Dartmouth Graduate Helps Brain Injury Survivors Heal Through Yoga

Survivors of Traumatic Brain Injury, a highly debilitating condition, often feel anxious, depressed, and unsupported. Almost 2.5 million individuals in the U.S. experience Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) every year and have to navigate symptoms ranging from attention difficulties to severe memory loss. Kyla Donnelly Pearce, a recent Dartmouth Institute graduate, is no stranger to the devastating impacts of TBI on individuals. After a fall during the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, her brother-in-law coped with the effects of TBI. Witnessing him struggle brought the issue close to Pearce. A certified yoga instructor, she found that yoga was transformative during her brother-in-law’s rehabilitation. Kyla Pearce arrived at The Dartmouth Institute with a deep understanding of the benefits of yoga and a desire to help TBI survivors.

Pearce first investigated the effects of gentle yoga exercise in a pilot study as a Masters of Public Health student. She recruited a group of 20 women and 11 men between the ages of 23 and 72 to participate in the study. Half of the participants participated in yoga classes during their enrollment. Pearce’s classes were designed specifically for TBI survivors, emphasizing low-impact and repeated sequences integrated with guided meditation and breathing exercises. Individuals who were enrolled in yoga classes during the study reported better ratings on the Quality of Life After Brain Injury assessment at the end of the study compared to their initial ratings. These participants reported feeling less “lonely, bored, anxious, and aggressive” while the control group did not exhibit significant improvements on these scales. Pearce’s study is in press with peer-reviewed journal Brain Injury and her findings are consistent with those of many researchers who report yoga and mindfulness as robust approaches to manage stress and improve quality of life.

Pearce launched a unique program teaching classes to individuals with TBI. The program draws from Pearce’s research to help affected individuals improve their quality of life through gentle exercise and meditation. These exercises are reported to positively contribute to various aspects of TBI survivor’s lives, inspiring positive sense of self and greater community integration. Pearce’s novel program is affiliated with a national program to promote brain injury prevention and healing, the LoveYourBrain Foundation. Based throughout New England, LoveYourBrain seeks to offer affordable and tailored yoga classes to TBI survivors and their caregivers. LoveYourBrain programs are currently offered in New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Colorado and are expanding to other national locations.

In addition to introducing TBI-focused yoga curriculum, Pearce is still researching on the potential for yoga and meditative practices for TBI rehabilitation as a PhD student at Dartmouth. Pearce continues to collaborate with yoga instructors at Mighty Yoga in Lebanon, NH where teachers now work with individuals with various neurological conditions like dementia or stroke. Her work has used yoga to empower individuals as they recover, inspiring hope for a resilient community of survivors.

Mighty Yoga in Hanover is hosting a donation-based VIN-YIN (vinyasa + yin) class to support the LoveYourBrain Foundation Sunday, March 5 at 5:45 p.m. For more details on this program, visit the LoveYourBrain website