Yoga and Traumatic Brain Injury

In honor of Brain Injury Awareness month, former pro snowboarder Kevin Pearce talks about how key the practice is to his ongoing brain injury recovery.
On December 31, 2009, less than two months before the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, snowboarder Kevin Pearce crashed his head into an icy half pipe in Park City, Utah.

The traumatic brain injury (TBI) brought on a 6-day coma, memory loss, mood swings, and vision problems, but Pearce’s discovery of yoga has helped give him new eyes. Quite literally.

Pearce’s vision problems required glasses all the time, but two months ago, Pearce attended a life-changing yoga class near his home in Carlsbad, California. He drove to the class, wearing his glasses, but found afterward as he drove home, he didn’t need to them for the first time in five years.

“In no way are my eyes 100 percent better, but it made that big of a difference that I don’t have to wear glasses anymore,” says Pearce, whose story is captured in the 2013 documentary “The Crash Reel.” Since then, Pearce has become a regular, practicing yoga and meditation at least once a day when he’s home and at least two or three times a week when traveling.

Quiet the Mind, Heal the Brain

How could one yoga class have such powerful effects? Former representative Gabrielle Giffords has also been quoted saying yoga is a key part of her therapy recovering from that 2011 gunshot wound to the head. Kim Greene, an injury prevention specialist at the Vail Valley Medical Center in Colorado, isn’t surprised. Greene’s son, Jeremy, suffered a severe TBI in a 1999 car accident when he was 16 years old, and she says that’s when both she and her son found yoga and meditation.

“The practices help you use your brain in a different way to calm it down and to focus,”Greene said. “I think that’s for all of us, but when you have a TBI, your brain is going in 100 different directions at one time, and the yoga and meditation helps to slow it down and bring a calmness.”

Yoga and Meditation Program for Brain Injury Survivors

“Finding yoga and that ability to be exercising and be moving, but at the same time be meditating and be calm and be so relaxed and so mellow, has been so helpful and healing for me in the most amazing way,”Pearce said. “It has changed my life in a way that I could have never imagined, so I want to share what I have found with the rest of the world.”

The impact was so real for him that he enlisted his brother Adam and started The LoveYourBrain Foundation in 2014. In honor of March, Brain Injury Awareness Month, the new nonprofit is leading a monthlong yoga and meditation fundraising campaign. Their aim is to partner with at least one studio in every state to offer a donation-based class. All of the money raised will help grow LoveYourBrain’s flagship yoga program, supporting affordable yoga and meditation classes tailored to the needs of traumatic brain injury survivors.

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