Teach Believe Inspire Award – Janna Leyde

outdoor yoga

Janna Leyde has been practicing yoga since her early teenage years. She is also a published writer and clearly someone who believes in the close connection between spiritual health and the health of one’s body.

Growing up as the daughter of someone with a traumatic brain injury has shaped her life in many ways. Her first book, a memoir titled He Never Liked Cake, is about her life and experiences with her father, who suffered a traumatic brain injury during the summer before she entered ninth grade.

Something Important to Say

Being a professional yogi and writer, Janna Leyde is a woman who is full of life and energy, along with the desire to use her time to make a positive impact on people’s lives. Thinking about yoga, one thinks about quietness and stillness along with a flowing and graceful body and a specific focus on the breath.

But Leyde’s life has also been full of words. Her mother used to say when she was young that Janna needed to find a profession where she “uses her mouth.” This was in reference to the fact that Leyde was quite a talker as a little girl. She talked a lot and as she became an adult, people realized she clearly had something to say.

Her love of yoga also started at a young age. When Leyde was 13, she began practicing her first pose: headstand, or sirsasana. As she spent the entire subsequent winter practicing the headstand, the seeds were sown for a future of success through hard work and practice.

Seeds of Discipline

Leyde asked her grandmother to buy her a yoga book and she began to learn about a discipline that would stay with her for many years. Although after that winter she took a break from yoga until college, when she returned to yoga to fulfill a physical education requirement she began to get serious.

Yoga became a way for Leyde to find balance in her life. In graduate school she began practicing yoga for the physical benefits, but like many others, she started to realize the benefits extended far beyond the physical realm and into her spiritual being. More than just a physical exercise or a relaxing ritual, yoga was an emotionally healing exercise for her.

The fulfillment Leyde received from yoga made her realize she was a yogi and would stay one for the rest of her life.

Tragedy Strikes

driveway yoga

Janna and her father doing “Driveway Yoga.” Photo credit: Erika Beras, WESA

In 1996, a tragic car accident would change Leyde’s life forever. Her father John survived a car wreck in which he sustained a severe traumatic brain injury caused by the impact of his head hitting the driver’s head.

The brain injury caused Leyde’s father to lose much of his long-term memory as well as change his personality and behavior. Before the injury, her father was a laid-back dad with a love for skiing and the outdoors, a photographer and a music lover. Afterward, he became uncoordinated and impulsive, struggled with addiction, and was unable to hold a job.

It is not uncommon for serious brain injuries to change the personality and behavior of the person who sustains the injury. But the dramatic reversal of Leyde’s father’s personality was as traumatic for her family’s emotional health as it was for her father’s physical health. Leyde’s family, including her mother Claudia, was understandably affected by the terrible accident and the resulting changes in John.

Eventually, Leyde wrote a memoir chronicling her life during this time and the subsequent relationship she was forced to have with her father after the accident.

Longing to Communicate

On a trip to Spain in college, Leyde began to consider the possibility of becoming a writer. As she surrounded herself with Spanish magazines in an attempt to become a fluent Spanish speaker, she became increasingly aware of her longing to communicate. She wanted to communicate stories, ideas and information. The idea of using her words to communicate to people and inspire them in a meaningful way became her new goal.

Support from her friends, family and New York University helped her to get closer to achieving the goal of becoming a writer.

Today, along with teaching yoga, Janna has a successful freelance writing career. He Never Liked Cake, her memoir about her father’s brain injury was published in 2013 and received very positive reviews.

Using Tragedy for Good

When faced with a severe injury to a friend or loved one, especially one in which there is trauma to the brain causing a change in personality, we must process the new reality in order move on. Leyde has done just that and has used the experience of writing a memoir based on her father to understand and cope with her life. Obviously, yoga and writing are a large part of her ability to find peace in her life and to deal with the severe brain injury sustained by her father.

As of November 2014, Leyde’s second book, entitled Move Feel Think: Yoga for Brain Injury, PTSD, and Other Forms of Trauma, was released. With her first-hand experience dealing with the brain injury and subsequent changes to her father, along with her love of yoga and its benefits, the new book sheds light on the health and spiritual benefits yoga could possibly have for someone with a brain injury. As the scientific community continues to learn about the benefits of practicing yoga, it seems Leyde is at the forefront of a potential new therapy for patients who have suffered traumatic brain injury.

We at the Brain Injury Law Center are very pleased to honor Janna Leyde with our Teach Believe Inspire Award, and to support the hundreds of people like her who use their talents and give of their time to help loved ones.

If you need help in a case of traumatic brain injury, call the Brain Injury Law Center or fill out the contact form on this page.

One thought on “Teach Believe Inspire Award – Janna Leyde

  1. Landon Harlan

    A great story of seeing past traditional therapies. And, of course, yoga is once again proved to be a great healer. Thanks!

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