Love Your Brain: Fostering Resilience through Community-Centered Yoga
By Sarah Thomson, Research Assistant, Center for Neuropsychology and Neuroscience Research, Kessler Foundation
After a traumatic brain injury (TBI), it's common to feel isolated, misunderstood, and helpless. Survivors often face new physical, mental, and emotional challenges and struggle to find a truly sympathetic and supportive community. Thanks to the Love Your Brain Foundation, people who have experienced a brain injury now have access to a welcoming community with resources to improve well-being.
Love Your Brain was co-founded by Kevin Pearce, a former American professional snowboarder who suffered a TBI while training for the 2010 Winter Olympics. After his injury, Kevin lost his ability to pursue athletics, and with that, his sense of purpose. Feeling that his injury defined him, he founded an organization to support individuals like himself who were looking for a sense of belonging in their post-injury realities. The organization offers a variety of community programs, including a unique yoga program that is expanding nationwide.
Supported by scientific research and backed by local communities, Love Your Brain Yoga is a six-week program designed for individuals with brain injuries and their caregivers. Through the implementation of gentle yoga, meditation, and group discussions, the program provides survivors with a tight-knit community in an empowering space. Classes are designed to improve quality of life, resilience, and cognition, and aim to increase positive affect and life satisfaction in individuals with a range of injury severities.
(Photo above: Gina Pachkowski instructs students in a "Love Your Brain Yoga" class at her studio in Cranford, NJ.)
Gina Pachkowski, owner of Alluem Yoga in Cranford, N.J., is a certified Love Your Brain Yoga instructor and avid supporter of the program as an outlet for individuals with brain injury. "Since I opened my studio 10 years ago, I've always promoted my belief that yoga is for everyone. It warms my heart that through Love Your Brain, we're able to bring yoga to people who may not feel comfortable practicing elsewhere." Gina discovered Love Your Brain Yoga after a close friend's daughter sustained a TBI. In 2017, she partnered with the organization to offer classes at Alluem Yoga.
As an instructor, Gina strives to ensure that the class environment is accessible to everyone. "We close the curtains, dim the lights, turn off the music, and focus on slow, repetitive motions. There's an incredible sense of inclusivity in the class, and we keep everyone's personal limits in mind."
Gina and her Alluem team continue to receive positive feedback from students, and she feels humbled by her experiences as a program instructor. "My students might be having a really good day or a really bad one, but they still show up each week and put in the effort. That represents such strength and courage, and we know they'll see lasting benefits, even after they leave the program"