Does Meditation Among Veterans Really Work?

By Pamela Stokes Eggleston, Meditation Teacher
for the Veterans Collection on Meditationstudioapp.com

Meditation with Pamela StokesMeditation has significant, transformative healing benefits. The practice can help the practitioner fully connect to body, mind and spirit. But how is meditation accepted within the military and veteran communities? Studies show that meditation helps veterans find peace through decreasing sympathetic activity (fight-flight-freeze) reactions and increasing parasympathetic activity (rest and digest). Veterans are empowered to find a safe space and peace within. Those dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can especially benefit from the profound practices of mindfulness and meditation.

However, not all veterans suffer from PTSD. The belief that all veterans return home ready to snap at any given moment is completely false. In fact, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, between 11 and 20 percent of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) veterans suffer from PTSD, many dealing with chronic pain, nightmares, hyper vigilance and insomnia. The VA is slow to fully accept the advantages of meditation and mindfulness, but it’s coming as the scientific studies are steadily demonstrating undeniable benefits.

Indeed, meditation is a therapeutic modality. While not a cure, it can certainly help mitigate the symptoms of PTSD with regular practice. It helps to rewire the brain and recover from combat stress. It creates neuroplasticity – the ability to change neural pathways in the brain. And it quiets the mind and calms the spirit. Accordingly, it’s considered a viable complementary and alternative practice to other forms of therapy and prescription drugs.

Using the principles of mindfulness, we can practice loving-kindness, open our hearts to true understanding and individual needs, and look at meditation in its myriad forms to guide the work that so desperately needs to be done within the veteran and military communities. The more meditation and mindfulness instructors can offer this from a place of authenticity, the more widespread meditation will become.

We offer up these complimentary meditations for Veterans, Families of Veterans and to those continuing to serve in the Military.

Compassion meditation for veterans and their families from Pamela Stokes Eggleston:

 

Mindfulness for Trauma meditation, from Suzanne Manafort:

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Access more resources : listen to guided meditations for military families and caregivers.

Guided Meditations For Military Families

MILITARY FAMILIES: A POPULATION OFTEN OVERLOOKED

It’s well-known that the trauma of war has a strong impact on our service members. But we often forget that the reality and aftermath of combat and deployment impact military families as a whole – and that yoga and meditation can serve as valuable tools as support.

It’s impossible to completely prepare for the realities of war, or for what occurs at home. After combat, a new set of challenges arrive for veterans and their families. Lives rearrange in order to support those returning from service. The focus of family undergoes a necessary shift to tend to the physical injuries and disabilities, psychological and emotional scars.

We are dedicated to serving both veterans and service members, and their caregivers and family members, with tools for finding strength, resilience and a calm body and mind.

Developed for Military Families

These guided meditations led by Mindful Yoga Therapy ambassador Pamela Stokes Eggleston were designed for military spouses, military and veteran caregivers, and military children. Originally recorded and available on Meditation Studio App (App Store or Google Play).  There are over 20 different meditations available in the Meditation Studio Veterans Collection. Download the app.

Pamela-430Pamela Stokes Eggleston has practiced yoga for 15 years and completed specialized training to include certifications in plant-based nutrition, stress management, prenatal yoga and MYT training to work with service members and veterans with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and combat stress.

Through Yoga2Sleep partnerships and strategic alliances, she works with the VA and Mindful Yoga Therapy for Veterans.

 



 

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More from Pamela Eggleston Stokes: listen to guided meditations for veterans and military.

Mindful Yoga Therapy 100-Hour Certification in Virginia Beach: Begins September 23, 2016

The 100-hour Mindful Yoga Therapy certification offers an in-depth course of study based on the techniques of embodyoga®, and proven protocol developed as an alternative complementary therapy for veterans being treated for post-traumatic stress in clinical settings.

The 100-hour Mindful Yoga Therapy certification is an in-depth course of study, offering protocol developed as an alternative complementary therapy for veterans being treated for post-traumatic stress.

Mindful Yoga Therapy is an empirically informed, clinically tested program comprised of five practices: Pranayama (breathing), Asana (postures connected with breath), Yoga Nidra, Meditation, and Gratitude. Each practice is a tool Veterans can use to cope with Post Traumatic Stress, and together, they form a comprehensive system – a toolbox – that will carry Veterans into a life of strength and resilience.

Give Back Yoga is proud to support the fourth session of Mindful Yoga Therapy’s 100-Hour Certification program, beginning in September 2016 at Studio Bamboo Institute of Yoga in Virginia Beach. Led by GBYF board members Suzanne Manafort and Studio Bamboo founder Ann Richardson Stevens, the program consists of five modules presented over five weekends, covering both the Beginning Mindful Yoga Therapy Program and the next-level Resilience Program. 
Both programs include a 12-week protocol that incorporates Embodyoga® supports and all five “tools” from the Mindful Yoga Therapy “toolbox.”

Yoga practices are a powerful complement to professional treatment for Post Traumatic Stress. A mindful, embodied yoga practice can provide relief from symptoms and develop the supportive skills that Veterans need in their everyday lives. This in-depth certification prepares teachers to share Mindful Yoga Therapy with veterans in either a community or a clinical setting. If you’re a certified yoga teacher, we invite you to help support the healing journey of Veterans in your area.

Highly beneficial for anyone dealing with trauma, anxiety and stress, the Mindful Yoga Therapy program also offers limitless real-life applications for broader populations.

“The training has changed the quality, content and presentation of how I guide any and all yoga classes.”

– Cheryl

Training Location:

Studio Bamboo Institute of Yoga
2861 Lynnhaven Drive, Ste. 108
Virginia Beach, VA 23451

To view a list of all upcoming 15-hour and 100-hour trainings, visit our Mindful Yoga Therapy Teacher Trainings page. To be notified of new dates as they are added, find out about scholarship opportunities and receive program updates, join the Mindful Yoga Therapy mailing list.

Faculty:

Faculty includes experienced yoga teachers and Veterans. You’ll study with:

Suzanne Manafort, Mindful Yoga Therapy Founder
Robin Gilmartin, Clinical Therapist
Patty Townsend, Embodyoga® founder
Ann Richardson, Adaptive Yoga teacher
Amy Lawson, senior faculty member

Modules:

Module 1 : September 23-25, 2016
Guiding Principle – Support Precedes Action – The MYT Supports
• Why Mindful Yoga Therapy for PTSD
• The Toolbox – Pranayama, Asana, Yoga Nidra, Meditation, and Gratitude
• Breath and the Nervous System
• The Breathing Practices
• Practices for the Mindful Yoga Therapy Beginning Program
• Practices for the Resilience Program
• Teaching Practicum
• Military Culture- The Branches and Ranks

Module 2: October 14-16, 2016
Guiding Principles – Safety, Control, and Predictability
• Acceptance, Inclusion, and Non- Judgment
• The Brain and The Endocrine System
• Teaching Practicum
• The Mindful Yoga Therapy Asana classes and its Variations
• Asana for the Mindful Yoga Therapy Beginning Program
• Asana for the Resilience Program
• Military Culture – Veterans Connections and Camaraderie

Module 3: November 11-13, 2016
Guiding Principle – Mindfulness
• Yoga Nidra
• Warrior Nidra
• Adaptive Yoga and PTSD
• Teaching Practicum
• Military Culture – The Different Wars

Module 4: December 2-4, 2016
Meditation and the Brain
• The Mindful Yoga Therapy Meditation Practices
• Meditation Practice for the Mindful Yoga Therapy Beginning Program
• Meditation for the Resilience Program
• Recovery and Post Traumatic Growth
• Meaning, Purpose and Growth
• Social support
• Teaching Practicum
• Military Culture – Coming Home, Transition, and the Veteran Suicide Epidemic

Module 5: January 6-8, 2017
Gratitude
• Reviewing all of the practices and finding the most effective way to implement them
• The 12-Week Protocol for the Mindful Yoga Therapy Beginning Program
• The 12-Week Protocol for the Resilience Program
• Overview of treatment and complementary therapies
• Teaching Practicum
• Families of Veterans
• Taking Mindful Yoga Therapy into the world
• Vicarious Traumatization and Self Care
• Military Culture – Treatment and Recovery from a Veterans Perspective

Graduation Requirements:

Completion of all modules
Competency presentation

Continuing Education:

100 hours of Yoga Alliance continuing education credits are available.

Prerequisites, Cost and Registration:

The prerequisite for this program is a minimum of a 200 hour training. (If you are not yet a 200 hour certified yoga teacher, the Mindful Yoga Center offers a teacher training program.) Cost for the full program is $1500. You may also elect to make 3 payments of $600 each.

Scholarship Opportunities:

Veterans and Active Duty Servicemembers: A limited number of scholarships are available to support yoga teachers who are veterans or active duty service members. For more information, email Mindful Yoga Therapy at [email protected].

Register for the Mindful Yoga Therapy 100-Hour Certification at Studio Bamboo.

Yoga and Trauma

By Rob Schware, Executive Director of the Give Back Yoga Foundation

Originally published on Gaia.com

Yoga and Trauma

The benefits of a yoga practice include building flexibility, strength, agility, balance, and concentration. However, a regular yoga practice can help anyone dealing with the stress of facing military deployment, being homeless, being in prison or recovering from alcohol and substance abuse.

It is tempting for me to write a book about each of these worthy people. Instead, over the past four years, I’ve interviewed many of them for a Huffington Post blog series called Yoga: How We Serve.

In their interviews, these women and men shared the unique needs of survivors of trauma, lessons learned in doing this work and how existing resources and treatments generally do not adequately address the needs of these populations. Here is just one of many extraordinary comments from a Vietnam War veteran in a program called Mindful Yoga Therapy:

 

“As I started to practice daily, I noticed several things happening. First, I began to sleep better. Next, I was getting to know myself, for the first time ever. Slowly I came off all of my psych meds. That was big! For the first time in over 40 years, I was medication free. Over the years, I’ve been on over 23 different kinds of medications, from Ativan to Xanax! Yoga is now my therapy.”

Vietnam War Veteran

This veteran went on to say he hopes that Yoga will someday be offered to all veterans, and offered to our troops during basic training.

I very much share this hope, because the costs of treating trauma — whether it occurred 40 years ago, or in the past decade –have become a major concern in our society. According to the Centers For Disease Control And Prevention, the economic burden of trauma is more than $585 billion annually in the U.S., including both health care costs and lost productivity.

The CDC also measures “Life Years Lost,” used to account for the age at which deaths occur, which gives greater weight to deaths occurring at younger ages and lower weights to deaths that occur at older ages. It turns out that the impact on life-years lost from trauma is equal to the life-years lost from cancer, heart disease, and HIV combined.

Statistics can’t say much about the personal burdens of individuals and families, of how individual sufferers are impacted, but it’s still instructive to mention one or two more here. For instance, there is an average of 293,066 Victims Of Sexual Assault Or Rape each year in the US, with someone in the United States being sexually assaulted every 107 seconds. And roughly 22 veterans commit suicide every day from the effects of PTS symptoms, one every 65 minutes.

WHAT IS TRAUMA?

The word “trauma” comes from the Greek, and means “a wound” resulting from an emotional or psychological injury or experience that causes someone to have mental or emotional problems, usually for a long time. According to Bessel Van Der Kolk:

“Trauma, by definition, is unbearable and intolerable. Most rape victims, combat soldiers, and children who have been molested become so upset when they think about what they experienced that they try to push it out of their minds…The survivor’s energy now becomes focused on suppressing inner chaos, at the expense of spontaneous involvement in their lives.”

YOGA FOR RECOVERY

The lives of many trauma survivors revolve around coping with the constant sense of danger they feel in their bodies. It is typically difficult for them to feel completely relaxed and physically safe in their bodies. As Yoga Of 12-Step Recovery (Y12SR) founder Nikki Myers puts it, “Sustainable addiction recovery is about more than the mind…the issues live in our tissues.”

Y12SR is a rich framework for integrating the wisdom of yoga and the practical tools of 12-step programs, with Y12SR meetings available nationwide, and the curriculum quickly becoming a feature of addiction recovery treatment centers across the United States.

SEXUAL ASSAULT

Yoga helps one reconnect with the body, giving the opportunity to discharge accumulated stress and anxiety, and restoring the human organism to safety. Sabrina Seronello’s story paints this picture: she was on active duty in the Air Force from March 2000-March 2006, working as a medic in the emergency department of a Level 1 trauma center at Wilford Hall Medical Center, Lackland AFB. Sabrina deployed to Iraq in January 2005 to the Air Force Theater Hospital, a Level III (injured patients and emergency operations) trauma center. Given what she saw and experienced taking care of the wounded in Iraq, and being a victim of sexual assault while in active duty, she had been suffering anxiety and panic attacks. Upon returning from Iraq she was introduced to yoga and saw how it helped her deal with post-traumatic stress, anxiety and depression. In 2013 she started teaching a regular weekly yoga class to incarcerated veterans at San Quentin State Prison in CA under the Prison Yoga Project.

Trauma-sensitive yoga programs are becoming more available at domestic violence shelters, and universities are offering them for survivors of sexual assault. Caitlin Lanier was sexually assaulted during her freshman year of college. This assault led to issues with anorexia, cutting and otherwise trying to numb her uncomfortable feelings. According to Caitlin:

“Those were just outward manifestations. Inside, I felt broken, ugly, lost, like I couldn’t trust anyone, and so sad.”

Caitlin has recently pioneered several trauma-sensitive yoga programs in the Boise, Idaho, area, including at a domestic violence shelter, and at Boise State and the College of Idaho. She also trains local yoga teachers on the neuroscience of trauma and how to integrate trauma-sensitive practices into their teaching. She has woven breathing techniques and mindfulness into a weekly support group for survivors of domestic violence that she co-leads with a licensed clinical social worker.

COMBAT-RELATED PTS

People with post-traumatic stress (PTS) who practice yoga report better sleep, improved focus and concentration, less anger and irritability, and exhibit an overall greater ability to enjoy life in the present moment. The Mindful Yoga Therapy program has been found to be especially helpful for veterans who are also participating in evidence-based psychotherapy for PTS.

“Yoga is like a gyro that brings me back into equilibrium when dealing with the effects of my disorder,” says Paul, a Vietnam War veteran.

YOGA FOR PRISONERS

Breath work, three extended exhales, is part and parcel of the Prison Yoga Project protocol for addressing symptoms of un-discharged traumatic stress, according to James Fox, Founder and Director. “The extended exhale serves as the body’s built-in release valve to discharge stress and anxiety,” he says. This is confirmed from current and former prisoners at San Quentin State Prison who have been part of the yoga program.

“It was mainly because of the inner peace and trust that I have developed and nurtured through my yoga practice that I was able to respond to a confrontational situation with calm.”—B.B.

“I’m able to stay grounded by getting into my breathing which takes my focus off stressful, traumatic events such as flashbacks. It keeps me mindful mentally and physically and enhances my self control.” –D.B.

YOGA & EATING DISORDERS

Finally, yoga can become a game-changer in combatting eating disorders. An estimated 24 million Americans suffer from an eating disorder (anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating). Chelsea Roff took her first yoga class at the suggestion of a therapist just a few months after getting out of the hospital for eating disorder treatment.

“The short story is that yoga brought me to a place in my recovery that no form of talk therapy or medical treatment ever had before. Downward dog certainly didn’t cure my eating disorder, but the practice did teach me how to relate to my body in a more compassionate way. And more importantly, perhaps, going to yoga introduced me to community–to the people I soon came to consider family – and I suppose that’s exactly what I needed to fully step into recovery,” she says.

HEALTH CARE COSTS

What if the over one-half of teenage girls and nearly one-third of teenage boys who use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, and taking laxatives, were offered regular yoga classes? Regular trauma-sensitive yoga classes for victims of trauma can help reduce our nation’s health care costs on a larger scale, as they address cognitive, emotional, and physiological symptoms associated with trauma. But a cultural change is required to make this happen. The current system is broken, because it overly relies on medical therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy, both of which are very costly without commensurate relief from symptoms.

According to Kantar Media, the heath care industry spent $14 billion on advertising alone in 2014, enough to fund over 215,000 trauma sensitive yoga classes. Especially for PTS, mainstream therapies have resulted in patients remaining significantly symptomatic after treatment, with additional problems including addiction, difficulties maintaining work, and homelessness.

The results are adding up to a national calamity that leaves human lives in ruins, particularly for men and women who have risked their lives to serve our country and need our help. According the Congressional Budget Office’s report on PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury among recent combat veterans, the average cost of treatment in the first year is $8,300 per patient and $4,100 in the following years. The average cost of treating an eating disorder is $1,250 per day, and only 1 in 10 sufferers ever receive treatment. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Such treatment is expensive not only for patients, but for insurance companies, and society at large.

 


FURTHER READING

The evidence base for the effectiveness of yoga in addressing trauma is extensive. Here are some resources for further reading:

The Body Keeps The Score: Memory and Psychobiology of Post Traumatic Stress – the textbook on trauma and body-mind practices by Bessel van der Kolk, MD

 Overcoming Trauma Through Yoga by David Emerson and Elizabeth Hopper

The Trauma Toolkit: Healing PTSD From The Inside Out by Susan Pease Banitt

Intelligence In The Flesh by Guy Claxton

John Gillard: Combat Veterans Giving Back

2016-04-11-1460375770-2976121-JohnGillardBanner-thumb

This is an interview with John Gillard, who explored yoga for several years while he was active duty military. He now teaches at a studio in Warren, RI. “There is no separation between yoga and service for me,” says John. “I receive so much from my practice; it is only sensible to give back, at least a fraction.”

Rob: What originally motivated you to do this work, and what continues to motivate you? How, if at all, has that motivation changed over time?

The definition of yoga is “the union of opposites.” Although my late mother never taught a single posture, she modeled uniting opposites by gracefully balancing her triumphs and challenges. This is what motivates me to teach. As a man of color from an urban setting, the messages about violence are extremely ambiguous. Yoga provides a practice that clarifies this ambiguity by centering me spiritually, emotionally, and physically. This motivates me to continue to practice; that motivation has become more intimate as time has passed.

2016-04-11-1460375680-2521050-JohnGillard.jpgIs there a standout moment from your work with the Veteran population?

Every time I interact with a Veteran who is coping with military sexual trauma (MST), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance abuse, or a combination of mental illnesses, I see that relaxation and sleep are very difficult for them. So to hear from a Veteran, for example, that “this is the most relaxed I’ve felt in 20 years,” or to have someone simply fall asleep during yoga class after sharing that they’ve been awake for 72 hours; those are standout moments for me.

What did you know about the population you are working with before you began teaching? What were some of the assumptions you had about this population, and how have those assumptions changed?

I’m a combat Veteran who has actually experienced more trauma here, at home, than I ever experienced abroad, despite engaging in firefights. I have first-hand experience of what violence and trauma do to individuals. I’ve also worked in human services and that experience has allowed for sound insight into the practical reality of this population. My assumption was that not all Veterans would be receptive to yoga practice, but I’ve found that many more than I expected are, and that number is only growing. I now realize that Veterans will use the tools available as long as those tools are presented respectfully.

What are two distinct ways that your teaching style differs from the way you might teach in a studio, and what are the reasons for these differences?

My style actually remains the same. This is because the studios that I’ve taught and/or currently teach in share a passion for the practice, not simply the presentation. This is important because it allows me to remain true to my heartfelt and committed service orientation.

What has been the greatest challenge in your teaching experience and what tools have you developed for addressing that challenge?

My greatest challenge is also my greatest strength. I look more like a football player than a yoga instructor! Many students view me as a fitness instructor. Although, soon they recognize that I’m not interested in pretentious posturing, but rather in heartfelt, soulful, and noncompetitive yoga practice. I remain authentic in who I am — a humble, loving man who seeks opportunities to serve others. So rewarding!

What advice would you give to anyone who is going to teach yoga to Veterans?

The same advice I received from Tom Gillette, an experienced yoga teacher and mentor: “Teach from your core. There are amazing instructors everywhere; be yourself.”

What are some of your ideas about, or hopes for, the future of “service yoga” in America in the next decade?

I’d like for yoga to become more accessible and better received in urban settings, as well as in society in general. It’s become normal for us to engage in mindless living. Yoga provides the information for us to either challenge this truth or remain mindless. Over the next decade, I’d like to see it offered widely as a complementary treatment to traditional therapies such as mental health counseling, physical therapy, occupational therapy, etc. I’d also like to see more teachers allow the common thread of holding sacred space and cultivating our interconnectedness rather than focusing solely on branding or trademarking, especially in trauma-sensitive yoga.

How has this work changed your definition of service? Your definition of yoga? Your practice?

Serving such deserving populations as Veterans — whether incarcerated, coping with MST, PTSD, and/or physical or mental illness — has deepened my understanding of service. I realize that no matter how much I give, I’m always receiving far more than what I’m giving. Yoga is the union of opposites, embracing ALL aspects of who I am without guilt or shame, but with a warm parental love. Service has made my practice more intimate, recognizing my practice in all aspects of my life. Yoga is not simply a posture or series of postures; yoga is every breath and interaction…yoga is the symbol of our interconnectedness.

Originally published on The Huffington Post Blog.

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Even the best yoga teachers need to acquire specific skills and considerations to work in trauma recovery programs. Our goal is to help create the most qualified, supportive teachers possible to work with victims of trauma. Visit our Trainings page to explore trainings for teachers, and to experience Mindful Yoga Therapy practices – originally developed for veterans dealing with post-traumatic stress – through the new Yoga for Stress online course.

Download Our New White Paper: Mindful Yoga Therapy for Post Traumatic Stress

MYT for Post Traumatic Stress

Post-Traumatic Stress: How Can We Respond?

Give Back Yoga is honored to introduce a new white paper illustrating how our Mindful Yoga Therapy program works as a comprehensive system to help participants navigate life with strength and resilience after trauma occurs.

The Mindful Yoga Therapy program is clinically tested. It evolved through working with veterans with post-traumatic stress in residential treatment programs and in outpatient programs over seven years. But the protocol is not just for veterans. The teachings and tools can help people living with or managing eating disorders, stress and anxiety disorders, drug and alcohol addiction, and domestic violence.​

Solutions proving to be successful

GBY-MYT White Paper Front Page

Download “Mindful Yoga Therapy for Post Traumatic Stress”

The new white paper, Mindful Yoga Therapy for Post Traumatic Stress, offers an introduction to this program as an effective solution for those dealing with symptoms of trauma. Featured content includes:

A brief review of Post Traumatic Stress symptoms and stats.

The challenge of treating a disorder that is both physical and emotional.

An overview of Mindful Yoga Therapy’s history.

Three guiding principles of the program: Support, Safety and Mindfulness.

Expanding cost-effective programming to populations that can benefit from Mindful Yoga Therapy.

We offer this white paper as a tool to help teachers, clinicians and supporters raise awareness of this program as a complementary alternative therapy to help those who are recovering from trauma. For more information, please contact [email protected].

Download the white paper: Mindful Yoga Therapy for Post Traumatic Stress.

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Even the best yoga teachers need to acquire specific skills and considerations to work in trauma recovery programs. Our goal is to help create the most qualified, supportive teachers possible to work with victims of trauma. Visit our Trainings page to explore trainings for teachers, and to experience Mindful Yoga Therapy practices in the new Yoga for Stress online course..

Dr. Kate Hendricks Thomas: Witnessing The Positive Impact Of Yoga For Veterans

2016-02-10-1455110783-921279-KateHendricksThomasYoga-thumbThis is an interview with Dr. Kate Hendricks Thomas, a Marine veteran and public health researcher who is interested in finding ways to promote mental health for military-connected personnel. She believes passionately in behavioral health solutions beyond the clinical realm. Kate is a college professor and trained yoga instructor. In 2013, she completed levels I & II of the Warriors at Ease Trauma-Sensitive Teacher Training for Military Veterans. She writes a monthly column for the digital magazine “Grow” about the importance of yoga for veterans’ health, and her articles about her research in this area have been published in scientific journals. Her first book, “Brave, Strong, & True: The Modern Warrior’s Battle for Balance” was released by Innovo Publishing Group last fall. Connect with her at http://katehendricksthomas.com.

Rob: What originally motivated you to do this work, and what continues to motivate you? How, if at all, has that motivation changed over time?

2016-02-10-1455111662-7842012-KateHendricksThomas-thumb Dr. Thomas: I joined the Marine Corps in college to test myself, to see whether I could do 20-mile hikes or back-breaking obstacle courses. I quickly learned that I could. In those early years as a Marine, I got very good at presenting a veneer of stoic professionalism at all times. Presenting the certain, effective façade required some incredibly useful skills – skills that become very destructive when you don’t know how to turn them off.

The above description fits most Marines. We tend to be a driven, dysfunctional lot. When I left the Marine Corps, I had a hard time carving a new identity for myself. I was terribly invested in what others thought of me. My public story was of crisp uniforms, physical fitness metrics, and successes. I always looked good on paper. My private story involved destructive choices, broken doors and holes in the walls, hiding weapons in the house, and getting dragged across the living room floor by my hair. I share this not because any of it is particularly interesting, but because it’s particularly common and normal in the military community I call home.

I was floundering through my own transition of Marine-to-civilian. It was at this critical juncture that I came to yoga as an athlete looking for something fun to try, something new to master, and something to help me bend my unyielding muscles a bit more easily. What I found on the mat changed my life entirely. I found a practice that was about more than my body, my training, and was something I could practice and study while joyously never “mastering” it.

I teach yoga today because it saved my life, because it asks the practitioner to work at creating mental fitness and resilience. I know no other way to reach my peers with such effect.

Is there a standout moment from your work with the veteran population?

I love teaching meditation for VA patients on the inpatient mental health ward. They are often so open and curious. Time commitments and distractions are completely eliminated by the confined surroundings, and we have the chance to truly breathe together.

What did you know about the population you are working with before you began teaching? What were some of the assumptions you had about this population and how have those assumptions changed?

I am a member of that population. The idiosyncratic messages of warrior subculture make sense to me; I grew up in a military family where “civilian” was pejorative, so I’m very familiar with military life. My own mistakes almost leveled me: I had no words to explain the disaster that had become my personal life, and felt crippling shame about being one of “those people,” with disordered drinking behavior going through a violent divorce. I would have fit right in on the Jerry Springer show. I knew the military intimately and I think I imagined that if I shared any of this with other veterans, they would dislike the authentic me that was full of flaws. In actuality, those flaws are my greatest offering as a teacher.

What is the role of “warrior-ness” in the healing process for veterans?

Marines and soldiers are competitive people who respond much better to notions of challenge than to victim or patient identities. We veterans won’t ask for help. The answer has to lie outside the contemporary standard of care. Yoga can address that. When we discuss the sorts of trauma and injuries our veterans have experienced, we need to bring mindfulness into the conversation around treatment and prevention. Pills and therapy are not enough to return this active, passionate community to full health after trauma.

Right now we are losing more veterans to suicide than to combat. I’m a pretty decisive person with limited ability to ask for help and zero trouble taking risks; I’m motivated in part because there was a time when I could have become one of those statistics. While there are clinical health services for soldiers and Marines with existing mental health conditions like post-traumatic stress, these services are not stemming the rising tide of service suicides. Framing mindfulness training as a way to “bulletproof your brain” renders the practices palatable within the confines of warrior culture.

What has been the greatest challenge in your teaching experience, and what tools have you developed for addressing that challenge?

Teaching from a place of flawed authenticity was a skill set I never used to possess, and I have to work hard to overcome my ego. A great example is my lifelong struggle with demonstrating balance poses. I’ve always had trouble in balance poses. To be honest, I’m not terribly balanced in general – I have been accused of displaying control-freak tendencies many a time. To learn to embrace my imperfect pose, laugh about it, and then share that in public has been tremendously liberating. I think our veteran students need approachable yoga.

What advice would you give to anyone who is going to teach yoga to veterans?

Learn the language, take some trauma-sensitive training, be willing to listen and learn, and focus outward. When we teach, it is not about us.

What are some of your ideas about, or hopes for, the future of “service yoga” in America in the next decade?

The yoga community has a real opportunity now to move into the mainstream health and wellness realm in a balanced, authentic, healing manner. Sometimes I think we focus too much on sexy poses or yoga pants, but when I spend time with fellow Yoga Service Council members who care so deeply about using this practice to make a difference in the world, I have confidence in the potential of our little subculture to bring about change.

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 Are you a yoga teacher who wants to work with veterans? Mindful Yoga Therapy’s 100-hour certification program can lead you through a deeper understanding of how to support this population. Find an upcoming training near you.

Jennifer Wright: Bringing Yoga to Veterans Treatment Court

2016-02-02-1454416098-7814319-JenniferWrightSchneemanPhotoCourtesyofPaulDirkPhotography-thumbThis is an interview with Jennifer Wright, who offers Mindful Yoga Therapy (MYT) training to Veterans and their families. She started with eight Veterans, ranging from OEF/OIF to Vietnam War Vets. One of those Vets introduced her to The Joseph House, a treatment-based shelter for Veterans in transition where she has worked the last two years. Around the same time, she received an invitation from the much-loved local judge to work with the Veterans of the Hamilton County Municipal-Veterans Treatment Court. She offers the MYT practices in the courtroom, prior to the docket. Attendance is now mandatory, and is considered one of the three self-help meetings required each week.

Since then, Interact for Health expanded the program through grant funds to capture data that supports the benefits of MYT when combined with behavioral treatment. MYT in Cincinnati has evolved to a mandatory complementary alternative medicine (CAM) intervention in both the Men’s and Women’s residential treatment programs at Veterans Administration Medical Center.

Rob: What originally motivated you to do this work and what continues to motivate you? How, if at all, has that motivation changed over time?

Jennifer: My sister-in-law and both of my brothers are Marines. I’m motivated to support the people that committed to our country and constitution; yet I have Jennie, Mark, Mike, other family members and friends in my heart as I interact with active duty and Veterans of all ages.

My yoga journey started long ago, when I started practicing in a post-9/11 environment while living in the DC area. I share the practices that helped and continue to help me process and manage my own stress.

My 12-year DOD career was spent working at DARPA, the science arm for the Pentagon; and also at military laboratories. I have my own experience, and although never active duty, I can relate to transitioning out of a lifestyle (not just a career) and redefining the self: figuring out what is next. I worked Human Performance Optimization programs for a long time, and I still do. I do so now using a trauma-informed protocol that is designed to enable the individual to practice coping skills and complement the hard work of treatment, transition & recovery. I still take my job very seriously – just now I wear comfier clothes and the work is more immediate and directly impactful!

Is there a standout moment from your work with the veteran population?

There are several notable moments, and a few stand out to me for their beautiful simplicity.

One of the men I worked with ended up at VA hospital where he had all day to monitor his BP and HR. He put his yoga practice to the test and had the added benefit of immediate feedback through the physiological monitoring. He used his breath practices to impact his outcome – to manage his pain, anxiety and anger during the whole process. He shared how he had a chance to discuss his coping skills with the medical staff. As he shared his real-world experience, I felt privileged to observe a proud and empowered man.

Another Veteran was pretty banged up. Some of his injuries were visible, although mostly not. The first session, he arrived to class with a stern face and dark glasses to protect his sensitive eyes from any light. He is a tall and solid man. Due to multiple traumas, sitting, standing and moving with comfort was rarely accessible to him on any given day. Although he had difficulty getting to the ground, he was determined to relax on the floor during the resting practices along with everyone else and he wanted to get there with minimal assistance. Communication was challenged so I used an analogy to land like a C-130 rather than a Harrier. Grace and safety was communicated; I was able to assist him to the ground. Once settled in with yoga props, he would give a big thumbs up and release a big smile or sigh. It was especially amazing to watch him over the eight weeks throughout the hard work with his speech therapist, clinical psychologists and of course, MYT. He would arrive to MYT with a grin, his arms spread out and make the noise of a large, cargo plane – ready to land and to relax.

What did you know about veterans you are working with before you began teaching? What were some of the assumptions you had about this population and how have those assumptions changed?

I went into working with Veterans feeling comfortable and in my element. Now, working Mindful Yoga Therapy with such a wide range of individuals reinforced how hard-headed some people can be…after all, people are people. Working with and witnessing people work their MYT program along side their recovery, therapy, or behavioral treatment has reinforced my understanding of humans, and especially military members as supremely resilient.

I went in thinking that damage to the brain was permanent. My VA mentors, colleagues, education and new discoveries prove otherwise.

What is unique about the Mindful Yoga Therapy for Veterans program as applied to Veterans Court?2016-02-02-1454416666-687449-unspecified-thumb

After getting over the initial chuckle of yoga mats in the courtroom, Hamilton County Vet Court is a unique and interactive environment. It starts with the motivating and compassionate judge, coupled with the well trained, kindhearted VA Veterans Justice Outreach, Court Clinic, Prosecutors and Public Defenders. Combine that with fun and relatable peer mentors, it is unlike anything I’ve experienced or seen in a traditional courtroom. Hamilton County Vet Court is treatment-based, and creates a comfortable and safe environment where supports (employment, transportation, wellness activities and others) are the foundation to sobriety and treatment.

We hold MYT prior to the docket. Feedback suggests that the pre-docket practice brings calm to the individuals and reduces anxiety. I observe it, and I receive the feedback that we create a visibly calmer courtroom.

What has been the greatest challenge in your teaching experience and what tools have you developed for addressing that challenge?

To me, the greatest challenge is working with men and women carrying sexual trauma. I lean on the advanced MYT trauma-informed protocol, my training and my experience. Trauma is held in the nervous system, and survival is sometimes rooted in living outside of the self. Since yoga is an invitation back into the body through self-awareness and self-acceptance, it is crucial to create a safe environment with the use of supportive language, postures and practices.

It is my observation that some people are not ready to come back into the body. The reminder to me is to stay positive and to be a ray of light for if and when the individual is ready. The more effective way is to invite the individual to show up and breathe, as the breath is the foundation for everything that we do. In MYT we offer many variations and a goal is to empower people to work to his or her appropriate level.

What advice would you give to anyone who is going to teach in the population you work with?

Trauma is trauma, and whether it is combat or non-combat related, a trauma-informed approach is necessary; and when implemented correctly, it works.

If there is interest in working with Veterans, especially in a clinical setting, embrace the beginner;s mind, empty your cup and get smart by training-up on a trauma-informed protocol like MYT. Stay healthy personally by staying grounded and use other self-care techniques to not take on “stuff.” Work your own practice!

What are some of your ideas about or hopes for the future of “service yoga” in America in the next decade?

There is a real need to support more Veterans and their families. Offering MYT practices (breath work, meditation, yoga postures, Yoga Nidra and gratitude) to active duty service members supports the research that shows how people armed with resiliency skills can experience and process trauma with self-soothing techniques and thus decrease the conversion to chronic stress and/or re-experiencing.

I am committed to continuing the MYT protocol in the clinical setting so that we can better understand the positive outcomes, especially when implemented in conjunction with Cognitive Processing Therapy. With the support of the Interact for Health grant funds, we are gaining traction towards the recognition as an evidenced-based intervention. It is my hope that we are moving towards full adoption within the DOD and VA.

War is not black and white. As the military and its agents return from war, there is a lot of “gray” to process. We owe it to the men and women to provide a whole range of skills to aid in the transition.

Headshot courtesy of Paul Dirk Photography.

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Are you a yoga teacher who wants to work with veterans? Mindful Yoga Therapy’s 100-hour certification program can lead you through a deeper understanding of how to support this population. Find an upcoming training near you.

 

Best Practices For Yoga in Schools: New White Book From the Yoga Service Council Now Available

Rob-Schware president of the Yoga Service Council

We are tremendously excited for the first Yoga Service White Book, “Best Practices for Yoga in Schools,” published by the Yoga Service Council (YSC) and Omega Institute for Holistic Studies. A collaboration of 27 of the nation’s leaders on yoga in schools, the book is now available on Amazon in both print and electronic formats.

The second Yoga Service White Book, forthcoming, will address yoga for veterans; and the third will focus on yoga in the criminal justice system.

Individually and as a whole, the white book series will support progress on our shared goal; helping to mainstream the practices of yoga and mindfulness in school systems, veterans’ facilities, prisons, and other social institutions.

-Rob Schware, GBYF Executive Director and  Yoga Service Council President

Best Practices for Yoga in Schools

Best Practices For Yoga In Schools. Cover Page

Best Practices for Yoga in Schools is a guide for yoga teachers, classroom teachers, school administrators, social workers, and anyone else interested in bringing yoga to children safely, and in a just and inclusive way.

By outlining suggestions and considerations across a wide variety of topics, this book will help you effectively and sustainably offer high-quality yoga programming for all children.

Based on the collective wisdom and experience of 23 contributors and four reviewers, this Best Practices Guide will support your capacity to implement meaningful school-based yoga programs, with the potential to transform the educational environment and help students thrive in a wide variety of situations.

Take 20% off the“Yoga in Schools” white book through the end of January.
Get your copy now on CreateSpace using the code J33NHWVC

A lot of very bright and experienced teachers, researchers, and clinicians gathered together and worked long and hard to create this well-documented publication. For anyone who dreams to include the powerfully beneficial practices of yoga—such as movement, conscious breathing, and meditation—into any school curriculum, Best Practices for Yoga in Schools is an incomparable resource.

To be effective and supported by the entire community, yoga must be introduced progressively and safely by well-trained teachers. When offered in this manner, yoga can be a powerful aid in helping students of all ages gain and maintain physical, psychological, and mental fitness, and manage stress. This book details how that can be accomplished.

—Beryl Bender Birch, cofounder of The Give Back Yoga Foundation

Learn more about the Yoga Service Council white book series.

 

An invitation to yoga teachers: help to save Veterans in 2016

Mindful Yoga Therapy 100-Hour Program

The new year is a time to set our intention for the coming seasons — to identify and commit to practices that help us make a greater impact in engaging with our life’s purpose and serving others. What’s your goal for the coming year?

As a member of our yoga service community, perhaps your vision is to add valuable skills and knowledge to your teaching toolkit in 2016, or to connect with underserved or at-risk populations in your neighborhood to share yoga. If so, Mindful Yoga Therapy program director Suzanne Manafort has an important message for you: there’s never been a better time to make a difference. 


An Invitation to Yoga Teachers: Help Us To Save Veterans in 2016

For many of us, the practices of yoga have changed our lives. That statement may seem dramatic, but it’s true. These practices teach us to turn inward, to pay attention, and to notice without judgment. They enable us to find balance in our bodies and minds, as well as develop our overall well-being. Because of those benefits, yoga is an invaluable asset for Veterans who are coping with trauma-related psychological difficulties.

Every day in the United States, an estimated 22 Veterans a day are committing suicide. We want to change that. One way we’re making a difference is through the Mindful Yoga Therapy program, developed to help Veterans to find a calm and steady/mind and continue productive and peaceful lives through the support of the mindful practices of yoga and education.

Mindful Yoga Therapy for Veterans is an empirically-informed, clinically tested program comprised of five practices: Pranayama (breathing), Asana (postures connected with breath), Yoga Nidra, Meditation, and Gratitude. Each practice is a tool Veterans can use to cope with Post Traumatic Stress, and together they form a comprehensive system – a toolbox – that will carry Veterans into a life of strength and resilience.

For certified yoga teachers who are interested in sharing this proven protocol, our 100-Hour Mindful Yoga Therapy program offers a deep exploration of this trauma-informed system. The 100-hour certification program consists of five modules, presented over five weekends, that prepares graduates to offer both the Beginning Mindful Yoga Therapy Program and our new next-level Resilience Program in clinical or community settings. 
Both programs include a 12-week protocol that includes Embodyoga® supports and all five “Tools” from the “Tool Box.”

Suzanne-ManafortYoga practices are a powerful complement to professional treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress. A mindful, embodied yoga practice can provide relief from symptoms and develop the supportive skills that Veterans need in their everyday lives. Yoga has proven to aid in a Veteran’s healing journey; and we believe that Mindful Yoga Therapy, used in conjunction with psychotherapy, can make a positive impact on the number of veterans we lose each day. Our hopes and aspirations are that we can make a difference.

Losing 22 veterans a day to suicide is unacceptable. Please help us to change that.

Suzanne Manafort, Founder & Director
Mindful Yoga Therapy

 


 

Mindful Yoga Therapy’s next scheduled 100-hour certification training begins in March 2016 in Newington, CT. A limited number of scholarships are available for teachers who are veterans or active duty service members. For more information on scholarships, email [email protected]. To register for the 100-hour program or view all upcoming Mindful Yoga Therapy trainings, visit the Give Back Yoga Trainings & Events page.