In the past, I did not consider myself a fan of yoga or meditation. I would much rather take on an activity with a lot more “doing” such as going for a run, swimming, playing hockey, or weight training. With all the holding of postures and staying in one spot, yoga just was not my cup of tea. But with post-concussion syndrome came a lot of changes to my life, and my relationship with yoga and meditation was one of them.
Buying into yoga was certainly not a quick or complete conversion for me. It was certainly not love at first sight, or second, or third. It probably took over the course of 2 years of trying yoga off and on for me to really develop an appreciation for it. For where I am right now in my concussion recovery, yoga is a good fit (specifically “gentle”, “mindfulness” or “relaxation” yoga). There are certain postures I have to avoid (such as “legs up the wall” or “downward dog” or any posture where my head is hanging downwards) as I find they cause uncomfortable feelings of pressure in my head. Yoga allows me to improve my flexibility; both physically, and more importantly mentally.
The yoga mindset is one of going with the flow. It is allowing yourself to be as you are, switching to a mode of “simply being” instead of “doing”. As one of the guided meditation/yoga CDs I work through says, ” let go of the tendency we all have to wish things to be different than how they are, allow things to be as you find them, allow yourself to be exactly as you are”. This is a key concept, as it can be very easy with post-concussion syndrome to spend away the day wishing things were different, that my life was not plagued by headaches or nagging fatigue. Getting into the mindset of acknowledging things as they are and realizing what you cannot change is important as being in a constant fight with a situation outside of your control isn’t going to help things.
I first became aware of mindfulness meditation when someone sent me a link to a video clip outlining the mindfulness meditation program offered by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the Massachusetts Medical Center. In the video, clients of the program spoke to their initial skepticism of the mindfulness program (the first activity in the course is often eating a raisin, very slowly, very mindfully) and wondering what they had gotten themselves into. By the end of the program, many were grateful of the significant impact it had on their chronic pain or other ailments. However, I do realize anecdotes and testimonies can be dangerous in determining the effectiveness of a treatment. Fortunately in this case, there has been research and clinical studies to back up the efficacy of mindfulness based stress reduction in chronic pain, depression relapse prevention and other medical conditions.
Mindfulness meditation focuses on awareness of the present awareness, instead of being caught ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. It emphasizes a non-judgmental observing of the breath, thoughts and body sensations. I especially found it helpful for me in dealing with headaches. I often didn’t realize that when I have a headache, my shoulders, neck, forehead, jaw, etc instinctively tighten. Often by bringing my awareness to this, I can relax and lessen the tension. It also has helped in other aspects of my life; for example in class I am better able to focus as I am more mindful when my attention drifts elsewhere so I can then make a conscience effort to redirect my awareness.
There are now quite a few practitioners that offer Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programs, although they can be quite pricey. Practitioners need certification to teach the program which is typically offered as one 2 hour session per week for 8 weeks. I was fortunate that my university offered the program free to students. If you are not interested in taking a formal program or able to pay for the course (it can be hundreds of dollars), I’d recommend checking out if your local library has any of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s books (if audio-books, even better) which would be a great place to start. The MBSR course I took used the book “A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook” by Bob Stahl & Elisha Goldstein, which I found to be a great resource and often I re-listen to the audio guided meditations included with the book.
Because of my symptoms and limitations of post concussion syndrome, there was a lot less “doing” in my life. I was no longer always on the go or multi-tasking and spent much more time resting and low key activity. Initially it was hard not to be bored or frustrated at doing “nothing” but meditation and yoga helped me be at peace, and admittedly even start to enjoy the “simply being” part. Besides, we are “human beings” not “human doings“.