When she was 14, Janna Leyde’s father got into a near-fatal car accident that changed her family’s life. The accident resulted in traumatic brain injury that affected her father physically and emotionally. What followed were years atypical of the average American family life, defined by her father’s trauma and fraught with the challenges of recovery.

“What I realized looking back, was that my dad really didn’t realize how much the trauma had changed him and limited him,” shares Leyde. “I wanted to help him change that.”

And she did—through yoga.

Leyde, a trained yoga instructor, discovered how yoga can radically transform a person—witnessing the benefits in her own life as she practiced. “I coped better, I was in a better place emotionally and mentally.”

She asked her father if she could teach him. After receiving skeptical approval from her father’s physicians—and her father’s own uncertainty—she began to practice yoga with him.

“The first time we did it was a surprise to my dad,” shares Leyde. “He was suddenly aware of his body.

“What I’ve learned is that when you go through trauma, your body and brain disconnect and a lot of times when people have brain injury or PTSD, they still think of themselves as the person they were before the injury,” says Leyde. “Yoga puts the connection back together.

“Over time with that practice, just getting on his mat, breathing, moving, he was physically getting in better shape. At the same time, he was also developing a better attention span, being less impulsive, more compassionate.

“Through practice, my father had a better understanding of his injury and this helped him so much. These basic poses were helping him like nothing else can.”

In 2013, Leyde published He Never Liked Cake, a book that chronicles her father’s injury, how it affected their lives and his journey to recovery.

The experience pushed Leyde to work with others who suffer from PTSD and TBI—and her continuing work with veterans.

Last year, Leyde piloted a program with the Wounded Warrior Project—an organization that has supported over 75,000 injured veterans who have served since September 11, 2011—that encourages veterans to practice yoga for eight weeks. Those who attended experienced change that they haven’t been able to achieve with traditional approaches.

At one of Leyde’s yoga classes focused on healing brain injuries. Photo courtesy of Janna Leyde.
At one of Leyde’s yoga classes focused on healing brain injuries. Photo courtesy of Janna Leyde.

“The participants shared different stories,” says Leyde. “They sleep better, they feel better and some have said they don’t need the medications they have been taking. They have different experiences but all of them have to do with enhancing their quality of life. Which is impactful.”

Emerging research shows scientific support that alternative therapies such as yoga provide significant health benefits for patients with PTSD and those with brain injuries. The Veterans Health Administration is beginning to implement more programs that embrace alternative approaches.

Next month, Leyde is holding multiple classes focused on encouraging veterans to practice yoga. On November 11th, Veteran’s Day, Leyde will hold a special class for veterans at The Cloak Room in East Liberty, and at Bend Yoga (a studio Leyde manages) veterans will be able to take classes for $7 a class for the entire week.

Leyde’s most recent book, Move Feel Think, is an illustrated guidebook of 20 yoga poses designed for those who suffer from PTSD and brain injuries. Both of Leyde’s books are available on Amazon.

Leah Lizarondo

Leah Lizarondo is a food advocate, writer and speaker. She is also the co-founder of 412 Food Rescue, an organization that seeks to eliminate food waste to make an impact on hunger and the environment....