Meditation is often thought of a silent experience, but our new columnist Krista Schilter shares how an active singing meditation can help boost your memory. Read the first post in Krista’s new column – Root to Rise: A Mindful Approach to Living After ABI.
BY: AMEE LE
Recently I’ve had a chance to visit England and walked through the doors of Headway Essex. Headway is a large organization which provides brain injury care and support throughout the U.K. I came in contact with Headway East London through discovering their art studio website. I discovered Headway Essex through Dr. Carolyn Lemsky, Clinical Director at CHIRS introduced me to Steve Shears, Trainer and Psychotherapist at Headway Essex. Steve kindly showed me the agency and I had a chance to visit and meet the people at Headway.
During my day visit, I had the opportunity to visit BounceAbility – Special Needs Trampoline Centre. Watching people of all physical abilities getting out of their wheelchairs and working on balance, coordination and stretching. There was also added “stealth benefits” (according to Andy Plowright, Service Manager) such as allowing another person to help you with your balance and relying on another person to support you on a moving surface can build trust and re-establish physical and emotional connections with another person. This supportive and trusting relationship is especially important for a person who have experienced physical trauma that have resulted in the head injury.
Visiting the day program and meeting people at Headway was heartwarming. One person showed me his ankle foot orthosis (AFO) brace that is very well made and seems to be protective of sensitive skin areas in the lower extremities. The brace was red and the owner of this brace is proud to be a Manchester United Fan; in Toronto, our AFO brace are uniformly white.
I had a chance to talk about my meditation and art program which hopefully generated some interest in developing meditation and art programming for people at Headway. When it was time to part, I was given several information guides, newsletter and a large Headway t-Shirt. Andy Plowright, Service Manager at Headway Essex was apologetic that the t-shirt would not fit me but generous in his giving spirit and gesture of appreciation.
When I came back to Toronto, I wanted to do something special and carry on the momentum of giving. I was speaking with my colleague Amanda Muise, Behavioural Therapist about my excitement and ideas. I thought it would be cool for CHIRS and Headway to connect and a T-shirt could be a good catalyst. We talked about who could wear this T-shirt and she suggested Mr. Rob Ashe.
When I told Rob about my idea and showed him the picture, newsletter and T-shirt, he was very excited about the idea. He eagerly put the Tshirt safely away in his backpack. When I saw Rob two days later, he had taken pictures of himself around the city with the help of his friend, James.
Rob and I know each other through his participation in Mindful Art Workshop – Winter 2014. During the workshop, Rob learnt to meditate and try to do an art activity that was new to him. He made new friends whom he tries to keep in touch with. Rob was able to complete his art activity quickly and was ready to move on to the next task.
So sitting still and waiting and listening was new to him. He is very articulate and easily shares his stories, successes and difficulties but this ability to articulate could overshadow others who had a harder time sharing their voices. As the workshop progressed, Rob learnt to sit back and listen. To reflect quietly, then use his articulate voice to deeply appreciate other people’s talents and gifts. He talked more about others and less about his stories and came to appreciate this new way of being. Below is a sample of his art work. He called this piece – Anointed.
After taking a series of photographs, Rob and I sat down and I helped to upload the photographs from his phone. During the summer months in Toronto, there are several festivals and celebrations.
Below are the places that Rob visited with his friends from CHIRS:
When I arrived at work on Monday morning, I found a treasure inside my mailbox. When Rob and I were sharing stories and photographs, he had tears in his eyes. Rob loves to connect with people and especially people of all abilities. He told me, “You couldn’t have asked for a more perfect person to do this task.”
Rob understands that people with a brain injury may not have the same physical abilities as they did prior to the injury. Through his travels he wanted to share with people the places and events that he has access to and hopefully through these images, all persons may have access to these places and events.
Hi!! My name is Rob Ashe and I am a client at CHIRS (Community Head Injury Resource Services) in Toronto. When I was asked to have pictures wearing your group shirt, I took on the task because I feel strongly that groups wherever and whoever need to make contact and then we have a better understanding of each other and That is Great!!!!
I want to thank you for this opportunity and let you know that I believe that having a brain injury should not hold us back as we have much to say, much to experience and above all, much TO GIVE
I can’t begin to tell you how much this has touched my heart. Sometimes the work that we do can feel like work and there are good days and challenging days. Some days are full of beautiful moments and some days are problem solving days. My motivation for doing this work is to help others, whoever comes to my door. Knowing that we can touch each other’s lives and share in meaningful moments is a good reminder for me of the goodness inside each person that I’ve met. I am sure many therapists, helpers, teachers out there will share in my experience that the work that we do is relational and it takes two to form a relationship. The support and encouragement I give to the clients that have come into my life are reciprocated in so many ways that surprises me when I need it the most. It is these moments that helps me to remember what is important to me. To help others knowing that we all have an important part in each others lives.
NOTE TO HEADWAY ESSEX FROM BIST:
We’re sending you a t-shirt from our areyouaware.ca campaign – and can’t wait to see where it goes!
Amee Le is a Occupational Therapist (OT), meditation teacher, and art therapist practicing in the city of Toronto. She developed Mindful Art Workshop based on helping people with a brain injury through periods of high stress and anxiety.
This article was orginally posted on Amee’s blog: Mindful Art Workshop
It’s hard to imagine yoga and mindfulness instructor Krista Schilter doing anything half way. A year ago, BIST members had the opportunity to learn about Schilter’s unique approach to meditation as a four-time brain injury survivor. Now she found the time once again in her busy schedule (among other things, Schilter teaches yoga, mindfulness and skating) to share some meditative wisdom. And it worked: on a cold, dreary and all-round miserable January night, she made the room feel, better. Like bitter cold Monday nights in January are ok, something we can get through, if we just breathe.
Schilter lead the group through simple breathing excercises which she says have helped calm her persistent headaches and improve her sleeping. She says she uses meditation as a tool to help her be “the best version of herself” possible. She reminded us that though we are rarely mindful of it, breath is the one thing we all have in common as living beings, .
Schilter stressed that meditation is a practise. It’s about where you are at today, in this moment, in this body. She asked the room to make a commitment to practise one breathing exercise in the morning when we first wake up, or at night before we go to sleep. She asked us to think of meditation as something we do every day, a habit like brushing our teeth.
Schilter speaks from experience. She says when she gets “lazy” about her meditation, her headaches come back. She has, at times, felt resentful that these practices need to be a part of her life, that she has to wake up that much earlier every morning to do them. At the same time, she says, the benefits are enormous. It’s about mindfully accepting who the “after-ABI Krista” is, she said.
The first technique Schilter lead us through was alternate nostril breathing, which she says helps to re-wire neurotransmission and balance the hemispheres of the brain. You can find an example of alternate nostril breathing in the video below:
Another breathing exercise Schilter taught was Satali Pranayam. This practise can cool you when you are over-heated and Schilter says she also practises it whenever she feels a headache coming on, even if she’s out in public. To practise Satali Pranayam:
- breathe in through your mouth like you’re sucking a straw
- hold your breath
- exhale softly through your nose
Schilter says that being mindful is learning how to respond to stress as opposed to reacting to it. “That’s the work,” she told us. “To realize and notice what’s going on at a point in time and to make a decision. … It’s hard work to be mindful and focus on the now.”
It is hard work, but Schilter makes us think anything is possible. And who knows? If Schilter comes back next year, maybe she’ll get us levitating.
If you’d like to contact Krista Schilter for more information on breathing exercises, you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also look at her document on mindfulness and ABI here.
BIST’s next community meeting will be on Monday, February 23 from 6-8 p.m. (topic TBA) at the Northern District Library, 40 Orchard View Blvd, 2nd floor meeting room.
Imagine being at a BIST community meeting where everyone is quiet. You can hear the sound of your breath, and the inhales and exhales of the person sitting next to you. You hear noises in the hall, ambient sounds you haven’t paid attention to before. You notice the sensation of your legs on the chair and your feet on the floor.
Maybe you’re feeling more relaxed. Maybe you’re more stressed, annoyed with the exercise. Or maybe you feel nothing at all. But you notice. You are aware.
This is a guided meditation.
BIST’s community meeting in June, Keeping your cool in Turbulent Times: Strategies for Relaxation, was presented by Michele Meehan, a pyschotherapist and shamanic practioner, who also happens to be the former director of community facilitation at BIST. Talking about stress and what we can do about it, Michele facilitated discussions with BIST members about the following:
What are your stressors?
How do you know when you’re stressed?
Is stress always bad?
What is good stress?
How can we tell when there is ‘too much’ stress?
Michele shared that ‘good stress’ can be a motivator. A small amount of stress during a friendly sports game, for example, can help us strive to play our best.
We also talked about how our reactions to stress can put us in a loop. Critical self-talk or bad habits we fall into when we are stressed can be more stressful than what was inititally causing the stress (such as running late for an appointment, and then ‘beating ourselves up’ about it.)
Members discussed what happens to our bodies when we are stressed (such as neck tension or cramping) and we learned that noticing what’s happening in our bodies can be the first ‘clue’ that we are stressed out.
Michele shared her tip of ‘shaking out’ stress, which is, just as it sounds, physically shaking out your body. This is something you can do in the privacy of your own home, even hours after a stressful event, since it can take up to a week for your body to metabolize an adrenaline hit from extreme stress. Shaking out stress is a trick learned from animals. After a ‘flight or fright’ response, when an animal is safe, they shake.
Here are some other tips from Michele:
The 4-As of dealing with stress:
- Avoid stress – if a particular person is stressing you out, can you avoid them?
- Alter the situation – if the behaviour of a particular person is stressing you out (if, for example, they talk a lot) can you ask them to be more quiet?
- Adapt – if rush hour is stressful, and you can’t avoid your rush hour commute can you adapt it to make it more pleasant (for example, play music)
- Accept – some stress is un-avoidable. If you can accept that it is happening (for example, that you need to travel during rush hour, and you will most likely be stuck in traffic) you may find it less stressful. “Arguing with reality is a sure way to make you crazy,” Michele says.
- There are many ways to meditate. The trick is to find the practise that’s right for you.
- A 20-minute meditation can be as restorative as a two-hour nap.
- The brain does what it does, and if your mind starts to wander during a meditation, that’s ok.
- Having said that, we can train our brains to try and focus on the present as much as possible.
- You can meditate with your eyes open and focus on an image, a candle flame, a word, a chant or a mantra that’s meaningul to you.
- You can watch an example of a guided meditation below or find more examples here
- You can find examples of breathing exercises here
- You can find a list of mindfulness programs in Toronto here
- The NeuroNova Centre for Mindfulness specializes in mindfulness for people with chronic pain
Celebrate summer + BIST’s 10th anniversary!
July 28th, 6 – 8 p.m.
Dinner, karaoke and a performance by Cougar Bait