SALT LAKE CITY— When Jennifer Mosher places her hands over her head and her foot at her knee in tree pose she is doing much more than yoga, she's learning to thrive after a traumatic brain injury that almost killed her.
Twenty years ago, on the way back to school at BYU from her home in Minnesota, she was involved in a one-car crash that left her in a coma for weeks.
"When we hit Nebraska, the car rolled five times — the length of a football field," Mosher said.
Everything changed. She spent months in the hospital.
"I had to relearn how to walk. I had to relearn how to eat. I had to relearn who people were. I didn't remember much of my past," she said. "I remember asking my brother, 'Why am I here? Why am I in the hospital?' I didn't remember anything."
Yoga, Jennifer says, is the vital link, helping her connect her brain with her body. The practice keeps her calm during the day to face challenges, and makes it easier to sleep at night so her injured brain can recover. Her yoga instructor, Denise Druce, who teaches at the University of Utah, marvels at her progress.
"I've also seen it really empower her and give her a great sense of confidence," Druce said. "The first time Jennifer got into an arm balance called 'crow pose' the entire class was celebrating with her. It was a pretty amazing thing."
Yoga is all about the mind-body connection. Mosher said breathing and meditation help her accept the limitations from her injury and love who she is today.
I had to relearn how to walk. I had to relearn how to eat. I had to relearn who people were. I didn't remember much of my past. I remember asking my brother, 'Why am I here? Why am I in the hospital?' I didn't remember anything.
"That's the big secret," Druce said. "It's not really the poses that work the magic; it's the breathing. The breathing is the ticket to the quiet mind."
There is no cure for TBIs. Doctors work to prevent a secondary injury caused by the damage from the first. Dr. Holly Ledyard works in the trauma unit at University Hospital.
"Rehabilitation from a brain injury can take months to years and is something a brain injury patient will likely always have to work on," Ledyard said.
It's a slow process that can be very frustrating, doctors say, and yoga can help ease the stress.
"It's the invisible injury because you look fine on the surface," Ledyard said. "But when it comes to doing small things like keeping your schedule or writing a check, those things can be met with a lot of frustration."
On an inhale, Mosher reaches her arms overhead and exhales as she folds her body forward and touches her toes. Taking care of her brain, she said, means practicing yoga. It's an exercise that helps her take each day and each obstacle as it comes.
"Living with a brain injury is the challenge I've been given," Mosher said. "I am who I am, and I'm happy with that person."
Mosher has written a book called "The Smile on My Forehead," available at www.jennifermosher.com. Druce is teaching a free yoga class to promote brain health Sunday, March 29 at 10:30 a.m. at Lululemon Athletic, 500 South 700 East, in Salt Lake City.