What’s in a word!?

What’s in a Word!? Mantram Meditation Reduced PTSD for these Veterans.

Would you believe it if I told you PTSD symptoms could be reduced by repeating a word silently to yourself?  Well, a recent study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry supports that assertion under the specific conditions of the Mantram Repetition Protocol (MRP).  Dr. Jill Bormann and colleagues demonstrated mantram repetition can help Veterans with PTSD reduce their symptoms without focusing on traumatic experiences.  In the MRP, Veterans choose a spiritually related word or phrase from a recommended list.  They are then taught the portable skills of “slowing down thoughts and reactivity” and “practicing one-pointed attention while attending to one task at a time.”  Specifically, authors stated Veterans were taught ways to silently repeat a mantram to themselves to “interrupt stressful thoughts, feelings, or behaviors and ultimately to manage symptoms such as hyperarousal, anger, irritability, insomnia, flashbacks, and numbing/avoidance.”  

After eight weekly one-hour sessions, Veterans had less severe PTSD symptoms compared to an active non-trauma focused treatment of equal duration.  These improvements remained after two months!  The study authors also looked at other important outcomes: insomnia, depression, anger, spiritual well-being, mindfulness, and quality of life.  The only area that showed greater improvement compared to the control condition was insomnia, both after the eight-week treatments and two months later.  However, Veterans in both conditions showed improvement in the other outcomes.

What’s more impressive is that Dr. Bormann’s research team conducted a rigorous study with thorough analyses. They addressed many limitations of existing studies on similar interventions, such as adequate sample size, randomized treatment assignment, active comparison conditions, and publishing their treatment protocol.  This scientific rigor supports the meaningfulness of their findings. 

Veterans Yoga Project (VYP) knows the importance of mantram meditation as our Mindful Resilience (MR) for Trauma Recovery includes these practices.  For those of you who have completed VYP’s MR training, this skill falls within the “focus clearly” part of the five MR tools for self-regulation (the others being breathe easy, move freely, rest deeply, and be grateful).  This study provides indirect support for VYP’s approach to trauma and resilience. I say “indirect support” because the Mantram Repetition Protocol is a specific intervention and cannot be equated to mantram taught as part of yoga classes that incorporate the remaining four Mindful Resilience tools.  However, other studies show that yoga that incorporate other tools such as movement and breath practices can reduce PTSD symptoms (e.g., Gallegos et al., 2017).  Veterans and providers unfamiliar with yoga may be more open to potential benefits of these many skills based on Dr. Bormann’s and colleagues’ study.  As for VYP teachers who already know, we’ll continue to hold the space and share the practice.


References

Bormann, J. E., Thorp, S. R., Smith, E., Glickman, M., Beck, D., Plumb, D., … Elwy, A. R. (2018). Individual Treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Using Mantram Repetition: A Randomized Clinical Trial. American Journal of Psychiatry, 175(10), 979–988. http://doi.org/10.1176/appi.ajp.2018.17060611

Gallegos, A. M., Crean, H. F., Pigeon, W. R., & Heffner, K. L. (2017). Meditation and yoga for posttraumatic stress disorder: A meta-analytic review of randomized controlled trials. Clin Psychol Rev, 58, 115-124. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2017.10.004


Timothy Avery, PsyD, is a postdoctoral research fellow in complementary and alternative medicine for chronic health conditions and post traumatic stress affecting veterans. He is the director of program evaluation for Veterans Yoga Project.

Psychological Flexibility and Yoga

A new study has been published on psychological flexibility (PF) in the journal Psychological Trauma and I thought you might like to hear about it.  Psychological flexibility is the changing of one’s mental and behavioral repertoire in response to a given situation to live in accordance with one’s values (if you have been to the VYP Mindful Resilience Training you can probably hear Dr. Dan Libby in your head repeating variations of this phrase to drive the point home).  It is a set of responses antithetical to avoidance – avoidance being both a symptom of PTSD and a factor that maintains PTSD.  A person does not avoid undesirable internal bodily states such as muscle tension, the numbness of depression, or the sinking feeling of fear when he or she is psychologically flexible.  When a person permits these internal bodily states, the mind and body gradually learn that these states are not a threat and he or she can engage in meaningful activities whether or not those bodily states are present.  In other words, they do not have to be avoided. 

Studies over the past several years have demonstrated that low psychological flexibility is associated with PTSD.  Further, PTSD treatment outcomes are better when there are also increases in psychological flexibility.  Some psychotherapy treatments specifically aim to do just that.  The new study inspiring this blog post showed that PF predicted some of the variability in PTSD symptom severity one year into the future (Meyer et al., 2019).  This is above and beyond the variability associated with the PTSD avoidance symptoms – so psychological inflexibility is not merely avoidance but makes its own contribution to PTSD.  This prediction is also above and beyond personality factors associated with negative emotionality, another predictor of PTSD severity.  What’s more, that research team previously identified that low psychological flexibility predicted greater suicidal ideation one year later (DeBeer et al., 2018).  Multiple studies reinforce the idea that psychological flexibility is implicated in PTSD and related issues.

If greater psychological flexibility is associated with lower PTSD and suicidal ideation, and psychological flexibility is changeable, then what might someone with PTSD do besides psychotherapy (which should always be the first option for these concerns)?  I think you know where this is going.  A small randomized controlled trial found increases in psychological flexibility were related to improvements in PTSD in a group participating in yoga but that association was not present in the non-yoga control condition (Dick et al., 2014).  Curiously, the control group did have increases in PF but these were not associated with PTSD improvements.  Another small study of participants in a clinical yoga program, published by yours truly, showed that more yoga prior to the study was associated with greater psychological flexibility at baseline (Avery et al., 2018).  Further, the more yoga participants practiced during the study the greater their increases in PF.  It is not definitive that yoga improves PTSD through increasing psychological flexibility.  However, available information suggests there is a relationship and supporting theories are robust.  If you’re reading this, you probably didn’t need another reason to practice yoga.  If you did need another reason, keep an eye out for more research on the effects of yoga on psychological flexibility.


References

Avery, T., Blasey, C., Rosen, C., & Bayley, P. (2018). Psychological Flexibility and Set-Shifting Among Veterans Participating in a Yoga Program: A Pilot Study. Mil Med. doi:10.1093/milmed/usy045

DeBeer, B. B., Meyer, E. C., Kimbrel, N. A., Kittel, J. A., Gulliver, S. B., & Morissette, S. B. (2018). Psychological Inflexibility Predicts of Suicidal Ideation Over Time in Veterans of the Conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Suicide Life Threat Behav, 48(6), 627-641. doi:10.1111/sltb.12388

Dick, A. M., Niles, B. L., Street, A. E., Dimartino, D. M., & Mitchell, K. S. (2014). Examining mechanisms of change in a yoga intervention for women: The influence of mindfulness, psychological flexibility, and emotion regulation on PTSD symptoms. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 70, 1170-1182. doi:10.1002/jclp.22104

Meyer, E. C., La Bash, H., DeBeer, B. B., Kimbrel, N. A., Gulliver, S. B., & Morissette, S. B. (2019). Psychological inflexibility predicts PTSD symptom severity in war veterans after accounting for established PTSD risk factors and personality. Psychol Trauma, 11(4), 383-390. doi:10.1037/tra0000358


Timothy Avery, PsyD, is a postdoctoral research fellow in complementary and alternative medicine for chronic health conditions and post traumatic stress affecting veterans. He is the director of program evaluation for Veterans Yoga Project.

Praise for VYP During Eagles NamasDay - San Jose, CA

VYP teacher Mari Hoshizaki with John Fox and Team RWB San Jose at Eagle NamasDay 2019

VYP teacher Mari Hoshizaki with John Fox and Team RWB San Jose at Eagle NamasDay 2019

Below is the note sent to Mari after her Eagle NamasDay class.  Let it be an inspiration to all VYP teachers. Her veteran husband Pat Campbell attended the class and took the photo.
 
“I am writing you to thank you for stepping up and presenting San Jose Team RWB's Eagle NamasDay yoga class on Saturday 23 February.  I had never heard of the Veteran's Yoga Project nor the Yoga Alliance until you emailed me expressing a desire to work with our chapter.

I think what impressed me the most is the way you organized the class.  I love that you joined Team RWB, and you were wearing RWB gear! You recruited your veteran spouse, Pat!  You brought an assistant instructor, Renee. I specially liked the fact that you brought your friend John to be a beacon to others that have lost a limb.  I was very proud as a Chapter Captain to be able to reach out to veterans that I knew were wheelchair bound or had other life changing disabilities and offer them your restorative class with adaptation available. You brought extra mats, and blocks and straps for the adaptations.   

I have heard very positive feedback from attendees, they really like that you listened to what was going on with them, and then adapted the class to their needs. 

I am really looking forward to our monthly classes that you offered to teach for our group.  I am hoping more of your group will have the chance to work with you!”

Kathleen 
Kathleen S. Hall, Major, USAF, Ret
Chapter Captain
Team Red, White and Blue, San Jose Chapter

Why I Teach - Phoebe Miller

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Phoebe Miller is founder of nOMad always at OM, a community of yogis, wellness practitioners, healers, travelers and wanderers. She helped bring yoga to the United States Military Academy at West Point by offering the 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training curriculum to the cadet community, a movement that is expanding to active military. We recently spent time with her learning more about her journey. She also has a podcast called “nOMad’s The Space in Between” that you can catch on itunes, Spotify, and Stitcher. Three of her recent podcasts feature a West Point cadet, a veteran, and VYP ambassador about their journeys as yogis.

VYP: What is your connection to the military?

Phoebe: My father was a Vietnam veteran, which affected my childhood greatly since he was diagnosed late in his last years with Post Traumatic Stress after years battling drug addiction. We lost our home, he was arrested several times, and was in/out of rehab for a good part of my childhood. It wasn't until he was arrested in 1999 and admitted to the VA in West Haven, CT that he began his path to PTS-GROWTH. 

My great aunt, Gertrude Bossler, on my mother's side was an Army nurse in WW2 who retired as a LT COL. I always had a great respect for her and her service for our country. In high school, I interviewed her for a project which inspired my Aunt Betsy Kuhn to write one of her first books, Angel of Mercy: The Army Nurses of World War II. 

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VYP: How did you start doing yoga?

Phoebe: I started practicing yoga as a way of physical therapy as a dancer. I didn't have much desire to sit and chant a language I didn't know. That part freaked me out! And then closing my eyes in front of everyone! That was not really fun either! 

However, I quickly began to see and feel the other benefits of the practice, emotionally and spiritually, as I dove deeper into the practice with my teacher, Elizabeth Andes-Bell who I studied with privately for a year before she sent me off to get my certification. Since then, almost 15 years later, I happily chant OM and close my eyes in front of the class full of students in a daily basis. ;) 

VYP: What were some unexpected benefits of yoga?

Phoebe: I saw my world shifting in a really exciting way after I started my practice. "Bad habits" and cravings actually started to shed away when I became more dedicated to the practice. 

VYP: How did you learn about Veterans Yoga Project?

Phoebe: I was writing the curriculum for my 300-hour program in 2017 and I wanted to bring in a couple organizations to teach about trauma. That spring, I went to a yoga festival where VYP was offering a workshop. I connected immediately with what VYP was teaching. Last year, I attended the VYP event at the Intrepid and met Dr. Dan Libby. He gave his speech about how he was a therapist at the VA in West Haven, CT, the same facility and the same time my father was a patient there. I took it as a sign that I was supposed to work with this organization in some way. 

VYP: How did you get involved with West Point cadets and what does that program look like?

Phoebe: It also happened around the same time. When I ran my first 300-hour program, my trainee, Major Liz Kent was stationed at West Point and was the OIC for the Yoga Club for the cadets there. She was so impressed with our YTT program that she asked if I could offer a 200-hour to her cadets. Within a month, we got the program up and running. The first year, we graduated four cadets and two veterans. We are now about to conclude our second training at West Point in April. 

The 200-hour program is on weekends and Tuesday evenings when the cadets are available. We have to work around their already busy schedules. I have been so very impressed to see how these young adults have given up all of their free time so they can better themselves as individuals and also teach these tools to their peers and their companies/platoons when they graduate as officers. 

Three of the graduates from last year’s training, Jessica Bugbee Porro, Amy Gatzemeyer, (both veterans) and Cece Givens (the Cadet in Charge (CIC) of the Yoga Club), continued on with our 300-hour program last fall. They all three worked with me, as their mentor, to start a program, TRIBE (Teach Resilience, Increase Balance and Endurance) to teach how to integrate the tools of yoga into the active duty soldier's life. We will be offering our first weekend training at West Point this April to yoga teachers, veterans, and active duty soldiers who would like to have these tools for themselves and/or to teach them to the military community in some way.  Here is a link to the program.

VYP: What do you expect to accomplish through teaching?

Phoebe: As you see from my story, it all just kind of happened. I usually trust the opportunities given to me are for some bigger reason and I am grateful I followed the signs. It has been quite rewarding to share these tools of yoga with this community. There has been great healing for me as well, in terms of my relationship with my dad who passed away in 2013. 

 I don't have expectations but to reach as many people as possible in learning how to use these tools so we all can live more holistic lives. Healing one person at a time, we will create a ripple effect out to all of humanity.  

I believe the military community has been searching for this for some time and is ready. I believe there are more peaceful warriors out there than the ones who want to blow things up with no remorse. It is not like what you see in the movies. This community came into this career as a service to help others and their world. Unfortunately, there is so much fear and anger out here these days, the truth gets lost. 

VYP: There is a good amount of literature connecting the benefits of yoga with veterans. Is there something about the veteran population that you feel connects well with what yoga has to offer?

Phoebe: Well it's funny, because we have yoga poses named after warriors. A lot of the physical practice came from the yoga teachers/gurus in India observing the military's physical trainings. It is already so intertwined. It is just a matter of turning that light on to this truth.

In terms of the veteran population specifically, yoga is simply bringing us back to living primarily in our parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), our rest/digestive system, which was not something soldiers are encouraged to do. Working for extended periods of time under severe stress, whether they were deployed or not, wears down all systems because of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), the fight or flight system, works in high gear during those times of stress. Whether a veteran is diagnosed with PTS or not, they are most likely affected in some way. For example, when the body triggers the SNS, the digestive system and reproductive systems shut down. You can imagine what that can do to the body for an extended period of time, usually there is some level of dis-ease. Practicing yoga, brings the body back to a homeostasis which everyone needs, especially a veteran who dealt with a long career of stress.  

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VYP: Why do you teach?

Phoebe: Because I don't feel I have any other choice! 

VYP: Anything else you’d like to share?

Phoebe: I am excited to be collaborating with VYP in a couple different ways as we have some really cool things in the works. I don't think I get to share quite yet but stay tuned!!! And if you want to know more about me or my organization, nOMad always at OM, visit our website at www.nOMadalwaysatOM.com

Why I Teach - Mike Millios

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Mike Millios is a Veterans Yoga Project instructor, a veteran and an attorney. Read more about Mike’s journey from the 101stAirborne Division to the yoga mat.

What is your military background?

I served on active duty for 8 years in the Army. I deployed to Afghanistan and served at Fort Campbell, Fort Drum, Fort Monroe, and Fort Belvoir. 

How did you come across yoga? 

I stumbled into yoga because I thought it would help with injuries from playing hockey and serving at the 101st Airborne Division (AASLT). It didn’t stick right away. Eventually, I started to notice the impact it had on my mood, sleep, and mental health in addition to the physical benefits. 

What were some unexpected benefits of yoga?

The settling of the monkey brain! Yoga offers the space to be present in the moment. It helped me with sleep, managing stress and trauma, and with my ability to process my life in a healthy manner. 

How did you learn about VYP?

I noticed that yoga was making a big difference in my life. I thought that my fellow veterans would benefit. I called VYP when I googled “yoga for veterans” and spoke to Brianna who helped me understand the VYP mission. I was hooked. I signed up for MRT and have been a part of the VYP family since, maybe the Cousin Eddie of the family. 

What led you to teach and what do you expect to accomplish through teaching?

I just want to give people 60-90 minutes away from their phones, stories, suffering, or whatever is on their mind. It’s about holding space to let the yoga do the work. I try to guide people to awareness. It’s not about escaping problems or spa yoga (Like Dan Libby says), it’s about being with ourselves, creating that awareness, and transforming using our own natural tools. 

Is there something about the veteran population that you feel connects well with what yoga has to offer?

Leaving active duty caused me a tremendous amount of confusion, loneliness, and a disconnect with my body and my new civilian community. Not an easy transition. VYP classes help veterans connect to themselves and our community. It’s nice to create that space for reflection and discovery simply through moving and breathing. 

Why do you teach?

Purpose. I’m such a firm believer that yoga changed my life. I want other Veterans (and all humans) to be able to find that space in themselves. We can all heal and improve ourselves. I like getting to guide the personal discovery. 

You also teach in the criminal justice system? Can you tell us about that?

I started a non-profit called Karuna Community Mn that provides yoga and meditation to those who serve in the legal community and to those in the jail. We want to bring similar tools that VYP offers to our community. Like Veterans, people in the legal community are exposed to vast amounts of trauma. We host workshops, we teach in jails, we will be working with police officers soon. All communities can benefit. 

Anything else you’d like to share?

Don’t let what your current beliefs about yoga keep you from trying it out. Take care of each other and yourself. 

 

Why I Teach - Simone M Groezinger

Meet Simone!

Simone M Groezinger is a yoga instructor and Veterans Yoga Project Ambassador in Germany. We spent time with her recently to learn about her passion for yoga and working with veterans. Learn more about her work here.

1. Why do I do yoga?– I am a very physical person and I like to kick my own butt when I am out running, skiing, climbing and skating all over the place. On the other side, as a scientist with two graduate degrees, I can be a real brain nerd. Both personality features can be very exhausting, especially on the mental side. On top of this, I have chronic pain, at least partly as a consequence of non-military trauma.

Yoga brings a stillness and balance to my life unlike any other activity. Every time I get onto my mat, I experience strength without struggle, endurance without exhaustion and reflection without rumination. I can actually allow my tendency to be so very driven, perfectionist and sometimes even hard on myself to subside and I can sense that I have access to something profoundly soothing and healing. Yoga and meditation also taught me how to transfer this kind of awareness into my daily life as a mother, licensed pharmacist and holistic medicine practitioner.

2. How did I learn about VYP?- I started my yoga teacher training back in 2011 when I was still on active duty as an officer in the German Army Medical Corps. After a while I started teaching a few comrades and colleagues at the Army lab and they really liked it. In 2015, I had already transitioned into the reserves when it was time to prepare for the yoga instructor exam. I decided to dedicate this final class I was going to teach in front of my fellow teacher trainees to military service members. During the following discussion with the astonished examiners, I realized how novel this must have appeared tot hem - teaching yoga to people who bear and use firearms, people who sometimes have to see and do things the ordinary citizen cannot imagine. All those Arjunas fulfilling their svadharma as warriors but at the same time, humans who are subject to everyday stressors like pain, depresssion, cranky bosses, financial issues…but but often have a hard time admitting it.About at the same time, I accidentally found out about VYP (a long story!) and I clearly remember thinking "oh man, those Americans are  so way ahead of us here! They are researching and implementing yoga and mindfulness for veterans and even have special teacher trainings for this!" I was immensely inspired and wanted to learn more so I contacted Brianna, got a spot at the MRT in Charlotte in 2016 and boom - I found my tribe.

3. What can yoga students expect in my classes? - Trained in the Krishnamacharya/Desikachar tradition and Svastha yoga therapy, I usually teach slower vinyasas with a good focus on alignment, stability, embodiment, breath awareness and meditation. The trauma sensitive training I did with Dan Libby in the US and the training I did through TSY Ingradual® here in Germany have become a kind of solid foundation for all of my classes. Intensity can vary and I love being creative and adaptive in finding modifications and variations so every student gets the most out of the class. As a scientist and licensed holistic medicine practitioner, I weave modern neuroscience, mind body medicine and stress research into my teaching, bringing old and new together in a unique way.

4.What about veterans?- Germany is quite different from the US in many aspects, one major aspect being its military culture and military history. Just like most, if not all male relatives of that generation, both my grandfathers served in the Wehrmacht. As a child, I heard that many men did not come back from the war, and I sensed that those who did had developed some strange habits or kept telling gruesome, disturbing stories from "back then in Russia".What I did not know then was that all of them had invisible wounds of unspeakable depth. Much later, a long time into having chosen to wear the uniform and having sworn the oath to defend the freedom of my country myself, I learned the hard way that I too am bearing the scars of this transgenerational trauma. I subsequently decided to confront the "German Angst" which is still present in modern-day Germany and often shows in the form of anti-military and anti-police resentments within society and frustration among members of those professions - a vicious circle.

I want to offer yoga and meditation as an efficient tool, or rather an entire mind-body tool box, to those who choose to serve this country and its people today. This is my way to honor and express gratitude for their service for our freedom. As we do not have a VA system like in the US, I don't teach "vets only" classes, I am however working towards starting yoga classes in local active duty units.

So far, military service members, veterans, police etc. are invited to attend my regular classes for free or for a very small fee. My network "Mindful Warriors" www.mindfulwarriors.deconnects servicemember-friendly yoga teachers in Europe and one of my visions for the future is to be a resource for all those military and police units who are looking for competent instructors.

Today, almost 85 years after my grandfathers had fought some of my VYP friends' fathers or grandfathers as enemies, isn't it the greatest thing that we work hand in hand for both our nations' service members? I have Israeli and British veterans in my network, plus a French yoga teacher – who would have thought of this not even a century ago? Now we are allies on a different, a higher level.

I am very excited to give a presentation on Mindful Resilience during a State Police conference on psycho-social care for police officers this April. As I am writing those lines, I was invited to teach yoga, meditation and a workshop on stress and resilience to female active duty soldiers during a retreat weekend in September - facilitated through one of my yoga students who is a PhD theologist and protestant Army minister. It makes my heart infinitely happy to see that things are starting to fall into place. 

Or, as Aristotle once said: "if love ruled the world, all law (and armies and police) would be dispensable." Until that day, I will do my best to be in service to those who serve and motivate others to do the same.

Darcie OIF II Veteran & Veterans Yoga Project

The ability to heal ourselves through yoga and meditation was made apparent that evening, and I’d been doing yoga for over a decade. The Veterans Yoga Project helped me help myself naturally, and I could not be more grateful”
—Darcie
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My name is Darcie and I’m an OIF II vet. I’m 37 and have been a middle school English teacher for the past eleven years. This last year teaching, however, was my most challenging. I’d never had a workload like this before and I allowed it to greatly affect my physical and mental health. As soon as the school year ended, I developed a pretty powerful bout of restless leg syndrome. Any time I tried to rest or sleep, my legs would start twitching. Badly. A week after this began, I spent a week at a Buddhist monastery - the most peaceful place I have ever been to - where there was no contact with the chaos of the outside world, where we meditated throughout each day, and shared our experiences with a loving community. And still, the RLS worsened. I assumed it was from some vitamin deficiency and learned that calcium or magnesium could help. And they did, at the beginning. 

I went to the VA to have blood work done while I continued to take more and more calcium, magnesium, gabba; I tried smoking marijuana (not a fan, but thought it might help), then realized the only things that somewhat quelled these damned spasms were alcohol or benzos, both of which were clearly not healthy options. Then I received the results from my blood work: all negative. Nothing out of the ordinary. My incredulity quickly led to dismay as I accepted that this was all in my head?

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That Friday, I drove down to Palo Alto for a weekend course in Mindful Resilience with the Veterans Yoga Project. I had just finished a week of summer camp with a group of 5 year-olds and I was proper exhausted. So when Dan Libby, one of the trainers for the VYP program said we’d be doing a yoga nidra (a guided meditation) at the end of the session, I was grateful. Until I laid down into a comfortable position and almost immediately my legs started twitching again. “Come on!” I said to myself, so damn frustrated. I was so sick of my body not listening to my pleas. All these peaceful places and courses, the meditations, the vitamins—when is this going to stop?  

Dan began a body scan meditation where we focus awareness on each part of the body. I tried to settle in and just listened. “Focus your awareness on your right thumb, your right index finger, your right middle finger . . . “ and by the time we reached our right shoulder I was crying. And I didn’t understand why. It was as if each body part I gave awareness to was suddenly being reconnected with my mind, my heart, and I was holding it, giving it space, acknowledging its existence, giving it —myself— the love it hadn’t been receiving in what, a year? As we moved through the body, my tears subsided and a great calm came over me. My nerves relaxed, released, and everything felt warm, like my body was humming in perfect harmony with the peace my mind was experiencing, like everything had finally been reconnected, like I was a whole being again. 

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Let me tell you, I didn’t need any more meds after that. No magnesium. No sleeping pills. Nothing. Every now and then a little twitch will pop up and I breathe awareness into my legs and it stops. And I’ve been doing that ever since. The ability to heal ourselves through yoga and meditation was made apparent that evening, and I’d been doing yoga for over a decade. The Veterans Yoga Project helped me help myself naturally, and I could not be more grateful. 

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Why I Practice Yoga with a Community

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Nobody teaches you how to process your buddy’s suicide. 

So I shoved all the emotions in. I buried them down. I just numbed it all. There is no time to come to grips. Continue mission. Just keep going as if these things never happened. With time, all things heal, right? Wrong. 

Command made general announcements that chaplain services and mental health appointments were available. But where do you get the time? Can officers actually go without judgment? But, quite frankly, I didn’t want to talk about it. I don’t want to talk about it. I want to forget it. But I can’t. I had to learn to process it. But how?  

I frequently think about my friend, Garrett, in particular. Garrett was an Army Ranger who served in combat with the 75thRanger Regiment. Rangers lead the way. Garrett was the toughest dude that I knew, and he cared about the people around him. He set the example. He took care the lowly new guys like me. 

I wonder if I can still call myself Garrett’s friend? He called me one day asking for a character reference. He said there was a mishap with the lab and he erroneously “popped hot” for drugs on the urinalysis. Why didn’t I see the red flags? Why didn’t I call him out? I wrote the character reference letter. We talked families, made some jokes, and I told him to keep me posted – typical “masculine” banter. He was fine. But did I actually think he was fine or is that what I told myself? I continued mission. 

A year or so went by. I didn’t think too much about Garrett as is typical with Army friendships and all the moves. I was buried in my cases, wrapped up in my own stories, and consumed with my own life. I heard that Garrett had gotten out. I put texting him on the “list of things to eventually do.” We’ll eventually catch up, so I thought. 

I got a call from a friend one day. It felt off. My friends, especially Army friends, don’t call to chat. Garrett killed himself. His mental wounds caught up with him. Why didn’t I do more? Why wasn’t I surprised? It was so obvious that he had to be hurting. Why did I convince myself otherwise?  Was I ever really his friend? How can a friend put the potential discomfort of a hard conversation over a buddy’s life? Why didn’t I say, “Garrett, let’s get help. I’m struggling too!”? I feel like Garrett would have done that for me. 

Here is my point to all of this …

I intended to write a general article about the human connection benefits of yoga. I wanted to simply share how yoga helps Veterans. I want to share the amazing benefits of a guided yoga practice offered by the Veterans Yoga Project.

Instead, I thought about Garrett. I thought about how my yoga practice created the space for me to acknowledge and grieve the loss of a friend. It helps me come to grips with my military service as well.  

I practice yoga with others because I need to share the human connection, usually without talking. I teach yoga because I get to hold the space for others to do the same. I am a student/teacher/human. The individual yoga practice in the interconnected community space helps me.  

Yoga creates an environment of awareness, patience, and compassion within us and in our community. The breath awareness, mindful movement, gratitude, and connection with others provides the space for healing. I never expected such a simple practice to have such meaningful benefits in my life.  

I’m in a great space today because I can actually grieve. I can be with my feelings instead of shoving them all in and avoiding the discomfort. Something as simple as guided yoga planted the seeds for this growth. 

Please don’t struggle alone is the ultimate lesson learned here. 

I invite anyone to come practice with me. We can hold the space, have fun, and celebrate this human condition. I teach with the Veterans Yoga Project and at the Hennepin County Bar Association. Anyone is welcome. 

 Bio: Mike serves as the North Central Outreach Coordinator for the Veterans Yoga Project. Mike served on active duty in the Army from 2007-2015. Mike teaches yoga and wellness in military and criminal justice communities