Veterans Yoga Project and LSF/Brian Cooke

 Veterans Yoga Project teacher and Marine Brian Cooke

Veterans Yoga Project teacher and Marine Brian Cooke

I’m not your “normal” yoga teacher.  I’m a former Marine and retired Federal Agent.  I drive a big muscle car, not a Prius.  I hate kombucha tea and love great steaks, BBQ and margaritas.  But that also makes me living proof you don’t have to be a tree-hugging hippie to practice yoga and meditation and live a life on a path to wellness

We could not be more proud of our teachers and the work that they do in support of their fellow veterans. Case in point is Brian Cooke. Lone Survivor Foundation penned a blog post highlighting Brian and the work that he does. Please click here to read the full article. This is a prime example of what your donations and grants can be and are being used for. Great Work Brian!


What is Compassion Fatigue and why you should know about it?

What is Compassion Fatigue and why you should know about it?

By Samantha Eddy

Compassion is a normal response many of us experience when we see another person suffering. This natural response is also vital to our survival. Studies suggest that compassion is crucial to the evolution of the human species (Seppala, 2016), and that helping behaviors can even help you live longer (Post, 2005)! But can you exhaust your supply of compassion?

The Origins of Compassion Fatigue

Registered nurse Carol Joinson first coined the term compassion fatigue in 1992, when she started to recognize helplessness and anger dominating her and her coworkers’ emotions. Since that time, dozens of studies have explored what compassion fatigue is and who it can affect. Compassion fatigue can affect anyone in the helping industry, including caregivers of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (Singh et al, 2018), hospice nurses (Barnett & Ruiz, 2018), health care workers bereaving patient death (Allie et al., 2018), mental health clinicians (Figley, 1995; Figley & Ludvick, 2017), spouses or family members of veterans (Figley & Ludvick, 2017), veterinarians, first responders, and even attorneys who work with traumatized individuals.

Compassion fatigue is conceptualized as a state of exhaustion and mental weariness resulting from the personal desire, as well as demand from helping professions, to be compassionate to other human beings. Burnout, secondary (vicarious) trauma and traumatic triggering all play a role in how an individual develops compassion fatigue. Signs and symptoms of compassion fatigue can appear affectively (emotionally), cognitively, behaviorally, relationally, spiritually, and/or somatically (within the body).  

Before we dive into how to understand signs of compassion fatigue in your own life, let’s first take a moment to understand a prerequisite of compassion fatigue and compassion satisfaction: empathy.

Understanding Empathy’s Role

Empathy is an innate, human trait that allows us to “enter the world of others” (Walker & Alligood, 2001). When we experience empathy, we first have an unconscious emotional or physical response to another person’s experience.  When we see another person crying, we feel the urge to cry. We then become aware of that response, and are cognitively aware of our reaction in relation to the other person’s experience. We are aware of our urge to cry. We next “place ourselves in the shoes” of the other person, allowing us to take their perspective and try to understand why they feel the way they feel. We then make a decision consciously to respond to the other person’s pain.

This conscious empathetic experience is what allows us to thrive in relationships. However, like anything else, too much of one thing can become overwhelming. Our cup can overflow, and we can become fatigued and weary, thus disrupting the present-centered process of sitting with and being empathetic with another person. We become less able to be conscious and aware of our own reactions in relation to the other person’s experience. This disruption of consciousness in the processing of empathy is what leads to compassion fatigue.

Turning Compassion Fatigue into Compassion Satisfaction

The first step in reducing compassion fatigue is identifying your own signs and symptoms. Are you experiencing any of the following?


Feeling “keyed up” or on edge

Cynical thoughts

Social isolation

Anger towards God

Loss of compassion

Worried you’re not doing enough for your client (s)

Apathy

Hopelessness

Guilt

Impulsive aggression

Blaming others

Nausea, headaches, dizziness, fainting spells

Dreaming about your client(s) traumatic experiences

Lateness and absenteeism

Loss of meaning and purpose

Shallow breathing and tense shoulders

Next is identifying the factors that might lead to compassion fatigue. Having a difficult client population, poor boundaries, lack of social support from superiors and colleagues, long hours with few resources and stress-exacerbating lifestyle choices are all factors that can lead to compassion fatigue. On the opposite side of that, studies have shown that having clinical supervision, emotional separation, increased years of experience, social support and self-care strategies are vital in maintaining or reaching Compassion Satisfaction (Rich, 1997; Chrestman, 1999; Follette, Polusny, & Millbeck, 1994; Badger et al., 2008; Cunningham; Schauben & Frazier, 1995; Craig & Sprang, 2010).

Compassion Satisfaction is the pleasure helping professionals derive from doing their work effectively (Stamm, 2010).  Whether you think you are experiencing compassion fatigue or are experiencing Compassion Satisfaction, prevention and treatment are all part of thriving in your career. Some of the tools that research have found to be effective as self-care and as treatment for stress include loving-kindness meditation (Hoge et al.), gratitude practices (Lanham 2012), training on mindfulness (Brooker et al. 2013), and Yoga-based Stress Management (YBSM) (Riley et al. 2017), among others.

Veterans Yoga Project is offering a chance to explore these topics in much more depth as well as providing self-care tools in an upcoming webinar. As funded by the Dakota Foundation, the webinar will help individuals increase compassion satisfaction and manage compassion fatigue. The webinar will be available in 2018 and will be offered for CEUs. This webinar will not only offer education about the nature of compassion fatigue, but offer chances to identify specific stressors, and use self-regulatory tools so that those in the field of trauma can find compassion satisfaction in their work once more.

Bio: Samantha Eddy is a 200-Registered Yoga Teacher currently studying at Pacifica Graduate Institute earning her PhD. in Depth Psychology with Specialization in Somatic Studies and Military Trauma. Samantha has been a volunteer with VYP for over three years, working as research assistant within the Compassion Fatigue team and providing monthly program evaluation reports.



Studio Spotlight: 18th Element Yoga  

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Imagine working for 60 hours straight.

Imagine being a yoga teacher and being part of something that goes on, without stopping, for 60 hours.

This is what Lara of 18th Element Yoga does, every year, for Veterans Gratitude Week supporting Veterans Yoga Project.

“We begin prior to sunrise on Friday and stay open teaching classes, running workshops and building a community until 30 minutes after sunset on Sunday,” said Lara. “It is the best way for me to remind myself of what someone with PTS(d) is going through.  The inability to sleep soundly for days on end, the necessity to keep pushing through when your body is crying out for rest, the inability to stop because the world is still turning.”

Now in their third year doing Veterans Gratitude Week, 18th Element Yoga – as well as its owner Lara – have a fascinating and rich back story. Lara’s call to yoga (and utilizing yoga as a way to give back) indirectly started after getting into a severe car accident, which caused major injury to Lara and emotional trauma to her daughter.

“I fractured my knee, dislocated my sternum, and watched my baby suffer from her own form of trauma for about a year, every time I put her in a car seat,” said Lara.

It was because of this accident that Lara started reflecting on death – and the way one lives their life. She wanted to do more in the world than just have a nice, corporate job and a big house. When she started thinking about her life and what mattered, one thing stuck out the most: love.

“Love is the only thing that matters, what can I do to make a difference to others and extend that love outside of my family members,” said Lara.

Lara felt a calling to yoga, but originally went into her 200-hour teacher training without any intention of using yoga outside of the fitness world.  However, it was during that training that she knew she wanted to be more than a fitness instructor. This solidified in 2015, when she met Dr. Libby.

“I met Dr. Libby and the oath began, which took me into a yoga world of building community, family, and faith in something more than just us.”

From the beginning, Lara wanted to make yoga accessible for everyone. This desire, plus her family’s history in the military, began to shape what would later become 18th Element Yoga.

“I remembered my grandfather as a faithful man who joined the marines.  He fought in the Korean war and was a POW for 19 months. After reflecting, it is very clear that he had PTS(d), which led to his drinking and, at times, restless life,” said Lara. “My husband is a veteran with a cyst growing in his shoulder due to an injury when he was in Iraq.  They all were let down by a system that took so much from them. I knew that my town, with all of the veterans and active duty, as well as 6 military bases (5 in a 25-mile radius), had a need for support, yet there were no studios that were focused on our heroes and their loved ones. So I was determined to create one.”

Since its inception, 18th Element Yoga has expanded to helping first responders, caregivers, social workers, health workers, and far more.

Eighteenth Element Yoga gets its name from a speech Archbishop Tuti gives in the movie I Am: the eighteenth element is argon, a noble gas.  It makes up 0.94% of the Earth’s atmosphere, but it doesn’t react to any of the other elements. That means the argon you inhale is the same argon you exhale.

“I pass it to the next person and we pass it on to each other with something so subtle but something that, if we didn’t have, we would no longer be alive: our breath,” said Lara. “If you just take a moment and imagine those tiny specks of argon, inert in nature yet so powerful.  Imagine whose argon you are taking in right now. When we feel weak, alone, isolated, worthless, depressed and we reflect on that breath. Think of everyone lifting you up on that inhale. Maybe you take in the same argon as Christ, the Dalai Lama, Achilles, Martin Luther King.... imagine them all inside you all supporting you, a community. You’re not alone and you have an inner warrior throughout the ages.”

Eighteenth Element Yoga is a safe haven for those who need yoga to build mind-body resilience and find a bit of community. They have even run their own 200-hour Trauma-Focused Teacher Training as a result of difficulties finding properly-trained teachers.

“Every one of these instructors at the studio are here for a reason and that reason is to make a change to those that have been turned away from other studios, told that yoga isn’t for them, told that they are past the point of saving from medical professionals, isolated without support. Unknowing victims of trauma and those trying one last time to see if all those lies are true.”

While keeping a studio afloat financially is a difficult task, Lara wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Money isn’t in abundance but the gratitude and feeling you get when someone calls you family is worth more in the long run,” she said.

Money collected during Veterans Gratitude Week goes towards supplies for their trauma programs, with the remainder of the money going to Veterans Yoga Project. However, money isn’t the only way to help support 18th Element Yoga.

“If you can donate financially, it is appreciated, but it isn’t just about finances. Come and spend some time with us; your donation of your time and companionship is donation enough for me.  Lord knows I need it around 10:30 PM on Saturday night.  Grab a bolster and a mat and stay with us for the full event.   Make the tide change with us.”

If you live in the Colorado Springs area, consider coming by 18th Element Yoga during Gratitude Week – or drop in at any point in the year, to be welcomed by teachers who want everyone to know that yoga is for everybody and every body.

“One of my favorite quotes is ‘I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples,’ from Mother Teresa,” said Lara. “I started with a small speck of sand that started that small ripple with me – then a pebble to allow it to ripple to my family, a stone effecting those nearest me. With the help of EEY teachers, we have dropped a boulder causing a wave and we hope with the support of others like us we can cause a rippling effect that changes the tide.”

- Abby Rosmarin

HOW TO PARTICIPATE IN VETERANS GRATITUDE WEEK

This Veteran's Day, we at Veterans Yoga Project would like for you to consider participating in our 5th annual Veterans Gratitude Week.

Why participate?

Last year, our ongoing mindful resilience classes and annual healing retreat combined reached over 17,000 veterans. These programs are made possible because of compassionate people like YOU!

There are three ways in which to celebrate VGW with us!

Host a donation based yoga (or otherwise fitness) class during the week of Nov 2-12. Enter your class data and we will take care of the rest!

Attend a VGW class! Find a class nearest you, enjoy some yoga, and donate to the cause.

Donate. Don't teach yoga or can't make it to a class? We've got you covered! Please donate here .

Together, we can make a difference in the lives of veterans all around the world. Let's come together to support their recovery and resiliency.

Breathe Free! Yoga on the USS Intrepid

For our 3rd Annual Light a Candle ceremony, a cool evening breeze that swept across the flight deck of the USS Intrepid in New York City as yogis, veterans, families and supporters alike placed VYP printed LED candles atop their mat, bringing a soft glow to the twilight.

On Sunday June 3rd, over 300 attendees came together to practice outside at sunset, and hold space for reverence.  Candles in memory of those who donated on behalf of a lost loved one lined the stage, and sparkled throughout the night of practice.  Sponsored by Northwell Health and lululemon’s Here to Be program, Veterans Yoga Project was able to host families from around the tri-state area with some attendees journeying cross country to join us for this special evening.

Introductions were made by Dr. Dan Libby, founder of Veterans Yoga Project,  Army veteran Juan Serrano, of Northwell Health and Navy veteran Ceasar F. Barajas brought the crowd to stand for the national anthem, directed at the Intrepid’s turret flag waving wildly in the summer wind.  Renowned photographer, Robert Sturman, captured breathtaking moments, including this incredible image; his first of all military branches standing together!

VYP ambassador Ceasar F. Barajas initiated the class, sharing his experiences of hardship and how through this practice came the ability to use tangible tools in order to cope with whatever life throws your way.

Olivia Kvitne, CEO of Yoga for First Responders, warmed up our chilly yogis, instilling a sense of strength and empowerment by consistently promoting positive mantras, or ‘cognitive declarations’. Olivia pointed out that yoga studio scenarios are relatively perfect and life is not. Moving and breathing whilst embracing the elements and remembering to stay present and stay positive IS the real practice, avoiding the negative self-talk that most humans default to.

Amber Paul, lululemon ambassador and BDC instructor  wrapped up the class with some stretching and meditation as the sky began to allow some raindrops to sprinkle down. While some yogis decided they would rather stay dry, others lay in savasana, soaking up the rain and the experience as it came to a close.

The evening provided a launchpad for number of veterans to continue their practice, and enticed yogis to continue exploring trauma-sensitive classes.  After we had concluded, a young couple approached me to express their gratitude. She shared that her husband was active duty, had deployed eleven times, was currently dealing with 180 pieces of shrapnel still in his body, and that this was his first yoga class.  He loved it! For me, this is the reason we do what we do. Keep moving and breathing. All you gotta do is be brave and be kind.

Want to share your wisdom with VYP? Contribute an article!

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Very soon, we will be beginning a new venture for VYP and we’d welcome your help! We will be creating, sharing and posting original content from the VYP website. Yes, we will create a number of posts ourselves but since we're blessed with a network of such wise, talented and dedicated friends like yourself, we'd LOVE to have your input.

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Most of the posts we envision will center around the benefits of yoga and meditation and how it helps Veterans, Service-members, their families, caregivers, and First Responders. We're open to other topics that relate to our mission of helping each other and our communities to create SPACE in our bodies, minds, and spirits.

Can you create 300 - 500 clear and wise words on your chosen topic? Are you able to provide a few photographs? (If not, we have access to some great stock imagery)

There are so many folks in our network that have incredible stories of trauma, healing, adventure, and growth. Do you have a story to share? Would you allow us to interview you? We know our patrons, sponsors, and followers would enjoy hearing from you. This would entail a telephone interview with someone from our media team after which we'll transcribe the interview and allow you to review it before it goes live.

If you think you'd like to write an original post for us or conduct a telephonic interview to tell the world about you ... we'd LOVE to hear from YOU! Send an email to SocialMedia@VeteransYogaProject.org for more info or to share your story.


On every article submitted to us from our friends and followers, we'd be more than happy to share a quick bio and the links to your studio or website.  Sharing means Caring!

VETERANS ARE OUR BEST ASSETS

Dear Friends,
 
I’ve just returned from another Mindful Resilience for Trauma Recovery training, and I find myself more certain than ever of the importance of the work Veterans Yoga Project is doing. 
 
I've said before that our veterans are our best assets.  Communities across the country are facing significant challenges that threaten the very freedoms our veterans have fought for. If we are to overcome these challenges, then we are going to need the best among us to help lead the way: Those individuals who have already stepped up to protect and serve. Those individuals who on average already give more time and money to community than their civilian counterparts. Those individuals who know about sacrifice, and have the training, the resilience, and toughness to lead us. Veterans Yoga Project exists to support these men and women and their families.
 
Our other best assets are our yoga and meditation teachers. If we are to meet the challenges before us then we are going to need our yoga and meditation teachers to help light the way. I get to see it every day. Veterans and civilians alike, answering the call to educate, heal, and serve each other; helping each other access the best inside each of us.  Helping each other remember gratitude and compassion and to keep our values in the forefront of our consciousness even when overwhelming circumstances stimulate the automatic-pilot-amygdala-fear-networks in our brains. 
 
It seems more important than ever for each of us to come back to ourselves, to connect with each other, and to use these assets we have to individually and collectively step forward in the world to lead. I am honored that I get to work with so many incredible people who are actively working to support that effort.  It is my hope and my intention that Veterans Yoga Project continue to grow as an organization that supports all of this good work with integrity, compassion, and wisdom. 
 
May 2017 let you breathe easy, focus clearly, move freely, rest deeply, and remember gratitude. 
 
The light in me honors and is deeply grateful for the light in you,
Namaste.
 
Dan