LoveYourBrain yoga has been the single most positive experience that I’ve had during my recovery. I’ve been through over nine concussions and never found something that I could do to make myself feel better besides waiting it out and weathering the concussion storm.
Each year over 2.5 million people sustain a traumatic brain injury—from concussions to severe trauma—in the United States. Traumatic brain injury (TBI) often leads to physical weakness, balance problems, isolation, and depression that compromise quality of life. This is why we at the LoveYourBrain Foundation have launched a program to support TBI survivors and their caregivers to participate in gentle yoga and meditation classes tailored to their needs. Check out our website and resources.
We are working to partner with yoga studios across the US to offer our program. Sabra, one of the amazing TBI survivors that we have met through our program in Burlington, Vermont, shared how she came to LYB Yoga and why it has resonated with her so deeply.
I signed up for LYB yoga by accident. This happy accident was the beginning of a part of my life that I truly cherish. I was so overjoyed to hear that I could attend six weeks of yoga classes with people that understood my injury. I desperately wanted to feel better and was excited to try this new option. Over my 12-year struggle with concussion, I had yet to be presented with an active recovery option. Most people tell you what you can’t do and LYB told me that I could do something and it was tailor made for me and my recovery!
While nursing myself back from concussions, trying new things or even revisiting activities has seemed impossible or painful. The normal arch of a day can cause immense amount of pain in the form of headaches, nausea, dizziness, whatever symptom of the day my brain decided to trigger. That pain instills a fear of trying new things. So, I was nervous and wondered how would yoga make me feel better? I reassured myself that a yoga studio was one of the only places in public that was guaranteed to be quiet, serene, non-judgment—simply put, a really safe space. I thought if the class wasn’t going well, I could just lay on my yoga mat in the middle of the studio and at least be around people for an hour. Knowing of how accepting yoga is, I felt better and unrolled my yoga mat; ready to try.
After the first class, I physically felt the same. For me, moving for an hour and feeling the same is absolutely huge! I could do this and not feel worse or slide backwards in any way! My spirits were lifted! After two classes, feeling the same stretched into a breakthrough. I forgot for an hour that I had a concussion and all the pain and anxiety melted away. Forgetting the injury and the pain is like peaking around the corner at feeling normal, and LYB yoga was the sole reason I turned that corner of my last concussion. I also felt—for the first time in two and a half months—no headaches and completely pain-free. These classes have become the reset button for my body and my pain levels. It’s absolutely incredible!
Our program meets TBI survivors where they are so that they can draw upon yoga’s myriad physical, emotional, and social benefits to support their healing. To make this a reality, we are conducting teacher training workshops to train yoga teachers how to effectively adapt yoga and meditation for the TBI community. We provide a curriculum that incorporates TBIfocused yoga and meditation best practices, class themes to foster resilience and compassion, and group discussion to build community. We are so grateful to be able to share our training as part of the Sedona Yoga Festival.
The LoveYourBrain Foundation is a social profit organization that aims to improve the quality of life for people affected by TBI. Our message—LoveYourBrain—embodies our positive approach to brain injury prevention, recovery, and health. Learn more about us and our yoga program here.
LoveYourBrain makes me smile. Just the thought of those three little words. It’s involuntary. I have to smile. I finally get to love my brain during a concussion. It’s possibility, positivity, caring, and feeling more normal.
LoveYourBrain Foundation will be part of the faculty for the Pre-Conference Training at SYF2016!
It was one year ago today… give or take a day or two, but distinctly an anniversary of sorts. The days, weeks and months leading up to this day, one year ago today were characterized by anxiety, tension, depression, insomnia, severe physical pain, and a host of other distinctly stress-related symptomology. To be around me, as others were… family members, business partners & relationships, as well as members of my small-town community (when I had the energy to leave my “safe” home)… even complete strangers, must have been terrifying and surreal. To them, Marc was no longer in the building… To them, something dark, scary and powerful had taken him over… To them, wondering when he was going to completely lose it.
Shortly before I decided that there was a problem and my solutions weren’t working, I encountered a person outside my parents condo who questioned why I was smoking outside his building. I was wearing a hoodie… it was dark… my wife was standing 10 feet away and saw the whole thing… Something deep inside me took over and I shot forth a stream of defensive/offensive words, my body trembled as I “puffed up” and took several purposeful steps towards him… I saw the look of fear in his eyes… I heard Heather’s voice… Something brought me back and I walked away…
Two days later on Dec 26, 2014, I admitted myself into an in-patient treatment center specializing in PTSD and Trauma. I had already been misdiagnosed as bi-polar II, several months earlier by a Psychiatrist who admitted knowing nothing about trauma-related mental health, nor PTSD… even when I broke down in her office in the midst of a flashback! She meant well, though, and sent me on my way with two types of Xanax and an anti-seizure drug with such severe potential side-effects as to be life-threatening if mis-taken. I was a wreck… Here is a post I wrote before things got really bad… Click here.
Making the decision to get professional help undoubtedly saved my life… My entire being didn’t know what was real anymore; everything was a threat and I was constantly fighting; life itself became meaningless. Towards the end, for weeks, at some point, I would curl myself up into a ball and want to die… Let me be clear, this was not some wanton or casually flippant statement to garner sympathy, rather this was a visceral, dark, insidious desire to not be alive anymore… with imagery, how-to’s, suggestions and probabilities. I was terrified and didn’t know what to do anymore. My yoga practice that had once sustained me had fallen away, gone for over a year and a half at this point, did not make me feel any better the times I tried to go to the mat… in fact it made things worse. (quick side note: My daily asana and meditation practice sustained me for many, many months… I had peace, joy and clarity… There was balance and ease. I founded the Sedona Yoga Festival during that time… met my wife Heather, got married and together we started several businesses and built a world-class destination Yoga Festival. Somewhere in all that, I began to have less and less time available to practice, or so I thought! It didn’t take long before I was making excuses for not getting on the mat and finally those stopped. I lost touch and it didn’t take long for the world to close in…)
I came to find out that my body and mind were in an endless loop of the fight/flight/freeze response, I was living in/from the Limbic System and everything about my systems were overloaded. I no longer could look at “the moment”, let alone be in it and as I said, EVERYTHING was a threat, automatically categorized by my limbic brain as such… and from my limbic brain came my responses. Let me tell you, the Limbic System is no place to live for a long period of time… it is cold, dark, calculating and cruel… bluntly it sucks for you AND those around you!) Ironically, as I am a Yogi, I had no idea that this was actually happening… and I couldn’t hear, nor did I believe those around me.
So, you’re wondering… if he went in on December 26, then why is today an anniversary? Well, this is where it gets realzies folks… I was on the watch list for near 3 weeks at the Level 1 Physchiatric Facility I went to (that’s right! I spent 40 days in a mental hospital!!!) And for that time, even though the environment was super-cool, relaxed and ultra chill, I was still combative, anxious and depressed… my first day I had flashbacks so real I nearly passed out! Day after day, I went through the motions… going to groups, therapies, classes, meals and meetings… looking inward, digging deep. I wasn’t getting better, nor was I making any friends of my counselors, trained to “call my bullshit” at every opportunity. Near 3 weeks this continued… they must have seen it first… before me, as they pulled me off the watch list first… a day or two went by and then it happened.
I will NEVER, EVER forget the sensation as the tension left my body, the world took on a new look, the colors became more vibrant and the smiles around me were noticed. Looking around me, I wondered where I was… It was safe, secure, there were beautiful souls around me… and I was HAPPY. Deeply happy… Bliss would describe it perfectly! It turns out, that I was so severely out of balance that my entire experience was being governed by the Limbic System… 24-7 for easily a year and a half or more. (since I stopped practicing to be sure!!! note to self) It also turns out, this is not uncommon for many, many who suffer the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress.
Can you imagine?
Now, clearly I am an extreme case… and there are other extreme cases that you may run into in your endeavors to share Yoga, Meditation and Mindfulness with Trauma Survivors and those who suffer from PTSD… These people may, as I did, need professional help and a complete reset… or they just may need a guide. You will need to determine this as you go, but worry not, because you will learn from experts in the field all about Traumatic Stress, TBI(traumatic brain injury) and Healing with Yoga at the 3rd Annual SYF Gives Back Pre-Festival Intensive Training.
Here’s the good news! The ancient science of yoga IS the healing balm to manage traumatic stress, PTSD, TBI and other trauma or stress related illnesses and diseases. It IS proven effective and it DOES work… I just have to do it, consistently, steadily and with passion.
Those affected by PTSD need our help… Your help. You can be the guide… you can be a beacon of hope.
On March 8th-10th, 2016 at the Hilton Sedona Bell Rock Resort you will learn how mindfulness can help someone to regain control of their physiology, how yoga cleanses, conditions, energizes and aligns the energy body’s, how and what meditation’s are helpful for Trauma Survivors, and how pranayama is effective in stimulating coherence in the brain. Just a hint, as you join the world class faculty, all experts in their respective fields come together to share with you: Traumatic Stress: Resiliency and Healing with Yoga.
I am good. I consistently return to the practice… steadily apply my efforts and I do so with a passion. Yoga is the Journey out of the Darkness, and a teacher is the guide. I am blessed to have been shown the way by my teachers and I am blessed to be a part of bringing these teachers to you…
“NO ONE SHOULD HAVE TO LIVE LIKE THIS”, I screamed inside my head over and over and over again… and they don’t.
This is where I live, and all I see is grey… My body pulses with electricity like current that activates every fiber of my being. My mind begins to panic, yet it, receiving stimulus from my senses, should be reporting to me that everything is ok; there is no threat.
Then why do I just want to explode out of my body, so tense… ready for action, taut as a wire and pulsed to manage… something.
But, there is no threat. No something… just the grey, foggy, unreal reflection of what my eyes are seeing at that moment. Today, the tears came again finally when talking to a former colleague about the worst aviation fatality incident in wildland fire history. Iron 44. To me, it matters, yet the story is not necessary to tell. It was traumatic, stressful and life threatening. It involved fellow firefighters (9) perishing in the line of duty, in a horrible way. There was chaos and confusion. It all happened in an instant and the aftermath begins. Hundreds of people counting on me, depending on me to keep my shit together… So, I did.
And so does each and every First Responder, Police Officer, Wildland Firefighter, EMT, Paramedic, and all the likes… Volunteer or paid, these men and woman are the front lines of this countries community safety and well-being, risking life and limb, placing themselves in harms way, so that others may come through, whatever the threat may be. These people give all of themselves in selfless service; putting mind, body and spirit through enormous amounts of stress, trauma, fatigue, and physical and emotional extremes. These are our countries unsung heroes; veterans in service of managing domestic incidents.
In the line of duty, each and every service has it’s own very unique and distinctive threats and situations that personnel must deal with, along with the things that they will see and experience. Most people not in these lines of work, will likely have no idea what these men and woman face each day and the things they must do in order to do the work and keep their shit together. But, that will only matter if you choose to serve them and you begin to see the anguish and pain in their eyes. Then, empathy will be your friend and allow you to guide these fragmented beings into a place of peace.
I can now officially say, I have suffered from PTSD. It has had a debilitating effect on my life, relationships, work… absolutely every aspect of life. I have experienced anxiety and panic attacks that have put me to my knees. I have had suicidal thoughts and put away sharp objects. It is very, very real. And, at the same time, it isn’t. I haven’t been on an incident in over 2 years and it has been 6 years since Iron 44. Every day stresses can put me over the edge and I have come to find out, that when that happens, something occurs in my neurophysiology that makes me believe I am back there, where the real stress and trauma happened. In that instant, now and then becomes a reality that at times, I can witness and talk myself through. Others, I can’t and then it is freak out city…
No human being should have to experience this… No One should have to wonder each day if today’s the day I lose it… Hurt my family, my friends… Loved ones.
Will today be a good day or a bad day… Will something trigger me and I lose track to where I am… That there is no danger right now… Yet all my physiology is reporting to my messed up mind is DANGER… And my body knows no different.
I can’t tell you how disturbing it is… How powerless and lost it makes me feel. And how enormous the climb out of this pit of despair looks…
That is the conundrum… Life goes on… Passing me by.
So, here’s the thing: the efficacy of Yoga, Meditation and other mindfulness practices as treatment and prevention has been beyond proven in our scientific community, as well as described in the ancient texts of this thousands of years old science. Whether known, diagnosed or not, our community service men and woman are, will or have a strong likelihood to experience some form of Post-Traumatic Stress and its related illnesses and mood disorders. Having experienced first hand the devastating effects this issue can have on peoples lives, on families and communities, I strongly believe that no one should have to suffer from these cumulative stresses that have such profound effects on the human body, mind and spirit.
We have the ability to manage this; there are many tools available, most rooted in Yoga, Meditation & Mindfulness. We have the infinite ability to heal. Our bodies, minds and spirit ,life itself, imbibed through form known as I… This is an energetic fact. As the sky is Blue, Mark Whitwell would say. Undeniable. So, how do we get there? “This training bridges the gap between the yoga community and a population that may not have considered yoga as an effective and accessible tool to address their needs,” says Olivia Kvitne, Program Director of this year’s SYF Gives Back training. “I am proud to bring together top authorities in psychology, neuroscience and trauma-sensitive yoga to create a down-to-earth and science-based yoga system that can benefit our nation’s everyday heroes.”
But, how weird is that? There can be resistance from this population, so used to suppressing and muscling through.
Rob Schware, Executive Director of Give Back Yoga Foundation says, “No one should feel weird about doing yoga, especially first responders who experience injury, trauma, and death. This is the first intensive training to mobilize hundreds of yoga teachers and yoga therapists to come out of their studios and offices and bring their knowledge and skills into police and fire departments.
So, again, here’s the thing: there is no “my trauma is better/worse than your trauma…” or “just power through it…” or “it can’t happen to me…” or “I’m Fine…” Cause matters not. Trauma and stress-inducing incidents, that often involve actual life threat create the same physiological response. And, therein, lies the solution.
One faculty member, Bhava Ram aka Brad Willis, is a former award winning network news war correspondent. A broken back ended his career. After a subsequent diagnosis of terminal cancer he embraced mind/body/spirit medicine and the deeper sciences of Yoga and Ayurveda, through which he ultimately healed against all odds. As a yoga teacher he now shares the message that we all have the inner power to heal. “As one who was on the front lines of conflicts and crises in Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa and Central America, I can attest to the fact that yoga gave me the strength to lift myself out of an abyss of profound physical and mental anguish and ultimately find new meaning and purpose in life.”
I am getting better. Over the years in service there were perhaps 100’s of close calls, life threats, death, trauma and stress, I just buried it all, apparently. I have sought help and receive enormous support from my family, friends and community. I have personally experienced the wisdom and guidance of Bhava Ram and with his, and many others assistance am making progress. There is a solution… and I invite you to please share, comment, post, repost, talk about in your community and in general send out the blessings to these men and woman who put it on the line for us… May we never forget.
Marc Titus, Founder & Director
Sedona Yoga Festival
Former Wildland Firefighter & Aviation Manager on a SW Area Type 1 Incident Management Team
This past weekend, I led a small group of caregivers in a discussion about their wounded service member. As an advisory board member of Tee It Up for the Troops, a nonprofit organization dedicated to using the game of golf to heal wounded warriors, I was asked to put together this discussion to talk about my experiences as a Purple Heart spouse and to open the door for healing. The 90-minute session went well over the time allotted, and we had to delay the yoga portion of the session for the next day! The takeaway was something I already know from experience: being a military family caregiver is hard, and being a caregiver to a wounded warrior dealing with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI) is harder than you can imagine. The Nation’s focus on the service member and veterans – There are many programs available for service members and numerous organizations that support veterans. Some help with educational scholarships and employment, while others provide direct services such as housing. What we know is that an unhealthy veteran or service member cannot take good care of themselves nor will they be able to financially provide for their family. Alternative options such as yoga offer a mechanism to help the veteran and military service member get healthy. Strides in this area, like the White House’s Joining Forces Initiative and Mindful Yoga Therapy for Veterans, continue to increase. Still, the military family has to be an integral part of the total equation. How the military spouse/parent/caregiver is the glue for the entire military family and military community – If there is no family support for the service member, then he or she have a significantly difficult road ahead. A military spouse has to manage the entire household and if there are children involved, they instantly become a single parent. And if the service member becomes injured with visible and/or invisible wounds like PSTD or TBI, the role of the family member becomes paramount to the outlook of the wounded veteran. Often when this happens, as it did with me, the military family member neglects herself or himself. Military spouses need to care for themselves first: in speeches I’ve delivered I used the airplane oxygen mask analogy – put the mask on yourself first and then on your child – which means that you have to take care of yourself before anyone else in order to be more available for the service member. My Top 3 Things NOT to say to a military spouse or family member So far you may be thinking about military families differently, as I’ve presented some issues to ponder. What follows is a short list of what not to say to military families. This list in no way encompasses the numerous things that have been said to military family members (including me) but these are my top three:
My Top 3 Things you can say to military families There are so many things you can do to help military families, beginning with your compassion, kindness and speech. Here are some examples:
Things to do for military families Still don’t know what to do? Ask friends, family and coworkers about local service members that are currently deployed or have been wounded. Link up with the families. You will be surprised at how close a military family may live to you.
Some of my suggestions may be common be common sense as you may have already thought of them, or they may not be your cup of tea, so I encourage you to create your own or volunteer with a military family organization. The truth is that helping a military spouse and family is not difficult at all, as long as you understand their immense contribution to the military and to the nation. Pamela Stokes Eggleston has practiced yoga for over a decade and recently completed both her 200-hour yoga teacher training and prenatal yoga training in the Pranakriya Yoga tradition. She is continuing her yoga teacher training through the 500-hour Pranakriya program, and has completed the Mindful Yoga Therapy for Veterans (MYT) Training in 2012 to work with service members and veterans with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and combat stress. Since 2004, as caregiver and spouse of an Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) wounded warrior with post-traumatic stress (PTS) and traumatic brain injury (TBI), she has been a strong and vocal advocate for service members, military spouses and veteran families. Pam is the Founder and CEO of Yoga2Sleep, LLC, ambassador for the Give Back Yoga Foundation, and serves on the support staff of Mindful Yoga Therapy for Veterans.
My name is Chris Eder…and I’ve spent the past 23 years on active duty service to THE United States of America as a Combat Correspondent in the Air Force. Since 9/11, I have found myself in some interesting places. Sometimes by myself, sometimes with people I had never met, and sometimes with people who I love(d) as a brother or a sister.
I don’t sleep. For many years, I just told people I was a “morning” person. That was maybe less than half true…as I really do enjoy being up before anyone else. Hot showers, fresh coffee, etc. But the truth was…I couldn’t sleep. I used to spend as many hours as possible working. People thought it was because I was a hard worker. OK…they were right! However, as I have learned over the years…working hard is also an unhealthy coping mechanism. Avoidance! It is hard to tell something is wrong when you continue to out-perform everyone!
In 2003, I found myself traveling throughout Iraq by any means possible. I was equipped with a 9mm, no ammunition, a flak vest I think my dad wore in Vietnam, and my camera gear. For a short period of time, I called the Al Rasheed Hotel home. That is until Oct 26, 2003 when insurgents attacked it with 68mm and 88mm rockets. Under Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz was in the hotel that night. Check the story out, Sec Wolfowitz is wearing my flak vest! Things got worse after my second deployment to Baghdad during the “Surge of Operations.” Damn…the insurgents had our location dialed in! 20+ attacks a day seemed “normal” for so long.
So…why yoga? Hell…why not? What is the worst thing that can happen? I started yoga back in 1999 because of a pinched sciatic nerve and a diagnosis of Adult Attention Deficit Disorder. I instantly was hooked! During my 2007 deployment to Iraq, I was actually teaching 5-6 classes a week. Anyone…and I mean anyone… can do yoga. I introduce to you Lieutenant Colonel Tom Bryant.
Lieutenant Colonel Bryant, US Army is my friend/mentor and hands down the best person to ever come from Alabama. LTC Bryant is the last person I thought would try yoga. He is a typical Southern conservative, “Roll Tide!”-preaching, family loving, church going, hunting/fishing military kind of guy. He would often poke fun of me when we worked together about how I taught and practiced yoga. Tom recently sent me a Facebook message:
“Are you sitting down? You should.”
Last night I did yoga. And since I’m deployed, you know I wasn’t drunk or high. It lasted 20 minutes, was called relaxation yoga or something like that. Really just seemed like a lot of stretching to me, but this Japanese guy with a ponytail on the video kept talking about “seeing your breathing” and “step mindfully downward on your heels” and a bunch of other platitudinal crap I didn’t understand. But the stretching stuff was cool.”
Even this staunch yoga antagonist found yoga to be at the very least, “cool!” There is a good chance what you think Yoga is…is not at all what it really is. Yoga can be whatever you want it to be…killer workout, awesome stretch, or a time to reset and restore your batteries. For me, I *try* to start every day with 15-30 minutes of meditation and yoga. I also end each day with some grounding breath work to help clear and prepare my mind for sleep. Trust me…I know it sounds fruity, crazy, or even esoteric…but IT WORKS!
I’ve been practicing yoga since 1999 and teaching since 2007. I often wonder where I would be today without yoga. I see my brothers and sisters-in-arms who share *our* nightmares, panic attacks, alertness, relationship issues, memory problems…the list can go on forever. I know just how tough my life is…and wonder how much tougher and often debilitating it would be without yoga in my life.
YOGA helps by reducing your anxiety levels. For many of us Vets…that should be enough! Specifically, the tools and techniques leveraged in the Mindful Yoga Therapy for Veterans with PTSD, (MYT) it soothes the inner tiger. MYT is an embodyoga®-based, empirically informed, clinically tested program comprised of five practices: Pranayama (breathing), Asana (postures connected with breath), Yoga Nidra, Meditation, and Gratitude. Each practice is a tool Veterans can use to cope with Post Traumatic Stress, and together, they form a comprehensive system–a toolbox–that will carry Veterans into a life of strength and resilience. These yoga practices don’t cure PTSD…rather, they create a place where healing can begin.
Think YOU can’t do yoga? Think again! You probably can’t run a marathon either…but if you wanted to, you would start of slow. You should do the same thing with yoga.
For me, MYT has been a game changer. There are many different styles of yoga available. I like all of them too! Each style of yoga is based on a set of accepted and foundational precepts of Hatha yoga. However, not all yoga is beneficial to Veterans struggling with trauma. The five practices that comprise the MYT tool-kit specifically target your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). Many Veterans suffering from PTSD have an over stimulated sympathetic nervous system (SNS). This is the flight or fight system…very important to have engaged during war…but not very helpful to be engaged when you return…or…constantly engaged for days, weeks, months. These MYT practices will help greatly (have worked greatly for me) at reducing an over-stimulated SNS.
My favorite tools are the breathing tools. They have the greatest impact on ‘chillining’ me out. How can something so simple do so much? How can something we take for granted (usually until our last breath) be so effective in our recovery? Just for fun…I’d like for you to stop breathing for 20 minutes. What…you can’t? You think you might die. I agree! So…public math here…if I can increase both the quality and quantity of your breath…would that not increase the quality and quantity of your life? Check out this free sample from Suzanne Manafort.
Chris Eder is a certified Vinyasa/Hatha Interdisciplinary Yoga Instructor, journalist, and Director of Communications for MYT. His yoga journey began in 1999 after he encountered the joys of a pinched sciatic nerve and a diagnosis of Adult ADD. A friend introduced him to yoga as an alternative to pain pills and other meds. When not teaching yoga, he is working on his seva project, MalaforVets.
Some Recent Photos from Chris’s Practice…