Quieten the mind and heal the brain
The healing benefits of yoga and meditation are becoming increasingly well documented. Last year snowboarder Kevin Pearce brought much needed attention to the practice of yoga for brain injury rehabilitation by starting the love your brain foundation, which offers support to #TBI survivors and their families.
My personal experience of yoga for brain injury rehabilitation is testament to this. Last year I was knocked down by a cyclist whilst crossing the road and woke up in hospital some hours later having no memory of the accident. I sustained a traumatic brain injury and damaged my frontal lobe, which is an area primarily responsible for emotional regulation. During my recovery I was offered little in the way of counselling or emotional support as doctors’ focussed on my physical recovery.
Where I felt conventional medicine let me down, I turned to yoga and mindfulness practices to regain a sense of control and wellbeing. Whilst only micro steps into my journey already I feel a much needed breakthrough for the lasting migraines, fatigue, depressive episodes and anxiety issues that I experience as a result of my brain injury.
In my continuous attempt to heal, I took myself on a women’s yoga temple workshop in London this weekend to increase my dose of holistic medication. The workshop was hosted by the gorgeous Clare Rodea Ryan at the Arch Collective in South Bermondsey. I stumbled upon Clare’s workshop by sheer chance through Instagram and was intrigued by the offer of restoration for body and mind through deep nourishing movement- it sounded like just the medicine I was after.
I was a little apprehensive about attending a 3 hour yoga workshop (will I get tired quickly? Will I be accepted for not being able to touch my toes? Will my balance be on form for once? ). Yet I had no reason to be! There was an ethereal sense of calm and ease as soon as I stepped through the door and the workshop was targeted to women of all abilities. I quickly let go of any preconceived ideas I had about what ‘sound healing from the gong’ might entail, and just went with it. And I’m soo glad I did.
The class started with welcoming each of the women with a yoga Shakti message, and we began to wake up the muscles and joints with slow flowing movements of the arms and neck. We worked through hip openers and back stretches which were tied together through an elegant sequence of movements. Clare spoke of yoga as traditionally masculine, as the practices developed in India where women were historically not allowed in ashrams or temples.
So yoga as we experience it today can be very fast paced with an aim to make you sweat out toxins. This mirrored my experience of the Ashtanga style classes I usually go to in London, which are a challenging and thorough workout. Clare explained that as women, our body cleanses itself monthly with our menstrual cycle, so unlike men who need to sweat out the toxins, as women we really need to incorporate restorative yoga (sometimes called yin yoga) and make time to really chill out.
Towards the end of the session Clare lead a yoga nidra session which is a deep relaxation exercise where you remain awake and conscious, but almost on the tip of sleep. Interestingly scientific research on yoga nidra for anxiety and post-traumatic stress is harbouring impressive results for patients involved in control trials, see Kamakhya Kumar’s 2008 paper ‘A study on the impact on stress and anxiety through yoga nidra’, published in the Indian Journal of Traditional Knowledge. If only I had the chance to be involved in that kind of research, I would have jumped at the chance.
Not only did I find Clare’s teachings insightful, supportive and fun, but what stayed with me when I left was a feeling of celebration for femininity through yoga. Clare created a space for women to reacquaint themselves with their own intuition through mindful movement, stretching and deep relaxation. Clare provided pastels and pencils for those who wished to finish off with some drawing and she suggested writing a kind letter to yourself as a congratulations for attending. Afterwards she treated us to cacao hot chocolate and some delicious homemade vegan treats! It was pure therapy!