Rob Schware: Helping Veterans To Heal The Invisible Wounds of War Is Worth The Effort

This holiday period I am reading David Finkel’s new book, Thank You For Your Service, published by Sarah Crichton Books.  It’s a compelling read. On every page we are reminded of the reality of American wars since Vietnam, of the persistent toll that traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress, depression, and anxiety have on veterans and their families. At times, the stories will break your heart, and they piss me off enough to want to channel my energy to help.

Here is a sample:

“Most of all, they (veterans in a rehabilitation program) had heard explosion after explosion and seen dozens of Humvees disappear into breathtaking clouds of fire and debris, and by the end most of them had been inside such a cloud themselves, blindingly feeling around in those initial moments to determine if they were alive, or dead, or intact, or in pieces, as their ears rang and their hearts galloped and their souls darkened and their eyes occasionally filled with tears. So they knew. They knew. And yet day after day they would go out anyway, which eventually came to be what the war was about. Not winning. Not losing. Nothing so grand. Just trying until it was time to go home and discovering that life after the war turned on trying again.”

For many veterans, as hard as they try, the wars keeps trying too, as images of heads half gone, close-ups of torsos ripped open, and blood spreading become repressed.  “So many soldiers with psychological injuries,” writes Finkel, “envy soldiers with physical injuries because those soldiers can see evidence that something is really wrong with them.”

As a growing evidence base of yoga studies demonstrates, such stress, depression, and anxiety is ultimately processed through the physical body. For those who want to try to take a break from their stress and anxiety, we at the Give Back Yoga Foundation have a toolkit that can help connect the mind and body, which has been especially designed and tested for veterans. It includes breathing practices (pranayama), meditation, physical postures and movements (asana), and a specific form of guided rest (Yoga Nidra). It’s called Mindful Yoga Therapy for Veterans.

We’ve received wonderful testimonials of the benefits of the toolkit from veterans. Paul, a Vietnam War Veteran who is becoming a yoga teacher, told us: “Mindful Yoga Therapy has been incredibly helpful to me in coping with my post-traumatic stress. Yoga is like a gyro that brings me back into equilibrium when dealing with the effects of my disorder. The more I practice, the more my symptoms are mitigated.”

It may not be the only thing veterans AND their spouses need in the healing processes, but with other tools, we have seen real change happening.

We are reaping the results of sending this toolkit to nearly 10,000 veterans and 43 VA hospital facilities and hearing back on the unbelieveable benefits veterans experience—freedom from traumatic stress!

If you’re a veteran or service member, I encourage you to request a free copy of this toolkit. My hope is that these resources will help you to find the same relief and peace that other vets have experienced when they discover these practices.

And if you’d like to tell a vet “thank you for your service,” please consider making a donation to our Yoga for Veterans program. A contribution of $50 will help us to bring yoga toolkits to 10 veterans. You can also make a lasting impact by joining our monthly donation program – with a contribution of just $15 to Yoga for Veterans, you’ll help us to bring healing yoga practices to three veterans every month.

It’s one the best ways I can think of to say thanks – and I’m grateful to each and every one of you who is contributing to this movement of hope and healing.

Rob Schware, PhD
Executive Director
Give Back Yoga Foundation

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Do you want to bring the healing practices of yoga and meditation to veterans? Mindful Yoga Therapy for Veterans is an empirically informed, clinically tested program comprised of five practices – pranayama, asana, yoga nidra, meditation and gratitude – that give veterans a “toolbox” that can carry them into a life of strength and resilience. Find a Mindful Yoga Therapy training near you, or join Give Back Yoga at the Sedona Yoga Festival in February for a two-day Mindful Therapeutic Yoga Practices for Veterans pre-conference training.