A Veteran's Story

Mindful Yoga Therapy for Veterans

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.

           ~Joseph