How Yoga Helps Vets – A Response from a 23yr Air Force Veteran & Yogi

Dear Mystery Veteran,

My name is MSgt Chris Eder…and I’m just shy of 23 years active duty service to THE United States of America as a Combat Correspondent in the Air Force.  Since 9/11, I have found myself in some interesting places.  Sometimes by myself, sometimes with people I had never met, and sometimes with people who I love(d) as a brother or a sister.  I want to make it perfectly clear that anything I say is not meant to “one-up you,” try to be better than you, or try to compare to you.  Rather, I want to provide perspective and insight as we both wear combat boots and serve as warriors & protectors of the USA!

I know exactly how it feels not to sleep.  For many years, I just told people I was a “morning” person.  That was maybe less than half true…as I really do enjoy being up before anyone else.  Hot showers, fresh coffee, etc.  But the truth was…I couldn’t sleep.  I used to spend as many hours as possible working.  People thought it was because I was a hard worker.  OK…they were right!  However, as I have learned over the years…working hard is also an unhealthy coping mechanism.  Avoidance!  It is hard to tell something is wrong when you continue to out-perform everyone!

Al Rasheed 1In 2003, I found myself traveling throughout Iraq by any means possible.  I was equipped with a 9mm, no ammunition, a flak vest I think my dad wore in Vietnam, and my camera gear. For a short period of time, I called the Al Rasheed Hotel home.  That is until Oct 26, 2003 when insurgents attacked it with 68mm and 88mm rockets.  Under Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz was in the hotel that night. Check the story out, Sec Wolfowitz is wearing my flak vest! Things got worse after my second deployment to Baghdad during the “Surge of Operations.”  Damn…the insurgents had our location dialed in!  20+ attacks a day seemed “normal” for so long.

So…why yoga?  Hell…why not?  What is the worst thing that can happen?  I started yoga back in 1999 because of a pinched sciatic nerve and a diagnosis of Adult Attention Deficit Disorder.  I instantly was hooked! During my 2007 deployment to Iraq, I was actually teaching 5-6 classes a week.  Anyone…and I mean anyone… can do yoga.  I introduce to you Lieutenant Colonel Tom Bryant.

Lieutenant Colonel Bryant, US Army is my friend/mentor and hands down the best person to ever come from Alabama. LTC Bryant is the last person I thought would try yoga.  He is a typical Southern conservative, “Roll Tide!”-preaching, family loving, church going, hunting/fishing military kind of guy.  He would often poke fun of me when we worked together about how I taught and practiced yoga.  Tom recently sent me a Facebook message:

“Are you sitting down? You should.

Last night I did yoga. And since I’m deployed, you know I wasn’t drunk or high. It lasted 20 minutes, was cal

yoga-meme-300x187led relaxation yoga or something like that. Really just seemed like a lot of stretching to me, but this Japanese guy with a ponytail on the video kept talking about “seeing your breathing” and “step mindfully downward on your heels” and a bunch of other platitudinal crap I didn’t understand. But the stretching stuff was cool.”

Even this staunch yoga antagonist found yoga to be at the very least, “cool!”  There is a good chance what you think Yoga is…is not at all what it really is.  Yoga can be whatever you want it to be…killer workout, awesome stretch, or a time to reset and restore your batteries.  For me, I *try* to start every day with 15-30 minutes of meditation and yoga.  I also end each day with some grounding breath work to help clear and prepare my mind for sleep.  Trust me…I know it sounds fruity, crazy, or even esoteric…but IT WORKS!  I’ve been practicing yoga since 1999 and teaching since 2007.  I often wonder where I would be today without yoga.  I see my brothers and sisters-in-arms who share *our* nightmares, panic attacks, alertness, relationship issues, memory problems…the list can go on forever.  I know just how tough my life is…and wonder how much tougher and often debilitating it would be without yoga in my life.

Lastly, I’d like for you to stop breathing for 20 minutes. What…you can’t?  You think you might die.  I agree!  So…public math here…if I can increase both the quality and quantity of your breath…would that not increase the quality and quantity of your life?  Check out this free sample from Suzanne Manafort: 

 

Why Yoga?

{VIRIN}People often ask me why I “do” yoga.  This is usually followed by: jokes about guys doing yoga, questions about levitation, and references to contortion.  Once the laughter settles, I’ll answer in one of several ways.  If the question  comes from a guy or group of guys who are joking about “guys doing yoga,”  I say something about how horrible it is to be the only guy in a room full of women.  That usually gets their attention.  If the question comes from an overly-muscled person who questions the “manliness” of yoga, I usually respond in the form of an asana.  Usually eka pada koundinyasana that transitions into a variation of Mayurasana.

When the question comes from someone who really wants to know “why I do yoga,” I will sit down and tell them about my yoga journey.

“Yoga is for girls!” (And Other Yoga Myths)

Ben: “Were you surprised they loved it?”

Jillian: “Kinda. I was really surprised they wanted to do it, and not walk out the door and just go to the bars in Las Vegas.”

Ben King of Armor Down talks with Jillian

Image about her classes with veterans at Nellis Air Force Base in this fun spreecast.

Coming up in Las Vegas: Donation class to fund yoga for vets

Jillian has been asked to teach Trauma-Sensitive yoga classes at Nellis Air Force Base and the Las Vegas VA Hospital. The hitch? As of now, the Veterans administration nor the military are offering to fund the classes. So, we have to fund it ourselves.

On 17 June, Sunday, Jillian will be teaching a donation yoga class to raise money to pay for mats, straps, blocks, and blankets. The class will be for all levels. A one hour vinyasa class with plenty of restorative poses to help everyone tune-in, de-stress and breathe.

The location is:   Studio 222 Personal Training Centers   8645 W Flamingo Rd #104, Las Vegas, NV 89147  at 10:00 AM.

Please see the official notice on Facebook, and rsvp.

In addition, our deepest thank you to Semper Fidelis Health & Wellness and Connected Warriors for coming forward, adopting WarRetreat, and sending both encouragement and funds to help get a yoga for veterans movement started in Las Vegas.

Wanted: Straps, Blankets and Blocks for new classes for veterans

Jillian has been asked to teach a few classes for the Las Vegas VA Hospital, and Nellis Air Force Base.  One class will be for the MOVE program, the other is through the Health and Wellness Center on base. Jillian is designing a class for the veterans to help them become aware of how their bodies feel as they move, in addition to teaching them to connect movement and breath with relaxation.

We’re looking for yogis with a few too many unused bricks, straps and blankets who want to lighten the contents of their home, and donate their new or slightly used props for our classes.  If you send 2 blocks, we prefer ones that are the same size, and please wash the blankets to save Jillian a trip to the laundry mat!  Lululemon in Las Vegas has donated ten brand new mats. (Thank you Lululemon Las Vegas!).  The equipment is all going to stay with Jillian, as she turns her car into a portable yoga studio (aka The Breathe Mobile).  The classes start in June, and we’d love you to send us extra props that are cluttering your house. Of course, if you’re a Las Vegas area yogi who wants to donate, that’d be great to make that connection.

Jillian needs:

  1. 20 Blocks
  2. 10 Straps
  3. 20 Mexican Blankets
  4. Collapsible cart to fit into the Breath Mobile (see below).

Please reach us by hitting the “contact” us button at the top of the page.  Kanani will be attending the classes with Jillian to do the modified poses (which is all I do anyway) and help haul stuff from the Breath Mobile into the classroom.

Yoga Teacher Training: Pushing the boundaries toward healthcare

Click to be taken to article

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.

Third Eye Missing: Naked Yoga with the Kardashians

This has been a really weird week with lots going on. While I rarely watch TV,  I plunked myself on the sofa for a bit of channel surfing.  I caught an episode of those sisters who are famous for being reality TV stars, given their lack of other identifiable job skills. Yes, I watched the Kardashians, and it  happens that one of them is on a health and wellness bender from hell, subjecting everyone to whims of Whole Foods and Naked Yoga. On the light side, she’s proof you can OM while having a makeup artist apply your 1″ eyelashes. On the dark side –oh hell, how can there be one. We’re talking Kardashians, not nuclear physics, and unlike people who take a self proclaimed higher moral ground, I don’t hold them responsible for the destruction of traditional culture.

Since the show situations are scripted, the play out of the yoga session with the naked yoga dude (who came to the house with mats-for-all), was predictable. It was a group pressure situation and no one –even though they were uncomfortable, thought to leave.* Instead, the cameras rolled, people giggled, no one got naked, a temporary husband walked in, and got pissed off. This necessitated a whine-fest at a bar with his buddy.  The yoga dude got his plug in for naked yoga. Perhaps the absence of any third eye action can best be explained as such: too much mascara and a false eyelash can obscure anyone’s vision.

In yoga, there’s a variety of reasons, styles, and schools to choose from. For readers of this blog who are thinking about buying a mat, relax. Naked yoga is probably practiced by 1/100th of 1%. No doubt, they have their philosophical reasons spelled out in sound bites and press releases of why naked yoga works for them.  But for those who are proponents of stress reduction for people with chronic, complex PTSD, there are some issues we want to bring to light.

Bodies are personal, sacred –and I’m sure the proponents of naked yoga know this too. But for someone with chronic, complex PTSD, who has been sexually or physically abused, the thought of anyone suggesting they strip naked and do yoga is enough to send them running away. Throw in a naked yoga teacher making an adjustment, and the teacher risks triggering an emotional response that could send the student into a flashback, and a physiological reaction.

In addition to working with veterans, David Emerson works a lot with abused teens and adults. It takes a lot to get them to even sit long enough to try the breathing exercises, and start on a path to connect with a body that they have long dissociated with. And you can’t make them or get them, because that involves coercion. All you can do is what we do here –remain constant, talk about it, show them a few things, a let people decide on their own. If they do decide to take you up, you’ll be there. 1 day, 1 month, 1 year from now.

*If you feel uncomfortable, leaving is always an option.