A growing number of veterans and healthcare professionals are discovering that the age-old practice of yoga and meditation offers an effective way to deal with the physical and emotional pain of post-traumatic stress disorder, major depression and traumatic brain injury. Yoga is far more than an exercise program – it’s a full mind-body discipline that can improve the life of every veteran, from World War II vets to service members just returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Clinical studies show that yoga can help veterans:
~Sleep better, overcoming insomnia and nightmares
~Enjoy a sense of well-being
~Relieve depression and hopelessness
~Cope with and even resolve anxiety and fear
~Find escape from the “fight or flight” response that causes hyperarousal
~Control anger and strong emotions
~Reconnect emotionally with friends, family and their community
~Be successful in recovering from addiction
~Feel less physical pain
“Yoga gives us choices, allows us not to have to try so hard – which is contrary to military training (like) ‘no pain, no gain,’ and ‘pain is weakness leaving the body.’” says Gulf War veteran Sue Lynch. “Yoga connects us to ourselves, (which) in turn allows us to then connect to our loved ones and our communities.”
Here’s what Sue Lynch and fellow veteran Hugo Patrocinio have to say about how yoga helped them find relief from their symptoms of PTSD:
Yoga classes often begin with a guided meditation practice that helps students connect with their breath and tune in to what’s going on in their mind and body. Students are then led through a series of physical poses, or asanas, like the Triangle Pose pictured below. Classes end with a relaxation pose.
To be prepared for your first yoga class:
~Wear comfortable clothing that allows for a full range of motion, and be prepared to be barefoot.
~Feel free to bring your own yoga mat if you prefer, but know that most studios provide mats for use during class.
~Eat only a light meal in the two hours before your class begins.
~Keep an open mind as you go through the class, and remember that the goal isn’t to avoid mistakes but to learn.
~If you feel uncomfortable with the teacher or style of class, try a different instructor or a new program.
To sample a guided meditation / breathing exercise led by master teacher Suzanne Manafort, visit veteran Ben King’s Armor Down YouTube channel.
The best introduction to yoga is through a teacher who has been specifically trained to work with veterans or trauma survivors. In the words of one Yoga For Veterans student, these instructors “get it,” understanding the mindset and needs of class participants.
Here are some ways to find a program for veterans in your area:
~Call the Veterans Affairs healthcare facility that serves your area and ask if they offer yoga and meditation classes. Usually, such programs are free to veterans. If your VA facility does not have such a program, ask if they would consider adding one.
~Look for one of Give Back Yoga Foundation’s partner programs that serves your area:
Yoga For Vets
Search by zip code for the 300-plus studios, teachers, and venues across the country that offer four or more free classes to war veterans.
Yoga For Veterans at Newington Yoga Center
Participate in personalized yoga programs and take advantage of discounts and scholarships that are available for veterans and their families. In Newington, CT.
Exalted Warrior Foundation
Find military and veteran hospital facilities that offer adaptive yoga instruction programs designed for wounded warriors.
Mind Body Solutions, Inc.
Participate in yoga classes geared to veterans, including disabled veterans living with mobility issues. In Minnetonka, MN.
The Adaptive Sports Foundation
Participate in adaptive yoga for injured veterans, along with winter and summer sports geared to special needs populations, in the largest adaptive sport program on the East Coast.
Warriors at Ease
View profiles of skilled yoga instructors who are certified to work with veterans and students who have experienced extreme stress and trauma.
Participate in free trauma-informed yoga classes for veterans at the Salt Lake City VA facility, and download free 5-minute yoga breaks that help to manage stress.
Trauma and Resiliency Resources
Offering the Warrior Camp® program, a weeklong mindfulness-based retreat that combines yoga, Equine Assisted Psychotherapy and individual Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy to help active duty military personnel and veterans heal from the trauma of war.
~Do a web search for “yoga for veterans” in a city near you. You can also simply search for nearby yoga studios that look welcoming, and contact them for tips on classes that would be beneficial.
~Many videos and books are available to guide students who want to start a yoga practice at home. The multi-media practice guide Mindful Yoga Therapy for Veterans Recovering from Trauma offers a simple introduction to yoga and meditation, and is free to veterans. Click here to read what veterans have to say about this bestselling guide.
~Students can also find many different online resources to guide them through a yoga practice in the comfort of their own home. YogaVibes offers unlimited access to high-quality instructional videos for less than a dollar a day, and Gaiam TV gives new customers a free 10-day trial to sample their Yoga For Beginners collection of instructional videos. Or simply go to YouTube and search for “yoga for beginners.”
These products developed by Give Back Yoga Foundation’s master teachers and program partners have been selected with the goal of helping veterans establish their own daily practice of yoga and mindfulness.
Yoga For Warriors – Basic Training in Strength, Resilience & Peace of Mind: In an easy and approachable way, this practice guide leads students through physical poses (asana), breath work (pranayama), mindfulness meditation and the deep relaxation practice of yoga nidra. Beautifully illustrated with photos of veterans, this book is a versatile tool for all sexes, ages and abilities. Please note: Eligible requesters will receive a coupon code for a free book via email. S&H charges from the publisher will apply. Free to veterans while supplies last – request a coupon code now.
Mindful Yoga Therapy For Veterans (Multi-media): A comprehensive introduction to a simple but effective yoga practice, this multi-media resource that was developed with the feedback of veterans includes a book, a poster with a visual guide for poses, and two meditation CDs – “Breathe In, Breathe Out,” and “Deep Relaxation.” Free to veterans – request a copy now.
Breathe In, Breathe Out: Quick and Easy Breathing Practices to Help Balance the Nervous System (CD): This series of short breathing practices was developed by Suzanne Manafort as part of the Mindful Yoga for Veterans therapy program, offered at the PTSD Residential Rehabilitation Program in Newington, CT. Free to veterans – request a copy now.
iRest Yoga Nidra: Easing Into Stillness (CD): Release negative emotions and thought patterns while calming the nervous system with 11 meditation practices led by clinical social worker and certified iRest Yoga Nidra teacher Karen Soltes. Free to veterans – request a copy now.
Deep Relaxation: Yoga Nidra – MP3: Yoga Nidra, a guided resting practice that helps to calm the nervous system and achieve deep relaxation in a short period of time, is a favorite practice for many veterans coping with PTSD. Available in the Give Back Yoga Foundation online store for $9.95. Also available as a CD for $15.
Deep Yogic Relaxation: Awakening to Peace Within (CD): Master teachers Patty Townsend and Rod Stryker guide students through powerful physical relaxation, breath awareness and visualization techniques. Available in the Give Back Yoga Foundation online store for $15.
VetsYoga (DVD): An instructional DVD with basic yoga and relaxation practices led by two war veterans, this tool helps students practice in the privacy of their own home. Available in the Give Back Yoga Foundation online store for $19.99; veterans can get 50% off by entering the coupon code THANKYOU at checkout. Read more about the VetsYoga DVD from Military.com fitness blogger Chris Torriello.
GaiamTV.com (streaming video): Enjoy a free 30-day trial of GaiamTV.com’s extensive collection of online yoga, meditation and wellness videos, starting with a special playlist compiled for Give Back Yoga by fellow veterans. When you keep a $9.95 monthly subscription, a portion of the proceeds benefit our Yoga For Veterans program. Click here to check out the playlist and start your free trial.
The Give Back Yoga Foundation is pleased to offer a selection of sponsored materials to veterans or active duty service members at no charge. Simply fill out the form below and we will ship your order to your physical address, or deliver a download link to your e-mail.
Are you looking for materials for a non-profit program or healthcare facility that serves veterans? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to get information on obtaining sponsored materials at bulk prices.