New Mindful Yoga Therapy study shows significant results for veterans with PTSD

Originally published on the Mindful Yoga Therapy blog

Veterans With PTSD Benefit From Mindful Yoga Therapy

Veterans benefit from yoga – Veterans struggling with the growing problem of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have new hope in helping to alleviate their symptoms with Mindful Yoga Therapy (MYT), according to research that finds the specific yoga practices in its protocol can help improve their physical and psychological well-being.

A group of academics from several nationally renowned health centers recently revealed the results of the research that found MYT significantly helped veterans deal with their PTSD, including reductions of almost 30 percent in their scores on the PTSD Checklist — one of two systems known as the gold standard of assessing whether people are reducing their symptoms of PTSD.


MYT is a therapeutic yoga training program for already certified yoga instructors. In this training, they learn specific practices which are worked into a 12 week protocol that uses yoga to help teach veterans (or other populations who have experienced trauma) how to work through symptoms of PTSD. The advanced (100 hour) MYT training allows instructors to combine this protocol with clinical therapy to help develop veterans’ self-control and mindfulness as a strategy to improve their wellbeing. That’s critically important at a time when suicide, addiction and substance abuse due to PTSD are increasing among veterans.

The peer-reviewed study, presented at the American Academy of Health Behavior’s March conference in Tucson, Arizona, offers promising findings for promoting MYT to help veterans. A group of 17 veterans — six women and 11 men – took part in the research, attending weekly classes to learn about different yoga practices including Pranayama, Asana, Yoga Nidra, Meditation, and Gratitude, and changes in their well-being were tracked using various scales.

Among the findings, the research showed that veterans who took part in MYT over several weeks perceived their own well-being to have improved after each session. For example, one participant who was asked to rank their well-being gave it an initial score of 2.5 at the first session and showed a constant improvement over the course, including a peak of almost 3.5 at the sixth session.

Mindful Yoga Therapy study

The research also showed that the veterans’ perceived levels of their own stress plummeted after taking part in the yoga program, showing a direct connection between MYT and reduced PTSD symptoms. Using a Perceived Stress Scale that ranks participants’ belief of their own stress levels from the low of zero to the high of 40, veterans who practiced MYT, overall, recorded a drop from roughly 27 on the scale to about 20 — a major reduction that promises to help people recovering from PTSD.

Mindful Yoga Therapy studyThe research also indicates that the practices have benefits beyond yoga, because several participants said they used the skills developed during MYT — such as managing anger and relieving pain — to better inform other aspects of their life, further helping them cope with their PTSD.

The findings help to show why MYT gets such rave reviews from yoga instructors who have taken the advanced therapeutic trainings. “I had prior training in many of the yoga practices but this training was like the PhD of trauma yoga,” said Mary Beth Ogulewicz, who attended one of the MYT trainings in 2015.

The research was conducted by the REAL Human Performance athletic training facility in collaboration with the Cincinnati Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Interact for Health, which awards grants for programs that aim to improve health and well-being. The team’s results are so promising that further studies are planned to assess the long-term impact of MYT.

View the full results from this study

Does Meditation Among Veterans Really Work?

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

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:


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

Guided Meditations For Military Families


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.


A 9-minute meditation for military children:

A 14-minute meditation for military and veteran caregivers:

A 10-minute compassion meditation for military spouses:


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

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 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


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
• 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

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

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.


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.”


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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

Memorial Day Campaign: Yoga For Our Military

Yoga blog smaller red

Join us in bringing Yoga Readiness Kits to 10,000 service members

This Memorial Day, Give Back Yoga is deeply honored to introduce a new campaign that aims to bring Yoga Readiness Kits to 10,000 active duty service members. Today, we invite you to honor the memory of a loved one who served by making a donation to help bring a free yoga kit to an active duty service member. Through this gift, you can help others in the military community to access a tool for healing from the traumas of deployment.

A gift of inner peace and resilience, when they need it most.

From our inception, one of Give Back Yoga’s primary focuses has been sharing yoga with veterans. The Yoga Readiness Initiative builds upon this work, broadening our focus to reach active duty military personnel and their families. This gift is extended in a spirit of gratitude for those who serve – offering tools that can help service men and women connect with strength, calm and inner peace when it’s time to be “at ease.”

Each Yoga Readiness Kit contains:

  • Mat & Props: For a yogi, the mat is home base – a place to return to for grounding, clarity and peace. Through the support of corporate sponsor Gaiam, each Yoga Readiness Kit contains a mat, block and strap to support a service member in exploring a personal practice.
  • Practice Guides: Practice guides offer valuable step-by-step instruction for asana and meditation, as well as the context of each practice and why it works. Yoga Readiness Kits include a Mindful Yoga Therapy practice guide and Yoga for Warriors book, along with a Connected Warriors resource guide.
  • Digital Resources: Digital resources can be used at nearly any time, in any place. As part of each Yoga Readiness Kit, service members can access free downloads of breath work practices and guided meditations, while connecting with other service members who are exploring the gifts of yoga.


With your help, we want to reach 100,000 service members with these Yoga Readiness Kits. For every $75 donation, we can send a kit to a man or woman who is actively serving. Will you sponsor a service member today?


Donate now


Image courtesy of: Robert Sturman

The Yoga Readiness Initiative is made possible through the generous and loving support of corporate partners, service organizations and volunteers; including Gaiam, the Give Back Yoga Foundation, Connected Warriors, Mindful Yoga Therapy and Sounds True.

Yoga Readiness Initiative Partners

Samara Andrade: How We Serve UN Workers And International Aid Communities

2016-04-04-1459768738-1632386-SamaraAndradeCourtesyofErinElizabethPhotography7-thumbThis is an interview with Samara Andrade, who recently returned to the U.S. from Afghanistan, where she was working for the United Nations and teaching yoga classes in the compound where she lived for UN staff, military reservists/military contractors, private sector aid contractors, and European Union civilian and police staff. She found yoga was a useful tool to support and help the community cope with crises. Samara has been working in international development, crisis and post-conflict contexts for nearly 10 years. She has worked in Zambia, the Sudan, Libya, Nepal, and Afghanistan, among other countries. She told me “yoga speaks across cultures and continents, and it never fails that there is a yoga community in every country where I have worked.”

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?

I started teaching in Sudan, where I was working with communities recovering from conflict, doing so mainly because I wanted to give back to my yoga community, filling in for my teacher who was away on leave. Our class was held on a rooftop enclosed by a bamboo fence and felt like an oasis in the desert. As we lay in Shivasana (corpse pose) at dusk, the birds started chirping as the call to prayer faintly started, often creating an rare and inspiring moment of contentment and connection.

My commitment to teaching yoga while working in conflict and post-conflict zones has only grown since Sudan. I recognize the amazing gift yoga has given me, a way to ground and center myself in the midst of extreme circumstances. Sometimes these conditions are incredibly rewarding and other times they are disenchanting and heartbreaking. Yoga gives me a way to reconnect with myself on the mat, be part of a mindful community, work through what I feel in constructive ways, and challenge myself to grow.

Another reason is that for many years I struggled with the duality of two lives: of working in extreme situations which change you as a human being, and being the person everyone at home expects to see when you got off the plane. Sometimes that was easy and sometimes it was challenging, particularly figuring out how best to communicate my experience to those at home. Remembering who you are in the middle of this can be hard, particularly when you move from one duty station to another. I found yoga was a bridge that helped me deal with that, bring all the pieces of myself back together, and re-center. Experiencing the benefits that yoga has brought to me in learning how to cope and manage these changes in a better way has motivated me to support a yoga community wherever I live. Yoga is a container for others to learn, explore and grow, and above all to connect with themselves.

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?

I started teaching yoga abroad in post-conflict, conflict, and crisis countries, so I developed as a teacher in that environment. However, I focus on the same things I would in a US studio setting: finding that inner calm, practicing yoga with integrity, honoring where you are that day, cultivating mindfulness, mind-body-breath connection. They’re universal because they are life skills that can help you navigate the inevitable peaks and valleys in life anywhere.

A lot of people are working far away from family and friends, so I make a specific effort to cultivate that feeling of community in the way we start and end class. This feeling is then there to tap into when and if someone wants to.

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

One of the biggest challenges for me is finding the balance between being available to support students and the yoga community, and also holding healthy boundaries and remembering to take time for myself. I balance working full-time in a demanding job with teaching yoga, and sometimes I forget that I need down time to re-charge so that I can show up to class and be the best teacher possible.

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

I think it’s important to approach working with people who have been exposed to conflict with an understanding that everything is not black and white; they may have mixed feelings regarding what they experienced, and about what they were able to achieve (or not) in their job. Try not to make assumptions about people based on your own perceptions of what they may have experienced. It’s also important to keep in mind that people have different experiences dealing with the transition to life at home; for some it’s easier and for others it’s more challenging.

If you are teaching in conflict or crisis zones, be mindful of your own exposure to trauma and how you deal with it. Knowing when to take time and work through your own feelings and emotions before stepping into a class to teach is as important as your commitment to supporting service yoga.

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

I believe that yoga is a beneficial and effective, yet extremely under-used tool for healing. There are some exciting programs out there using yoga as a complementary therapy, both in the US and in countries affected by conflict and disaster. I hope that yoga becomes an integral part of recovery programs for communities in conflict, as well as for active duty staff in the military and in aid organizations. I would like to see more systematic investment in providing access to yoga and mindfulness programs for those who work in such contexts.

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

As a yoga teacher, I’ve become more committed to supporting service-oriented yoga, in addition to regular classes for the public. After returning to the US, I took a training course in Mindful Yoga Therapy with Suzanne Manafort and Give Back Yoga Foundation, and now teach a female veterans’ class through Connected Warriors in New York, where I now live, as well as continue supporting access to mindful yoga classes for UN staff, as well as the general public.

I have gained new appreciation for the military community and for the importance of supporting veterans, as well as other humanitarian and aid workers. The latter often have no centralized support like the VA.

This country has one of the largest veteran populations in history, and we all have a responsibility, as a nation and as a community, to support veterans’ and their families’ transition back to life at home. Equally we have a responsibility to the international aid community to support those who work abroad and don’t have access to the same type of support when they come home. #BeWellServeWell

Originally published on The Huffington Post Blog.

Would you like to be part of this support network for those who serve? Explore our Mindful Yoga Therapy training page to learn how you can help veterans and others impacted by trauma to find a calm and steady body/mind.

John Gillard: Combat Veterans Giving Back


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.


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

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


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..