“I feel more accepting of situations in my life that I cannot control,” was feedback from one of the participants. The iRest program includes a number of Yoga Nidra protocols specifically designed for military personnel to heal from the variety of symptoms
that arise from service. Yoga teachers trained in iRest now support active military, veterans, and their families in over 30 settings
across the country.
The John F. Kennedy study revealed that the manifestations of
PTSD are the trauma survivor’s unsuccessful attempts to use disordered subconscious energy to transition back to civilian life.
What makes yoga different than conventional therapies, such as
prescription drugs or talk therapy, is that yoga can teach the practitioner to harness that energy and proactively use the mind and
body to heal and rebalance his or her own nervous system.
“Meditation helps them find what’s right with them. So many
times in therapy, we only look at what’s wrong,” says Molly Birk-holm, a senior iRest instructor who teaches at a VA in Miami,
Florida. Vietnam veteran Tom Rusneck concurs, “I have been doing Yoga Nidra for three years and I have gotten to a point now
that I don’t have to take any medication for my blood pressure.
And I don’t take anything for sleeping, so it has made a big improvement.”
Not only are testimonials from trauma-surviving veterans providing evidence that this practice is working, there are a growing
number of scientific studies investigating the effects of meditation
on the central nervous system. For example, the recording of brain
activity through the use of Electroencephalography (EEG) demonstrates that meditation shifts brain wave activity by encouraging the increase of lower frequency alpha and theta brain waves.
These are the brain waves associated with the body’s relaxation
response. Similar findings from other EEG studies also suggest
that meditation can create deep relaxation while simultaneously
allowing people to maintain a sharp awareness.
Continuing scientific research supports these results and has determined that we can sculpt our own brains. Positive emotional
states can be trained--like learning to play an instrument--with
PUSH-UPS TO POSES
Along with research on yoga’s mental benefits, physical benefits
of practice are breaking through the common misconception that
yoga is reserved for women or is not as challenging as a testoster-one-based gym workout. “I think the real physical fitness buffs
in the military know that yoga is no joke,” says Glossinger. She
primarily instructs active duty military, having taught yoga regularly to soldiers in Iraq as well as at the Marine Corps Air Ground
Combat Center in Twentynine Palms.
Shawn O’Reilly, a former Leading Chief Petty Officer/Indepen-dent Duty Corpsman for the US Navy on the USS Rushmore, led
Marine Corpsmen through a yoga practice on the deck of the ship
several times a week. “Many of them could do a hundred push-ups, sit-ups till the sun goes down, put an eighty-pound pack on
their back and run five miles, but have them do a half-hour of
yoga and they are a sweaty mess and ready to quit. I would remind
them, ‘use your mind, not your body. The body will do the pose
and hold the position, but you have to allow it to happen.’ ”
CHATTER TO CHANTING
In addition to the power of asana, chanting Sanskrit mantras also
has a positive effect on the nervous system. “Mantras are refined
sound bites which are designed to create positive and beneficial re-
sponses in our bodies and brains,” says Miten. He and his partner
Deva Premal are among many artists sharing music with veterans
as a healing technique. “The suggestion is to approach mantra
practice in a scientific way,” he continues. Their CD, Mantras for
Precarious Times, breaks down a mantra practice into a 21-day
experience, making it easy to follow for anyone new to this type
of meditation. “This is our way of sharing the healing power of
these amazing sound formulas.”
In 2013, for the first time in its five-year history, Bhakti Fest, the
largest gathering of yoga teachers and kirtan artists in the West-
ern world, offered free entry to both veterans and active military.
O’Reilly jumped on the opportunity. “Kirtan is just fun. The mu-
sic, the vibration, being able to detach my brain from what is go-
ing on around me in the everyday world by chanting mantras…it
slows down the mind chatter.”
YOGA GIVING BACK
The yoga community has committed to making these practices
more readily available to veterans through a variety of venues, by
both training teachers to work with these specific groups as well
as increasing access to yoga.
As the benefits of yoga and meditation reach a larger audience in
veteran communities, the demand for yoga teachers to be trained
in this kind of yoga therapy is increasing. Programs including YogaFit for Warriors, Yoga Warriors International, Veterans Yoga
Project, Warriors at Ease, and iRest are specifically geared toward
healing the wounds of our veterans and offer programs for yoga
instructors to teach trauma-sensitive classes. Trainees are educated about PTSD and how to lead mindfulness meditation for trauma therapy. They also learn to be attentive to poses and language
which could possibly trigger a practitioner’s painful memory.
YogaFit for Warriors
Veteran’s Yoga Project
Warriors At Ease
Give Back Yoga
Yoga for Vets (Find free
yoga classes for veterans
throughout the country.)