One of the complaints we’ve heard is lack of sleep, and finding they were always hypervigilant and they were not able to let go being in that stress state all of the time. So with the breathing practice, and this meditation and the easy asana (pose) postures, they are able to find the calmness and sleep, and other changes in their life so they can re-integrate back into society easier. -Judy Weaver, Vice President, Co-Founder and teacher at Connected Warriors
Connected Warriors is a program that helps veterans through yoga with the aftermath of war. Started in southern Florida, the organization also has programs in Kentucky, Tennessee and is working to grow their program. A fundraiser is set for 8 March. Please see their website for a press release, and consider contributing or attending.
War stays with the people who go to it, and it hunkers in with the families and friends who love them too. In the past, I’ve often described war as the unwanted guest who comes to take up a lumbering presence on our sofa. Our lives will always center around war in some way. Seen and unseen, war shapes the perspective of families and others who love those who go or have gone to it.
All things are related to war: friends writing to tell us their son or daughter is deploying; seeing a young man whose leg has been amputated propelling his wheelchair across a busy road with stuff strapped onto the back in plastic bags. We hope he has a place to call home. Thoughts cross our mind when we receive a Christmas card from a civilian saying they’re glad the war in Iraq is over (when we know –war is never over); or see a civilian post “No war in Iran,” and but not have the energy to respond because the war we know isn’t just an intellectual exercise. It’s something we feel in our hearts even on the sunniest of days. It makes us feel we are living on borrowed time: things may be going good, but one knows things can shift quickly. The suffering has made us at times wary, but mostly what it can do is inspire us to lengths of generosity that just aren’t seen by those who have not been through it. War has even changed the way I see the exercise phrase “work out” as a misnomer.
Hopefully, whatever form of exercise one chooses isn’t limited to being just a work out, but offers us a chance to work in. A chance to be aware of your breath, how your body feels when it bends or stretches. A time to push all other thoughts away and focus on what you’re doing now. It could be sitting in a chair, feet flat on the floor, your palms resting on your belly or thighs, feeling and noticing the rise of your belly as you breathe. Or maybe it’s standing in Warrior Two: back foot at eleven o’clock, front foot and arms pointing forward, lunging with your front knee. Perhaps you’re enjoying a flow: sun salutation, or simply going from downward dog, into chaturanga. Each movement is a discovery of how the body feels, and how the breath responds.
When thoughts of war or trauma start invading your mind –as they will, even in yoga, one has a chance to inhale, exhale. Try shifting the foot ever so slightly or come into a new pose altogether. With each inhalation and exhalation you have a chance to clear your mind. Each time war sneaks in, just move an arm, slide those shoulders down, and feel your breath and settle in to what you’re doing and feeling at the moment. Slowly, you will relax as war comes to rest in some other place.
It’s not a work out. It’s a work in.
Here’s a 55 minute class taught by Patrick Freeman. I’ve done this class three times now, each about an hour before going to bed. I slept like a baby. So did my husband.
Patrick’s interest in healing through yoga goes back several decades. He has an MSW, and is also a retired electrical contractor. Today, he fulfills his life dream by teaching yoga at a university, his son’s studio, and to cancer patients at Presbyterian Hospital in Whittier CA. He’s always had an affinity for veterans, and hopefully, will be working with them soon.
This weekend, Rodney Yee used his influence to urge both the medical field and the yoga community to utilize one another’s resources. He called for more yoga in hospitals, and suggested that teachers get as much specialized training as possible. The program he and his wife, Colleen Saidman are part of is one that teaches doctors and nurses a simple sequence of yoga, breathing and meditation through Donna Karan’s Urban Zen Integrative Therapy Program.
Jillian and I have been talking to yoga teachers here on the West Coast. There’s no shortage of wanting to help veterans, there’s just an issue of how to find students. For all the training one has, outreach is a completely separate component. Outreach is 99% of the success of your efforts. I don’t think it’s enough to train people and then expect anyone to make inroads without either the insight or support.
The veteran community is not an unapproachable group requiring a million secret handshakes. But you do have to take the time to get to know them, and your efforts must be consistent. In other words, if you want to reach out to veterans, you will have to go to them. In every community there are groups –who either support the troops or are veterans. It’s a matter of contacting them and having a two-way conversation. You just can’t email them a press release, you really have to reach out to them, invite them to your studio –for a free class, and take it from there. And guess what? There is no reason to rush. Figure out what they need, and go from there.
Jillian and I have spoken about one of the roadblocks we see trauma sensitive yoga training programs falling into: thinking that their program is so special, it has to be at a retreat center that not only is difficult to get to, but means someone has to take several days off work to attend, plus spend quite a bit of money on airfare and lodging. With all the training programs taking place on the East Coast, this does not bode well for those on the West Coast.
Let me put it to you this way: most of the yoga teachers we know are itinerant. They teach at lots of places everyday, cobbling together a way to make a living. In Southern California, some drive 50-100 miles a day between home, and all the studios. Many live paycheck to paycheck. They simply can’t afford to take that time off in order to attend a training far away. Rent, car payments, groceries, and kids have to be fed.
The program that can get around this will be the one that most people end up taking. Smart will be the program that is scheduled over a weekend at a large hotel near an airport, hospital, wellness center, or college in a major metropolitan area that most can just commute to. Or the program that makes large portions of their program available as an online course –not necessarily a conference call. (This would involve developing a curriculum much like universities or the military already has, and uses for thousands each day). Why should a trauma sensitive yoga teacher’s training course be any different from a continuing education course held at a major medical center for nurses, physicians and other allied health professionals?
There are lots of issues to ponder. Yee’s call for more training and inclusion into medical institutions brings up other issues such as requirements and certification. What will be the new mold for a yoga teacher wishing to join a treatment team? Will a 200 or 500 yoga teacher training certificate be enough? Will hospitals show preference in hiring a yoga teacher who has a master’s degree in counseling, social work, kinesiology, or psychology? Who will set the requirements? Will states insist on credentialing and require a license to teach yoga in a clinical setting? Will yoga be billable under the ICD-9 (or ICD-10)?
Lastly, and perhaps more importantly, what will this mean for the yoga teacher who just wants to help local veterans at their studio (this will probably constitute the largest group). Is the yoga community heading toward more regulation or are we heading toward more sharing of information along social networks for free or a low cost?
It’s an exciting time. We look forward to an ongoing dialog.
We’re a small blog. There’s just the two of us. There are times when we think no one is reading. But then we get notes like this from a soldier: “I quit smoking and took up yoga. I’m more flexible now. I still dip while I’m out in the field, but that’s to get through those 29-hour days.”
Most yogis would focus only on the dipping. But we know if this soldier keeps up with both nutrition and yoga, eventually he won’t feel the need to dip. We’re honored he’s even looked at our page, we’re thrilled beyond words that he’s started yoga while posted OCONUS.
Grateful parents share an update about their son, on Facebook. Their son, a Doc with the 3/5, has only been home from Afghanistan for two months. While driving, he was hit and seriously injured by a drunk driver. Being the Marine that he is (and always will be), Doc pulled the drunk driver out of the car and administered first aid. The Marine was taken to the hospital where he lost massive amounts of blood. He is recovering in the hospital, and his fellow Marines have rallied around.
How can we not want to help someone who is so noble, has given so much, and will continue to do so his entire life?
Lastly, this silent but moving video.
“Team X-T.R.E.M.E. and The Ranger Group partner to honor the sacrifice of United States Marine and Wounded Warrior, Sgt. Herman Lubbe at FedEx Field during the pre-game show of the Washington Redskins vs. Minnesota Vikings football game on Christmas Eve 2011. Thank you Sgt. Lubbe! WE WILL NEVER FORGET!”
Here is Sgt. Lubbe’s story: With Mom’s Help, W. Va Marine Hurt In IED Blast Recovers
It’s you. You keep us going. Thank you.
Part 2: How A Day of Nutrition and Yoga Was Brought to Fort Meade
Editors note: On Thursday, we shared news of the Part One, Warrior Resiliency Day at Fort Meade. Roughly 100 Sailor and Airmen attended the event, which showcased nutrition, exercise and stress reduction. Elijah Sacra of Semper Fidelis Health and Wellness spoke about making wise eating choices, and five yoga instructors helped lead a class of mostly first timers through a class. Manduka and Jade Yoga donated mats. But that’s only part of the story. Chris Eder tells us how the event came into being.
Photos and article by Chris Eder, Semper Fidelis Health & Wellness
One of my Air Force sergeants asked if I would bake some cookies for the students. I initially said yes! My daughter loves to make peanut butter cookies and I thought it was a win-win situation. As I was talking with my wife and daughter about it, my wife reminded me about the Sex in the City episode where Samantha says something about how cancer patients don’t want “fucking” cookies! My wife said that she thought cookies are so old-fashioned. She suggested I do something better for them.
That is when I came up with, “Cookies are good, but wellness is forever!” I decided to try and pull a team of health professionals together. I knew I wanted to leverage a few of my professional friendships and exploit my talents…baking not being one of them! I put together a team of yogis who are as diverse as the military. I wanted to show there is no “one” body type that does or can do yoga.
We started off with a guided meditation that focused on lifting the weight of military gear (flak vests etc). Then we moved to breath work and focused on “slowing down.” We spent time on what I call “positive time” in the parasympathetic nervous system. It was very interesting to watch them attempt to “stop” and be present for the first time. Next we worked on a gently grounding flow, moved into Sury Namaskar A, followed by core integration. It was interesting also to see the looks on their faces when presented with familiar core exercises that were so tough to do. We ended with a cool down and then savasana. I think EVERYONE loved that the most.
I think the event was a complete success. I have had several of them approach me at work asking questions about yoga…and about nutrition.
Photos and article by Chris Eder, Semper Fidelis Health & Wellness
This is part one of two day series. Watch video here at DVIDS.
Roughly 100 Airmen and Sailors attended the Warrior Resiliency Day at the McGill training center, Fort George G. Meade Maryland on December 16th. (They are all attending school at the Defense Information School.) The goal of the event was to provide natural solutions to reduce stress during the holidays. Many of these technical school students are away from home for the first time…whats worse…it’s the holidays. The majority of the students have never practiced yoga before.
The group was curious, but also willing to participate. We had a teacher, but also on hand were others to assist in positioning and alignment. Having people to assist correctly helps people gain confidence when trying yoga for the first time.
Manduka and Jade donated yoga mats for this event and have offered to help support future SFHW events.
Tomorrow: Chris explains how this event came into being.
Merry Christmas. Happy Hanukkah. Good wishes to all. Jillian & Kanani
Matthew Tull, PhD writes about handling Stress and the Holidays, specifically for people with PTSD.
“Spend some time just thinking about what the holidays really mean to you, and then try to come up with ways that you can connect with that. In the end, you may prevent undue stress and anxiety while at the same time increase feelings of happiness and satisfaction.”
Mary Tendall and Jan Fischler have written on This Is VietNow about the impact on families during the Holiday Season and how they can alleviate the stress when a loved one has PTSD.
“Finally, acknowledge this difficult time and offer verbal and nonverbal support. Most important, remember that the key to having an enjoyable holiday is to forget what the season is supposed to be like, and create experiences that work for you and your family.”
First, here’s some valuable advice for friends and family members wanting to help someone they know. Scroll to read about writing stories after the video.
Telling stories is as old as time, a way to involve others in your experience –or for you to privately write down your memories and have them for yourself. If there’s a truth about writing it’s this: writing is re-writing. Once memories are committed to paper, the writer is free to go through, and edit what’s on the page. Editing is not expunging –editing is prioritizing what’s important, honing and sharpening the prose by bringing certain things to the surface. In the process of editing, the writer reorganizes their thoughts, and places the memories into the context of something that happened back then, an event that will always be remembered, and people who will always be treasured. From the safety of distance, a degree of perspective and wisdom are gained. During and after the process, the writer can come back to the present time.
Integrative Trauma Care Clinician Fuzzy Manning has a place on his site PTS Treatment for Story Telling. Check it out.
Over on the Veterans Yoga Project, they have several East Coast training dates for teachers. I really think you should make time for this if you want to work with veterans. Unfortunately, there aren’t any west coast dates. Read related rant after the break.
From the site (two great people who are absolutely rockin’ it):
Join Suzanne Manafort and Daniel J. Libby as they share their experience working with Veterans with PTSD. In this three day teacher training, we’ll cover:
- the development, course, and consequences of PTSD
-the psychotherapeutic treatment of PTSD and how yoga fits into a holistic treatment approach
-the neurophysiology of PTSD and yoga practices special considerations and cautions when providing yoga therapy to trauma-affected individuals and
– core elements and practices involved in a therapeutic approach to yoga for PTSD
At the end of the workshop, participants will understand the symptoms of PTSD, how those symptoms are related to underlying neurobiology, and how to use this understanding to inform the approach and the choice of practices used when providing therapeutic yoga for Veterans with PTSD. $275
*15 CEUs available for yoga teachers registered with Yoga Alliance
Trauma sensitive yoga training programs have mostly been limited to the east coast. Except for one training by Yoga Warriors in Los Angeles, the west coast yoga community has been slow to hop on the bandwagon of caring for its veterans. I figure there are two reasons for this.
First, we have an abnormally high number of yogalebrities in California that leads to an impression of having a yoga lifestyle rather than helping under-served groups in a hands-on way. They are more likely to rail against McDonalds than be concerned that the veteran down the street can’t sleep because of flashbacks. Second, the tendency to mix in politics and ideological leanings with the yoga. That just sucks. I mean, really. We are WarRetreat, so we can point out areas of major suckage.
But really, with all the yoga teachers, therapists and shrinks that grow like barnacles on rocks — can’t Los Angeles, San Fransisco or Seattle develop a trauma sensitive yoga training model? Is the yoga community in California not aware that their state has the highest number of veterans in the nation? Whatever program is developed, there’s a catch: it should have an outreach component on how to get something started for veterans and their families. The yoga doers need tools on how to approach veteran organizations, and really –it’s not that hard. Other area of raw suckage: and it’s happened more than once -not only to me and Jillian, but also to Dave. I get an email from some group offering training, or a publication who wants to “write an article on trauma.” They “want to talk.” But then I never hear from them again. What is that? ADHD seva? If you want to work with veterans, you must follow through. Enough babble. More doing.
Okay. Rant over.