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.

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.

 

 

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 

The Ultimate Guide to board games for brain training

Woman plays Jenga game

BY: ALISON

Without lights and sounds associating with gaming apps or consoles, board games are less stimulating than other activities and require very little physical exertion. They were among very few things that I was able to do during the acute phase of my injury.

Board games are great for brain training and reconditioning. In fact, I suggested board games as a mentally challenging activity in my previous article, Having a brain injury increases your chances of dementia: here are activities that can help and are great for encouraging and facilitating social interaction.

After my injury, I wanted to avoid my friends, because conversations were exhausting and difficult to follow. But playing board games with friends was perfect. I got the social connection that I needed without having to engage in deep conversation. Also, the pressure and focus was off of me, since everyone’s attention was directed towards the game.

Not to mention, board games are super fun (heck, they’ve withstood the test of time), provide hours of distraction, and can be played solo. I didn’t need assistance or company for entertainment.

The selection of board games is endless, so there’s always something new to try.

Scrabble board
Photo: Pixabay via  Pexels

 

How to challenge yourself using board games:

The following guidelines will teach you how to train your brain by gradually increasing the difficulty of your board games. The steps should be tackled one at a time, moving forward only when you are confident with the previous step. Be patient with yourself, as you may need weeks or months before advancing. Regular practice and repetition are the keys to success here.

Step 1:

In the beginning, focus only on learning and following the rules of the game. Don’t worry about speed or trying to win. Simply learn the basics of how to play. Play as many times as needed to become familiar with it. This will improve your learning and memory skills.

Step 2:

If you’re playing a game by yourself, then play with the goal of improving your result, speed, or efficiency. For example, depending on the game, you could try to collect more points, finish the game more quickly, or finish the game using fewer moves. Work through one objective at a time.

If you’re playing a game with others, figure out one strategy that will help you win the game. However, the focus should be on discovering and practicing the strategy, not on winning. This promotes problem-solving skills. If you’re stuck, ask the person you’re playing with to teach you their approach. Once you’re familiar with the first one, see if there are other strategies that could help you win the game. Determine which one(s) are the most effective. Eventually, the goal is to use a combination of strategies at the same time. This is great practice for multi-tasking skills. You might even start winning more games.

Step 3:

Now that you’ve figured out how you like to play the game, it’s time to pay attention to how your opponents are playing. See if they make decisions differently from you, figure out what their strategies are, and try to predict their next moves. Compare their approach to your own, see which one is more effective, and learn from them. Furthermore, think of new tactics that will prevent your opponents from winning. This will exercise your analytical and critical-thinking skills.

Finally, try to improve your chances of winning. You will likely need to change your plan multiple times throughout a game in order to adapt to new scenarios/problems and to circumvent your opponents. Once you become really good at the game, start these steps over again with a different game.

board games that can be adapted for single players

Board games that can be adapted for single players:

While it’s better to play board games with other people, one-player games allow you to practice at any time. Some of the board games listed were not originally designed for single players, but you will find solo variant instructions online. The following suggestions vary widely in difficulty and cost.

Word Games

Scattergories

Bananagrams

Scrabble

Boggle

Honourable mention: Code Names – Although this game cannot be played solo, it is, in my opinion, the best word-focused, brain training game. It allows you to practice communication, word associations, and different thought processes. The cards could even be used separately for reading and comprehension.

Pattern Games

  1. Set – This simple card game is really good for unique pattern-recognition, concentration, and different lines of thinking.
  2. Bingo –  even more fun if there are small prizes to be won.
  3. Puzzles
  4. Carcassonne – No language skills are required to play this tile-based puzzle / strategic game.
  5. Enigma – Includes fragment puzzles and 3-D puzzles among other challenges.

Honourable mention: Sudoku – This is not a board game, but it’s great for figuring out number patterns. The difficulty ranges from easy to very hard. Also, you can find free printable sudokus online.

 Fine Motor Skills Games

  1. Jenga – Try Giant Jenga if fine motor skills are an issue.)
  2. Perfection – There’s the original version with 25 pieces and a more affordable version with only 9 pieces. This game also has a pattern-matching/puzzle component to it.
Woman plays Jenga game
Photo: Pixabay 

Honourable mention: Building blocks and sets (e.g wooden blocks, jumbo cardboard blocks, Mega Bloks, Lego, K’Nex, etc.) – These aren’t board games, but they’re great for stimulating creativity.

Memory Games

  1. There are many different versions of matching card games that were designed to practice memory skills. See here for more information, you could also play this type of memory game using a regular deck of cards.

General Knowledge Games

  1. Cardline – Variations include: Globetrotter, Animals, Dinosaurs
  2. Timeline  – Variations include: Diversity, Historical Event, Inventions, Music and Cinema, Science and Discoveries

Problem Solving or Brain Teaser Games

  1. Mindtrap  – A game with many riddles, brain teasers, and picture puzzles.

  2. Enigma – This includes math-based and various puzzle-based challenges.

  3. Robot Turtles – This is a kids game that can be used to practice logical thinking, planning ahead, and improving efficiency. It was originally designed to introduce programming fundamentals to kids.)

Strategy Games

  1. Single-player card games, such as Solitaire (played with a regular deck of cards, Instructions on how to play can be found here) or Friday – a survival / battling card game.
  2. Catan Dice Game – a settlement-building game was designed for one or more players.
  3. Pandemic – The object of this game is to treat and eradicate diseases before they spread out of control.
  4. Imperial Settlers – This empire-building game was designed for 1 or more players.
  5. Blokus – This tile-placement game does not require language skills.

Adventure Games

  1. Mage Knight – This is the most complex and expensive board game I’ve listed in this article. It is a strategic game that is based in an adventure and story. The game includes instructions for solo play, but there are many pieces and rules, so I suggest watching YouTube videos, HERE and HERE that help explain them.

My Favourite Games Stores:

  1. Walmart

Walmart doesn’t have a large selection of unique games, but every now and then they have great sales on classic games. I purchased the following games for less than $20 each while they were on sale: Scattegories, Bingo, puzzles, Jenga, Perfection, Sudoku books, and decks of playing cards.

  1. 401 Games

This is my favourite board games store. They have an extensive selection, competitive prices, and incredibly knowledgeable staff. They have a storefront at 518 Yonge Street, Toronto, and an online store as well.

Although their store is wheelchair accessible, their games room for events is not. If you want to avoid a crowd, go before 3 pm or shop online. I suggest ordering your games online and then picking them up at the store to save on shipping. If transportation is an issue, shipping is a flat rate of $8.95 per order. Shipping is free for orders of $150 or more.


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.

Is the ketogenic diet the future for TBI treatment?

BY: MELINDA EVANS

Ask any dietitian, and they’ll probably tell you that their clients are asking them about the ketogenic diet more than any other recent ‘fad’ diet. Popular headlines have proclaimed it the miracle diet to shed weight, boost energy, reverse diabetes and send cancer into remission.

But does this diet live up to its hype? What could it possibly have to do with recovery from traumatic brain injury (TBI)? And more importantly, is it safe?

The Ketogenic Diet

The ketogenic diet started out as anything but a fad. It was developed almost 100 years ago to treat children with epilepsy that didn’t respond to anti-epileptic medications. By definition, it is a very low carbohydrate (less than five per cent of total energy per day), high fat (about 80 per cent of energy) and moderate protein (15 – 20 per cent) diet.

This is vastly different from Health Canada’s recommended macronutrient distribution, which is 45 – 65 per cent carbohydrate, 10 – 35 per cent protein and 20 – 35 per cent fat. Since glucose (a carbohydrate) is our body’s preferred source of fuel, this high fat / low carbohydrate diet essentially tricks the body into believing it is in a state of starvation. The liver begins to convert fat into ketones (hence the name), and the brain’s cells are forced to adapt. The result, for someone with intractable epilepsy, can be a 50 to 90 per cent decline in seizures.

Once medical practitioners observed the effectiveness of ketosis for the treatment of epileptic seizures, they started to wonder whether it might help other neurological injuries and neurodegenerative disorders, including hypoxia, ischemic stroke, ALS, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and of course, Traumatic Brain Injury.

Benefits of Ketosis for Traumatic Brain Injury

For a multitude of ethical and practical reasons, it is next to impossible to perform randomized clinical trials on humans with TBIs, so the research we have that looks at the role of the ketogenic diet has been done in animals. The findings are promising though, and suggest that following injury, when the brain’s need for energy is high but its ability to metabolize glucose is impaired, ketones might provide an alternative and efficient source of energy.

Following trauma, brain cells are at increased risk of oxidation, cell death and DNA damage, and the presence of ketones and absence of glucose may reduce oxygen available for oxidation and guard cells against free radicals and DNA damage, while increasing cerebral blood flow.

Knowledge Gaps

This is an exciting prospect, but we still need a lot of answers before we can incorporate it into practice. We don’t know which type or severity of brain injury might respond well to ketosis, or whether it is best achieved through fasting, the ketogenic diet or even intravenous provision of ketones. It is unclear whether ketosis is helpful only initially after injury, or if it will support brain recovery if used for a longer period of time. It’s possible that a modified and less restrictive form of the ketogenic diet would work just as well as the standard diet, and some studies suggest that it might be even more effective when supplemented with certain nutrients, including medium chain triglycerides and branched chain amino acids.

Challenges of the Ketogenic Diet

There are several challenges with the ketogenic diet, the first being compliance. Since it is extremely restrictive, it is difficult for most people to stick to the diet long-term. It excludes entire food groups (grains, fruits and many vegetables), increasing the risk of nutrient deficiencies including sodium, potassium, chloride, vitamin D, calcium, magnesium, selenium and zinc. Among other issues, these deficiencies can impair bone healing and increase the risk of osteopenia and bone fractures. For people with pre-existing kidney disease or renal failure associated with trauma, the high protein intake that usually accompanies a high fat diet may not be appropriate. And of course, with a high fat diet there is concern about elevated cholesterol levels. Studies evaluating the use of the ketogenic diet in children found elevated triglyceride, and total, HDL and LDL cholesterol levels at 6 months and 10 years, making this diet risky for people predisposed to coronary artery disease. Long-term use has also been associated with growth retardation in children, low-grade acidosis, constipation, dehydration,  vomiting and nausea.

A grilled cheese sandwich made with cauliflower
Photo of a Cauliflower Crusted Grill Cheese Sandwich via KirbieCravings.com

The Future of Ketosis in Brain Recovery

So, is the ketogenic diet the future for TBI treatment? Will it minimize brain injury and help to rehabilitate cognitive function, memory and recall? Maybe. We don’t have enough information yet to make it standard practice, and it certainly should never be implemented without careful monitoring from a physician and dietitian.

More research in humans is needed before we can give a final verdict, but what we know so far about ketosis and the brain is promising!


Melinda Edmonds is a Registered Dietitian with Aimee Hayes & Associates. She is a registered member in good standing with the College of Dietitians of Ontario and an active member of Dietitians of Canada. The focus of her practice is on the application of evidence-based nutrition therapies to optimize clients’ health, nutritional status and well-being in order to augment their quality of life and rehabilitation outcomes.

Aimee Hayes and Associates provides nutrition rehabilitation services to individuals with acquired and traumatic brain, spinal cord, and orthopedic injuries. Our diverse and dynamic team of Registered Dietitians works collaboratively with clients, families, caregivers and interdisciplinary rehabilitation teams to optimize nutrition in order to promote our clients’ wellness and recovery.