider my pretty significant brain injury as a factor related to my current health issues.

I want the medical profession to take a pause and really take the time to learn about traumatic brain injuries and educate themselves beyond the symptoms we commonly associate with these

I’ve sat through four hour long appointments where I was taken through every detail of all four head injuries I’ve had and questioned about every decision I have ever made. It felt like I was on trial as a victim of a crime being cross examined by a defence attorney.  If I couldn’t remember something, I was questioned why that was. Maybe it’s the brain injury? I hear those could cause memory issues but just a guess.

Last year, all I wanted was action. This year, I want a pause. I want the medical profession to take a pause and really take the time to learn about traumatic brain injuries and educate themselves beyond the symptoms we commonly associate with these injuries. Doctors need to have a more comprehensive understanding of symptoms that go further than what they read in a concussion pamphlet if they are going to treat them.

When I acquired my brain injuries, I had to open Google and crack open some books to get the information I needed. People with brain injuries don’t have time for the medical profession to take a pause so better crack open that textbook.

PHOTO: Annie Spratt via LifeofPix.com


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