There is something that can loom over a lot of the volunteers for Veterans Yoga Project. It’s something volunteer Sandy MacGilvray struggled with at first: can I truly volunteer for Veterans Yoga Project when I’m not a veteran – or am I being a fraud?
The answer is a resounding YES you can volunteer, and NO you are definitely not a fraud. But sometimes it takes a while to fully understand that.
Sandy MacGilvray grew up in Massapequa, New York, the hometown of Jerry Seinfeld and Alec Baldwin. She has been selling insurance for Allstate Insurance Company for 20 years, and has been managing the agency she works at. Sandy is, in some ways, following in the footsteps of her father, who owned an Allstate agency for over 30 years.
Her father, on top of being a retired business owner, is a Vietnam Veteran who served in the Army.
“Whenever I get a new group to teach, I always tell them about my dad,” Sandy muses, “hoping that will give me some street cred.”
In some ways, her relationship with her father helps her connect with new veterans through the Veterans Yoga Project. And in other ways, Veterans Yoga Project is what helped create a new level of connection between her and her father.
Sandy has been practicing yoga for 12 years, and received her 200-hour teacher training in 2013, as well as her Veterans Yoga Project training in 2014. Since her time was limited, she wanted to focus on a specific area to share yoga, as opposed to teaching to the general public. She met Veterans Yoga Project’s Deb Jeanette at a yoga festival and found herself drawn to VYP.
“We got to talking and I thought to myself, ‘Hey, let me focus my energy on VYP and see where this takes me and how I can help,” says Sandy.
However, the fact that she was a civilian and never served in the military was a deep concern.
“I kind of felt like a fraud,” she says. “I wasn’t a veteran. I wasn’t quite sure how I would be able to connect with veterans.”
Deb Jeanette encouraged Sandy to talk with her father about his experiences in the military, particularly in Vietnam. This was actually a new venture for Sandy.
“I’m embarrassed to say, it was not anything I had ever done before,” she says. “So, at the age of 42, I finally spoke to him about it and am super grateful that I had the opportunity to hear about his experience.”
For the last 5 years, Sandy has been teaching a weekly class for veterans who are attending an in-house substance abuse program at the Northport VA Hospital on Long Island.
“Veterans are ‘forced’ to take my class as an event in their day,” she says. “This can be a little challenging because they aren't taking my yoga class by choice. While it was intimidating at first, I'm no longer worried about whether or not they are enjoying or embracing my class. As it turns out, most of them embrace it, which is awesome!”
It was kismet in a lot of ways: she met Deb right as Veterans Yoga Project was preparing to add new classes at that hospital. And while she worried about being a fraud at first, through her training, her time with the veterans she’s worked with over the years, and connecting with her father about his experiences in the war, Sandy has found her own as a teacher.
“[It] really helped how I approach the classes I teach,” she says. “Whether it be a breathing exercise, meditation, or a simple stretch that brings some relief to the body, if I'm able to give our veterans another tool to put in their toolbox in order to navigate through life, then it’s a win-win for all of us!”
Her day job has also been instrumental in helping the Veterans Yoga Project. The Allstate Good Hands Foundation donates funds to VYP, which includes organizing an event which will invite veterans and the public to bring awareness to Veterans Yoga Project.
“This year we offered a yoga class at the Airpower Museum at Republic Airport in Farmingdale,” says Sandy. “We had a great showing. Veterans and the general public alike participated in a yoga class taught by a few VYP members surrounded by a bunch of old airplanes. It was very cool.”
Sandy also serves as a representative for Veterans Yoga Project at yoga festivals – and perhaps becoming for others what Deb Jeannette was for her.
Sandy wishes that everyone knew that you don’t have to be a veteran in order to help.
“I truly believe there are so many opportunities for us to help veterans. I don't think that we as civilians take care of our veterans the way they deserve to be taken care of. I still focus on my little part but am hopeful that when time permits, I will be able to take on an even bigger role in bringing yoga to veterans. For now, I focus on what Yogi Berra said: ‘Doing the little things can make a big difference.’”