When Susann Spilkin first tried yoga during the early 70's, it wasn't to learn the ways of the enlightened, rather it was a way to escape for a night out with her husband. However, it wasn't long before the allure of listening to the Beatles playing in the yoga classes that yoga turned from 'something alternative to try,' to 'joy from being inside her body' in a way she had never been before. Similarly, that is the one of the goals of Mindful Yoga Therapy. The tools provided in the MYT practices are a powerful complement to professional treatment for Post Traumatic Stress. Tools that when used in tandem with professional talk therapy help veterans reconnect to their bodies. Susann's father was in the Air Force Reserves. She recalls a trip to the Detroit VA where she took her father for an appointment. While walking through the hallways she experienced great joy, much like her first yoga experience. She really enjoyed sharing a smile, or even eye contact with the Vets at the VA. Perhaps a felt experience, or perhaps an authentic experience. Susann's Veteran connection begins and ends with her dad, but that doesn't mean she isn't connected. "I may not have experienced anything our vets have experienced in their service, but we are more alike than we are different; we all want the same things….to feel good and to live a life with as much peace and joy as possible."
Susann is in fact spreading peace and joy. She teaches yoga using the MYT principles to veterans at the Detroit VA Medical Center as well as the Domiciliary Residential Rehabilitation Treatment Program. Additionally she has presented MYT at the Michigan Association of Treatment Court Professionals Annual Conference in the hopes of introducing MYT into the Michigan Veteran’s Treatment Courts. Rolf Gates often says in his class, "plant good seeds...and good fruit will grow. Well, the seeds have been planted and they are already beginning to grow. Susann has been contacted by the Ann Arbor, Michigan VA Transition Management Team to bring yoga to their post-911 vets; the Detroit VA Medical Center Military Sexual Trauma Department for a women’s only MYT program; and the Macomb County Vet Center wants a MYT program as well. If you think that is a lot of work for one person to handle...you're right! Three of our recent 100-hr graduates are stepping into these opportunities.
A mindful, embodied yoga practice can provide relief from symptoms and develop the supportive skills that veterans need in their everyday lives. Yoga has proven to aid in a veteran’s healing journey. This healing power, or journey is not only for the veteran. It is a two-way path. Susann believes her personal practice has been fortified by her MYT training and teaching. She says the principals were always present but now have a deeper meaning. "The actions and effects that I took for granted truly seem like precious gifts now. Gratitude plays a much bigger role in my own practice/teaching and life. I am more aware than ever of the power of the practice to support a balanced nervous system and can equate that to the yogic quality of sattva."
Getting a yoga student to take a teacher training class is pretty easy. Easier still is getting a yoga teacher to take a yoga class. However, it still seems somewhat elusive to get veterans to try yoga. Susann offers this advice. "Remember the old Life cereal advertisement?....'Try it, Mikey likes it!' Ask your buddies who have tried yoga; you are more likely to believe and trust them than me. Those who have tried it are likely to tell you they are sleeping better, have a handle on their anger, that their relationships with their families have improved and they have a level of self-acceptance that they haven’t felt in a long time. You are likely to hear them tell you that they are less often numb or controlled by their emotions and that they are feeling more and in a good way."
Solid advice to be sure. However, what if you don’t have a buddy letting you know how yoga has given them tools to deal with life? Susann suggests grabbing one or two of them and finding out together.
If you're a veteran and are looking to try yoga, but are not sure where to start...contact our Outreach Coordinator for Veterans, Anthony Scaletta. If you're a yoga teacher who is interested in taking one of our programs, check out the program schedule for a class near you.