All posts by Jillian Hunsanger

What We Can With What We Have

During this years War Retreat in Cambridge we not only introduced the participants to yoga, we brought in Liên Zayhowski who did acupuncture with the participants. Even I participated, although I have a huge fear of needles, and was pleasantly surprised.

In an article posted in the Air Force Medical Service News, the 386th Expeditionary Medical Group discussed the benefits of acupuncture and its ability to help manage stress-as well as many other physical issues.

Acupuncture, like yoga, may be a completely new idea to you. But it never hurts to try something new.  Seeing the incorporation of alternative and complimentary medicine such as yoga and acupuncture is a great step in the right direction.

But there is still progress that needs to be made, as only a handful of VA hospitals and military bases have fully developed yoga programs. Even working with big city VA’s, such as the one here in Las Vegas, where there is a yoga class here and there but no program where there should be one.

I know we say this quite a bit, but to all those yoga teachers that want to work in a VA; don’t limit your focus there. Look outside the box. Look at the studios close to bases and close to VA’s and try to set up something there. Volunteer at the outpatient clinics first and then start talking about yoga to the workers, spreading the word that way. Or even if you are a yoga teacher who is a spouse or friend to some Veterans, teach at home! I’m not saying run a business out of your house, but I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve taught to my boyfriend and his Marines in our living room.

 Just do what you can with what you have.

Taking Some “You Time”

During many yoga teacher trainings, the topic of seva is often covered in great detail. For my RYT, YogaFit requires us to complete at least 8 hours of community service yoga, bringing our new teaching skills to groups of individuals who otherwise may not be able to have a yoga experience.

But many of us are cramming in working a “regular job” with teaching, with family and friends and LIFE. Last night while sitting on the deck after work I finally realized I was not in Michigan anymore. I have been living in Las Vegas since September and I had yet to take a minute to myself to realize everything that had been going on. Since getting here I have been working non-stop, while going to school full time, trying to set up a Trauma-Sensitive yoga program at Nellis Air Force base and at the VA hospital here. Fitting in time for seva, is few and far between and I know I’m not the only person who feels this way.

Sometimes it is alright to just say “no”. You don’t have to volunteer for everything that comes your way. Sometimes it is more important to take a day off for yourself, just to chill out and breathe instead of working for 11 hours and then going home to do more work. It is perfectly fine (and actually a great thing in the long run) when you realize it is important to take time for yourself. It is hard to not feel like you are letting others down when you say “no”, but honestly, what good will you be to anyone when you are overworked and overstressed? Exactly :)

 Your Assignment (for veterans, active duty or families), due by January 1: So I have a homework assignment for everyone who reads this entry. Tonight just take 10 minutes for yourself. Set a timer and go read, take a bath, or just bundle up and go sit outside and watch the sunset. In your own way, take a break, forget about anything you had going on before the “you time” and set aside anything you have to do after it. Think of it as seva for yourself.

The first five commenters either on our Facebook Page or this blog, will receive their choice of Tibetan Prayer Flag from the Tibetan Nuns Project or a copy of The Military Wives Cookbook by Carolyn Quick Tillery (we have three of the cookbooks). Assignment & comment must be posted by January 1.

More From Path Of The Warrior

Earlier in the week we posted a Press Release for an event in San Francisco from Honoring the Path of the Warrior, a program that assists post 9/11 and Persian Gulf veterans in making a positive transition from military to civilian life. Here is a link to some of the ways that you can support them!
Here is a link to the previous posting.
Please consider supporting this very important work!  Make a tax-deductible contribution through our fiscal sponsor, San Francisco Zen Center.  To donate online, please go to:   

You can also join our mailing list for event notices and news about us here:

In San Francisco: New Year’s Event With Honoring The Path Of The Warrior


Fierce Intention In The New Year
Coming Together For A Day Of Meditation,
Mindfulness, Qi Gong and Writing 

Saturday, January 7th, 9am to 5pm

Free, Lunch Included. Need A Ride? Let Them Know.

Non denominational, open to Persian Gulf vets or who have served since 2001.

Registration info is below.
Mindfulness Care Center, 42 Gough Street, San Francisco, CA 94103

Click to be taken to Honoring The Path website

Turning from the old and the dark  – it takes fierce intention to stay with building a new life.

Join with the support of other veterans in this new year retreat to fiercely set goals about how you want to live.   We will spend the day together igniting this intention and finding the way forward.  The day will include:

    • An introduction to Traditional Chinese Internal Martial Arts
  •     Sensory Awareness and meditation  to cultivate clarity and steadfastness.
  • Writing and journaling as tools for exploration and finding what lies ahead.

Scott Philips, our guest instructor for the Martial Arts, will be teaching us to:  “Cultivate Emptiness in Motion” – an introduction to Traditional Chinese Internal Martial Arts, as meditation, healing, and the expression of one’s true nature.
Roger Housdon, our guest instructor for the wrting portion, says: “I teach soul memoir. Soul memoir is where your outer life meets your inner world. It uses the raw material of your life story to reveal the deeper intelligence of your inner journey. Through a variety of exercises,you are encouraged to reach down into the events of your life and find the deeper layers of wisdom and healing that may lie within them.”

“When I heard about the mindfulness/ meditation event, I was enthusiastic about getting together with other veterans. I was apprehensive about being in a group, but I felt instantly at home.” - Mike Smith, US Army, OIF Vet


Honoring the Path of the Warrior is a program that assists post 9/11 and Persian Gulf veterans in making a positive transition from military to civilian life. We provide a pathway of meditation and mindfulness that welcomes, honors, and integrates their service and leadership.

Our programs combine nature and engaging physical activities; meditation, Sensory Awareness and mindfulness practices. The intent is to provide Veterans with connection, community and tools that support them in using their strengths and experiences to find a meaningful and productive path in civilian life.  Mindfulness-based interventions have proven to be successful at transforming stress, anxiety and trauma in a number of diverse populations and are being used within the VA system for returning veterans as well as deployed soldiers.

HPW is a San-Francisco-based non-profit organization under the fiscal sponsorship of the San Francisco Zen Center.

PLEASE REGISTER!  Give Army Veteran Dyan Ferguson a call at 415-310-7075.

Please consider supporting this very important work!  Make a tax-deductible contribution through our fiscal sponsor, San Francisco Zen Center.  To donate online, please go to:

You can also join our mailing list for event notices and news about us here:

A Marine’s First Class, In His Own Words

I thought after giving my perspective of Matt’s first yoga class that I should get him to tell his thoughts on the experience. From there it turned into a mini-interview about the experience, so here is Matt’s take on his first ever yoga class.    -Jillian

What assumptions did you have about yoga before coming to class?

    That it was going to be:

  • Lame
  • Feeling like everyone would be watching me
  • Wondering what I was doing there being a guy and all. I’m not a 20-something girl who keeps up with the trends, so why would I be there?
Matt, on right, with friends going to the Marine Corps Birthday Ball, Las Vegas

What made you decide to come to a class?

Basically, Jill harassed me into it. At first it was just to get her to stop asking me, but once the anxiety of being in a group passed and I started listening to her and following what she was doing I noticed the hyper-vigilance that I normally have wasn’t there for once.

 Now really, how was it?

Once I got into the groove of things and got over the initial worry of being watched, I started enjoying it. I was actually listening to what Jill was telling me to do with the movements and the breathing. I would definitely go back, it beats drinking to fall asleep 6 nights out of the week. It also gave me a sense of belonging, since most of my friends are scattered across the country.

 Was there anything particularly beneficial about the class that you noticed?

I slept better that night, sleeping the whole night without waking up where normally I wake up 4-5 times a night. I also normally sleep with my pistol next to the bed and I remember this night I didn’t feel the need to have it there.

 What would you say to anyone who was on the fence about taking a class? Specifically the military guys who are considering it?

Just to stop being a hard-ass and give it a shot, it is cheaper and much more effective than drinking every night or any of the other alternative options. It’s as simple as that, give it a shot. 

Matt Shapiola is a USMC Veteran who served in OIF/OEF with two deployments, one to Iraq in 2008 and one to Afghanistan in 2010.  Matt currently resides in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Sunday (and Monday) Life Advice: Stay True

“We have never stayed home long enough to experience the truth about ourselves  –Erich Schiffmann

The idea of staying true to yourself and your beliefs is a topic that has been on my mind a ton lately. When life gets busy, or when things seem to be overwhelming, the temptation is to  cut corners. Sometimes we will even waver on our beliefs because it seems our lives will be easier to manage. It’s easy to lose yourself along the way, and honestly, the compromises sometimes are necessary in the short run. Working longer hours to make more money, or staying in a job you aren’t really passionate about can make events pass by in a blur. The struggle is to always remember who you are and what’s essential to your life.

My advice:  find what you love and do it. That is why I’m pursuing working with veterans and service members with PTSD and TBI and teaching them yoga. I love it, even though it can be difficult, believe me. Lately, though, I’ve found myself making more time for less important things that don’t interest me as much. As a result, I’ve lost precious time to do things that are important to me. But I think it takes moments like that to make you re-affirm with yourself what is really important. Kanani, Dave and I all came into this line of work with different backgrounds and different reasons behind our choice. However, we share the same love to help others through reconnecting with their breath and bodies –our passion is what makes the difference.

Choosing something you love and doing it also relates to some of our readers who might be afraid to try yoga because it goes against what they do/believe/think (like the tough Marine who thinks he won’t be strong anymore if he tries it). We aren’t asking you to give up who you are, but to be open to giving yoga –and alternative methods of healing a try. It is usually the things you least expect in life that surprise you the most.

So this Sunday I encourage you to take some time and look at what you are doing and ask yourself “am I doing what is right for me?” who knows the answer may just surprise you.

The First Class

“Hypothetically speaking, if I came to one of your classes do I have to buy those stupid yoga pants?”

Asked my boyfriend the other day when I got home from work. After a slight giggle (and a ton of internal excitement) I informed him that, no, he would be just fine in sweatpants or gym shorts.

As the evening went on I asked if he was actually serious about coming to one of my yoga classes. You see my boyfriend just recently finished his 4 years of active service in the Marine Corps, with one deployment to Iraq followed up by one to Afghanistan. If you found this website it probably isn’t a secret to you the changes that can follow a deployment. Falling asleep can be a big issue, driving on the highway can be stressful, and there is usually an overwhelming need to have a firearm within close range.

Being the girlfriend who teaches yoga for this type of thing I would casually throw in a “why don’t you come to a class” or a “hey, try this yoga DVD with me”.  But no matter how many times I asked, I always got the “ehh, not today” or the “yoga is silly” response. So that is why I was shocked when he brought it up on his own and I was not about to pass it up.

Lucky for him I was teaching a class the next day at Nellis AFB. I was subbing for another instructor so I had a pretty slow, basic class planned but reassured him anyways that it wouldn’t be as terrible as I’m sure he was thinking it would have been.  The hour came and went and I couldn’t wait for the ride home to hear what he thought of his first yoga class ever (while inside I was hoping for the best but preparing for the worst).

“So what did you think?” I asked about .002 seconds after getting in my car

“It was alright”

“Just alright? That’s it?” He knew it was driving me crazy

“Fine, I liked it”

As a yoga teacher hearing your class was good always gives you that warm fuzzy feeling. Hearing it from a Veteran, who you know will benefit from the class even more, makes you feel even better. But hearing it from someone you love who you know you helped, if even just a little bit, reinforced all the reasons why I do this work in the first place.

While watching him during the class it was pretty obvious that for that hour, for the first time in a while, the deployments were not the first thing on his mind.

And that is really all that matters.

My Yoga Space: Down Dog Time…

The good thing about a yoga mat is it isn’t hard to move. My yoga space is on a consistent rotation between the living room, the extra room and the bedroom depending on the day. It also depends on where I feel like I’ll be able to successfully practice without my dog thinking its puppy play time.

I don’t think it really matters where you “space” is, all that matters is that you have one. It doesn’t even need to be a space for yoga essentially, it just needs to be a place you can go where you can take some time for yourself and begin to come back to yourself. Putting everything that is going on around you on hold for a small amount of time and just being present.

My Yoga Space is a weekly feature on the WarRetreat blog. If you have a home yoga space, and you are actively committed to working with veterans, active duty and the war community, send your picture along with a blurb to WarRetreat at gmail dot com.

It’s What I Do

Jillian Hunsanger

Kanani’s post See The Person First, really hit home for me. Along with “what is Trauma-Sensitive yoga?” the second most common question I get is usually: “Why are you doing this work, since you weren’t in the military and you “don’t know what it’s like?”

That’s true.

There are a ton of things I will never see the way that a Veteran or a service member sees them.

But I have seen individuals I care about deeply return home from deployments, unable to re-adjust back to civilian life. I have seen them have flashbacks during movies, struggle to get sleep at night, and have listened to countless stories about what they have been through overseas.

That is why I do what I do.  Because while I will never have the first hand experience that they had, I have seen what it is like to manage the aftermath. I feel like they have given up so much for me that it is important to advocate for and support them.

Choosing to work with those who have experienced trauma is not an easy task. It is not for the yoga teachers that are looking for a glamorous, highly paying, and recognition-filled job. It is for those who love and want to help military members. That is the one piece of advice I always give to people who think they want to work with Veterans; this isn’t about you. You need to be in it for them.

The love you have to have for them needs to be the same love they have for each other.

“I’d actually throw myself on the hand grenade for them. Because I actually love my brothers, I mean, it’s a brotherhood. Being able to save their life so they can live, I think is rewarding. Any of them would do it for me.” – Miguel Cortez from  the book “WAR” by Sebastian Junger

Trauma Sensitive…What?

What is trauma-sensitive?

You can’t even imagine how many times I get asked that question when explaining what I do.  Ever since I moved to Las Vegas to get a trauma-sensitive yoga program started, I’ve get asked that question nothing short of a ton.

Trauma-sensitive yoga is about befriending your body. It’s about becoming aware of your breath. It is about slowing down and tuning into yourself and nurturing yourself and acknowledging what you have been through.

Yoga in general teaches us how to get back up when life has tripped us up. Trauma-sensitive yoga incorporates that along with movement; to put it plain and simple, reintroduce us to movement!

The average person often can go through life, just going through the motions. But those who have been through a traumatic experience, such as combat, re-experience these events to a great extent. They get stuck in a place and time, not feeling sure about the present. When something negative happens, a traumatized person will tend to try and block it out and avoid it. However, avoidance can sometimes lead people to pick hazardous ways to deal with their flashbacks and feelings.

Trauma-sensitive yoga teaches us that we are not our experiences. Distress and negative feelings are a normal response to an abnormal situation. This is usually the hardest part to accept. When speaking to veterans, the common reaction is they feel their PTSD signals something wrong with them, and it’s their fault they aren’t processing their experiences “correctly”.

But there is no correct way to handle combat. Rather, there are ways that are destructive, and ways that can reshape and rebuild in a positive way. Trauma-Sensitive yoga is one of many positive ways to help people do this.

So that is trauma-sensitive yoga in a nutshell. Movements and breathing tools to reconnect with ourselves.

But words can only explain it so well, it is about getting out there and experiencing it.