I Can’t Touch My Toes! Yoga, Veterans And Hope
I’m not your “normal” yoga teacher. My life is a cross between an action-adventure movie and a Corona commercial. Twenty years of military and law enforcement experience in Central and South America is not the usual breeding grounds for yoga teachers or those who embrace a holistic and spiritual lifestyle. Or is it?
We tell our friends and family we practice yoga and so often we hear “I can’t do yoga, I can’t even touch my toes!” When I sit before half a dozen combat hardened veterans on bolsters, crossed-legged, and tell them all to reach down and grab their toes, I dispel that myth immediately. As yogis, we know our actual hamstring length has little to do with the benefits we reap from our practice. I have the privilege of teaching yoga and meditation to veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress (PTS) and traumatic brain injuries (TBI). Through my work with Veterans Yoga Project (VYP) I have taught hundreds of veterans the healing practices of pranayama (breathing techniques), vinyasa yoga (mindful movement), and yoga nidra (guided rest).
The Veterans Yoga Project
Veterans Yoga Project is national non-profit organization supporting recovery and resilience among veterans, their families and communities. VYP uses tools from our yoga toolbox to help our veterans suffering from PTS. Learning the simple, yet powerful, effects of using your breath to control your body and brain’s natural responses to stress greatly helps them improve the quality of their life and furthers them along their path to recovery. I always start my classes to veterans dispelling the “myths of yoga.” Yoga is for girls. You need to be flexible. You have to chant Ommm and eat vegan food. As yogis we hear these common misconceptions frequently and they scare veterans away from the incredible healing power of yoga. Chakras, nadis, sutras, and lots of odd Sanskrit words are “woo-woo” and does not resonate with a population of people who can truly benefit from yoga.
Over 20 veterans commit suicide every day from symptoms of PTS that can be significantly managed by a regular yoga/meditation practice.
How Yoga helped Sarah
Meet Sarah, an Army combat veteran whose truck got blown up on a convoy in Iraq, leaving her with limited mobility, a fused spine and major PTS symptoms that negatively affect every moment of her life. Sarah is also a mother of two, a wife, and struggles to hold down a job and meet her family responsibilities. On a recent retreat Sarah sat before me in a small group of veterans. After some instruction and practice of pranayama (breathing techniques to calm the nervous system), Sarah said, “You know what, f*uck you, I don’t like this yoga sh*t, and I’m not doing it anymore.” Anger is a significant PTS symptom.
Later that day Sarah quietly sat through a mindful meditation class, then a yoga nidra session in the evening. On last day of the retreat I was stunned when Sarah asked me if we could do our yoga on the beach that day. For the first time since she could remember, Sarah sat quietly with her eyes closed, on the beach, following her breath and the sounds of nature in the present moment. No fear, no anger, only peace and hope. Sarah experienced the healing power of yoga and meditation. Through her practice she found some relief from her PTS, some inner peace, some hope. I have witnessed so many stories like Sarah’s. I hope to witness many more.
VYP’s Veterans Gratitude Week
Every November, the Veterans Yoga Project celebrates Veterans Gratitude Week. A time to recognize the sacrifice of those who served to protect our freedom and raise money through teaching yoga classes to support the efforts of VYP and save our veterans. As a yogi, a yoga teacher, or studio owner, you can help support VYP through the simple act of hosting a donation yoga class. It’s free and VYP will support your class by sending print materials and information on VYP.
Show gratitude for our freedom to practice yoga and for our veterans. To help veterans heal, go to veteransyogaproject.org and host or attend a donation class for Veterans Gratitude Week. If you are not able to host or teach a donation class, you can help our veterans by donating to VYP for Veterans Gratitude Week at veteransyogaproject.org.
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