I am currently taking the 100 hour Mindful Yoga Teacher training and am so extremely grateful for the scholarship I am receiving to be able to do so. I had been doing yoga for about 10 years, off and on, but it has really only been in the past year or so that my personal practice has taken on deeper and more spiritual meaning and intensity.I served in the U.S. Coast Guard for five years, in the early 1990’s, at a time when there were a lot of migrants trying to reach our shores for economic and political asylum. It was through my time served on a large cutter home-ported in Virginia that I had the opportunity to travel to Haiti, among other Caribbean nations. It was there that I saw such poverty and extreme living conditions, that I vowed to return one day and make a small difference in the lives of the people of that beautiful country. In 2011, I made that vow a reality and traveled for the first of many times to Haiti with a group from my church in Southbury, CT. I have been going down to Haiti every year since the earthquake and will continue to do so, leading groups as the immersion trip leader. In 2017 our small ministry grew into a non-profit corporation called Seeds of Hope for Haiti, Inc., with me serving on the board of directors. If it was not for the experiences I had in the Coast Guard to drive my passion and vision, I don’t think that this would have ever become a reality. In 2014 I had the honor to present my son Matt with his graduation certificate when he graduated from U.S. Coast Guard Boot Camp, in my uniform! I have always had and will always have such a sweet spot in my heart for service members and veterans. That is why I am excited to bring my 200 hour yoga teacher training that I have had through VETOGA, (founder Justin Blazejewski is also a MYT grad) and this 100 hour training with MYT, to veterans, active duty and their family members in Connecticut. I am currently starting work on bringing programs to various military installations in the state, along with the help and expertise of another MYT trained instructor. I hope to see this take off and become a regular offering to the service members stationed there and their families. Before I even started my yoga teacher training, I studied about trauma and how it affects the brain and how the “issues live in the tissues”. I attended the Yoga of Twelve Steps of Recovery leadership training in January in Surf City, NC. I started leading Y12SR meetings in my area in February of 2018, even before becoming a certified yoga instructor! (I had a partner who was certified who led the practice and I led the meeting.) I did not know if I would eventually become certified at first, but a few months after I had led a few sessions of Y12SR, I started looking into affordable ways that I could get my 200 hour certification. (I work full time at a local non- profit agency and do not have the financial means to be able to spend $2,000 to $3,000 on teacher training.) Through a Google search, I found VETOGA, Inc., a nonprofit run by a veteran who offers 200 hour teacher training's to other veterans, so that they could teach yoga in their communities to other military and vets. In order to gain a spot in this training, participants have to raise a certain level of funds. I set out to raise money for this organization in order to be included in the Spring 2018 class. With some hard work, and putting forth some money of my own, I was successful and headed to Alexandria, VA for training in May. It was in this training that we spent one afternoon talking about next steps, how we might partner with other similar organizations that bring yoga to veterans, or to take advantage of more training's that are in line with VETOGA's mission. Mindful Yoga Therapy was mentioned several times as the # 1 way to continue with more training in working with trauma. I was instantly curious because this was what I wanted to do from the very beginning, bring trauma -informed yoga to others. It was only natural that I seek it out after hearing from a friend that I should attend the 100 hour training, and it was starting very soon, in July of this summer. He set me up with Suzanne who offered me a scholarship and after filling out the application, I was in! Talk about timing and dharma, I felt this was the next right thing for me. I am particularly interested in what I have been learning from Suzanne at the Mindful Yoga Center. Her knowledge of working with veterans with PTSD is something that I feel can really benefit from personally, as I deal with anxiety and stress in my own life, it is a great tool in my toolbox that I can take to others. I can see myself working with others affected by traumatic stress, such as those who survived the terrible earthquake in Haiti in 2010, or just the stress and adverse experiences that are present where poverty exists. I feel strongly that yoga would benefit so many, and perhaps one day I will bring yoga and meditation to people in Haiti. This past summer on a recent trip, our group took a yoga class on a mountaintop there, and it was such a surreal experience. The clouds surrounded us, it was literally yoga in the clouds. I would love to offer more classes like that one day. Ever thankful for the opportunity to train with Suzanne and Mindful Yoga Therapy, I hope to pay it forward by carrying the tools of yoga, meditation and yoga nidra to the people in my community and abroad. Namaste, Christine
Hello my name is Jacki Alessio and I came to know the 100 Hour Mindful Yoga Therapy program through my home studio director Suzanne Manafort. I have to first of all express my gratitude to Suzanne and my fellow student peers who have honored my brief service to the Connecticut Army National Guard (August 2017-February 2018). I truly believe I've arrived in a unique niche of the yoga community and thus my experience thus far in this training has been a transformative one.Personally,I've sought out psychotherapy for 20 years for relief from anxiety, seasonal and grief related depression, addictions and codependency, and from automatic responses as a result of interpersonal violent traumas. Professionally, I've worked in the field of mental health/social work for 10 years; empowering survivors of abuse and neglect, advocating for civil liberties at the local and state level, taking care of the elderly and those with physical disabilities/ABI's/TBI's and providing clinical support to those involved in the criminal justice system.
In November of 1978, English rock band, The Police released their debut album, …which we could argue could have been titled, The Police-Greatest Hits Volume 1. One of the songs on this album is titled “So Lonely!” It is perhaps the happiest song about being completely alone. The Police were HUGE…MEGASTARS…ON TOP OF THE WORLD. Yet, Sting the lead singer of The Police (in case you live under a rock), felt empty, “being surrounded by all this attention and yet experiencing the worst lonely feeling.” You wouldn’t have guessed it by the upbeat rhythm of the song, but by all accounts…Sting was suffering from depression. This song really peaked my interest. Why did it seem Sting was on top of the world…even though he seemingly and albeit joyfully reaching out for help? Two questions came to mind: 1) Does your individual perception of depression control the effects of depression and 2) Is it OK to be depressed?
According to a recent study, depression can be subdivided into four neurophysiological subtypes (‘biotypes’) defined by distinct patterns of dysfunctional connectivity in limbic and frontostriatal networks. This study suggests that depression is another spectrum issue that presents itself differently in every case. Jeff Masters is a yoga therapist, teacher, and author. Masters has been researching consciousness and the human energy field for over 30 years. He describes depression is a multi-phasic progression which needs to be addressed individually. It can be viewed through the lens of the Gunas as being of the nature of stagnation (Tamas) or exhaustion (Rajas). Perhaps in Sting’s case…he was exhausted by all of the attention, but felt like he had to keep doing whatever needed to be done in order to promote the album and the band. Masters adds that regardless to the source, depression requires mindful engagement…not avoidance.
Question 1: Does your individual perception of depression control the effects of depression?
Jeff Masters has been a somatic therapist and clinician for more than 30-years. He suggests, past experiences which inform your perception of reality, and impact your reaction to similar triggers, begin to unwind and arise into your consciousness. As this occurs your discerning mind (still unconscious) is activated and, if you haven’t yet done the work within the Yamas and Niyamas, will trigger your limbic system - the seat of your emotions. Which means your past impressions are experienced as occurring in the moment as opposed to being relegated to the past.
Depression triggers the hippocampus and the amygdala to activate the sympathetic nervous system. Masters says when this happens, “We have an on-load of stress hormones into the system. This can be of an acute level - causing anxiety, panic, fear, or anger. Or it can be sub-acute causing "feelings" of unease or insecurity.”
This is a cool point! In 1978, Sting, whose real name is Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner, was just an English rockstar struggling with success. However, in 1990 he began his yogic journey and has ever since had a very strong yoga and meditation practice. Interestingly…there also have not been any songs like “So Lonely.” Perhaps, yoga and meditation work? Perhaps Sting…who could easily still suffer from depression from time to time…has done the work…and now his perception has changed, thus the way he presents it to the world has changed?
Question 2: Is it OK to be depressed?
I have been practicing yoga since 1999. Not a very long time in the grand scheme of life…but to be sure…a long enough time to have experienced the joys of relief it brings on so many different levels. I can remember when I first learned about yoga and struggled with my preconceptions. Did I have to wear a black speedo, grow my hair out and never wear a shirt again? (My first experience with yoga was a VHS tape of Rodney Yee. HA! ) Would I have to give up meat? Would I have to speak only of rainbows, unicorns, chakras, and peace? Would I have to completely change who I am? I could go into great length answering these…but I will be short in my answer: I believe yoga makes you the best version of you…regardless of any of the above mentioned thoughts/requirements. You still get to be you…just a much better version of you.
These thoughts however are valid! If yoga and meditation help with depression…then am I…or YOU…allowed to be depressed? According to Masters, there is a deep well of practitioners in Yoga / Self development field who feel like experiencing "negative" emotions is to be avoided. However, the Practice of Yoga (POY) innately accesses the recesses of our consciousness, our body, our energetic matrix which underlies it all. As this occurs and we continue the practice, we will increase the transformative heat within these specific aspects of being. In other words, as we do the work, there is a good chance past trauma can surface and present itself as anger…and over the long-term if not properly addressed…depression.
So…if I am understanding this correctly…YES…it is OK to feel angry and perhaps even depressed! The important aspect is what we do when these feelings arise. Masters says, “Your state of consciousness at the moment that you re-experience these impressions is crucial to denature or down regulate these mental and emotional triggers.” He suggests before these feelings become uncontrollable to set a Boundary of First Resistance, “take a breath and back off slightly. Begin surrounding the practice with the breath and stay as centered as we can in the calm awareness of the Buddhi mind (where the Mind and the Prana are one).”
The practice of Yoga WILL bring things up. Masters says to avoid the artifacts and their echoes that arise, is to “re-embed the traumas.” The goal of yoga/meditation is to assess the breath (prana and the mind), adjust the practice and to take refuge in the sadhana. Additionally, Masters highlights the importance of Self-Awarness and Ahimsa…aka no shame, “if you feel that the experience is too overwhelming to manage, then seek out assistance in the form of Sangha or even professional assistance. When in doubt seek it out (help).”
You may or may not know that Mindful Yoga Therapy came about when Suzanne Manafort, the Founder/Director was looking for a way to "give back to society." It all started one day when she volunteered at the local Veterans Administration (VA) hospital. Through trial and error and with input from the Veterans that were in her classes, she fleshed out what didn't work and focused on what did. Today...the things that worked are all part of the "toolbox." Fast-forward a few years...and today Mindful Yoga Therapy offers two different programs for Veterans that focus on post-traumatic growth, the original 15-hour program for yoga teachers, plus a 100-hour program for yoga teachers. These are natural progressions for any company. What we're very excited about...is a progression we didn't think about. Several of the veterans who have completed our programs designed specifically for them...are now yoga teachers themselves.
We just wrapped up a 200-hour Embodyoga teacher training program at our national training center in Newington Connecticut. Embodyoga is a well-rounded, in-depth study of yoga with an emphasis on personal embodiment as the basis for deepening a practice. Among the students were Mike Riley, an Air Force Vet and Sean Weir, a Royal Air Force Vet.
Mike Riley's journey to yoga started when he felt as if he was at whit's end, "my marriage had just ended, nothing was going right for me and I could see the end all I had to do was choose it." Lucky for Mike, a friend mentioned Mindful Yoga Therapy to him after he had tried yoga at a few different places. Today, the former aircraft mechanic has a strong daily practice and is a certified yoga instructor. Mike volunteers at the local VA and talks about the benefits of yoga to just about every veteran he meets, "getting veterans to participate in weekly yoga classes has shown to improve mood and a sense of community in which I participate." Mike also is a valuable member of Team MYT. If you ever sign up for one of our training programs, you might just receive a block of training from him.
Sean Weir came to yoga when he felt he was struggling both physically and mentally. Sean was a first responder in the Royal Air Force and has also served as a fire fighter here in the U.S. For Sean, Yoga Nidra was his gateway to yoga, "it helped me and I want to pass the opportunity on to help others such as veterans, first responders and under served communities such as at risk youth." Sean plans to continue his yoga journey and will be enrolling in an upcoming 100-hour program. Sean is also working with the West Haven Connecticut VA, "I am in the process of communicating with the staff how yoga and mindfulness programs can best serve this community."
You can learn more about our program on our website.
It's funny...the more I depend on technology to make me more efficient, the more it seems my life is full of things to do. I feel the very same technology I use to keep up in this fast-paced life...the more hectic my life becomes. Sometime to the point where I don't even get to...or more importantly...forget to enjoy it!
Mindfulness in its simplest form breaks down like this: paying attention, on purpose, in this moment, and without judgment. The mindfulness aspect of Mindful Yoga Therapy consists of two primary components:
1. Paying attention to the present moment 2. Maintaining an attitude of acceptance and non-judgment
Today, Suzanne Manafort, MYT Founder, follows-up with Part 2 of Mindfulness which deals with acceptance. Acceptance (Santosha)
Acceptance is an important part of mindfulness, and santosha is a key component of any therapeutic yoga practice. Santosha is the yogic principle of contentment and acceptance of what is actually arising in the body-mind. This acceptance does not at all infer non- action, but rather is the basis for transforming patterns in the body-mind. Santosha involves a degree of “allowing” that can be practiced only when inner support, grounding, and connecting to the earth have been firmly established.
The emphasis on acceptance is especially important for veterans with PTS due to the high incidence of guilt and moral injury that arises from the traumatic events they experience during military service. Many veterans have participated in activities that they later feel intense guilt and shame about. Conversely, other veterans feel a strong sense of guilt and shame about things they did not do or could not prevent. These negative feelings about past events, and the tendency to replay these events in the mind, prevent many veterans from living in the present moment. This negativity is often manifested as anger, restlessness, struggling, and isolation from others. By fostering santosha in our students, we can help them not only feel better about these past events, but also become more comfortable living in the present.
Peace & Love,
Amanda Neufeld and Colten Peed own and operate Yoga Studio Satya in Colorado Springs, Colorado. They have a very clear and focused mission statement:
To Bring Joy and Health to the Body and Mind, to Inspire and Love Without Judgment and Create a Community Beyond the Walls in Which we Practice.
And this is exactly what the two of these yogis from "The Springs" are doing. They have already hosted a 15-hour Mindful Yoga Therapy weekend course, as well as a 100-hour teacher training program. Colten and Amanda have also signed up to host another 15-hour course next year.
Colorado Springs is a perfect location to reach out to and serve Veterans. Colorado Springs is home to five military bases so a a good portion of the population is currently serving or has served. When they opened their studio they initially wanted to be a local non-profit that supported yoga in the community...that is how they found The Give Back Yoga Foundation (GBYF). GBYF has several programs for under-served communities...one of which is Mindful Yoga Therapy, which seemed appropriate for their demographic. So, they reached out to Suzanne Manafort to host a 15-hour training. According to Amanda, once they met Suzanne Manafort, "we knew were a part of something really incredible." Of the tools in the the MYT Toolbox, Amanda and Colten (like Suzanne) believe Support Precedes Action is the most important, "we must learn how and be willing to support ourselves. Support Precedes Action...whether this be in body, environment or relationship, there is a willingness to be receptive and aware." According to Colten and Amanda, this MYT principal allows you to return to a natural flow without trying to fix or change yourself.
For Amanda and Colten, what makes the Mindful Yoga Therapy training standout is the educational focus on the nervous system, guided nidra and calming breath practices that are sometimes overlooked in other training programs that are more asana based. Additionally, they believe the training is very helpful in discussing the military culture and language that is appropriate, while understanding PTS and levels of severity and how it effects the health of the individual.
"I think this training was the path I was looking for to deepen my own studies of therapeutics and trauma and I feel much more prepared to meet my clients with the tools we've learned through this training." - Amanda
Getting a Veteran on the mat can sometimes be super easy...and sadly...sometimes hard. Colten and Amanda have a pretty straight-forward idea on how to approach Vets to practice yoga.
"Although yoga can be perceived as fancy foot work, too difficult or it seems too fluffy - I say find a place that seems like a good fit and give it a try! There are several classes around town offered to veterans for free, there are classes at the VA and there are a few studios in town that also work privately if that is a better fit. If you're physical body is in pain or you've had an amputation: yoga can help increase range of motion, build strength and balance and help decrease pain, if you have PTS, anxiety or depression: yoga can help you increase breath capacity which calms the nervous system, if you have a hard time sleeping: yoga nidra can help you find rest without pills. There are many positive benefits of yoga that will meet you where you are."
So far this year, with the help of MYT, GBYF & Gaiam, Yoga Studio Satya has been able to donate yoga mats and tool kits for TAPS & the 127th MP CO. Colten and Amanda believe the MYT program has been so thoughtfully developed and truly cares for each veterans as an individual. More importantly, they say they are grateful to have the opportunity to support such tremendous work these men and women do and offer a way to serve them and their families.
If you are interested in helping serve the Veteran population, or perhaps you own a yoga studio and want to host a MYT event, please send us an email.
Support Precedes Action is one of the...say it with me..."most important tools" in the Mindful Yoga Therapy toolbox. But what does it mean to you? Tanya Del Priore is a Navy Veteran and yoga teacher who completed the 100-hour MYT training at Studio Bamboo in Virginia Beach. Here is what Support Precedes Action means to her.
By Tanya Del Priore, 18 Jan 2016
I first encountered the phrase and principle of “support precedes action,” during the Mindful Yoga Therapy 100-hr teacher training in Virginia Beach, VA. The best explanation of the expression is an exploration of how the principle manifests itself in everyday life, on and off of the mat. I have reflected over my 52-years of life and have come to understand two things. First, I have been practicing this principle of support precedes action even though I had no words to describe it. Secondly, in life, things always happen in patterns. When two patterns are put together, a third will appear. Let me explain.
My first pattern in life occurred during my childhood where I experienced a traumatic event. I received immediate support from my family members and was able to move forward in life. The action was moving forward and not hanging onto the traumatic event. Learning, at a young age, how to move forward will serve me well during my next pattern in life. My second life pattern was serving for 23 years in the United States Navy. I was supported by years of training that taught me how to “react” appropriately in a stressful and traumatic events and I have been exposed to many unnatural events. I have fought fires onboard ship, collided with other ships, swarmed by low flying unidentified aircraft, I have seen many people seriously injured, and witnessed suicides. I was able to manage my way through each of these events with the support of fellow Sailors; you could say we were all in the same boat (a Sailor’s term of endearment for ship). It was the support of these Sailors and the sense of community that supported me through things that do not happen naturally in life.
After serving for 23 years, then came my time to leave the Navy and I retired in 2008; I was happy and sad at the same time. I was happy to be with my family at home but sad to leave my Navy family community behind. Then a third pattern emerged when I started practicing yoga in 2011. I was supported by those in the class and by the teacher. I was sharing the expressions of yoga poses even though our individual experiences were different. I met so many people who shared yoga with others for different reasons. Why did this place of yoga feel so familiar? It was because if felt similar to the place I had recently left and had served with for 23 years, the Navy. Today, I practice yoga because I am supported by others and I support them. I practice yoga because every pose is a “safe action” and for 23 years in the Navy I experienced plenty of “crazy military action”. Yoga provides a safe place for good, appropriate, and natural occurring action to happen. Each day, I practice recognizing patterns, triggers, and then I support myself with the tools of yoga to help me “act” (not “react”) in a manner that is beneficial to my health and well-being. Remember, support ALWAYS precedes action.
There are many free resources available to help you find support. You can find them HERE!
MYT's Anthony Scaletta was interviewed on Reload Radio. Listen to the full interview here.
Anthony, Mindful Yoga Therapy's Outreach Coordinator for Veterans and a graduate of our 100 hour certification program, served as a US Navy Special Warfare Combatant Crewman (SWCC) with Naval Special Warfare Group 1 out of San Diego, California from 1998-2003. He was an 11 Meter RHIB operator and did two deployments to the Northern Arabian Gulf region conducting Maritime Interdiction Operations and reconnaissance missions.
As a result of his service he was diagnosed with PTSD, Anxiety, Depression and OCD. He also suffered chronic pain and underwent spinal fusion surgery. It was through these “opportunities,” which he used to call obstacles, that yoga found Anthony--and it immediately resonated with him as the way to heal and reintegrate after his military service.
Meet Anthony and learn more about his Mindful Yoga Therapy mission.
Today the New York Post features an article on John Neib, Vietnam vet and student of Mindful Yoga Therapy. John talks about how Mindful Yoga Therapy helped him sleep better and his love of the community at Newington Yoga. He plans to assist MYT founder Suzanne Manafort in a future yoga teacher training program.
Read the full article on the New York Post site.
From Day 1, as a Marine it is ingrained in our very moral fiber never to surrender, quit, or leave a man behind. To keep the moral values of honor courage and commitment is something many Marines strive for even after leaving the Corps. For many of us in combat situations we endure things that are horrific, and painful. Though as a war fighter we shut the pain off in order to continue with the mission, often replace it with rage and heightened sensitivity. When you are deployed you live with your guys day in and day out ready to lay down your life for your buddy. There is no way to explain the bonds we create to someone who has never been. Though I can say my fellow Marines are as close, if not closer, to me than my own family.
We come home after being deployed, and we are sent to a few classes about PTS, told not to drink and drive, fight, or get into domestic disputes. We come home from being so close, and for many of us we come home to not much of any family, or social life. I often would listen to someone in conversation, and be asked “Andrew, did you hear anything I just said?” I was gone, off in my own mind.
With PTS, I began, like many of my Brothers and Sisters do, to medicate. I would drink, until I was medicated, then the drinking stopped replaced by meds, or a combination of both I did whatever it took to be numb. My thoughts raced, I had nightmares, and I wanted to die but didn’t have the nerve to kill myself. I was miserable in my own skin, and to make it worse I had lost 3 years of sobriety when I drank coming home from deployment. The last 4 years has been a struggle, sober, drinking, depressed, and repeat. It’s a vicious cycle that eventually made suicide seem like a legit alternative. I wanted to die, and was starting to feel the courage to do it. Thank God, for God - that feeling that we get when that guardian angel whispers “no.”
I’m broken, but I’m fixable, if I can be an example of getting sober, then I can be an example of starting over. Today I’m Andrew; I have a problem with PTS, and Whiskey, but most of all I have a problem with what’s going on in between my ears. Today, I’m sober.
It’s very difficult to admit defeat, but it is necessary to recover, so I surrender. I need help. “Please help” was the hardest, most rewarding thing I ever did. Please ask yourself honestly, “do I want to be a testimony or a statistic?” Suicide is not the answer; whiskey, pills, depression, and isolation is not the answer. For many of us we have a dual diagnosis, addiction, alcohol, post traumatic stress. I have backup, a quick reaction force, I like to call him God. I was told, when I began my journey to recovery, to find Him and ask for His help. The shame is not in surrender, it’s in pride and ego telling you that you can do it on your own. Until that pride and ego tells you that “your nothing, no one cares, screw it,” then you may find yourself like me, seriously considering, some days, just ending my life. That’s not the answer, if you don’t see it I hope you do after you read this. Giving into PTS, or Suicide is like a 3000 mile sniper shot taking you out from the Middle East. I, for one, do not want to give those bastards the satisfaction of knowing I wasn’t strong enough to endure being here at home.
There is no difference for this Marine to stick a gun against my head or take a shot of whiskey to feel numb. It will all lead me the same place, morally, spiritually, or physically dead. There is hope though, to all the veterans out there who drink to be numb, think of friends lost, live in guilt, are hurting daily, or just waiting to punch their ticket. I just want to say I feel you, and you are not alone. Yoga, clinical professionals, and treatment are all answers. So I quote one of the men who saved my life. One of my heroes, mentor, and friend Sgt. Major Mackey, when he told me, “Stand down Marine, the battle is over, you’re not alone. Your brothers are here to help you, and the ones who didn’t make it home deserve better for their memory than you to throw away their sacrifice by messing your life up.”
Funny thing is in surrender, I have found victory, because I’m Andrew, I’m human, I’m hurting, need help. Great thing is, I found it. I found help through organizations like Semper Fidelis Health and Wellness, Mindful Yoga Therapy for Veterans, Treatment, and Veterans Services. It’s ok to ask for help, it’s not ok to try and survive on your own. The war is not over; we are losing the battle here with suicide, addiction, alcoholism, dereliction, homelessness, and spiritual suicide. Many veterans every day are thinking about or have succeeded in ending their own life. I’m sad to say in the course of writing this I can almost guarantee suicide has crossed a service members mind.
Yoga, along with proper treatment, and support is a great set of tools to help you along your road to recovery. So, please hear me when I say, stand down, the battle is over you’re home, we are here to help. Please, if you need it cry out for it, and stop being alone. God Bless and I hope this can help someone, because today I want to be a testimony of recovery, not a statistic.
I chose to write this not as an individual, but for a community. To show what in my own words yoga has done for me and my journey since then. People tell me that I’m very intense in my need to want to help my fellow Marines with this wonderful practice that is yoga. One thing about me is that I have always been intense, but at one point I had accepted that if someone in my squad had to go I wanted it to be me. Sad thing about life is that we don’t always get the hand we expect. I came “home”, but many of my brothers didn’t, some did but they had lost limbs or had been seriously injured. It was the weirdest thing coming home it was like I was on patrol then I was home, like no time had passed yet an eternity of innocence was gone. I sat for what seems now like an eternity just staring, reliving scenarios in my head while my loved ones learned to just operate around me. I slept on the couch because I scared my ex wife with how I would wake up screaming, if I even slept at all. I was sent to train Marines, but all I could see in the faces of the young men I was teaching was the glimpse of my fallen brothers moving amongst the crowd of formations. I would scream at these young guys but I would have tears in my eyes not really knowing if I was angry or sad. I became dependent on self medicating like so many of us did. I often wanted to die, but I didn’t want to kill myself. I would never hesitate to place myself in a dangerous situation though. My ex wife said to me one day that I had never come home, that the man she knew never came back. I would wake up screaming, the bed sheets soaked, I would cry for no reason, be angry, and have illusions of seeing hurt and wounded friends and enemies. I drank and drank a lot, I could not get over the survivors guilt, what could I have done differently. What could I have done to have saved my friend, why him, why not me? I was too broken for war; to crazy for society, I was lost.
Until one day I met a Man, a fellow Marine who introduced me to Yoga. Not because I wanted to be calmer, but because I was to physically incapable of doing much due to injuries. It took him two months to move me past what I know now as child’s pose. We worked by skype because of distance, and I hated leaving home. Slowly we worked building my physical and mental capacity until I could get past my fear of leaving my home to sign up for a studio on my own.
My first ever hot yoga class was with a teacher in a town I didn’t know. It was after my failed marriage I had started dating a girl who wanted to take me to yoga where she lived. The whole class I over worked, was hot, and at the end of class we laid down in the dark. The teacher led us through a guided meditation, until a point I relaxed my mind. That was a mistake; I had a very bad panic attack hit the wall and was out the door. I was hyperventilating, and crying but I couldn’t figure out why. I called my teacher and told him. My teacher explained the process of unlocking emotions as we go through our journey in yoga.
I eventually went to a different studio, and talked to one of the teachers. I told her I was a veteran of both of Iraq and Afghanistan, and would not be laying down. She smiled and said ok. I sat at the end of class for a few weeks with my eyes open and my back to the wall. Eventually I was able to lay down with my eyes open.
During this time I was self medicating, and still dealing with lots of issues from my PTS, but I kept going. I met a teacher, 1 of 5 who has so far changed my life, she saw me one night at the end of class with tears in my eyes trying really hard to keep it together. She asked if we could stay and talk awhile.
She and I started talking, and she basically came right out and said it that she could see the pain and hurt in my eyes that it radiated when I walked in the room. I asked her for help, we sat we worked on breathing. I started to feel the flash back coming, the smell of the sand, the hot air, the sweat on the back of my neck the anger, the fear, my chest was caving I was screaming on the inside. Yet on the outside I could only force a single tear, she said to me “As this pain comes let it feel like water, feel the breath the cold beautiful air enter your nose as a white light, and the heat exit as all that is not needed” something along those lines. More tears came I began to sob, but I kept working on my breathing focusing on my breath, slowly the air didn’t smell like the middle east, my neck began to become cool and I started to come back from the middle east. I wasn’t in combat I was in yoga studio breathing.
Since that time my anger, self medication, PTS, and everything has had its ups and downs, some days have been better than others but I have tried to remain on the Mat. I have blown up on people, made amends, had breakdowns, and break-troughs’. Just for today I haven’t had a drink. I have slept almost entire night, I meditate, and I try to share the gift of yoga with fellow veterans. I live by the motto that we learned as Marines, never leave a Man behind so when people say I’m intense, I try to understand as I have been taught to see where they are coming from, but it’s hard when I have lost more friends to suicide and drugs or alcohol than I have lost to combat. I don’t know if I would still be here had I not been introduced to yoga. For me this is a mission to help the people I love and served with make it back from hell. Having PTS doesn’t mean you are broken, it means you have seen the worst the world has to offer and you are still here, still holding on and that you are strong. I practice regularly, and now when the class ends this Marine can actually lay in a room full of people, in the dark, close his eyes and let his relaxation happen (sometimes), but I have learned PTS or not we all face those days. Yoga is a gift and a tool I feel is more valuable to any veteran than any bottle or pill. The people who shared the practice of yoga with me really did save my life. Thank you all. I always wear my bracelet, and on it our 3 Names, every day I feel like quitting or giving up it’s a reminder as to why I need to live my life, and try to help others. More than that those 3 Names are a reminder that no matter what anyone says my mission is my mission and I must follow that like another veteran’s life depends on it. Please don’t ever stop sharing this gift, 22 veterans a month commit suicide, and I can honestly say because of Yoga, this Marine will not be one.
Dear Veteran, Often times people say that I’m way too intense, way too committed, way too aggressive for my cause of wanting to help veterans deal with PTSD. I was told that writing is a form of therapy, and this being one of those sleepless nights I figured I would just see what comes to mind.
So, why am I intense you ask? I think I’m intense for a few reasons, some might say I’m a product of my family environment growing up, others may say its my training as a Marine. I might say it’s because I’m deep down terrified of funerals. I was told to tone it down more than a few times by people in the community, but for me this is a much different journey.
My trauma manifests in my compassion. See to me losing a veteran to suicide, ptsd, drugs, prison etc…. is the same as losing a veteran on the battlefield. Honestly, a little piece of me breaks every time that I hear of one of these incidents. My platoon made it 5 months and 22 days before one of our squads personally took a KIA. Justin was a great kid, and his memory resonates in everything I do. The scary thing is the Marine next to him, severely wounded, was one of my best friends to this day.
Honestly, I think this is where a lot of my fear/intensity comes from that I may lose another Marine, Friend, Brother. Trauma is trauma, and I get that, but there is something different about help from someone who has been there. Twenty-two veterans a month commit suicide, for every 1 servicemen killed there have been 4 wounded. Alcohol and Drug addiction is at an all time high. As well, homeless vets, incarceration, and un-employability due to undiagnosed PTSD. So yes I’m intense because I still live by the motto never leave a man behind.
Just tonight I sat with a 15 year staff sergeant who is extremely decorated. This staff sergeant struggles with what he saw in combat, he does art therapy. The man explained to me when he is drawing and concentrating on his pen stroke he is not thinking about the trauma he endured and it becomes less. I have seen this in yoga - friends of mine who have not slept for days trusting me enough to close their eyes and let me guide them through breath. Funny, some even fall asleep. Yoga has broken walls in me that were impenetrable. Yoga has helped me heal by taking me from a state of hyperventilation, to a place of maybe 4 minutes of peace. Yoga has taught me to activate my parasympathetic nervous system to reduce my flash backs. I’m a Marine who suffers more from survivor’s guilt than combat stress. I don’t need to recall the horrors of combat nor do I need to act like I have been more or done more because I haven’t, but what I have done is come home and slowly but surely walked out of darkness.
So please if you think Im intense and on a high horse take a walk and let me do me. You and most people haven’t seen the shit we have, and that’s ok but just keep in mind I take what I do as a life and death matter, because more of my friends are dying here as a result of PTSD and other things than in combat. I practice non violence, and honesty. I try to practice surrender even though its against a Marines nature, it is the nature of a Man. The best lesson I have taught my self is the practice of restraint. To keep my mouth shut and smile, but it is hard after a 2 am phone call from a brother who is drunk asking why he is alive, why he made it home and not a fellow brother. Shit wears on your mentality, and so yes to me yoga is very intense, because its how I keep from snapping.
A year from now I will be in a different place, but today yoga and the practice has taught me these emotions are ok. I should let them flow like water while instilling the lessons my teachers have taught me. I often refer to a dristi as a rifle scope, I breathe, focus…..breathe…..posture……focus…..dristi……breathe…..focus….notice in this process with time and strength trauma is wiped from my mind, focusing on the objective at hand. If I can focus on posture and breathing I can slow my mind, calm the trauma, quiet the screams, explosions, the horror between my ears, and just focus. Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale.
So yes, to my fellow Marines, I’m intense because I know from my own experience how dire this situation really is. This war has not stopped, thousands upon thousands of vets every day deal with some sort of Combat trauma, and I myself thank god for my sweet calm ladies in the yoga studio who were so nice to me when I walked in as a ball of rage and emotion, who let me cry and sit in a corner, but the first message of yoga did not come from them. It came from a Man, a Marine who said, "look dude nothing else has worked, you look like shit, try this way."
It's what I needed to be where I am now. So…I will continue to be intense. Its okay to seek help, there is no defeat in the surrendering of knowing you can’t do this on your own. If you need help seek help. Your brothers and sisters wouldn’t leave you on the battlefield and, if you ask, we won’t leave you here.
That is all, thanks.
Sgt. USMC RET.
Extra-long, extra-wide, extra-sticky deluxe yoga mat....check! Mala beads...check! Meditation bench...check! Designer yoga shorts...check! First-name basis with yoga instructor...check! (Luchadora mask and championship belt optional!) Why then am I not ZEN YET? I mean really? If you're like me...you've put in the time. My practice started back in earnest in 1999. I've been teaching steadily since 2007. I offer free classes for Veterans. I donate money to several different non-profits that work with Veterans. I donate mala beads. I meditate pretty damn regularly. I have a daily list of mantras to read. I write about topics like compassion, peace, and hope. I even wrote and recorded a yoga nidra this past year. So why then am I (and maybe you) not ZEN yet?
First of all...if you totally agreed with everything you just read...and really felt a connection...go back and count how many times you see the word "I!"
Truth be told, it was a real tough year for me. It was my first full-year of retirement from the Air Force. I went from being in charge of a large group and responsible for a rather important mission to a stay at home dad. Don't get me wrong, this is equally challenging, but the scale of my responsibilities were greatly reduced. I have a special needs son who has been home-bound for well over a year. He has debilitating OCD and autism. I no longer am able to travel and work with Veterans and fellow yoga teachers like I use to. I could easily add to this list, but I think you understand where I am going. LIFE HAPPENS...and that is when YOGA helps!
Several months ago I was talking with Rolf Gates about my meditation practice. I told him that I felt my Transcendental Meditation mantra was no longer working for me. He confessed not to know much about TM, but asked me if I was using my meditation practice and mantra as a pill, or as a way of life? DAMN! Was I sitting because my phone reminded me it was time to sit? Have I been meditating because that is what yoga instructors do? Was I only putting a band-aid on my wounds?
"Things don't come up when you want to fix things, they come up when you're ready to fix them...when you have enough bandwidth to focus." - Rolf Gates
In Chip Hartranft's translation of the Yoga Sutra, he suggests that Pantanjali believes most physical and mental actions arise from a fundamental misunderstanding of reality and therefore entail suffering. So...if you're like me and are suffering, most likely it is because of a 'fundamental misunderstanding of reality.' How then do we stop taking the pill of yoga?
Look no further than the Yoga Sutra!
"And if you wish to stop these obstacles, there is one, and only one crucial practice for doing so. You must use COMPASSION." 1.32-1.33
Yoga and meditation have the ability to work in two ways. From the outside in and from the inside out. When you use them as a band-aid, you are only able to work from the outside in. While this is still better than nothing at all, you're not truly practicing compassion. In order to be compassionate, we have to practice self-care. We have to love ourselves enough to engage in a loving and caring relationship with ourselves. Taking a daily pill will only temporarily provide comfort. However, a daily practice of 'yoking' (yoga and meditation) will create the opportuinty for compassion to pour freely from every part of you. In the Yoga Sutra it describes this daily practice as a way to control the tendency of your consciousness to gravitate towards misunderstanding. (Why am I not Zen?) Instead, it helps teach you how to turn inward and realize the true nature of what is causing us to be in a mode of judgement, rather than compassion. Rolf Gates says compassion is the opposite of judgement and that when we are judging, we are not understanding.
So...WHY ARE YOU AND I NOT ZEN YET? Most likely because of life and our in ability to understand why things are happening to us the way they are. In Anatomy of the Spirit, Caroline Myss recommends that we must first stop asking why things happened to us, as this is a form of judgement and not compassion. I would suggest the need to cultivate rather than regulate a daily practice. Work from the inside out with breath work and meditation and from the outside in with asana. Notice and practice non-reaction instead of judging and asking why. Most importantly...LOVE YOURSELF for who you are, not for who you were, or who you think you should be.
Here is a place where these [Mindful Yoga Therapy] materials are being used. It is called Veterans Place of Washington Blvd where there are currently 45 residents in temporary housing and many others who come into the daytime program for rest, food, and resources, who are living on the streets or shelters. In two more weeks I begin teaching deliberate breathing practices beyond breath awareness (Ujjayi, 3 Part Breath, Alternate Nostril Breath) and am so excited to then distribute the CDs to reinforce what each person will have learned in class! It takes it one step closer to use in ones life and that is what these guys are asking for, how to carry this practice into their lives.
Here are comments from the first series at Veteran's Place, on feedback sheets:
I came here wanting to change something about myself and it didn't change. Seeing that it didn't have to change, something changed.
Great training helps me relax. ~Mike, Army Veteran
It really helps me with my PTSD and all issues regarding ego, drugs, alcohol. ~Jason, USMC Veteran
Our Director of Communications, Chris Eder has been keeping busy. He has "Warrior" on his mind. Warrior Compassion and Warrior Nidra. First off...Warrior Compassion. In Chris' latest blog he talks about being compassionate even if you're a warrior.
WAIT A SECOND! How can I be both a Warrior and a compassionate person? How can I play a pivotal role in the destruction of physical property, ideology, and even...human life...and still live a life worthy of living? A life of love and loving? A life instep with that which I believe to be true?
Chris and our Audio/Video guru Paulie Miller just recorded the Warrior Nidra. This track will be available on our upcoming Resilience CD. Also included on this CD will be some additional breathing exercises.
Stay up to date with all that is happening with MYT on our FACEBOOK page.
My name is Sandra. I’ve been part of the Canadian Forces family for the past 26 years. I have a husband and two children. As any family in the military, we’ve gone through a lot of changes, emotional ups and downs, and worries. The first time I heard my husband was going on a mission for 6 months, I began feeling a lot of stress. We’d never gone through a separation for that long. I started reading books on how to cut stress out of my life.
The information that I was looking for at the time is being given to you in the palms of your hands. The only thing you need to do is the practice. These techniques in Mindful Yoga Therapy are simple and powerful. For example: “Deep breathing sends a message to the brain that all is well and cuts the stress cycle.” Wow, with the breathing practice I realized that I didn’t need to be in a relaxed atmosphere to reduce stress. It’s that simple. I started to take time every day even if I only had a minute to spare and say to myself “am I breathing in, and breathing out?” Some days that is all I needed to feel calm again.
If you would like to introduce some thing in your life that is simple but powerful that will change your life, this toolkit is a very good starter kit. It has worked for me and still is keeping me balanced and calm. If you open up to this program you will see positive results in no time!
I have a hard time remembering things. I’m easily startled by my actions. I believe my doctor is either the world’s worst doctor or the most brilliant doctor. I sweat and sweat and sweat, and sleep with a mouthpiece, which I hate.
I’m a 23-year Air Force Veteran, a combat correspondent/broadcast journalist. My list of ailments reads like a novel: Attention Deficit Disorder, PTSD, sleep apnea, anxiety and general depression. Add my memory problems to this list. If that weren’t enough, the doctors have found a growth on my brain. (The good news is it is NOT cancer.) I absolutely hate taking medications because my body has a tough time with them. With that said, I firmly understand there is a time and place for meds and currently, I’m taking several.
Did I mention I’m also a yoga instructor?
I began practicing yoga back in 1999 and got hooked! I’ve studied and trained with experts in areas like trauma sensitive yoga, Veterans yoga, yoga for Vets with PTSD, mindfulness and meditation. In 2007, I began teaching yoga while deployed to Baghdad. Then I transferred to Vicenza, Italy, where I taught yoga twice a week. I was able to stop taking ADD meds for several years because of my practice.
The problem is I got so wrapped up in being a care provider that I neglected to notice “I” needed some of the “medicine” I was sharing with others. To make matters worse, I was no longer comfortable in my own “seat,” with who I was. In other words, when I lead a yoga or meditation practice, everything is great. But when alone with my thoughts, it is often a nightmare.
I struggle every day with so many different questions. How could I have PTSD? I’m not an infantryman! Why is my meditation not as good as it used to be? Why can’t I sit? I know how to, but I can’t meditate. I know the benefits of food, movement, mindfulness and meditation. So why can’t I practice aparigraha – non-possessiveness – and just let go, and use my military and yoga discipline and do what I know needs to be done?
The answer is much simpler than the solution: Santosha, or acceptance, contentment. I can’t find my seat because I’m still looking for my old seat … and it turns out, that’s not mine anymore. Clearly, I’m not the same person I once was; simple logic concludes that my seat isn’t the same either.
The problem is my wounds and injuries are all invisible. When I look at myself in the mirror – minus the wrinkles, hair loss, etc. – I still see a very able person who rightly should be able to do anything, to include being the same “me” I once was. But I can’t, so my challenge is how can I accept and be content with who I am now.
I found my answer in two different locations.
My friend JT is a wildly successful military photojournalist. I heard him talking to a class of brand-new photojournalists about a mistake he made as a young photojournalist. Turns out, he was constantly in friendly competition with another photojournalist who aspired to be just like Joe McNally, an established photographer. But after JT saw the work of another military photojournalist whose work he admired, he realized he needed to stop worrying about what others were doing and find what made himself special. Once JT found his “seat” in photography, he began to take some incredible images. Today, he is the reigning Military Photojournalist of the Year, an award he has won an unprecedented seven times.
The second place that I found my answer was within me. As a yoga instructor, I find myself spending a lot of time doing three things.
First, I’m always looking for new ways to say the same thing in as many different ways as possible, as it’s important that I can relate to my students who have different points of reference. Second, I make sure everyone knows that everybody’s body is different. Don’t worry about what the yogi to your left or right looks like in pose or what others can do that looks better than you – focus on your body and your pose, and commit to giving yourself your best.
Finally, I’m always encouraging my students to be the best they can be for themselves.
What I’ve come to realize is that I need to do those things, too. I need to focus on who I am now and become comfortable with that person. When I start to feel good, I know I have to keep consistent focus on myself to make sure I keep that good feeling going, because yoga and meditation are cumulative.
Most importantly, my body is not your body. Heck, my body is no longer the body I had before. There is no need for me – or you – to beat ourselves up to be someone, or something we no longer are. Just be the best you you can be. If that “you” changes, that’s okay – adjust and find your new “seat.”
I recently had the opportunity to attend a series of classes at my local VA Hospital titled Mindful Yoga Therapy that was presented by Suzanne Manafort. I'd like to take a minute to describe my experience.
The class met twice a week for twelve weeks and was attend by both men and women of various ages with military service dating from Viet Nam to present day conflicts. One thing we all had in common is that we are all under treatment for and suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and needed a doctor's referral to attend.
The vast majority of people who were in the class I attend had zero experience with both yoga and meditation, but all were willing to try something new to relieve some of the symptoms they were suffering from which the drugs/therapy currently available don't help with. While I describe my own experience in a minute I just wanted to mention what I observed and heard from the others in the class.
One big thing that I noticed from the first class to the last was how much more flexible everyone was during the last class compared to the first. In general they were probably not as physically fit as they could have been at the start, but there was a definite improvement by the end of the twelve weeks. The other thing, probably far more important to them getting into shape, was there mental state from beginning to end. I don't know how many time I heard someone mention in class that they were sleeping much better (a serious problem with PTSD) and one or more of their other symptoms were far less troubling. That to me was the whole reason behind the class, to show people there is a drug free way to make them feel better, something they could do in the comfort of their own home and with a regular class for guidance and motivation. So to me, from what I saw and heard, the class was a great success.
As for myself, I spent a couple of years in Viet Nam and got out with a case of PTSD, but didn't realize it until years later. I had serious alcohol and drug problems, went from one relationship and job to another, barely got by financially, and watched helplessly as my life rapidly spiraled downward. Then one day at yet another job in another town and in a rare lucid state I ran across a paperback book, bought it, and my life changed forever. The book was a twenty-eight day progressive yoga/meditation routine (similar to Mindful Yoga Therapy). By the time I was through with the book, meditation had become a daily habit for me, one that has lasted for close to forty years. The drug and alcohol use had completely stopped, I became what people used to describe as a "health nut", gulping down vitamins, eating health food, becoming a vegetarian, and exercising daily. My entire life changed for the better with that book and continues to this day. I went from someone who was a drug abusing, broke, depressed, and often homeless person to someone who has had many amazing adventures and a very interesting and productive life. I retired in my fifties, am financially secure, and continue to improve myself and try to help others in the process, recently becoming an EMT and soon attending advanced Paramedic training. I can't honestly say the yoga and meditation cured me of PTSD completely, I still see a therapist and I've hit a few rough spots along the way but I CAN say without a doubt that if I hadn't started meditating years ago, I could pretty much guarantee you that I'd be dead or in prison by now. And I did it all without a single prescribed medication, solely with yoga and meditation. Lastly I wanted to mention that even with all the previous experience I had with meditation, even I notice a definite improvement in my mental state while and after taking this class.
Mindful Meditation (and similar practices) are a great way to treat the symptoms of PTSD. I know it works, I'm living proof of that and I'm certain there are other stories such as mine out there. I urge you to not only continue this program, but to expand it throughout the VA system. Military personnel are putting their lives on the line every day for this country and I think the least the government can do in return is to do everything possible to heal us once we come home. This program is a cheap, side effect free, safe, and effective way to do just that.
Good Afternoon, I am a Iraq war Veteran who works at the Providence, RI VAMC as a Peer Support Specialist. Also, I suffer from PTSD, anxiety, panic attacks and I have a mild TBI. Before working here in December 2012, I found your website and received the Mindful Yoga Therapy for Veterans Recovering from Trauma book w/CDs. That book helped me deal with my symptoms and I found out that I like to do yoga and meditation, two things I never thought I would do.
Now that I work here at the VA, I’m trying to help my fellow Veterans gain the same relief and peace that I felt from this program. I am able to run groups here and one of them is a stress/anxiety management group. Is there a way that I can get the book in bulk for the program? I think it would be a great tool for the veterans to have to take home with them.
Thank you for this program, it helped give me life again.
~Melanie Peer Support Specialist Iraq War Veteran