All posts by Jillian Hunsanger

Focusing On Your Breath

Since it is National Yoga Month we wanted to take a moment and point out another fellow yogi working within the Veteran community, as she herself is a Veteran. While looking through Sarah’s website, I noticed this blog post that I wanted to share.

In this post Sarah goes on to explain how important it is to tune into your breath. I think this is an important issue, not only in yoga class, but also in any situation. Most people go throughout their daily experiences not even noticing their breath – and often have to get clenbuterol online when their breathing issues arise not knowing resetting your breathing via yoga can be just as effective.

Sarah explains that “But overall, breath can be more than just something that keeps our gears turning.  Breath can be the oil on those gears, the metaphorical love that keeps the flame burning, our vitality.  In life, the “breath” represents what is the most important to us.  The breath, literally, is our life force and something we cannot live without.  Yet 99% of the time, we breathe mindlessly, effectively living mindlessly.”

 It is important to keep this in mind as we move throughout our day, not only reserving it for our yoga class. You can find Sarah over at her website or on her facebook!

Las Vegas MOVE Demo

Over the past month I’ve had the chance to teach two yoga demos for Southern Nevada VA’s MOVE program. Going into these demos, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. I had been given a “run-down” about the usual participants, that typically the population was over 50 years old, 300 lbs+ and had limited mobility. It was a different population than my normal participants, but I was excited to be teaching within the VA and even more excited to be teaching these Veterans wellness skills to improve their health!

I was incredibly nervous going into the first session. However as the participants began to make their way into class, making small talk and asking about the session, I was anxious to get started! The actual group was quite a bit different than I was expecting. I had participants ranging from approximately 30 years old to 75 or 80, with an assortment of health issues. Some looked relatively healthy, some had physical injuries, some were there just for weight loss assistance, and some clearly had a number of health problems. Prior to the class I had assumed it would be mostly females that showed up, since the participants have their choice of which classes to attend and the “stigma” of yoga is that it is mostly for women and as much as I would put that assumption to rest, that was subject to the individuals who actually showed up. Which to my complete surprise was only 1 female and about 12 or 13 males.

The sessions were scheduled to be 45 minutes and I had planned the first 20 or so for “yoga and breathing 101” where I tried to squash some of the yoga myths while introducing the participants to the many different physiological and psychological benefits of yoga. From here I showed the participants chair-based movements they could do at home, this provided options for individuals who were limited mobility and for those who were relatively healthy but new to yoga movements. I introduced them to some simple but beneficial breathing techniques and then continued on to show some out-of-chair movements where chairs or counters could be used for balance assistance. I also gave a run down of props (using the FANTASTIC supplies that have been donated, thanks to some amazing individuals!) and then taught some more traditional beginners movements that could be built off of the chair based movements for the more able participants.

Overall, the group was incredibly receptive and open to the information. Many individuals wanted more information afterwards and I provided a packet with some resources they could utilize as well as a few sample sequences (both chair based and traditional).

Afterwards one of the VA volunteers approached me and informed me that I had received a great turnout, which was rare for new programs and that I had some participants who came out that hadn’t been attending the sessions in quite some time. One participants specifically who had asked quite a few questions during the session and was very receptive to the information, was recently diagnosed with cancer and hadn’t been attending any sessions since the diagnosis. I felt so honored/grateful/amazed that this individual who must have been going through so much, made time to come into my demo. All the hurdles and stress that come into working within a VA disappear when you have moments of gratitude such as that one.


Aprons in Action…Every Vote Counts!

Back a few months ago, we posted about a nonprofit organization, Stiggy’s Dogs, which is very close to Jillian’s heart. Please take a moment to check out that posting if you haven’t already.

This month Stiggy’s Dogs is up for a $25,000 grant from The Home Depot Foundation’s Aprons in Action program. The grant would allow Stiggy’s Dogs to build temporary housing for veterans who are in training with their psychiatric service dog. The temporary housing units supply a controlled and safe environment for the training and bonding process.  These “bunkhouses” will allow the veterans and dogs in training to work on their skills and tasks in order to become fully deployed psychiatric service dogs and handlers while simulating the environment each veteran has in his or her own home for a true training experience.

Stiggy’s Dogs is up against three other groups and the contest ends on July 31st, 2012. They are currently in the lead with 2259 votes and it would be fantastic to keep it that way!

How you can help:

By logging on to Facebook and going to the Home Depot Foundations page. From here you select the Aprons In Action tab where you can vote once a day.

Please take the time at vote if you can. At least once, or if you remember to vote once a day that would also help out tremendously. Stiggy’s Dogs is a great organization that really deserves this grant to help them continue to help Veterans recover from the cost of war. It only takes a few minutes and every vote counts!

Giving Back

Here at War Retreat we work with many other organizations which support Veterans. One of this fantastic organizations is Semper Fidelis Health and Wellness, which has teamed up with another super awesome organization, the Veterans Yoga Project, to fund a 6 day retreat for Veterans. But as we know, funding a retreat is not always the easiest task.

100% of the money that is raised will go to funding tuition for the Veterans to participate in the 6 day retreat at Feathered Pipe Ranch.


Please consider taking a moment and checking out Semper Fidelis Health and Wellness and looking at the donation site and if it within your ability, please feel free to donate to the cause. It will help these groups be able to do great things, supporting these Veterans who have given so much.

So You Want To Teach At The VA?

Recently, I’ve been receiving questions about how to start a class at a VA hospital. I wish my answer was as simple as, “Well here is how you do it…”, but it’s nowhere near that simple.

For those of you trying to set up a class at your local VA,  I have once piece of advice: just keep trying. It takes time.

Don’t just make phone calls. Make sure you’re physically going to VA to talk to people, as well as trying to make contacts through social networking. Sooner or later, you’ll meet someone who supports you and will work with you to get something going.

I know most people want to head straight to the PTSD or Mental Health clinic, but that shouldn’t be your only stop. One of the first times I went into the VA in Las Vegas, the Occupational Therapy team was interested in talking with me.

Also, check into your local Vet Centers. They typically offer more activities and it may be easier to attach to a program that is already functioning. At one of the Vet Centers here they have a program called “MOVE” for overweight and inactive Veterans, which I will be presenting a yoga program to over the summer. So try to think outside the box and you may find something that way.

It can get frustrating when you feel as if you are talking to so many different people, who seem interested, but it never goes any further. But trust me, if you keep at it and this work really becomes something that you are passionate about, then sooner or later it will work out.

Stiggy’s Dogs

It isn’t always about yoga here at War Retreat. Sometimes we like to talk about other groups that support the military or PTSD in other ways. Today I would like to introduce you all to Stiggy’s Dogs.

Stiggy’s Dogs is a non-profit, which offers Psychiatric Service Dogs (which are former shelter dogs that they train specifically for each Veteran…how cool, right!) to Veterans dealing with PTSD and TBI.

Jennifer Petre is the founder of Stiggy’s Dogs, which she began in memory of her nephew HM3 Ben Castiglione, who gave his life while taking care of “his Marine” as a Corpsman in Southern Afghanistan in September 2009.  I became aware of Stiggy’s Dogs because I went to high school with Ben back in Michigan.

This program not only helps Veterans but it also helps shelter dogs at the same time. The dogs are taught tasks such as reminding the Veteran to take their medicine, waking them up from a nightmare or when an alarm clock is ringing, to directing them through a crowd. The best part is the dogs are free to the Veterans. Stiggy’s Dogs supplies all of the training as well as the supplies for the dogs (crates, bedding, toys, leashes, and they are all up to date on immunizations).

So please, check out Stiggy’s Dogs on their website, on Facebook or Twitter and make sure to pass them on to anyone you think might be interested.


Cultural Sensitivity: Do’s and Don’ts

After an encounter on base at Nellis last night and after the mention of the Warriors at Ease training on our Facebook page, I thought this was a good time to mention cultural sensitivity.

Unless you were (or are!) in the military or you have some sort of military understanding and background, it can be overwhelming going into a military setting. There are many more rules to abide by on base than off base. For example, when I first moved to 29 Palms I ran to the Exchange one afternoon to grab something for lunch. As I was walking in I was stopped by a female Marine who proceeded to tell me I couldn’t go in wearing flip-flops. What? I couldn’t wear flip-flops? Since then the rules have changed, but it was my first taste of the on base experience.

The moral of this story is to show you that teaching on base is not as simple as getting the job and teaching the classes. You need to educate yourself on the population that you are working with. You need to be aware of the rules and regulations that change once you get on base.

The reason I mentioned the Warriors at Ease training was because cultural sensitivity and the military environment are topics that are greatly covered in the workshops. It can be very helpful for those who are completely new to the experience and it can be a refresher for those who have had these experiences before.

I thought this would be an informative post after an experience I had last night as I was heading to teach yoga on base at Nellis. The end of the duty day on base is typically marked by a ceremony, where the flag is lowered and “Retreat” is played. All activity, even if you are driving, on base stops for those few minutes and then proceeds once the song completes.

As “Retreat” began, I slowed and stopped, just beginning to exit a stop sign. Although all the other cars around were doing the same thing, one car pulls up (quicky) behind me and lies on their horn. I pause for a second, hoping she will realize everyone is clearly stopped. But she does not, honks again,then manages to speed off around me.

Normally I would just shake my head and try not to let it bother me. But this ceremony is a tradition in which to honor the U.S. Flag, explained in detail in this article. Is getting to your destination .3 seconds earlier really that much more important than stopping to partake in something that is such an important part of military tradition? I don’t think so.

So please, those of you who are interested in working with the military community. Invest in educating yourself about the history, traditions and rules and regulations of being on base. Please :)

For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, here is a video from YouTube of the end of the duty day ceremony.

Wait…Yoga Helps To De-Stress?

While I have been working on getting set up with the Las Vegas (Southern Nevada) VA, I have been keeping my eye on articles pointing out programs for Vets both in and out of hospitals and bases. Yesterday I came across this article from the Houston Chronicle, about Army Vet Weldon Holder and his experience with yoga.

One of the most stand-out statement to me was: “He says the relaxation and breathing techniques he’s learned help him overcome insomnia and lessen the headaches he gets from a traumatic brain injury he suffered in Iraq.”

Photo: James Nielsen / © 2011 Houston Chronicle

That is the most satisfying part of doing this work. When you have someone say how much better they feel after class, that provides an indescribable feeling of joy when you know you were able to help someone feel better.

So please, check out the article. And always keep on the lookout for more articles like these, they are appearing more and more frequently. Which is definitely a good thing :)

Great Article and a Study (in case you missed it on our Facebook page)

If you follow War Retreat on Facebook or Twitter (@warretreat) you may have seen some of the many articles or research studies floating around this week. If you haven’t, then you are able to find them here! We have posted the links to some articles and studies that we find particularly important, so please check them out when you get a chance.

First up is an article from Psychology Today by Alex Korb, PhD. He discusses all the changes that can take place in your brain from stress and how yoga can help improve the negative symptoms. I thought this article was great, providing a large amount of detail on how yoga positively impacts the negative changes that can happen when you are under too much stress.

Next up is a research study published in The American Journal of Occupational Therapy titled “Effects of Sensory-Enhanced Yoga on Symptoms of Combat Stress in Deployed Military Personnel”. This is an important study, showing how the yoga was effective in improving the quality of life factors and mental health factors measured. As a psychology major I am very aware how challenging research studies can be to read if you are not used to them, but please check it out! :)

Stay tuned for updates from Kanani’s trip to the West 2012 conference!

Where is Jillian?

Sometimes, when it comes to blogging, I feel like that creepy family member that only makes random appearances and no one really ever knows what they are up to. So I figured I would give you all an update on why I’m not around all the time and give those of you who are looking for trainings, something to look forward to!

Part of my sporadic appearances is due to finishing my last few semesters of my undergrad and putting the finishing touches on my applications for graduate school in the fall (hopefully), so please bear with me! :) I am also still working with my regular clients at the private fitness facility as well as working with the Southern Nevada VA to help them get a yoga program started up!

But the most interesting part is this: back over the summer after finishing my trainings for my 200HR RYT, I decided I wanted to continue working with YogaFit in some way. They had just started putting the trainings together for a Yoga Alliance approved 300 hour Yoga Therapy program. After talking with some of the YogaFit Master Trainers it was decided that we would put together Yoga for Stress Management in relation to mental health, where I am writing the part on PTSD.

When I started my 200HR RYT with YogaFit I got two types of feedback. That YogaFit was great and also that YogaFit was not “real yoga”. But honestly when I did my training at Kripalu for Trauma-Sensitive Yoga, I felt like my YogaFit background helped me immensely which is why I felt so passionate about continuing my work with them.

Another benefit of YogaFit is they try to make the trainings as accessible as possible. The training I am working on will make its debut at YogaFit’s Mind Body Fitness Conference in Minneapolis, MN in June. That is the only one scheduled so far, but there are 5 conferences’ scheduled after that one through the end of 2012, so there will likely be more. There is also the chance that the training can be held on its own outside of the conferences, which is based on requests to hold the trainings.

So please, if you are interested, look into it!

I also just wanted to take a second and thank everyone who reads WarRetreat and passes it along to others, Kanani and I appreciate it so much!