How lack of SPaCe leads to Traumatic Stress and Compassion Fatigue
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.
Written by our founder, Dan Libby, This article was originally published in Yoga Therapy Today, the magazine published by The International Association of Yoga Therapists.
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.
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!
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,
Over the past few years, Veterans Yoga Project has grown into village of veterans and civilians who do incredible work, supporting our veterans, families, and communities. What was once a small intention to make yoga available as an important complementary part of trauma treatment has matured into an organization that is poised to be a sustainable force for good in the world that supports veterans through all stages of recovery and resilience. The Veterans Yoga Project village now includes eight Board Members, 13 Regional Directors, 35 veteran ambassadors, five Executive Staff, numerous other volunteers and thousands of individual donors sharing the tools of breathing, meditation, movement, rest, and gratitude with veterans and their families around the country (and in Canada too!).
In addition to the growth of the organization personnel-wise, we have been working hard to institute the technology and procedures needed to measure the impact of our work. We are now able to report, for example, that in the month of July 2016, Veterans Yoga Project offered over 70 Mindful Resilience classes across 19 locations in seven different states. These facilities include VA Medical Centers, Vet Centers, yoga studios, college campuses, and YMCA. Of the over 470 class visits recorded, 408 were veteran and active-duty visits. The remaining students were composed predominantly treatment staff and/or family. Approximately 77% of all participants were male, 23% were female. (See below for graphs.)
We have also started collecting other data about the impact of yoga on veterans in recovery from post-traumatic stress and other trauma-related challenges. For instance, the charts below show self-reported results from 58 veterans attending approximately 200 yoga classes in 2015 at the Northport VA Medical Center. These data show that yoga is making a clinically significant impact in the lives of veterans.
I am very excited that we are getting better at quantifying the impact of our reach. I am also very excited about VYP’s current operations and the resources that we are now making available to our teachers and Regional Directors. However, what keeps me working hard every day for this organization, and what fuels the collective juices of all of the members of our VYP village, are the stories that we hear from the veterans we work with and testimonials we hear from the yoga teachers who are on the ground sharing their gifts with veterans.
Here is a selection of feedback from veterans attending VYP classes this month:
- “I couldn't sleep last night. I remembered my breathing practice. I fell asleep in minutes and slept all night."
- “I find the poses challenging sometimes, not able to open or relax. Then I remember to breathe, and suddenly everything lets go and I move more freely, with less tension”
- “You have given us the greatest gift. When you tell us to find that place between effort and ease... that is where we need to be. We either try too hard, or not at all so to be ok with that place in the middle is hard. So, thank you for that reminder.”
- “I never thought I’d be able to do that."
- "My painful feet always feel better after practicing yoga."
- "I am stronger now than I ever have been. I can bend down, pick up my grandkids, toss them in the air, and catch them."
- This is a major key to sanity for me!
Thank you for supporting Veterans Yoga Project. You are the reason Veterans Yoga Project is successfully supporting veterans through all stages of recovery and resilience.
"Yoga is for women. It is not something I ever really put any thought into. It is for the soccer moms to get together once a week and “work out”. Not something for a Marine. Not anything I needed. The problem is that kind of thinking shows just how narrow minded I had become.
A year ago my life fell apart. I had been out of the Corps for several decades and had never dealt with any of the issues that came up during my service. I was recently released from Federal Prison and had suffered additional trauma during my incarceration. My marriage of 29 years was coming to an end and I just couldn’t deal with it. I decided I had enough. I found myself in Walmart with a tent and several charcoal grills. I had done enough research up to that point that I felt that CO2 poisoning was the way to “go” not having access to a firearm. Instead of going through with it I ended up going to someone I thought I could trust. All of that culminated with a 10 day stay in an acute care unit. Upon release I was scheduled for a 6 week inpatient PTSD Program at a local VA Hospital.
It was during the program that I was introduced to yoga. It was one of the groups that we had once or twice a week to help us learn mindfulness. I participated but mostly because it was mandatory. I did at least approach it from the aspect that I might learn some stretching that would help when I worked out. I was also introduced to the Feathered Pipe Ranch during our first weekend in the program. When I found out that there was going to be a Veterans yoga retreat there I applied to go as part of my treatment. It wasn’t easy to get into but I am very thankful that I did.
The light came on for me during our first yoga session at the retreat. It was led by a Vietnam Vet. He started out by saying that he wanted to educate everyone on the one main tenant of yoga. The one hard and fast rule that everyone should know and understand. His philosophy so to speak. Then he told us, “its ok to fart”!
That set the tone for my weekend. That is when I figured out that there is so much more to yoga. For me there was a desperate need to find a way to buy the gap. To gain a moment between emotion and reaction. To find out how to have a negative emotion and gain enough time to evaluate it before retaliating, flying off the handle or doing something worse. I went into the PTSD program knowing that it wasn’t going to work. That I was still going to take my life at the end of it. I had a BCD mask and a nitrogen bottle in the back seat of my truck the entire time I was in the program. The thing is I found something that worked. The mindfulness practices taught during yoga both at the retreat and in the program helped me find a way to break the loops running through my head. It allowed me to take a breath or two and stop thinking too much. It showed me how to have an emotion without letting that emotion rule me and my actions.
The Veterans Yoga Project did one more thing for me. It gave me a full night sleep. That may not seem like much to most people but for someone who had not slept more than an hour or two at a time for over 5 years it was huge. Dan Libby led a Yoga program just before we went to bed the first night. I found a way to quiet my mind, let things go without holding on and allow myself to actually sleep. I slept a full 8 hours that night. He has some of those programs on their website and I still use them to help calm myself after a stressful day so I can sleep.
I left the retreat with a new appreciation for yoga, mindfulness and the benefits. I still practice when I can. I will forever be thankful that they took in a skeptical marine and did not judge me. They accepted me and helped me more than they will ever know. Yoga and mindfulness may not be the tool you need but at least it should not be overlooked. It was and still is a powerful tool in my recovery toolbox.
To everyone that helped put that program together and made it the safe and comfortable experience it was you will always have my thanks."