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.
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?”
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
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.
“Home is not where you live, but where they understand you” –Christian Morganstern
I think this is a similar feeling for many of us, for many different situations. Reflecting back on the retreat and the trauma-sensitive work, the idea of “coming home” is always a very prevalent one.
It has been a few weeks (okay…fine…almost a month) since the retreat in Boston and now that I’m finally settling in to Nevada after my big move, I just wanted to take a second and reflect. Not just for those who were unable to attend but for everyone whose heart was in Cambridge that weekend.
From the moment the group came together it was apparent that everyone shared a bond. The photographers had their work tying them together and the “OM” team had the love for them and our work tying us in. I can honestly say that was the single theme that made the weekend for me, seeing everyone come together and have their “moments”.
During one of the yoga practices I was able to keep an eye on the group. Being careful not to tune into my own practice too much to miss these amazing individuals having their own little moments on their (super fantastic Jade) mats. Watching these individuals who had been through so much in their lives, come together and just let a little bit of the pain go…that was what made the weekend.
LtCol (Ret) Paul Fanning & Boston Maggie
Unfortunately the hurricane put a damper (get it!?) on the end of the weekend, but themoments on the mat and the conversations that were had made it work out just the way it should have.
However, even though War Retreat is changing, this is not the end. We have an amazing group and will continue to do the work that needs to be done to support those we all share a passion for. For us this work is like “coming home”.
Swag bags are put together! I’m pretty excited for all the participants to see their new gear…I know I would fly/drive through a hurricane for it! Thanks to Jade Yoga Mats, Kulae, prAna, China Gel and Black Lotus Yoga Project for providing all the goodies. These include a Jade yoga mat, a baseball cap and towel from Kulae, China Gel product for sore muscles, hats and headbands from prAna, and the bags purchased by the Black Lotus Yoga Project.
But while we are on the topic of hurricanes, Irene isn’t stopping us! The only possible changes may be moving the BBQ inside Saturday night if the weather calls for it or “creative flexibility” with the flights home. We will know more as the weekend draws closer.
We will keep you updated on here, on the Facebook page and by email, so stay tuned!
Of course the main point of the retreat is to provide the participants with a break from the hustle and bustle of their lives, giving them a relaxing few days of yoga, massage and acupressure/acupuncture. But we thought it would be nice to have a casual BBQ Saturday night, giving everyone a chance to meet and mingle, share stories and laugh, in a relaxed atmosphere.
We are incredibly grateful to our sponsors Busa Farm, Whole Foods Market, and Boston Beer, who are providing food and beverages for the BBQ. We also would like to thank our host, Penny Peters.
The BBQ will also be a time for celebration when we provide the participants with the amazing scarves designed by our knitting director Cynthia Hereen, brought to life by our wonderful team of volunteer knitters. The knitters are from across the U.S., and as you’ve read in USO ON PATROL, one is the mother of a soldier who was a friend of Tim Hetherington’s. Candice Pemble Belkin’s son Misha is currently serving in Afghanistan, and was in the film Restrepo. It’s an honor to have a mother who is going through the natural worry of having a loved one in combat take time to knit scarves.
An anthology just for the retreat
The photographers will also be receiving a beautiful poetry chapbook by Pushcart nominee Pamela Hart, which she produced just for the retreat. Poetry and war have gone hand in hand through the ages, and putting this together was a meaningful experience for her. Pam and her husband donated the costs of printing. Their son is an Army Ranger.
It will be a night of relaxation, celebration, and remembrance. So we are thankful to everyone who has made this event possible and we cannot wait for it to happen!
“Every addiction starts with pain and ends with pain” -Eckhart Tolle
While sitting in a teacher training this weekend I came across this quote. The topic of addiction and using substances (or even other individuals) to cover up an internal pain, has been a frequent discussion lately. I’m not saying everyone who experiences some sort of pain turns to a coping mechanism in this form. But this quote hit home for me and I’m sure some of you can relate in one way or another.
When an individual goes through a traumatic experience or situation, it is not surprising that it can become difficult to stay “present” in the moment. Alcohol, drugs, and even relationships can all be used to remove yourself from the present. However, the use of these substances usually doesn’t help in the long run in managing the internal pain.
In David Emerson and Elizabeth Hopper’s great book there is a quote by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, MD that states “The goal of the treatment of PTSD is to help people live in the present, without feeling or behaving according to irrelevant demands belonging to the past.”
This is when the use of other techniques (such as yoga!) comes in handy to help provide the individual with more beneficial resources to stay in the present moment.
I know yoga is a new experience for many of you. Just like most new experiences, I’m sure you are “playing the fence” on should I/shouldn’t I go, wondering “what if I don’t like it?”…all normal questions when trying something new. But just like when I was getting ready for my first yoga teacher training, it is about going in without an expectations and only taking from it what resonates with YOU. And trust me, not everything resonates with everyone, but you will never know until you try.
And you’ll get to try in about a week and a half. Just keep that in mind, you are not losing anything by giving this a try and who knows, maybe it will take you right where you need to be:)
One of the main reoccurring themes of the retreat is love. Those of us that are working on it are doing so because we have love for those who work in combat situations. We all come from different backgrounds and experiences, but share a common love for those we are striving to help. When putting this Retreat together we reached out to many different companies to see if they could help us show our love to the participants. We have received such fantastic feedback from many different individuals and companies willing to donate items to show their love.
The new Corporate Sponsors page has an updated list of businesses that have gone above and beyond to help out the Retreat and we really hope you’ll take a look at what they have to offer.
The participants will receive an awesome “swag bag” at the retreat which contains an assortment of items from our sponsors. Not only will our participants love the swag, we love these companies for taking an interest in the Retreat and providing these great items.
Love from Kulae!
So again, Thank you to our amazing sponsors:
Jade, China-Gel, Kulae, Life Alive:Urban Oasis and Organic Cafe, The Cambridge Starbucks, Busa Farm, and the Prospect Street Whole Foods.
Thursday, August 25th
Meet at Black Lotus Yoga, 91 Sidney Street, Cambridge MA
Black Lotus Yoga
1:30-2:45pm - Pre-retreat Yoga (Stretch those travel-weary muscles!)
3:00-5:00pm – Welcome & Orientation
7:30 – 9:30pm – Small Gathering, Meet & Greet (Location announced during orientation)
Friday, August 26th
9:30-11am – Group Yoga
1:00-3:30pm – Individual Acupuncture
4:00-5:00pm – Group Yoga
Evening free to yourself, to meet up with friends and colleagues in the Boston area, or join Jillian & Kanani for some aimless fun.
Mats will be provided!
Saturday, August 27th
12:00-1:15pm – Group Yoga
1:30-4pm – Individual Massage
3:00-4:00pm – Optional Yoga
6:00-9:00pm – Celebration Group BBQ & Ceremony (Casual) Location TBA.
Sunday, August 28th
9:30am-noon – Individual Massage
1:00-3:00pm – Group Yoga & Final Words
As you can see by the schedule, there’s plenty of time to make plans with friends and colleagues who live in the Boston area. Or take in the scenery of Cambridge, shop, browse a few bookstores, take in a fine meal. The time is yours to choose to do what you want. On Saturday, Kanani & Jillian will be embarking upon the Sarah Palin tour of Boston to find the church and ring a few bells.
Another fantastic addition to the Om Team is Liên Zayhowski, an incredibly educated and talented Licensed Acupuncturist. If you were following the blog a few weeks back I talked about Kathleen Hamel and her use of Acupressure Therapy and Massage, which is one part of the retreat. Acupressure uses some of the same pressure points as acupuncture, but it does so without the use of needles.
Liên is our very skilled Acupuncturist, which does require the use of needles. Acupuncture is used as an effective form of treatment for many different physical symptoms. In an overview article by the Mayo Clinic it is explained that acupuncture is most often utilized for symptoms such as:
- Chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting
- Labor pain
- Low back pain
- Menstrual cramps
- Postoperative dental pain
- Tennis elbow
However, acupuncture is also being studied and used in both the military and civilian settings as an alternative treatment for individuals with PTSD and combat related trauma.
If any of you are like me and the idea of acupuncture makes you a little nervous (I know my idea of a good time does not involve a needle!), I recommend you take a look through these articles and links to learn a little more about the process and benefits of acupuncture. Similar to the yoga practice or acupressure, acupuncture may be a completely new idea to you, but just like the other alternative therapies, we have included them because we believe in their benefits.
So just take some time, look through the provided resources or doing some googling of your own, to decide if this is something you are interested in.
Medline Plus through the National Institutes of Health
Mayo Clinic article on what to expect with Acupuncture
Article on the Military’s use of Acupuncture