Four years after a car accident had upended her life, Robin Cohn was still trying to come to grips with the aftermath: partial paralysis, the lost ability to multitask, and aphasia, a cognitive disturbance in the formulation of language, making reading, writing, and speaking challenging. And then there was the panic, showing up when she was in public places, where there were lots of lights or sound. It was almost as if she couldn’t take a deep breath.
She went through various treatment programs, from physical therapy to cognitive retraining. It had become clear that her condition—contrast to the hopes of doctors—was going to be something she’d have to deal with for the rest of her life. There was progress, but it was slow, and not fast enough to reenter normal life.
Then one of her doctors recommended yoga to help foster strength, balance, and mental clarity, and to help her begin to process the changes that had come into her life. “I needed to slow down in order to deal with and accept what had happened,” Cohn, 58, says.
In 2000, she went to a class at the now-closed Kripalu Center in Albany, NY, near her home in Saratoga. “I distinctly remember the whole atmosphere as very peaceful,” she recalls. “I knew instantly I was in the right place.”
From that first yoga class, she was hooked. The yogic ideals resonated deeply. Some days she would follow along with the class as best she could, on others she took Savasana for the hour, soaking up the healing energy of the room.
Using visualization, she created a yoga practice that transcended the mat. If she couldn’t raise her arms over head, she would visualize it, creating a mental world where all movements are possible.
Off the mat she began integrating the lessons she was learning in class. When at a stoplight or grocery store, for example, would tune into her breath which helped her from feeling overwhelmed.
Since this time, Cohn has practiced an array of yoga styles, from Iyengar to Anusara to vinyasa flow, helping her gain strength, flexibility, and balance. “Before yoga, it felt like the world was tilted,” says Cohn. By finding a connection to her center, she slowly began to regain balance on and off the mat. Balancing poses, which at one time seemed impossible to attempt, let alone hold, has become a favorite part of her practice.
More than a decade later, she still deals with issues related to brain damage, including difficulties with memory, speech, reading, and decision-making, but the panic and exasperation have lessened. “I can breath again,” she says.
Cohn wanted to share what she had learned through yoga. While she had hoped and tried to become a certified yoga instructor, Cohn was unable to pass the written portion of the test due her cognitive difficulties. Refusing to be rebuffed from sharing her wisdom, she began volunteering for the New York Brain Injury Association, doing chair yoga with people dealing with mobility issues. As she had done, she taught them to use visualization as their ally when they couldn’t perform the physical movements. She also leads a support group for women with brain injury, helping them to connect their breath, bodies, and minds.
“I lead them in meditation and hopefully they leave feeling more empowered, understood, and validated,” says Cohn. “And when you have those things in your life, it helps you to move forward.”
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