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Damaris Maria Grossmann: From Battle Warrior To Peaceful Warrior

Damaris-Maria-Grossmann-Social-image

This is an interview with Damaris Maria Grossmann, a Registered Nurse, yoga therapist, and wellness educator. I met her at the 2016 World Affairs Conference at the University of Colorado, where she was invited to speak because she was “blessed to find yoga in 2006 when struggling with transitioning from the military of over 5 years in the US Navy during Global War on Terrorism.” She has vowed a life of nonviolence and to make the transition from battle warrior to peaceful warrior of the heart. She teaches veterans with the non-profit organization Team Red White and Blue, and has taught children in lower- income schools in Newark and Paterson, NJ, as well as at the Hackensack Cancer Center with the non-profit organization Kula for Karma. She is currently a Doctoral Candidate at Rutgers University, working on integrative health care for health professionals who want to lessen stress and burnout, and a Certified YogaNurse®.

Rob: What originally motivated you to do this work, and what continues to motivate you?

I injured my back when I was in the Navy. The injury was the result of a traumatic and emotional situation that was out of my control. I found myself alone, depressed, and living my life in pain, anger, and full of post-traumatic stress. I was introduced to yoga as movement therapy, and I was so surprised it helped. Yoga helped save my life. In my darkest moments, I learned to see the light. My motivation is to teach yoga and integrative health practices to help facilitate others’ healing, now that yoga has helped me. Yoga is whole-body medicine, and should be a part of all medicine.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your teaching experience?

I feel rewarded when I see the way my students are able to relax and reset. I’m so thankful to see someone be successful who has struggled to relax. The mat is an opportunity for them to be in present time, and to let go in ways that help them find space to forgive themselves and others. The best part of teaching is watching the moment when a person learns the power of their breath as a way of healing and as a source of unconditional love.

What are some of the things your students have taught you?

I’ve learned to be patient, and to listen to the answers within. My students also have helped me to understand the opportunity in the struggles we all face, and that we can find the best part of ourselves.

In what ways do you think yoga addresses some of the societal factors facing the veterans you work with? In what ways does it not?

Most of the yoga classes offered in studios across the country may be inaccessible for veterans, either because the approach may be based on assumptions about the clientele that don’t apply to veterans, or simply because they are too expensive. I’m thankful to studios and non-profit organizations like Mindful Yoga Therapy and Kula for Karma that offer free classes for veterans.

What, in your mind, is the relationship between a practice of mindfulness and greater social change?

To me, the practice of mindfulness is not just about being aware of the present moment. We can use those moments to make a change in the world, because we become more mindful of the direction in which we would like our action to lead. Connecting with ourselves through mindfulness will bring both calm into our lives, and allows us to make positive change in the world.

What advice would you give to someone who is going to teach the veterans that you work with? What would be the most important thing for them to carry?

When you teach veterans, take time to pause and observe your judgments about what they may have done in their work. Try to accept them where they are, and believe they are our best teachers. I suggest being mindful of your words, and of the transition poses. Be open and genuine, expressing any emotion, or none at all. The breath and quietness of yoga and meditation may be scary moments for veterans. Always reiterate they are here on the mat, in their breath and safe. Take the time to be aware of options and modifications of poses. Always let a group know that any amount or any pose is a beautiful pose; it’s about the time for them to listen within.

What are some of your ideas about, or hopes for, the future of service yoga in America in the next 10 years?

I believe yoga is a very important part of American healing! Most all of us suffer in some manner with pain or illness. My hope is that yoga will be available to all populations. Actually, one of my greatest passions is complete integrative health within hospitals, communities, and health clinics. Yoga is a way of facilitating healing for the mind-body and spirit. As a nurse veteran and yogi I have seen the impact it has had on my own health and well-being. I intend to promote yoga and wellness as a necessary part of healing in health care communities worldwide.

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Interested in helping veterans to find a calm body/mind? Learn more about Mindful Yoga Therapy for Veterans and join a teacher training near you.

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.

 

A 9-minute meditation for military children:

A 14-minute meditation for military and veteran caregivers:

A 10-minute compassion meditation for military spouses:

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

Christine Moore: Sharing Adaptive Yoga

Adaptive Yoga with Christine MooreThis is an interview with Christine Moore, who attended her first yoga teacher training while her son was serving a second tour with the United States Navy in Afghanistan in 2009. She was inspired during that time to teach yoga to veterans, and did so for a few years at the Denver VA hospital. She now teaches yoga to inmates at the county jail in Boulder CO, and adaptive yoga to people with disabilities at Imagine Santa Fe House, a group home. (Her first love being dance, she developed a class she calls “Shimmy~Asana,” where the two ancient arts of belly dance and yoga meet.)

Rob: What originally motivated you to do this work, and what continues to motivate you? 

My motivation to teach veterans came from my desire to grasp what I might be faced with on my son’s return from his tour in Afghanistan. I drove 45 minutes each way to volunteer for an hour, and it was the highlight of my week. I left feeling lifted and inspired by students who made the effort to make it to the mat with challenges too difficult for most of us to conceive. Their passion ignited my own. I never dreamed how deeply the veterans would inspire me and motivate me to continue to learn more about yoga, adaptive yoga, and to dive deep into learning more about myself.

What keeps me motivated is the persistent reminder of how each of us, with all our differences, are really so alike in our shared humanity. I learn every time I’m with my students, not only about yoga, but about life. And I’m motivated by the constant awareness of how fortunate I am to be in the body I inhabit.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your teaching experience?

One of my students, who is in her 40s, has Down Syndrome. She has very little use of her arm and an arthritic hand. I watch her hands unfold as she slowly brings them into Namaste. It doesn’t matter how long it takes to get there; the persistence and determination warms my heart. After much effort, the smile that breaks across her face when her palms touch is priceless.

If I can facilitate a person’s inner ability to have this take place, I feel rewarded and honored to witness this. If I were to describe to you the colors of a sunset, it would never be the same as seeing it with your own eyes. Sharing my yoga in this way is like that, witnessing true beauty. These beautiful people teach me to cherish and be resilient; there is little that is as gratifying as that is to me.

What are some of the things your students have taught you? 

One of my students left me with a challenge to question my motivation. She was uncomfortable in her body, and the staff at Imagine told me that she had been screaming nonstop for weeks. She seemed frightened in her wheelchair with her feet dangling in space, unable to stop the world from spinning around her. It resonated with me that this client’s proprioception was challenged. I sat across from her at eye level and grounded her feet by placing them on blocks. I looked in her eyes and gently held her knees. After a few moments she stopped screaming.

One day when I came to teach I was told she had died during the week. My grief unnerved me. I thought that I should be happy for her that she was released from a body in such pain. She had only ever shared two words with me, “yes and no,” and yet our connection felt deep and genuine. I spent several weeks examining myself, and learned a great deal about my ego, my judgments, and even my frailty in this human body.

In what ways do you think yoga addresses some of the societal factors at play in working with people with disabilities?

In response to this work I’ve had people say, “How does that work, how can you teach yoga to someone in a wheelchair?” I ask that same person how they find Tadasana (standing mountain pose) in their own body when they are sitting. The sensation is the same. This creates a feeling of connection rather than separateness, as it reveals our similarities and unravels what we see as division. The more people see the abilities in others, the fewer barriers there are between us all. Social misconceptions break down and we all gain from these stories. The practitioners build greater confidence and better ability to participate within society. My hope is that this allows others to see people with disabilities in a new light.

What, in your mind, is the relationship between a practice of mindfulness and greater social change?

Mindfulness helps to stimulate the prefrontal cortex (PFC), allowing us to regulate our behavior rather than responding with our primitive and reactive fight-or-flight reaction. If we can respond to others in a mindful way, we may be able to recognize the commonality between us and “the Other,” enhancing our ability to accept differences. This perception of difference was crucial to our survival in primitive times. Mindfulness enhances our ability to slow down and notice that we are safe. Empowering ourselves this way can create a huge transition in consciousness and enable social change.

What advice would you give to someone who is going to teach people with disabilities? What would be the most important thing for them to carry? 

Expect that everything will be different from what you imagine. Be comfortable with critical thinking. Be compassionate and patient with others, but first with yourself. Things move very slowly, so results of any kind might be subtle or unnoticeable. Have a tool box of yoga skills to dive into at any moment with confidence.

Attend workshops to learn specific techniques for adaptive yoga and trauma. Matthew Sanford’s book Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence is a must-read for anyone considering this work. His teachings have been a huge inspiration for me.

We are never fully healed, yet our work supporting others comes from having processed the things that drive us to do the work. It is possible to transform judgment, fear, and loss into compassion and the enthusiasm to be present with others.

What are some of your ideas about, or hopes for, the future of service yoga in America in the next 10 years?

I hope to see yoga become more available to children and youth, and to those who do not have the financial means to easily access yoga. I hope that within the next decade it will become a required and regular practice for healing.

I have a friend who walked into her daughter’s 3rd grade class of 75 children and they were having their daily quiet meditation practice. Imagine 75 children sitting in silence. Those children’s lives and relationships will be transformed by this simple practice. The transformation has a ripple effect that can help dissipate hatred and fear. I want that for everyone! The outcome would benefit us all.

We are living in tumultuous times, and my biggest hope is that yoga will help us re-vision our relationships with self and with others.

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 Join us in sharing the gift of yoga with those who can benefit most. Learn more about our nationwide initiative this November to give back yoga.

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 connect@mindfulyogatherapy.org.

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

Aidee Chavez Frescas Douglas: Community Yoga for Positive Change

Aidee Chaves Fescas Douglas

This is an interview with Aidee Chavez Frescas Douglas, whom I met at the fourth annual Yoga Service Conference at Omega Institute. Aidee, now the Public Affairs & Development Coordinator for Community Connections of Jacksonville – a nonprofit dedicated to healing homelessness, and fighting poverty – previously served as a marketing director for the nonprofit Yoga 4 Change. She teaches yoga at the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Pre-Trial Detention Facility in Jacksonville, FL.

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?

My own story of change is my number-one motivator. I had several hard years suffering from depression, eating disorders, migraines, insomnia, anxiety, and it really got to a point in my life that I didn’t want to be alive. Therapy never worked for me. I never took medication, because frankly I was always afraid to take it. Sometimes I wish I had, and maybe I would not have had so many gray years in my past. But instead, I found that yoga could put me in a place of well-being and peace. I’ve changed, and because of yoga I live a relatively stress-free life.

Is there a standout moment from your work with Yoga 4 Change or specific population?

The first time I taught at the jail was very hard for me. I actually finished the class feeling frustrated and mad – at the government, at society, mad about the lack of kindness I felt, and how nobody was doing anything to fix what seemed to me to be obvious problems. I was crying so hard from all the pain I saw in the eyes of the women I taught that I had to stop on the side of the road on my way back home. But then I started reading some of the note cards that the students always write after the class as part of our yoga class structure. And the ladies had written things like “Please come back, this class gives me hope.” “Thank you so much, you made me feel like a person again.” “I pray for you, I prayed every night to God to send me hope, and you are here.” So I stopped crying right there in the car, and decided to commit to this with my entire heart.

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 really not one to have assumptions. I guess that part comes from being a yoga teacher. I go in with an open heart. It does not matter who I teach. I see the person as who they are for that one hour.

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?

Yoga 4 Change has a strict code of conduct; for example, we don’t adjust any of our students when we teach at the jail, or to veterans. And for the veterans I always do the same thing. Mostly being new to yoga, they like that certainty. We also stay away from using Sanskrit. (I was actually the worst in my yoga training in Sanskrit pronunciation. It was ridiculous. My teacher in India told me to stay away from Sanskrit.) To me this was another sign that I am meant to teach for Yoga 4 Change. But we can teach whatever style of yoga we think is right for the students. I’m Ashtanga trained, but my style changes from class to class depending on what is needed by those students on that day. And sometimes that might be sitting for a full hour and breathing.

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

The greatest challenge has been raising funds to support our outreach work in the community. I’ve learned a lot about fundraising; how to increase our capacity to raise money in innovative ways in the interest of expanding our organization, and to satisfy the growing demand for our classes. But we can always do more.

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

I believe that to do this work, to be able to take care of others, you need to take care of yourself first. If teachers are not giving themselves the space that they deserve to process life experiences with their own meditation and yoga practice, their teaching is not going to be sustainable.

I often see teachers stressed out and running from one place to another, overwhelming themselves with life situations. Being a yoga teacher is hard work. That is why it is a must to give yourself small bites of space in between classes. I sometimes sit in my car and ground myself for 10 minutes. I know the importance of being present and vulnerable for another human being, and for myself, and there is no cost for that. We need to be where we are. We need to cultivate mindfulness right here, right now, in this perfect moment, and from this moment take incremental steps in the direction we are heading. We need to enjoy our lives!

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

My dream is that one day yoga is taught in every single school, correctional facility, and rehabilitation facility, not only to veterans but to those who are in active duty. The same wish is true for first responders. Can you imagine if everybody in America had equal access to yoga? I hope for a kinder America, and for me the only way for that to happen is through the practices of yoga. I believe this with all of my being.

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

Service has brought a different kind of success to my life. I see a lot of successes in my classes, a lot of “aha” moments happen right there on the mat. My students’ negative life perception changes to a positive one right in front of my eyes. The server becomes the served. This is a magnificent moment, and when it happens, when we work together to serve one another, we are all changed. I am the one who is grateful for the opportunity to witness this over and over again – brave people using the tools of their yoga practice to move forward in their lives to access positive change.


Join us in sharing the gift of yoga with those who can benefit most. Learn about ways to get involved with the Give Back Yoga Foundation.

John Gillard: Combat Veterans Giving Back

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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.

Mindful Yoga Therapy for Veterans 100-Hour Certification in Newington, CT • Begins March 18, 2016

Mindful Yoga Therapy

This 100-hour Embodyoga®-based training for yoga teachers offers an in-depth study of our trauma yoga protocol.

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 third session of Mindful Yoga Therapy’s 100-Hour Certification program, beginning in March 2015 at Newington Yoga Center in Connecticut. Led by GBYF board members Suzanne Manafort and Ann Richardson Stevens, the program consists of five modules presented over five weekends, covering both the Beginning Mindful Yoga Therapy Program and a new Resilience Program. 
The 12-week Resilience Program is the follow-up to the Beginning Mindful Yoga Therapy 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:

Newington Yoga Center
122 Market Square
Newington, CT 06111

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 : March 18-20, 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: April 15-17, 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: May 20-22, 2016
Guiding Principle – Mindfulness
Yoga Nidra
Warrior Nidra
Adaptive Yoga and PTSD
Teaching Practicum
Military Culture – The Different Wars

Module 4: June 10-12, 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: July 8-10, 2016
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. 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 connect@mindfulyogatherapy.org.

Register for the Mindful Yoga Therapy 100-Hour Certification at Newington Yoga Center.