A Veteran’s Experience With Yin Yoga
My name is Daniel Martin and I served in the USMC in Vietnam from September 1968 to October 1969. I worked as a social worker for 15 years before becoming a massage therapist in 1991. In 1994 I became a practitioner of structural integration. At present I have 300 hours of yoga training and teach yin yoga at the local senior center. I have been married for 22 years and have a daughter 11 years old, who is adopted from Vietnam.
I first became interested in yin yoga in 2010. During “reclining spinal twist” I became aware of an opening in my low- and mid-back. At first I thought it was a release of tight, over-worked soft tissue but as time went on I felt this deep feeling of reconnection to my heart. It was as if my mother was holding me in her arms. I felt safe, whole, and not alone anymore.
Fleeting as this moment was, I wanted to experience it again. I attended more yin yoga classes and took two yin yoga teacher trainings. Through the yin poses I have learned to use my breath as a way of staying more present in my body. I am more accepting and less judgmental of others and myself. I am re-connecting with an inherent wisdom and truth that permeates my body and mind. My past stories and experiences of war no longer are in the forefront of my life. My heart has softened. I feel more space to make choices and I am learning to react to things in my life in a more conscious way. I don’t feel so alone. Since Vietnam I have always felt unsafe in large groups of people, but now I can be in a room with many people again. I practice yin yoga and meditation almost every day. It is an important part of my path toward healing.
A Psychiatrist’s Experience Working With Veterans And Other Individuals Healing The Effects of Trauma
After many years in which my wife Annie and I have worked with trauma survivors, it is abundantly clear to us that daily medications and talk therapy are not adequate tools for many of the people who seek help with their healing from the effects of trauma (often referred to as post-traumatic stress, or post-traumatic stress disorder). Much of what Biff [Mithoefer] says about yin yoga resonates strongly with our clinical experience regarding what is needed for healing: regaining a balance between striving and letting go, an invitation to listen to the body, allowing for reconnection.
When people who have not responded to conventional western treatments are offered experiential methods that allow them to go beyond cognitive processing and to access deeper levels–where the burdens of trauma are carried in the psyche and the body–remarkable healing and heart-opening can occur. Methods for working directly with the body, such as yin yoga, are valuable and often indispensable tools for accessing these deeper levels. They also work as an ongoing practice, so that healing can continue to unfold that has been started by experiential psychotherapy.
All healing–both physical and psychological (which are not separate, but two aspects of a whole)–is accomplished as a result of our innate healing capacity. When I practiced emergency medicine it was important for me to take action to create favorable conditions for healing by removing obstacles to it, but the body knew how to heal, and did the healing. If someone had a big cut on their arm I would remove the dirt and bring the edges close together, maybe take other measures to treat infection or other problems that might be obstacles to healing, but I did not know how to heal the wound. That happened as a result of an amazingly complex and elegant process within the body, and it always moved in the direction of healing. I never saw a seven-cm laceration that turned into an eight-cm laceration when I checked it a few days later. Complications could impede the healing process, but the body always spontaneously moved toward healing.
The same is true of psychological healing from trauma, or anything else. The role of the therapist, facilitator, or teacher is to help create favorable conditions for healing. This person supports access to the inner healing wisdom and amazing healing ability of the body/psyche, and helps people directly experience that they can pause in their striving, and trust their own healing intelligence. Yin yoga practice is a wonderful way to practice and develop this direct experience of letting go, receiving and allowing their own healing to unfold.
-Dr. Michael Mithoefer