Expedition Balance: It isn’t a building

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Carl Salazar, top with (left) I-am-Wallace, Sherri Smith, & Chris Wagmaster Leisinger at Camp For All. Photo: Expedition Balance

“Mission: We are committed to helping combat veterans who return home with emotional trauma regain their lives. It starts with a week in the woods and ends with veterans reconnected to their families, friends and futures.”

From Carl Salazar, USN Veteran, Founder & Director of Expedition Balance

Completely exhausted after another experience at Camp For All with some real-life heroes. Life-Changing. In our closing conversation, I told the Veterans and teachers of Expedition 10.13 this: Expedition Balance is not a building. There is no world headquarters, no ExBal street. It is not a t-shirt, a yoga studio, a slogan, nor other stuff.

Expedition Balance is people.

It is yoga and meditation teachers, big-hearted volunteers, people who come to fundraisers, people who help us spread the word, people who donate their hard-earned money, people who write nice things about us, doctors and social-workers at the VA. Veterans.

To all you wonderful people who built ExBal into something that has changed a few peoples’ lives – thank you. To the people who made Expedition 10.13 a living, breathing demonstration of love in action – thank you. It is a sacrifice for our volunteers to give up their time and expertise for free. It is incredibly brave for our Veterans to show up and open their hearts to new experiences so they can help themselves. I am proud of all of you. I love all of you.

Thank you for enabling me to live to my fullest. Thank you for bringing out the best in me. Thank you for giving my life purpose. We make a difference. Together.

For more information on Expedition Balance, please find them on Facebook, twitter @ExBal and go to their website.

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Grateful for big, loud, things

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Film Still from “Restrepo”  Photo by Tim Hetherington

“The Army might screw you and your girlfriend might dump you and the enemy might kill you,but the shared commitment to safeguard one another’s lives is unnegotiable and only deepens with time.The willingness to die for another person is a form of love that even religions fail to inspire, and the experience of it changes a person profoundly.” 

― Sebastian JungerWar

Yeah, I know. You’re circling the yoga studio in your car, not sure if you really want to go in. Everyone walking in seems so… bouncy, and they’re smiling, and what the heck are they happy about? Plus,  you’ve seen the “7-Days of Gratitude” started on FB, and a few of your friends have even posted things they’re grateful for.

What a bunch of goody-two-shoes.

After all, you’re intense. You’ve seen the most extreme part of life. War, poverty, suffering, pain. Violence, tragedy and danger.  You’re fierce in your beliefs, and so is everyone else you know. You walk on the earth.  But those people who go around saying they’re grateful?  You’re not so sure. Reality check?

You gun the engine, race ahead, trying to find a parking spot on the crowded street. Who the heck put this studio here, anyway?  What fool thought to put it next to a Starbucks and a hot dog stand? You shake your head. Honestly, you like your intensity. And you don’t feel like “letting go.” Besides, what is that? Letting go. Do they think there’s a window in your brain to open, and your intensity will just go away?  BIG LOUD AWFUL THINGS have shaped who you are now. And while there’s stuff you could do without –like the lack of sleep, or the reel that plays back and forth in your head …there were good things too. Like feeling you had a sense of direction, fighting for the person next to you, and knowing they’d do the same for you. Things were so certain ….and now? The only thing certain is everyone is talking about gratitude, and it kind of annoys you.

So now, you’re circling the block again, and you’re wondering…. yeah, you comprehend the meaning of gratitude. Life, liberty, pursuit of happiness means more than it did before you went to war. Some of your friends lost the chance at all three in a gritty battle or alone, at home, when hope had run out. Will they understand war ushered in the best friends of your life?  That the brother and sisterhood is unquestioned? Yeah, sure, there was trauma, but there were funny things that still make you laugh. Will they get it? It was the best and worst time of your life, and you’d do it again (only this time you wouldn’t lose your best friend). Do they understand it was the intensity that kept you alive? Do they know how much it pisses you off to be tossed off as an ‘adrenaline junkie?’ It seemed that way, but you weren’t though it’d be a lie to say that war wasn’t exciting. You were fighting for the guy on your left and your right.

Finally, you find a spot. It’s three blocks away from the yoga studio, but it will do. You park, gather your stuff –the yoga mat with the wrapper still on it, and a towel. You follow the others with yoga mats strapped to their backs. Some look rushed and harried. One even walks into you and doesn’t say, “sorry.” So maybe some of these yoga people are assholes, which makes sense: in any given group, there’s always going to be one.

You reach the door,  no time to hesitate, there are people behind you. But you remember one thing someone wrote here on WarRetreat:

We know you miss your war. It’s fine. We’re not asking you to become anyone else. If you’re already grateful, maybe you’ll find more. But no sane person is going to insist.  And maybe you won’t like yoga. Maybe your thing is to climb a mountain, ride a bike, or write a poem.

You check in, find a spot. The music starts. You sit, and breathe. And then you do it again.

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Loaded words: Is contagious the right word for PTSD?

Photo: Mother Jones

Photo: Mother Jones

It’s no secret that the effects of PTSD are felt among family and friends. The agitation, hyper-awareness, lows and highs are taken in by everyone around the person with PTSD.

“Kateri’s eight-year-old son now also counts the exits in new spaces he enters, points them out to his loved ones, keeps a mental map of them at the ready, until war or fire fails to break out, and everyone is safely back home.”

What’s your take on this article?

Is PTSD Contagious?

How Trauma Affects Your Body & Mind

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“If you have experienced a trauma it can be like having stared directly at the sun. Even after you look away the glare seems everywhere and prevents you from seeing things clearly. It can keep you from even opening your eyes at all for a while…”

Rosenbloom & William, 1999, p.6

The Headington Institute in Los Angeles offers this Self-Study Unit to help people understand the physical effects of trauma in the body.  This unit covers a wide range of topics and is for humanitarian workers. However, anyone interested or experiencing trauma can read this and gain more understanding.

Included:

When you experience a dangerous or traumatic event, a series of approximately 1,500 biochemical reactions are triggered within your body. These reactions are designed to help you handle a threat by preparing you either to fight or run away. The general pattern is as follows:

  • Your recognition of threat and danger stimulates all your various stress-response pathways.  Adrenaline  and several endocrine hormones are released into your bloodstream.

  • Increased glucocorticoids stimulate the hippocampus (which is responsible for converting sensory experience into enduring memory). This allows the hippocampus to create vivid memories of the event.

  • Some other effects of increased adrenaline and other endocrine hormones in combination include:

    • Increased cortisol production. Cortisol is a steroid that counters pain and inflammation and keeps blood-sugar at a certain level.

    • Increased blood sugar. This blood sugar is used to feed your brain and muscles.

    • Increased heart rate. Blood is pumped more quickly around your body.

    • Changes in blood-flow. Arterial blood pressure increases. Blood is diverted away from your hands, feet and stomach, and towards your brain and major muscle groups. This helps the brain assess the threat and prepares the muscles for action.

    • Increased platelet levels. More platelets in your bloodstream help your blood to clot better and faster if you are physically injured.

    • Increased endorphin levels. Endorphins help to dull any pain you might experience. This helps you ignore pain long enough to act in ways that might help you survive.

LA Times: Healing Sgt Warren

“He isn’t sure he will return for another session with Schulte. Then he thinks: What’s the alternative? Pills, pot, blackout drinking. A lifetime of hiding in his darkened apartment?”

Screen Shot 2013-10-07 at 9.17.28 AMAn engrossing, but difficult story well done by Christopher Goffard in the LA Times about the on-going healing process of Sgt Jonathan Warren. Though the process of exposure therapy under the guidance of a skilled therapist at the VA, Warren recounts his experience. What takes place seems akin to reframing –like a film under scrutiny, where forgotten details come to light to create a new understanding. Different therapies work for different people. This is his story, and his experience as he heals.

Read: Healing Sgt. Warren

Watch the video

Marine Corps Times: Yoga, MMA combined, “Kevlar” for The Brain

Chemical: Kevlar

Our comment;  We’d love more information, and since the author is a board certified psychologist who served 2 tours in Iraq, perhaps he’ll be able to get some studies funded, and discover why these two modalities when combined seem to work. What’s the routine? How long? What’s the longterm outcome? We’re hopeful more research will be done!

From the Marine Corps Times  

“The military spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year on mental health research and care. Although advances in medications and talk therapies for often disabling and chronic psychiatric conditions are a sound investment, other less expensive and non-traditional alternatives can provide substantial dividends.”

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Read:  for the Mind: MMA, Yoga May Offer Benefits As PTSD Treatment  by Bret A. Moore

Innovative Yoga Teacher Training Puts Them In A Soldier’s Shoes

Sign up now for the Oct. 19 class in Auburn NH

Sign up now for the Oct. 19 class in Auburn NH

Fire a weapon, crawl through an obstacle course, work with veterans with combat injuries. Experience a tiny bit of the world a combat veteran has gone through. This is open to all certified yoga teachers who aren’t afraid of a challenge, and want to gain a hands-on experience in a safe environment  for a one-day workshop in New Hampshire.  

Sign Up now for the October 19 course in Auburn NH.

The Combat Connection presents Yoga For Vets 101 a one day/12 hour intensive training course for yoga teachers with no military experience who want to teach combat vets,in a clinical or studio environment.  Becky Blais and Paul Zipes, both military veterans and certified yoga teachers  will teach this one day/12 hour course designed to immerse all certified yoga  teachers in a safe, supportive and high intensity environment.”

This is an experiential boot camp for certified yoga teachers that will give them a hands-on experience into the world of a combat veteran. What does a weapon feel like?  What have they heard? Learn a proven methodology of what works for veterans Boost your confidence and skill set by receiving information on military protocol, and terminology.  Learn the 3 most common injuries of combat veterans, and what’s hands “off” and hands “on” when teaching. Paul and Becky have thoughtfully put this workshop together…. don’t miss it!