A promising new study shows that yoga and meditation can help people with brain injuries recover faster. Rebecca Acabchuk, a yoga teacher and postdoctoral fellow at the University of Connecticut, inspired the research. The study was recently published in the journal Applied psychology: health and well-being.
Rebecca studied the minor trauma that occurs in brain injuries while earning her Ph.D. in Physiology and Neurobiology at UConn. There, he came across a student-athlete who had suffered multiple concussions. The student appeared to have puzzling symptoms that never seemed to go away on their own.
The student-athlete told Rebecca of her strange symptoms: Every time a smoke alarm went off in her bedroom, she had a seizure. While she thought they had something to do with her concussions, she didn’t know why they happened or how to alleviate them.
A brain injury is often overlooked or not treated well.
“All these symptoms that I would have to fight, really deep symptoms, are an invisible injury,” says Acabchuk, who obtained his doctorate. in 2016. Now she works as a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Collaboration in Health, Intervention, Policy or InCHIP at UConn. “People think you should be better. The injury happened so long ago. Why aren’t you better? And then more frustration arises when your doctor tells you to rest, there is nothing else that can be done, but you still have headaches or feel fatigued or depressed. “
Acabchuk said many others came to her with similar stories when she began her research on concussions. Every time someone suffered a concussion, families at their daughter’s school talked about their personal struggles. Unfortunately, most of them had symptoms that “just didn’t resolve” and families wanted answers.
While doctors often struggle to treat persistent concussion symptoms, Acabchuk is optimistic about new research on mindfulness-based interventions. For 17 years, a yoga teacher knows firsthand how to use the mind to help our bodies heal. The recently published InCHIP study marks the first meta-analysis investigating how yoga, meditation, and mindfulness can treat symptoms of brain injury. She hopes that the observations gleaned from the research will help people cope with the symptoms of a chronic concussion.
“This was really an exciting project for me in that it combines these two areas of interest, concussion work with yoga and meditation,” says Acabchuk, lead author of the study. “We know from other studies that yoga and meditation can be helpful in reducing systemic inflammation, and we know they are helpful in increasing self-compassion and reducing rumination if people are dealing with symptoms of depression.”
Many previous studies looking at the effects of yoga, meditation, and mindfulness on brain injury symptoms have been relatively small. For the meta-analysis, Acabchuk and his team analyzed data from 22 different studies, including unpublished and published research. In total, his research included 539 participants and investigated the effects of healing modalities on various aspects of people’s lives.
They analyzed the mental and physical health, cognitive functioning, quality of life, and social / work performance of the participants. They then studied how yoga, meditation, and mindfulness affected participants’ health outcomes, such as depression, anxiety, fatigue, and attention span. Finally, the research team used complex meta-analytical procedures to organize and evaluate the results of these studies. Acabchuk says:
“The main results we saw were significant reductions in depression and fatigue. Especially with fatigue, it had a large effect size, which is impressive in the sense that fatigue is a difficult symptom for patients to treat. “
The team found that almost all of the measured outcomes improved when patients underwent mind-body interventions such as yoga from their comprehensive analysis. Due to the diversity of the studies in the participants and the difficulty in treating brain damage symptoms, the researchers found this remarkable.
However, Acabchuk explains that they will need to investigate how concussion patients can benefit from mindfulness-based treatments. Specifically, researchers and the public need a better understanding of how yoga and meditation relieve and heal the symptoms of brain injury. Although more study is needed, it never hurts to include mindfulness practices in a patient’s treatment plan. Yoga and meditation have no negative side effects, so a person experiencing brain injury symptoms can only benefit from the practices.
“Think of the brain almost like an anterior cruciate ligament: if you tear your anterior cruciate ligament, you will leave it at rest, but you will also take steps to rehabilitate it,” says Acabchuk. “If you think of the brain in that sense, a concussion is also like a rehabilitation injury in the sense that, through rehabilitation, you can strengthen certain pathways in the brain. And we believe that the tools to help do that are breathwork, meditation, and mindful movement through yoga poses. “
How to get started with meditation or yoga
If you’ve never meditated before, she recommends downloading a meditation app or joining a mindfulness group. This way, you can learn the basics and start with small increments of meditation, like 10 minutes a day. However, if you prefer more movement, you can enjoy yoga instead. You can start with gentle and easy poses and stretches designed to unite the body and mind, providing overall healing.
If neither appeals to you, you can also practice deep breathing. Simply sitting quietly to increase awareness of your body and breathing can help reduce overall inflammation. While you won’t notice these benefits right away, if you stay consistent with the practices, you will gradually increase your quality of life.
“I really hope this helps empower people who are struggling with their symptoms,” says Acabchuk.
The first such meta-analysis showed how yoga, meditation, and mindfulness can be helpful in brain injury recovery. Yoga teacher and doctor. from the University of Connecticut found that mindfulness treatments improved symptoms in nearly 540 patients. While more research is needed, Acabchuk is hopeful about the future of these treatment plans for patients with brain injuries.