― Mother Teresa
It has been said by many that one person cannot change the world. We, however, know that even one person can make a big difference in the lives of others and this planet. Veterans Yoga Project (VYP) is a community of individuals who, one Veteran at a time, are making that difference. We also know that as we support others we can become tired and worn; often, taking on the worries and pain of those we are endeavoring to help. For the group at Veterans Yoga Project, we focus on self-care as well as caring for the many Veterans, families, and supporters of the Veterans.
In June of 2017, at Feathered Pipe Ranch in Helena, Montana, a lucky group of VYP teachers, board members, and volunteers came together for a 7-day summit. This summit was a time of community, a time to connect with others in meditation, yoga, mindfulness, and above all else, gratitude. For most who attended it was the first-time meeting. The summit was an experience of sharing and learning; a coming together of mind, body and spirit. Joining one another in support of the belief that the mission, the vision, and the values of VYP connect us as one.
Mission: Supporting recovery and resilience among our veterans, families, and communities.
Vision: We believe every veteran has earned the right to reintegrate into civilian life fully empowered to become successful, well-rounded individuals in healthy relationships with themselves, their families, and their communities.
VYP Values: Veterans Yoga Project GIVES:
Gratitude – A daily attitude of gratitude in words and deeds.
Integrity – Honesty, authenticity, and respect for others at all times.
Veterans their families and our communities are our purpose.
Empower – veterans to cultivate emotional, physical and spiritual well-being.
Serve– those who have served and honor the mind, body and spirit of each individual.
The time in Montana greeted each morning at 630 am with morning meditation and practice. A daily Gratitude Journal prompt was provided and encouraged. Each day was filled with nourishing, organic meals prepared in loving kindness by the wonderful staff.
The days were filled with training sessions lead by experts in their fields, Matt Taylor (VYP’s newest board member), Brianna Renner (VYP Director of Programs), and Jocelyn Ritchie (subject matter expert) just to name a few. With each session, the training dove deeper into PTS, chronic pain, Traumatic Brain Injury, and discussed next steps in the principle ways to communicate with veterans and their support systems about yoga and its teachings. Ideas from various yoga lineage were shared and discussed, expressing differences, and learning how they can be utilized as strengths. With each session, the foundation “Support proceeds action” was held as a core principle.
The success of VYP depends on cultivating SPaCe, (a safe, predictable and controlled environment) for the veterans we work with. This SPaCe reaches beyond the mat… That SPaCe begins in the Yoga sessions and with the principles shared in the classroom that Veterans can take into everyday life. Learning to help veterans track sensations that feel like safety and those that feel like danger: DIMs and SIMs (danger in me and safety in me) and using the knowledge of Yoga perspective of the Yoga Sutras, Bhagavad Gita, and other texts VYP instructors can help veterans to recognize how to SPaCe in their activities of daily living.
With advanced sessions, the use of and study of the Gunas, Mudra, and Mantra were introduced. Ways to utilize supports, props, and chairs was practiced. Compassion fatigue and how to prevent burnout was outlined and discussed. Understanding of the body and extending ones’ consciousness by “running the google car and remapping/the cartography of the mind and the body” and learning to get the “band (body) to play in tune” once again were all things studied and practiced.
The summit was also a time to become more familiar with organizational structure and growth of the VYP family. Rick Rowan, VYP Director of Regions, helped us understand the importance of the Regional model and provided great tools and insight on expanding VYP’s work with Veterans at the local level. Millie Heur (VYP Grant Writer) and John Oppenheim (VYP Chief Operations Officer) shared their expertise on fund raising and relationship building. Also, the reminder to keep an attitude of gratitude was shared by Deb Jeannette, President, VYP Board of Directors. Deb additionally provided an effective demonstration and practice on how to communicate with prospective donors and sponsors. Dan Libby, VYP Founder and Executive Director, reminded us how the entire organization, and our ability to carry out our mission, is contingent on the tangible steps we take to take care of ourselves.
Feathered Pipe Ranch was the perfect location for the coming together of the VYP family. For the past 42 years, Feathered Pipe Ranch has been a leader in the consciousness-expanding movement. Feathered Pipe is a place created to help healers and leaders find direction, it is a magical place where recovery and resilience can naturally take place. As each of us departed, taking with us all that was learned, a real sense of the SPaCe (“Safety/Predictability/Control”) was imbedded in each participant. The SPaCe that comes from community; SPaCe that can only be achieved with real gratitude and peace.
Kristine Ringler, Vice President, VYP Board of Directors, Veteran, and Yoga Instructor had this to say regarding her experience at the summit: “Living, learning, growing, and supporting each other increases our energy toward a common goal. The positive outreach of feeling all of these things while in nature and doing what a person is passionate about expands my heart, my joy, and my knowing far beyond what I could ever imagine. One week reminded me what true inner peace feels like. What social support through gratitude and spiritual growth feels like. What it feels like to let go of ego and live from our heart. Retreat, authenticity, restoration of the soul. How lucky I feel to experience such bliss while on this earth. Om Shanti Shanti”
“When we have inner peace, we can be at peace with those around us. When our community is in a state of peace, it can share that peace with neighboring communities.” —Dalai Lama