LoveYourBrain offers rehabilitative yoga in Lebanon

by Paulomi Rao | 2/24/17 2:05am


LoveYourBrain partners with the Mighty Yoga studio in Lebanon.

by Saphfire Brown / The Dartmouth

LoveYourBrain, a non-profit organization created to help those suffering from brain injury, was founded in 2012 by professional snowboarder Kevin Pearce after he sustained a traumatic brain injury while training for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. One of the healing modalities that helped him was meditation. As a result, Kevin Pearce and his brother Adam Pearce created the LoveYourBrain Foundation to help people lead lifestyles conducive to healthy brains through yoga, meditation and mindfulness, according to the foundation’s website. 

The program offers yoga classes in studios in eight states, including Lebanon’s Mighty Yoga studio. The foundation also hosts retreats and educational talks. Adam’s wife Kyla Pearce, who is a graduate of The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice’s master’s of public health program and a current doctoral candidate at Dartmouth, also acts as the foundation's Senior Director of the yoga program. According to the foundation's website, she manages the program's design, implementation and evaluation.

As a trained yoga instructor, Kyla Pearce developed the yoga curriculum for LoveYourBrain and worked with a researcher at Dartmouth to finalize the methodological design. When the researcher left Dartmouth, Pearce began to work with professor of psychiatry and director of pediatric neuropsychological services at the Geisel School of Medicine Jonathan Lichtenstein. His experience with concussions and study design helped him assist with analysis and interpretation of LoveYourBrain’s initial two-month implementation program.

“My help comes in with a broader conceptualization of how this fits into a rubric of traumatic brain injury recovery and how it adds to preexisting literature base and research design,” Lichtenstein said.

Lichtenstein noted that one of the most important aspects of the study was finding alternative methods for making appreciable change so people can feel and function better after an injury.

Moving forward, Lichtenstein hopes the study will develop a protocol to help reach out to people outside of the community, specifically those in rehabilitation hospitals. He noted that help frequently does not reach patients until their injury is in a chronic stage but hopes yoga can soon be initiated early on in recovery.

“We’ve known for a long time that with moderate-to-severe traumatic brain injury, you need to start rehab immediately, but what’s different for mild traumatic brain injury or concussion is that people originally [think] you should rest instead of rehab,” Lichtenstein added. “But more of modern research is leaning now to be more active when you recovery … I think this could play a role into that.”

Kyla Pearce worked with researchers at The Dartmouth Institute to study the effectiveness of LoveYourBrain’s program.

Researchers initially questioned whether it was feasible for people to frequently attend the River Valley Club’s wellness yoga classes. However, there was a high attendance rate among participants, who also rated the program highly.

Kyla Pearce was also interested in how to assess the quality of life reported by those affected by brain injuries. LoveYourBrain analyzed feedback from participants before and after yoga intervention and found overall participants reported that their quality of life increased. After the yoga class, participants wanted to continue to talk and connect with one another, so Kyla Pearce and her team developed more opportunities for relationship development.

“It’s been incredible to see that it is in a lot of ways really building a community,” Pearce said. “One thing that was really shocking is that there were people who said they had never met another person with a traumatic brain injury, even if they had been living with their own for multiple years.”

With the added discussion component, Pearce and her team have found people use the classes as an opportunity to mentor each other, share resources and be advocates for each other’s healing.

“There is a lot of empowerment by creating a space for people to be able to be each other’s teachers and support system instead of having it come from a clinician,” Pearce said. “It’s been incredibly powerful.”

Pearce noted that a factor that makes the LoveYourBrain organization innovative is its community and location emphasis. Pearce and other organizers from LoveYourBrain were interested in having a community based program that supported community reintegration, which is why they did not center the yoga program at a clinical facility such as Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. Some of the large-scale issues they found with patients suffering from a traumatic brain injury were feelings of isolation and disconnect from their communities.

Director of student writing support for the Institute for Writing and Rhetoric Stephanie Boone, another participant, recently completed the six-week series.

After suffering from a fall in May 2013, Boone felt isolated from her career at Dartmouth, where she previously worked as an English professor.

Boone described her experience as “extremely medicalized” and said she did not initially think to join a yoga program due to previous uninteresting experiences.

“One of the greatest challenges in recovery is the sense of isolation that accrues when you are injured, can’t return to work or have been immobilized,” Boone said. “A fear of falling, your balances are off, your cognitive processes are slower, memory is problematic, speech may be an issue … you are different.”

At Lebanon’s Mighty Yoga studio, Boone found a new sense of community and rebuilt her life following her incident.

“I’m getting stronger, balance is better, I’m more toned, and the mind is, it’s like I’m coming out of a fog,” Boone said.

Boone noted that a primary benefit of yoga is its ability to bring together the mind and body.

Kyla Pearce believes that the LoveYourBrain guided mediation style can also be effective for college individuals who might be dealing with various levels of concussion from sport related injuries or overall mental stress.

“There is certainly a lot of scientific evidence showing that yoga, meditation and breath work [have] physiological evidence in terms of reducing stress and helping with sleep,” Pearce said.

The next few years are crucial to LoveYourBrain’s development. The foundation seeks to have a yoga program in all 50 states, with the goal of expanding from its current seven locations to at least 25 states by 2019. The team is focusing on opening programs near the United States’ top 10 rehabilitation facilities.

In addition to geographic expansion, Kyla Pearce added that she looks forward to developing aspects of the program that participants find most effective and continuing to bolster positive impact.

“My hope is that yoga will eventually be considered mainstream, a healing therapeutic technique that insurance covers and [won’t be] seen as complementary and alternative medicine anymore,” Pearce said. “It’s all about shifting the public perception in our culture of what is effective ... there should be just as much access as other therapeutic techniques.”

Correction appended (Feb. 24, 2017):

After the introduction of Kyla Pearce, we added the phrase: "also acts as the foundation's Senior Director of the yoga program. According to the foundation's website, she manages the program's design, implementation and evaluation."