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.