To say the least, it’s been a wet fall in Toronto. Here’s something to warm up to: a delicious, vegan, rice bar that’s low in sugar, gluten and dairy free – enjoy with a warm cup of tea or your favourite hot beverage!
1/2 cup liquid coconut oil
1/2 cup almond butter
1/2 cup brown rice syrup
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup dried cranberries or cherries
1/2 cup cocoa nibs or dairy-free chocolate chips
4 cups rice cereal
Slivered almonds as garnish
Line an 9 x 9 inch pan with parchment or wax paper
Place rice cereal and dried fruit in large bowl
Mix together almond butter, coconut oil, rice syrup and vanilla in another glass bowl and heat in a pot until you can stir everything easily together. Let cool for two to three minutes.
Add mixture to cereal and stir well with spatula.
Mix in the chocolate and pat into the pan. Garnish with almonds.
Chill then cut into small bars and enjoy!
Chef Janet Craig’s recipes are simple, healthy, delicious and ABI friendly.
As a brain injury survivor, these two enchanting words instantly grab my attention and get me craving to learn more. Lucky for me, this was the topic of BIST’s August Community Meeting, and guest speaker, Paul Hyman, had my full attention. Paul is a wonderfully accomplished champion for the brain injury community and he comes with a very impressive resume (check out his website if you don’t believe me). Among all of his accomplishments, he is most well known for being the president and founder of Brain Fitness International, an organization that helps those living with a brain injury to maximize their potential and live better lives.
Paul began the evening with a quick one liner to explain what ‘brain health’ means to him: movement-based, multi-sensory brain stimulation. Put simply, this means that through movement and engaging your senses you are actually helping your brain. To elaborate upon this concept, Paul used the example of a student who was taking a class and, to the professor’s dismay, knitted throughout every lecture rather than taking notes. To the professor’s astonishment, this student ended up far exceeding the professor’s expectations come the completion of the course. Because knitting utilizes both sides of the body, and therefore, both hemispheres of the brain, the student was able to better absorb the information. For this reason, a pipe cleaner (the craft supply) was handed out to each community meeting attendee to fiddle with, using both hands, throughout the presentation. I have been using this pipe cleaner trick for about a week now and, when I do, I feel like I’m better at absorbing and recalling information; so, if it tickles your fancy give it a try!
The point that Paul chose to emphasize was that movement stimulates the brain. If you don’t believe me, lift your arms high in the air and shake your hands around. Just by moving, you are improving your capacity to learn, memorize, and recall information. If you’re currently struggling with brain injury and some sticky symptoms, this may be exhausting; but, as Paul says, movement is great for the brain – try it out and see how you feel.
Further to movement being a brain stimulant, a principle that has been known for many years now was also highlighted, ‘Neurons that fire together, wire together.’ This speaks to the neuroplasticity of the brain, how the brain is capable of forming new connections.
Using both body and breath to stimulate the brain is a fantastic way to facilitate recovery and also leaves you feeling great. We went through several activities over the course of the evening, and below I will share some of my favourites. I’ve included some fun names for each exercise to hopefully make them easier to recall.
Paul used to be a professional trombone player, to which he credits learning the importance of the breath. This first exercise is intended to help you become accustomed to taking slower and deeper breaths. All you need is a tissue! I call this one, the tissue trap:
The Tissue Trap:
Take a tissue and hold it up against a wall.
Exhale slowly and deeply onto the tissue so that it stays stuck to the wall without you needing to hold it in place. Do this as slowly as possible.
For added fun, you can time yourself or challenge others to see who can hold it the longest. (New party trick, maybe?)
Vary this exercise by blowing puffs of air instead of a steady stream. If you don’t have a wall handy, use another surface like a book, or hold the tissue between your fingers and watch the tissue fly as you control it using your breath.
This next exercise utilizes both hemispheres of the brain and helps them to work together. It is commonly referred to as eye tracking or lazy 8’s. For a more detailed explanation, click here, otherwise follow the steps below:
Eye Tracking/Lazy 8’s:
Outstretch your arm in front of you so it’s perpendicular to the floor.
Make the thumbs up sign with the hand of your outstretched arm.
Move your arm to draw a big, imaginary infinity sign (an 8 on its side, see above). Continue to do this motion.
While keeping your head still and facing forward, move your eyes to keep your gaze on your thumb as it moves around.
Try this out with your other arm and/or with your fingers interlaced.
Vary the direction of your figure 8. For example, instead of going up the middle every time, try going down the middle.
If you prefer, you may like to draw your lazy 8 on a piece of paper or white board. This can be particularly handy if you get dizzy from drawing them in the air.
Brain Gym PACE
PACE is a Brain Gym mnemonic for Positive, Active, Clear, and Energetic, which together, form a technique for warming up both your brain and your body to maximize your capacity to learn. Now, I’ve been trying to figure out how to describe this practice using only words for a while, but lucky for me, and let’s be honest, you too, I stumbled on this handy video that captures PACE in a straightforward way.
The BIST community meeting attendees really enjoyed Paul’s presentation as he was an excellent speaker with a very engaging presentation. I’ve been told that he will likely return for more presentations in the future so stay tuned!
In the mean time, don’t forget to check out the BIST calendar or all types of events.
Egg Foo Yung is a basic omelet, high in protein and gluten free. You can add leftover chicken, shrimp or ham to it for an extra protein boost!
This recipe is great and the sauce works for any stir fry. For Egg Foo Yung, make the whole recipe and serve over the omelet as a sauce or gravy.
Four egg whites beaten, or whole eggs
Four tbsp water
One tsp sesame seed oil
One bunch green onions
Two cups bean sprouts
Two tsp fresh grated ginger
One chopped garlic clove
One large stalk of celery chopped
Sauce ingredients which you can just shake in a bottle & add 1/2 cup to the recipe.
1. Beat eggs with water, oil.
2 Spray a stir fry pan with vegetable spray.
3. Sauté onions, celery, garlic & ginger together until translucent.
4. Add omelet with the beans sprouts and cook like a pancake until firm.
One cup chicken or vegetable broth
One tbsp grated ginger
Two cloves of garlic, minced
Two tbsp Sherry, or white wine ( vermouth)
1/4 cup soy sauce
One tbsp honey or Hoisin Sauce
Two tbsp cornstarch
Make a ” slurry” of cornstarch and broth by slowly stirring in adding more fluid.
Add the rest of the ingredients in a jar which you can shake to keep cornstarch mixed.
Chef Janet Craig’s recipes are simple, healthy, delicious and ABI friendly. You can find out more about her HERE.
On the evening of July 25th I had the pleasure of attending a BIST Community Meeting unlike any I’ve been to before, the BIST Summer Picnic! This meeting was very special for many reasons: it only comes around once a year, it’s held in a park (this year, Dufferin Grove Park), and it brings together many BIST staff, volunteers, members, and sponsors for a celebration of our strength as a community.
PHOTOS: ABBY SCHNURR MONGKONROB
The evening began with a fun team quiz with facts about Dufferin Grove Park. It seemed like many BIST members knew a lot about the park and its history, and it’s safe to say that I learned a lot! After the quiz, dinner was served: pizza, veggies, fruit, pop, and cake – you can’t go wrong with that!
After dinner, awards were handed out and sponsors recognized. Everyone deserves recognition for their hard work and kindness so below I will list the award recipients and sponsors who contribute so much to BIST and its programs.
I definitely cannot forget to mention that Spiderman was in attendance too! He spent a lot of the night swooping people off their feet; I suspect he was training for the BIST 5km Run, Walk and Roll! Don’t forget, it’s coming up on Sunday, September 30th and you can register by clicking, HERE.
I also want to acknowledge all of the wonderful staff at BIST who bring all of these fantastic programs to fruition!
Once all of the awards had been handed out, we split into groups to do various activities: bocce, ping pong, basketball, and a reflexology walk. There was also a nice blanketed rest area under a tree for those who wanted to have some quiet time in the beautiful park.
I opted for the reflexology walk which was very relaxing and quite honestly a fantastic foot massage! Before taking part in this activity, I didn’t really know what a reflexology walk was, which is why I wanted to try it. The basis of reflexology is that there are areas on the bottoms of the feet that correspond to different parts of the body. Applying gentle pressure or manipulating these various points can help to relieve stress and pain. I must say, I did feel more relaxed after walking the footpath a few times.
My favourite part of the evening was getting to meet all of the inspiring BIST members as well as the wonderful staff who keep the BIST programs running. I was so happy to see that there were even some people who had never attended a BIST event before, but they came out to see what it was all about.
I love community meetings for this very reason, they provide an excellent opportunity to connect with others within the brain injury community, and everyone is always welcome. Not only does BIST have programs for those who have sustained an injury, but they also have programs to support caregivers. If you would like to learn more about the many programs offered, check out BIST at www.bist.ca or, if you don’t live in the Toronto area, visit the Ontario Brain Injury Association (OBIA): http://obia.ca.
This year’s Summer Picnic was a huge success and a wonderful celebration of the strength of the BIST community. I’m excited to see the programs to come and to meet the members who are part of our community as well as those who will be joining in the future!
Julia Renaud is a very talkative ABI survivor with a passion for learning new things, trying new activities, and meeting new people – all of which have led her to writing this column. When not chatting someone’s ear off, Julia can be found outside walking her dog while occasionally talking to him, of course!
Dare we say it? With the new school year just around the corner, breakfast is about to get a lot more hectic for some of us. And even if you, or no one in your household is heading back to the Big S-, September still feels like it’s time for a new start, right?
So here’s a new way to start your day – with Janet’s make ahead Fruit Breakfast Bars – they’re easy, delicious and a great start to your morning! And the best part: no prep is needed in the morning, they’re already done!
Base Ingredients – can be done in food processor
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 1/4 cups rolled oats
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup berries (raspberries, blueberries or strawberries) fresh or frozen
1 cup jam (of the same fruit)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
For the Base:
Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-by-13-inch glass or light-coloured metal baking pan. Put a long piece of parchment paper in the bottom of the pan, letting the parchment extend up the two short sides of the pan and overhang slightly on both ends. (This will make it easy to remove the bars from the pan after they have baked.) Butter the parchment.
Put the flour, brown sugar, oats, salt, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon in a food processor. Pulse in short bursts until combined. Add the butter and pulse until loose crumbs form.
Reserve ½ of the mixture.
Pour the rest of the mixture into the prepared pan and use your hands or the back of a large wooden spoon to push the crust into an even layer at the bottom of the pan. The crust should touch the sides of the pan. Bake until golden brown for 10 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let the crust cool. Keep the oven on while you make the filling.
In a medium bowl, whisk sugar, lemon zest, cinnamon and flour together. Add the fruit, lemon juice and butter and use your hands to toss gently until the berries are evenly coated. Then mix in the jam.
Spread evenly over cooled base then sprinkle remainder of the crumbs on the top.
Bake at 360 F for 35 minutes rotating once so bars brown evenly.
I like to add nuts to the topping – almonds, walnuts or pecans are nice
Cool and cut into squares. Can be stored up to three days in the fridge or frozen.
Chef Janet Craig recipes are simple, healthy, delicious and ABI friendly. You can find out more about her HERE.
Studies have long shown that sleep deprivation, especially when chronic, can have detrimental effects to our health.
Just to name a few, poor sleep quality can impair brain activity, cognitive function, decision-making, concentration, learning, memory, balance, coordination, and emotional state. It also increases the chance of being involved in an accident.
All of these are common to the symptom profile of brain injury survivors. One of the most frustrating lingering effects from my concussion was disrupted sleep. At night, I had trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, and entering deep sleep. I either felt like I was half awake or I’d have terrible and vivid nightmares.
During the day, I was beyond tired and frequently took long, restless naps. I thought that I would never get better until a simple change to my sleep schedule triggered drastic improvements across all of my symptoms.
A neuropsychologist was the first to suggest that I focus my efforts solely on waking up at the same time each morning. Coupled with avoiding napping, this reset my circadian rhythm (i.e. internal clock) and improved the quality of my sleep. The medical director of the sleep laboratory that I visited also recommended this approach. After adhering to the new routine for just a few days, my headaches lessened in frequency and severity, the brain fog lifted, my mood stabilized, and I was able to tolerate more stimulation. Instead of relying on pharmaceuticals, I have adopted the following strategies for sleeping problems to my lifestyle.
Guidelines for Optimizing Sleep Health
Reset your Circadian Rhythm
Our bodies were meant to sleep after sun set and to wake with the sun rise. In fact, the highest quality of sleep that you can have is before midnight. However, bright lights in large cities, sedentary lifestyles, and modern technology has resulted in bad sleep habits that disrupt our internal biological clocks. Here are different ways that you can reset your circadian rhythm.
Go camping for one week
Studies have shown that camping for at least one week can reset adults’ internal clocks. This result was contributed to increased exposure to natural sunlight during the day and reduced exposure to artificial lights at night. That means that you don’t have to go camping to sync your body’s clock to nature’s light and dark cycle. See other strategies below.
Set your alarm and wake up at the same time, every single day
Setting a daily routine will help your body shift its circadian rhythm. It is difficult to control when you fall asleep at night, so focus more on when you wake up. Be sure to get out of bed as soon as the alarm goes off. If desired, set your wake up time half an hour earlier every three to four weeks, until you’ve reached the ideal time for your lifestyle. Eventually, your body will be conditioned to naturally wake up at the same time. The remaining tips will help you fall asleep faster and will make getting out of bed easier.
Get exposure to sunlight
Get at least half an hour of sunlight during the day. According to my sleep clinic, this is most effective if done within 30 minutes of waking up.
Don’t take naps!
If you must take a nap in the middle of the day, set an alarm and don’t nap for more than 20 minutes.
Avoid blue light before bedtime
Artificial lights and electronic devices emit blue wavelengths of light that suppress the secretion of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep.3 Using a TV, computer, phone, or tablet within 1 hour before bed will make your brain think that it’s still day time and disrupt your circadian rhythm.
An extreme method
I stayed awake for 36 hours straight so that I would be sleepy enough to fall asleep at an appropriate hour on the second night. I then applied all of the other healthier techniques moving forward. My neuropsychologist said that this extreme method is not appropriate for everyone, so consult your doctor first.
Adjust your diet
Avoid caffeine after 10 am
An even better idea would be to give up caffeine altogether for at least four weeks. Keep in mind that caffeine may be hidden in foods and beverages other than coffee and tea. This includes chocolate (i.e. cocoa), soft drinks, energy waters or drinks, coffee or chocolate flavoured ice cream, medications, etc.
Alcohol’s initial effects may make you feel sleepy, but it will actually wake you up in the middle of the night and/or decrease the quality of your sleep.
Don’t eat three hours before bedtime
You shouldn’t go to bed hungry either, so if you must eat before bed, choose healthy, light snacks and consume small portions.
Adjust your lifestyle
Regular physical activity, especially outdoors, will do wonders for your overall and sleep health. But if you exercise after 6 pm, it may end up stimulating instead of relaxing you.
Use your bed only for sleeping and sex
You don’t want to condition yourself to associate your bed with any activities other than sleeping. Also, if you’re unable to fall asleep or fall back asleep after 30 minutes, get out of bed and do something that is non-stimulating and does not involve electronic devices. When you feel sleepy, go back to bed and try again.
Don’t try too hard
When it’s time for bed, don’t try too hard to fall asleep. If you focus on the fact that you aren’t able to sleep, count the hours left in the night, or fixate on all of the things that you need to do the next day, stress and anxiety will prevent you from relaxing and will keep you awake even longer.
Inspect your bedroom
Ensure that your mattress has the right firmness for your comfort.
Ensure that your pillow supports your neck sufficiently.
Use blackout curtains in your bedroom.
Remove all artificial lights and electronic devices from your bedroom.
This will also prevent you from looking at the clock when you’re having trouble sleeping in the middle of the night. Checking the time when you can’t sleep can stress you out and keep you awake.
Create a bedtime routine and start getting ready 2 – 3 hours before bedtime
Take a hot bath or shower
Taking a nice hot bath or shower will relax you, but doing so within 2 hours prior to bedtime will keep you awake.
Write down your stressors and plans
As our bodies relax, our minds tend to wander and fixate on past mistakes, present stressors, and future plans. So 2 to 3 hours before bedtime, sit down with a pen and paper and write down your concerns, ideas, and to-do lists. Then set them aside so that you don’t have to worry about them until the next day.
Turn off lights and electronic devices before bedtime
At least 1 hour prior to bedtime, turn off all electronic devices. It is also preferable to turn off all of the lights. At the very least, dim the lights or use candlelight. Research also shows that wearing amber lenses in the evening can be effective at blocking blue light and improving sleep quality.5 Furthermore, keep all lights and devices turned off if you wake up in the middle of the night and are unable to fall back asleep. Just be very careful making your way to and using the bathroom in the dark.
Have a warm beverage
Drink a cup of warm milk before bed, because it contains tryptophan, an amino acid that promotes sleep. Alternatively, a naturopath recommended drinking a cup of herbal tea (e.g. chamomile flowers, lemon balm, or tulsi/holy basil) within 30 minutes to one hour before bed. If you are taking any medications, speak to your doctor and/or pharmacist to ensure that your herbal teas won’t interact with your drugs.
Take a magnesium supplement
Taking magnesium 30 minutes to one hour prior to bed may help with sleep disturbances. Consult your doctor and/or pharmacist to determine your proper dosage and to ensure that it won’t interact with any of your medications.
Wash your face and brush your teeth 1 hour prior to going to bed
Washing my face and brushing my teeth, especially when done with the lights on, tends to invigorate me, so I do these before I really start to wind down.
Engage in a relaxing activity
The goal of your night routine is to unwind your mind and relax your body before bedtime. Try a non-stimulating activity such as meditation, gentle yoga or stretching, colouring, or reading a boring book or magazine.
I still struggle with fatigue and sleep some days, but I’m confident that if I consistently practice these good habits, high quality sleep will soon come easily.
Alison suffered a concussion in 2013 that completely changed her lifestyle. She is finding her way back to her old self and still loves traveling, dogs, cooking, and helping others. She hopes to help other brain injury survivors and their caregivers by sharing her experience and by spreading awareness.
Holzman DC. What’s in a Color? The Unique Human Health Effects of Blue Light.Environmental Health Perspectives. 2010;118(1):A22-
Burkhart K and Phelps JR. Amber lenses to block blue light and improve sleep: a randomized trial. Chronobiology International. 2009;26(8);1602-1612.
A brain injury can come with a variety of symptoms, from visual disturbances to changes in personality.
I have a diffuse axonal injury – a fancy term for damage to tissue in multiple regions of the brain – and the most significant symptom that comes with such a fancy term is fatigue.
When fatigue is present at all hours of the day, down time is precious. I work full-time, and anything beyond that requires a lot of thought, caffeine and an understanding that I need to be in bed by 9 p.m.
Unlike other symptoms of brain injury, fatigue is predictable: if I’m not at work, I’m probably at home. I may leave the house for a few hours on a weekend, or not at all.
My friends often ask what I do when I stay home, how can I stay occupied for all of those hours?
My days at home start with the relaxation essentials: my diffuser and candles. Trust me, whether you want to feel relaxed, energized, renewed, happy or sleepy, there is an essential oil and candle for that. I take an opportunity to stay at home as one to take care of my body and feel good. This means alternating between sipping tea and water while I light up the diffuser and candles.
The reason I stay home is two-fold; I’m staying home because I’m exhausted and I’m staying home because I need to rest up for the week ahead. The more brain injury symptoms I’m having, the more likely I am to be on my couch.
While I spend some time watching movies and television, I can’t sit for hours doing this. My favourite activity when Netflix is off is reading. I usually have a lot of books on the go depending on my mood, including crime books, academic reads and something light, like Mindy Khaling. My other favourite activity is Sudoku, the extreme sport of the brain-injured. (On a side note: if you have any unused Sudoku’s from your newspaper, let me know!)
This down time has also given me more time to write. Beyond the BIST Blog, I also write for The Mighty and have contributed a personal essay to a feminist comedy book coming out in the summer.
Since I moved into a one-bedroom apartment and got an adult job, I have become obsessed with decorating (and redecorating) my apartment. I have decided that if I’m going to be spending so much time at home due to my disability, I’m going to make my home beautiful. I’m a big fan of fake plants as they are self-sustaining and do not care that I am a bad plant mom.
This may sound boring to the able-bodied as there are plenty more interesting things that one could be doing with their weekend. As a person with a disability, this works for me and ensures I’m able to show up for who and where I’m most needed.
Alyson is 26-years-old and acquired her first brain injury ten years ago. She graduated from Ryerson University and is a youth worker at a homeless shelter. In her spare time, Alyson enjoys writing, rollerblading and reading. Follow her on Twitter @arnr33 or on The Mighty.