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LA Times: Wounded Vets Turn To Yoga

Photo, LA Times
Photo, LA Times

An article from the L.A. Times. 

SAN DIEGO — Army 1st Sgt. Chris Montera, who lost both legs above the knee and suffered third-degree burns over 60% of his body in a mortar attack in Afghanistan, is doing a headstand, guided by yoga instructor Sunny Keays.

“It takes a lot of pressure off my back and spine,” said Montera, 33, who was on his fourth combat tour when he was hurt. “It helps with the pain.”
Read More at:
Wounded Vets Turn To Yoga For Strength & Solace by Tony Perry

Avoiding the conversation increases the stigma: Suicide

 If you’re feeling suicidal, please talk to somebody. You can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Veterans Crisis LIne 1-800-273-8255 or text 2738255, and for the deaf: TTY 1-800-799-4889 or go to

A few weeks ago, a former professor of mine jumped from a building and killed himself. He was (like so many) brilliant, original, funny, thoughtful and generous. He had helped many writers get their start, and hone their craft. Apparently he had claimed to someone close to him that suicide wasn’t an “if” but a “when.”

Live Through This: A blog by suicide survivors
Live Through This: A blog by suicide survivors

At first, there were those who said he chose this final exit, or to be more novelistic, that he wrote his own ending. But more details came out: his father had committed suicide, and his mother had drunk herself to death. The fact that our professor had followed his parents to his end is profoundly tragic.  Knowing the facts of his childhood, did he choose it, or did it just seem like a natural conclusion to him? The survivors are devastated. But to him it wasn’t selfish, rather it was the only way out. 

At the end, there isn’t an answer to the plaintive question of why,  and one will come up short looking for one.  None of his pupils can write a different ending for the cherished professor. There’s only regret knowing he suffered the pain, loneliness and despair. Each of us wish we’d picked up the phone a bit more. But even if we had, a call would be insufficient. The truth is that he needed long term, professional help by a skilled team of mental health professionals. There are things beyond the help of an individual with good intentions.  

Screen Shot 2013-09-29 at 10.59.19 PM

Anyway,  if there’s a relationship between the professor and this blog, it’s this:  We have to talk about suicide, because being silent only increases the stigma and isolation.  

Suicide among our veterans has risen, and will grow if the silence flourishes.  If we support our troops, it means we do so at every turn of their life –no matter how difficult it might get.  The despair of those considering suicide comes with a sense of isolation, loneliness, and turmoil borne from the war, which they can’t shut off with a switch.

Their patriotism has come with a great price. They not only need help during their darkest hours, but in the many months, days, and weeks ahead to get beyond the conclusion that suicide seems the logical way out. More than that, we must also help their families,  as their veteran find his or her way through it.  

Read this article by David A. Wood, in the Huffington Post, and watch the excellent video.  Military Suicide Leaves Survivors with Shame, Guilt & Social Stigma  and the video: Surviving Suicide: Military Families Speak Out  Also, as mentioned before, check out this website for suicide survivors called “Live Through This.”

Off the Mat: Ride 2 Recovery

One thing we have often said here at War Retreat is that yoga is not for everyone. Some people find themselves on their bicycle, in the gym, or on the top of a mountain rather than on a mat. That being said, we would like to introduce you all to an organization- Ride 2 Recovery.

ph-7706146575A few weeks back I had the pleasure of seeing R2R come through Michigan. I had known of the organization and their mission, but had never witnessed it in person. It was amazing. Seeing some of these individuals who had lived through the physical and psychological challenges of war, pushing themselves physically and mentally through this enduring ride from Chicago, IL to Detroit, MI, was absolutely amazing.

On their website R2R explains their mission as: To improve the health and wellness of injured veterans by providing a life changing experience that can impact their lives forever. 

banner5-7220741179R2R offers four main programs- Challenges, Honor Ride, Project HERO and special events.

Challenges are multi-day events that cover 350-450 miles. A Challenge will push the participant to their limit, both physically and mentally. Paid participation in a full Challenge ride helps support the free participation of our injured veterans and healing heroes and includes meals, lodging and a jersey. You may also participate in any single day of a Challenge event.

Honor Rides are one-day events held around the country to raise money and promote awareness for the Ride 2 Recovery program.

Project HERO was created to enhance, inspire, and challenge Healing Heroes’ rehabilitation by introducing them to Ride 2 Recovery which allows each person to set individual goals while working in a group. R2R will partner with the local facility staff and cadre to create a personalized and progressive cycling program that fits the needs of the patient population and will promote a fuller and quicker rehabilitation.

Special Events are meant to provide a rehabilitative experience for Healing Heroes that is similar to Ride 2 Recovery’s Challenge Series but in a unique location with different and distinctive activities.  Generally, these events require advanced fitness and abilities compared to the Challenge Series.

Check out their website if you would like more info! Maybe yoga isn’t for you, but cycling sure may be.

Find Joy When You Can

ZachSobiechCloudsSometimes we get so wrapped in war and the aftermath, we forget that our purpose in life is to be the best person we are, and to find the joy in it whenever we can. Sometimes, someone comes along unexpectedly to remind us.

A young man died on May 20. He wasn’t a veteran, he’d never been to war. He was a young man who had spent the last four years battling Osteo Sarcoma. Zach Sobiech  touched millions with an incredible song he wrote about his own eminent journey into the clouds.  But his journey is one for all of us to remember… “You don’t have to find out you’re dying to start living.”  You can also find a moving account produced by Soul Pancake (a project by Rainn Wilson) in a mini-documentary on My Last Days.

To Zach. We at WarRetreat will always be grateful to you. We are so glad that music and creativity filled your days. A great song from a generous heart.

Short Film: Caregivers & Service members Talk About PTSD & Yoga

“As caregivers, we’re very good at compartmentalizing things because that’s what we have to do.” -Col. Patricia Lillis, Yoga & PTSD Documentary

But the long term implications of shoving your feelings away can negatively affect both your mental and physical health. Watch this short documentary about how PTSD affects the lives of those who go through trauma, and how yoga can help.

Suicide: Can We Help Each Other Live Through This?

Live Through This

Live Through This: A blog about suicide survivors
Live Through This: A blog about suicide survivors

Suicide: We feel the desperation, the cures that didn’t stick,  their guilt and pain.  While it’s tempting to gloss over suicide and cut straight to the tinkly music and let WarRetreat be a narcissistic yoga blog, it really doesn’t interest us. Because even if we’re on the mat, even if we’re feeling great, we know the white elephant in the room is suicide. More veterans have died by their own hand than were lost in combat. And no amount of downward dogs can make that go away. Not talking about it hurts. It’s akin to consigning someone’s life to a bin of shame. Everyone deserves better.

Over the weekend, another veteran committed suicide. I say another, but the truth is, several probably did. We just don’t know about them. But this one, like the late Clay Hunt, was a veterans advocate who volunteered for Habitat For Humanity, Team Rubicon, and with wounded warriors at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. No one can ever accuse Neil Landsberg of not reaching out. The photo shows a young, vigorous man helping others. Volunteering probably made him feel complete, it gave him hope. Helping others was normal. But what couldn’t be captured on the camera was the trench he couldn’t get out of. Eventually, Neil took his own life.

No one in the military family is immune to suicide. Veterans, spouses, family members. Sometimes the weight just gets so heavy, circumstances become so hard, tiredness takes over every muscle and bone, and we wonder how to go on?  Most find a way through it. But others get stuck in a series of dark corridors and they can’t find the light. Then they take their life.

Painted ElephantThe white elephant? Grab your paintbrush and start coloring him in as we talk about mental health, erasing the stigma, and yes, suicide. We have to get beyond the point where we’re assuming that someone who is busy is doing okay. Maybe they’re not. And we also have to learn not to kick ourselves when tragedy happens. People who are busy, who seem involved in a lot of things, are often the best at hiding their emotions. If you’re starting a program for veterans, the only advice I can give you is to love yourself as much as you’re going to love the people who come to your classes. Only if you do that can you weather the ups, downs, and the tragedies.

Check out a blog about suicide survivors. Live Through This is the painted elephant.

What Yoga Really Is: A Lesson

Our friend Paul Zipes recently shared with us a post from his blogger friend Auntie N over at Icy Exhale: Defrosting the Human Condition. We left compelled to share her post as it tells a story about what yoga is, what it isn’t, and unfortunately what it is often perceived as being. Thank you to Auntie N for allowing us to share this post!

The Sting In the Yoga Buzz

An online journal I read as often as they post new articles recently took a vacation.  They posted a nice little piece about how they were taking two weeks off and promptly took two weeks off.

So this website is all yoga all the time, but they’re the back alley sort that makes me happy and I’ll tell you why.  They’re the bell ringers and the bullshit callers regarding all things Yoga-lebrity.

I’ve used this word in articles both here and abroad, but I’ll break it down for you.

There are people who grow up and move to LA because they want to be movie stars.  There are people who move to New York because that’s where you go when you want to be a writer.  There are people who want to be famous athletes when they grow up and they pursue that.  Then there are people who decide that they want to become a yoga teacher when they grow up because a person can become famous from this and this alone.  Once a Yoga-lebrity becomes famous, usually they become too expensive for the peasants to train with and so move on to Lady Gaga and Madonna.

What’s interesting is that I’ve been in the presence of a Yoga-lebrity and the yoga practice they deliver is no better than the high quality loving instruction I receive at my local yoga studio – or participating in a Pilates class for that matter.  I’m just saying.

My favorite website’s motto is “Giving the contemporary yoga culture the star treatment.”

As soon as they went on hiatus all hell broke loose and I watched with woeful eyes that these watchdogs were nowhere to be seen.  A prominent yoga teacher is sued for sexual harassment while another member of the elite yoga stars resurfaces with a new revamped style and ethic after returning to the world of instruction not seven months after several allegations of sexual assault and misconduct are reported by female students.  That makes three heavy hitters in the upper echelon of the yoga community hit with a scandal.

In addition, there was a tasteless “April fools” joke perpetrated by Lululemon that I don’t have the stomach to revisit here.  Let it be enough that there were yoga mats made out of cow hide.  With your purchase, they’ll tell you the name of the cow on which you’re bending and shaping yourself.

Perhaps my favorite is a write up on Marilyn Monroe’s yoga prowess and how she was an ardent practitioner with several centerfold shots of her in various “leg in the air” poses.  Let’s not forget what a great role model she is for young women, but add that she does yoga to the mix and there you have a recipe for admiration that the new Pope would do well to try.

I’d like to add that there is a video on another online yoga journal that features a completely nude Play Mate practicing all manner of yoga poses.  I can imagine the liberation she feels in Warrior II without the cumbersome experience of panties.  This video is the most viewed video this site has and the numbers keep rising.

I like to know what’s going on.  There was a time when I subscribed to Yoga Journal because I thought I was learning new things, but eventually I  realized they were reusing sequences with new, prettier and skinnier models in more serene settings.  There wasn’t anything new to be learned from these glossy pages.

Apropos of nothing, today when I arrive to teach my 3:30 class I realize pretty quickly that I have at least two sick students, maybe more.  The two I’m sure aren’t well are recovering from variations of the flu.  Though they’re on the road to recovery, both are a little wane looking but need to move around a bit to feel more normal.

One lady says, “I’m better but still not at a hundred percent.  I’m just gonna do what I can, if I fall into child’s pose just keep going.”

This is a perfect opportunity to give a little demonstration of the healing aspects of yoga practice.  People with congestion and especially those recovering from a cough, sometimes it’s nice to do gentle chest opening poses and to spend time in extended variations of forward folds.  I can’t say the three teenagers who came to my class had the best time, but they were champs and didn’t mount a resistance to the slightly longer relaxation period at the end of class and they certainly didn’t besmirch my choice of ambient and soothing music for the occasion.

It was an excellent tool, having two people in class “not one hundred percent” because yoga practice is something you should be able to do all the time and is available to everyone.  It’s not a thousand dollar mat or hundred and fifty dollar transparent pants that makes a yoga practice.  In fact, yoga postures make up one eighth of what yoga practice actually is.

Fundamentally, the cash cow that the yoga industry has become with the naked yoga videos and industry leading celebrities, turns as many people off of yoga than it attracts them to yoga.  If I’d never known a thing about yoga and saw The Real Housewives getting their dog on, yoga would be the last thing I’d want to practice.

Luckily I got into yoga before it became cosmopolitan and cliquish, or maybe I just didn’t see it until I began trying to follow the trends in the business side of things.  As it turns out, the world turns with or without the flash of cosmopolitan yoga-lebrities.  I think that the world of yoga is inside a person, in their congested chest and burning heart and aching mind and that’s where the focus needs to be.

My most solid teachers in the Mind Body scene have been practicing quietly and in earnest since the eighties at least, before there was so much of a scene and simply work to be done to remain aware, strong and self-possessed.  These are the people I want to emulate, whether I’m running a class full of mantra work and flying crab crow pose or I’m practicing quietly and in earnest in the back of the room on my own mat.

This week in yoga culture was a great example of reasons to unplug and tune in.  There is nothing new under the sun, only discoveries to me made.  For the love of God, get thee to a mat my friend, or your local studio.


“Good Bye Vietnam” A Veteran Claims His Peace

“Good Bye Vietnam” is a statement from Lance Corporal Chris Lambert USMC, 1968, Vietnam War. In this wise and inspiring peace, he says good-bye to the words, images, smells, and memories of people, political movements and all things connected to the Vietnam war that kept him locked in a 40-year fight with PTSD, resentment, and regret. 

“Take your shame and your pain, I’m now a proud Vietnam Veteran.”

h/t to Jerry Newberry, Vietnam paratrooper, and Assistant Adjutant General of the VFW, who shared this with his brothers.

In El Paso: Healers & Heroes Free Relaxation Clinic

From the Borderland Healing Arts Directory:  April 20, Free. See Details here at Borderlands Healing Arts Directory.  Retired social worker from the Ft. Bliss Recovery and Restoration Center, Gerald W. Vest, is part of the reputable effort. For specific times please see their blog by clicking on the image below!