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.
All this week, we’re going to highlight the benefits of Yoga Nidra as a form of yogic sleep. Yoga Nidra is one of Mindful Yoga Therapy’s five tools in our toolbox. The other four include: Pranayama, Asana, Meditation, and Gratitude. What makes Yoga Nidra so special is that it can be a more effective and efficient form of rest and rejuvenation than conventional sleep. The total relaxation achieved in a Yoga Nidra session is equivalent to hours of ordinary sleep. We reached out to our MYT graduates to see what their thoughts are about this ancient practice. Here are Ben King's thoughts on Yoga Nidra.
My first experience with yoga nidra was at the Washington DC VA.
I hadn’t slept through the night in weeks and when I was invited to try the class out at the I figured I had nothing to lose. The first thing that made me feel comfortable was being called New Guy by and old gnarly looking Vietnam Veteran. I like him immediately. When I asked him what this stuff was like he said, “well you ain’t awake, but you ain’t asleep either."
The teacher began the guidance by getting us focused on our breath. We did five minutes of alternate nostril breathing. Then she invited us to think about a place that we really like. A place that felt safe and secure. An internal recourse the teacher called it. I immediately thought about the lake house by grandparents built back in the 50s. Right on the lake in south western Virginia, I immediately let my thoughts go back there. The smell the sounds of the crows in the morning and the boats on the water. Then the teacher guided us to pay attention to different parts of our body. Starting at our feet she would say, now focus your attention on you left big toe, now the second toe and on and on she would literally just call out body parts for us to focus on and before I knew it everything slowed way down.
Like the Vietnam vet said I wasn’t asleep but I wasn’t awake either. It was like I was riding in a boat and my thoughts where the calm water beneath me. My thoughts seemed serene and calm and my awareness of them was easy and fluid. I had choice in what came to mind but my thoughts where so light that it was just easier to just let them float up and away.
The 45-minute class was over well before I thought it would be. After a few minutes of not wanting to leave my chair I thanked the teacher, said see you next week to the other vets, and walked back to my car. As I walked feeling better and more rested than I had felt in a long time I couldn’t help but think how much different my life would have been had I had this tool when I returned home from Iraq. Man I thought, years of self-medicating with booze and sleeping pills to fall asleep, what a waste. I didn’t lament my past for long. I had found a new tool and I planned on using it to the fullest. I went back to that class for 8-months straight and ended up getting certified in the iRest yoga nidra style. The practice changed my understanding of what tools were out there to deal with transition stress and PTSD. So my advice to any vet trying to manage transition is don’t create a tool box without yoga nidra in it. It ain’t sleep, but you ain’t awake either.
We would love to hear about how you use yoga nidra, meditation, yoga etc…to help you sleep. You can either use the hashtag #MYTYogaNidra, tag us in your post and/or send us an email (email@example.com) and we’ll add it to our blog.
TODAY kicks off the National Sleep Awareness Week.
We're going to highlight the benefits of Yoga Nidra as a form of yogic sleep. Yoga Nidra is one of Mindful Yoga Therapy's five tools in our toolbox. The other four include: Pranayama, Asana, Meditation, and Gratitude. What makes Yoga Nidra so special is that it can be a more effective and efficient form of rest and rejuvenation than conventional sleep. The total relaxation achieved in a Yoga Nidra session is equivalent to hours of ordinary sleep.
We reached out to our MYT graduates to see what their thoughts are about this ancient practice. Here are Jennie G's thoughts on Yoga Nidra.
What is Yoga Nidra? Translated literally from the Sanskrit, we arrive at the term “yogic sleep,” yet the practice of Yoga Nidra is not sleep. Though it is extremely relaxing, it holds so much more for us than simple stress relief. So, what exactly is this practice, and how can it help us reach our inner potential to live calm, joyful, and contented lives?
Yoga Nidra is a tantric practice based upon the knowledge of the channels (nadis) between the body and the brain. Using pratyahara (sense withdrawal), the deeper recesses of the mind may be accessed via sushumna nadi (the central channel). These depths house the root of our habitual thoughts and behaviors, from which grows the very framework of our minds. In this way, the practice holds undeniable potential to affect positive change.
In Yoga Nidra, the practitioner is guided along a path of progressive awareness, moving from one body part to another, in a sequence proven to calm the body. The act of calming the body also quiets the mind and opens a space of stillness between consciousness and sleep. In this space, our minds are much more receptive to our chosen intention or resolve (sankalpa), which we set in place at the beginning of each session.
The practice of Yoga Nidra makes it possible for us to correct patterns in the brain which do not serve us on our journey through life. By spending time in the fertile threshold between waking and sleeping, we begin to remove obstructions from our minds, allowing freedom and growth to occur. Through this practice, we begin to truly live in harmony with our ideals.
During National Sleep Awareness Week, why not see what Yoga Nidra can bring to your life?
Peace and Love,
We would love to hear about how you use yoga nidra, meditation, yoga etc...to help you sleep. You can either use the hashtag #MYTYogaNidra, tag us in your post and/or send us an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and we'll add it to our blog.
UPCOMING TRAINING PROGRAMS:
The Yamas and the Niyamas
The Yamas and the Niyamas are ethical practices laid out for us in Patanjali’s 8-limb path presented in the yoga sutras. I like to think of them as a road map, guiding us in the right direction.
The five yamas, self-regulating behaviors involving our interactions with other people and the world at large, include:
- Ahimsa: nonviolence
- Satya: truthfulness
- Asteya: non-stealing
- Brahmacharya: non-excess
- Aparigraha: non-possessiveness, non-greed.
The five niyamas, personal practices that relate to our inner world, include:
- Saucha: purity
- Santosha: contentment
- Tapas: self-discipline, training your senses
- Svadhyaya: self-study, inner exploration
- Ishvara Pranidhana: surrender to a higher power
The Yamas and Niyamas are often seen as ‘moral codes’, or ways of living life to your full potential. To be ‘moral’ can be difficult at times, which is why this is considered a very important practice of yoga.
If we are to really benefit from a yoga practice, it has to expand beyond the mat and into life, so that we can move closer toward unity and wholeness. We are not only strengthening our bodies, but our minds and our hearts. The practice of yoga is realization that we are all one.
This month on February 17th we celebrate random acts of kindness. Frankly, our world needs more kindness. See how many times this month you can surprise someone with an act of kindness.
Lets make this a movement, maybe it will catch on………
Show the world that love matters.
xo - Suzanne
If we are going to make a change in this world, we need to start with ourselves.
Yoga Sutra 2:46 Sthira Sukha Asanam
This sutra is most commonly translated as:
Stable and Comfortable Posture
The ability to find this stable and comfortable space in our body-mind helps us to abide in a good space and is only possible when our prana is healthy. Prana is our life force, the power or shakti that enlivens the body, the mind and the soul. Cultivating healthy prana is a process that reaches far beyond our yoga mats and into every aspect of our lives. We start with our relationships, diet and lifestyle as we begin the process of creating balance in our own lives.
Our fast-paced lives and the prevalence for stress related illness seems to come from our constant over-stimulation. We work long hours and juggle many demands; all of this depletes and destabilizes our nervous system and life force or prana. Most look for a quick fix for this. Creating balance takes time and we must show up every day.
Making a change a in the world starts with creating balance (Sthira and Sukham) in our own body-mind first. Breathing practices, asana and meditation help us to create balance. However, stepping on our yoga mat is only a part of this process. Nourishing the body with healthy food and the mind with a healthy lifestyle are just as important. How we move through the world matters.
I am not a big believer in New Year’s Resolutions because they always make us feel as if we failed when we veer away and we do veer away! However, if we make a conscious effort to make small changes and continue to find our way back to them, we find a way to treat ourselves with kindness. If we can treat ourselves with kindness, we can learn to treat others the same way.
And this is how the shift begins…..
David Bowie - Changes I still don't know what I was waiting for And my time was running wild A million dead-end streets Every time I thought I'd got it made It seemed the taste was not so sweet So I turned myself to face me But I've never caught a glimpse Of how the others must see the faker I'm much too fast to take that test
Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes (Turn and face the strange) Turn and face the strain Ch-ch-Changes
At the most basic level...Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) is a natural response to an unnatural event. Of course from this point...there are many jumping off points we can explore which would further define what PTS is. It is safe to say that after a traumatic event, your body and mind...change. The opening lyrics of David Bowie's "Changes," seem so fitting when it comes to describing the changes warriors with PTS go through. For me...I could easily change the lyric: "...and my time was running wild," and replace it with "...and my mind was running wild!" Bowie continues with the lyric, "turn and face the strange." This could very well be the first step in post traumatic growth! In yoga terms we might call this santosha. Santosha has a direct translation to contentment, however, I like to translate it as acceptance. It is often very difficult for those struggling with PTS to feel...to feel comfortable being themselves...to face the stranger that is now them. - Chris Eder | MYT Director of Communication
Mindful Yoga Therapy strives to provide the appropriate tools to help those who suffer from PTS. Additionally, our 15 and 100-hour training programs strive to provide a teaching protocol that will help cultivate not regulate a daily practice for these warriors. Perhaps...even leading to some amazing life changes.
These changes often extend to the yoga teacher as well.
We asked our Outreach Coordinator for Veterans, Anthony Scaletta how the 100-hour MYT training changed him! Here is his answer:
The Mindful Yoga Therapy (MYT) training pretty much changed everything about my practice. I feel that it took my understanding of yoga much deeper than the physical and into the layers of the subtle, mental and emotional bodies through our in-depth exploration of the nervous system. MYT training asked me to both learn about and then directly experience how the various tools of yoga affect the nervous system. For example, MYT taught me how to use yogic tools such as the breath in relatively simple ways that can have profound results on the practitioner. For those with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD,) we are perpetually stuck in the fight/flight response with our ‘foot on the gas pedal’ and in MYT we learn how to ‘pump the breaks’ and balance out the nervous system by activating the parasympathetic or relaxation response via the yoga practices in the MYT toolkit. As someone with PTSD, I find using the tools of MYT in my yoga practice to be very supportive and grounding. I have found a lot of healing in a regular practice of Yoga Nidra, which MYT training helped me to explore. Perhaps, the most significant change to come from undertaking the MYT training was that it laid the foundation for my formal seated meditation practice. Prior to MYT training I had dabbled with many different forms of meditation but never settled into a formal daily practice. That all changed when MYT Founder and Director, Suzanne Manafort, challenged us to commit to sitting for 40 days straight during our 100 Hour Training Program. If we missed a day, we would simply start again and continue until we strung together 40 consecutive days with a seated meditation. I had a few slips before I completed the challenge but it was highly effective in teaching me the benefits of a daily mediation practice. I have not missed a single day since I completed the challenge and that was over a year ago. Hands down the greatest change in my life and my practice to come out of MYT training has come from the meditation practice that I learned. It has been a total game changer.
In the book, How Yoga Works, by Geshe Michael Roach, a young girl named Friday is arrested when she crosses the boarder with an ancient copy of the Yoga Sutras. While in jail, she notices the Captain is suffering from pain. Over time...and I mean...a long time...Friday teaches the Captain...how yoga works. In this story, yoga found the Captain just at the right time. Over the years, I often ask people, "How did you find yoga?" The answers generally fall into two categories: I found yoga, or yoga found me. I asked this question to our Outreach Coordinator for Veterans, Anthony Scaletta this question...here is his answer.
Yoga found me. I believe that’s just how it works – when you are ready (i.e. life’s challenges and experiences have prepared and opened you to receive the teachings) the practice of yoga will find you. It’s a spin on the old maxim that when the student is ready; the teacher appears. Well, I feel that when a person is ready to begin practicing; the yoga appears. The scope and diversity of yoga make it intrinsically adaptable which lets the yoga practice meet someone right where they are in a way that is most useful and meaningful to them at the time. It is in this way I feel that yoga finds you. That’s how yoga found me. I was in a lot of pain mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually and I was seeking to ease my suffering. It provided me (and continues to do so) with many tools to address the various layers of my being while carving out the path toward healing and wholeness. Yoga found me about a year after I separated from active-duty and gave me a way to reconnect to my body and find some support and grounding. In this way it really helped as I struggled to reintegrate into civilian life. I honestly don’t know where I would be if yoga hadn’t found me at such a critical time because I had been on such a destructive path with drugs and alcohol and some really risky behavior. That was over a decade ago and yoga still seems to be finding me in new ways as it continually supports me through all the ups and downs of life. The challenges I face are my teachers and the yoga provides me with the tools to skillfully navigate them. I believe that yoga is truly a gift and I mean it when I say that yoga saved me. That is why I am now so committed to sharing the practice of yoga with others, particularly my fellow brothers and sisters that have served, because I wholeheartedly believe in its transformative powers to heal, empower and inspire people to step into their fullest potential.
Anthony will be leading a 15-hour Mindful Yoga For Trauma Training For Yoga Teachers program at White Lotus Wellness Center, (College Park MD) March 10-12. Space is still available. Register Here!
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,
The principle of support preceding action states that if we want to feel connected and integrated in our movement, we need to know where our support is coming from before we engage in any action. For example, in Mindful Yoga Therapy we learn to recognize the earth firmly beneath us in order to allow ourselves to receive its support. Knowing we have the support we need before we make any move forward, take our next step in life, or even simply move into a yoga posture is essential. In other words: Support Precedes Everything
Maintaining your own practices and keeping your body and nervous system healthy are of utmost importance. Your personal yoga practices are as important as what you are teaching. Your Pranayama, Asana, Yoga Nidra, Meditation, and Gratitude should not be neglected.
The grounding connection to earth lets us know that we have the support we need to move forward safely and with stability. This earthy, grounded feeling provides a calm presence, steadiness, and sense of ease.
With continued practice, our students may find new sensations of having support under them in many different areas of their bodies. They may begin to spontaneously initiate movement from those supports. When our students know where their support is coming from, they find more comfort. Finding this connection and relationship with earth may help our students begin to find a renewed relationship with themselves as well. Finding and nurturing this relationship with the self, and feeling fully supported by the earth, allows them to begin to explore their relationships with others.
One of the 6 supports
Connecting to Earth
Connecting to earth, or grounding, is one the earliest supports we begin to explore and this creates an active relationship between earth and us. Planting our feet or hands on the earth is the primary foundation for nurturing an understanding of what it is to be in relationship. By yielding into the earth, we are better able to receive its support and stay grounded in the present moment. This process teaches us to be in relationship with ourselves as well as with the earth on which we stand or rest.
We ask students to imagine being able to walk through life feeling fully connected to earth and to themselves. Developing a conscious relationship between self and earth fosters an ability to trust the support beneath you. This trust may lead to a sense of ease in relationships with others as well. There are many free resources available to help you find support. You can find them HERE!
Teaching Mindful Yoga Therapy in the Middle East We set out on May 22nd 2015 for Tel Aviv with our training manual and Practice Guide translated into Arabic for the trainings. It was a 10-hour flight.
There were 5 of us. The group consisted of me (Suzanne), Rob Schware (Executive Director, Give Back Yoga Foundation) Rama Jyoti Vernon and Ruth from 7 Centers Yoga Arts. The last two yoga teachers have worked in this area before. Alice Trembour, Rob’s wife, joined us the next day, and she provided a tremendous amount of support as Rob was not allowed into the women’s trainings.
We stayed in Jerusalem overnight and headed for Palestine in the morning.
We did four trainings in Ramallah and were greeted by a group from Farashe Yoga Center (the only yoga center in Ramallah) who also provided us with translators.
The first training was for women yoga teachers.
For the first group, we conducted a four-day training split between Mindful Yoga Therapy training and the other two yoga teachers that came from Arizona.
The participants were incredibly eager and hungry for as much information as possible. They also shared some information with us about their culture, experiences, and their lives. They were convinced that these practices would make a difference in their lives and in the lives of others.
The second training was a private training for a young yoga teacher named Mohammad.
A young Palestinian, that would love to see change in his country and the world, Mohammed believes yoga can help to do that. He is also training for the 2016 Olympics as a sprinter. After the Olympics, he is committed to teaching yoga in Palestine and using it to change the world. I believe that he will!
The next two trainings also separated the men from the women. They were for psychosocial workers that work in the refugee camps and with trauma on a regular basis. We were asked to bring them training on some simple practices that they could use with their patients and an explanation on why they work. They too are planning to use these practices as much as possible personally and professionally.
This trip was such a cultural experience, and the people of Palestine are the warmest people I have ever met. If you admire something they have, they will buy one for you. They are so kind and generous!
The cultural difference took a little getting used to. An example is the separation of men and women. Some people shook hands, and some people touched their own heart when they met you. I am still unclear on when to shake hands or not shake hands.
Mindful Yoga Therapy brought them each a mala for their new mediation practice. They couldn’t have been more grateful and seemed very committed to using and teaching these practices.
The truth is, trauma is trauma no matter what culture you are submerged in and, in fact, some cultures and populations experience more than others. Our hope is that these yoga practices are adopted in this place, half way around the world, and that they are as successful as they have been for us.
We returned home on June 6th 2015. We (The Give Back Yoga Foundation and Mindful Yoga Therapy) will be working a plan to support our programs in this country and others. Stay tuned.
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.
Hello everyone! We are humbled, and excited, to announce that MYT founder Suzanne Manafort will be receiving a Karma award from Yoga Journal in September of this year.
She has also been selected to receive a Seva award! The Seva awards are awarded to "yogis who are doing seva, or selfless work, by bringing the healing practice of yoga to underserved people either in their own communities or around the world."
There will be a scholarship award given to one of the 13 Seva winners to help carry on their work.
We'd like to ask you all to vote for Suzanne by visiting her bio page.
We are eternally grateful for your support!
From Yoga Journal: "In choosing the 13 Seva Award winners, the editors at Yoga Journal, along with our advisors Rob Schware, Executive Director of Give Back Yoga Foundation, and John Kepner, Executive Director of the International Association of Yoga Therapists, searched for yogis who have been volunteering consistently (week after week, month after month, year after year) for at least eight consecutive years; who are doing pioneering work with an underserved population; and who have made progress against serious odds in a difficult situation."
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.
Once again, the Mindful Yoga Therapy program is gaining recognition in the news... In Cincinnati, Jennifer Wright is making mindful magic happen, helping veterans in the Veteran Court system.
Here she is being interviewed by Deborah Dixon of Cincinnati Local 12 News.
Local veterans with post-traumatic stress and other problems are learning how to deal with anxiety, depression and addiction in a peaceful way....
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.
First off...you are perfect just the way you are. This time of year it is very customary to judge the year that was and decide how to make the year that will be even better. We make resolutions to eat better, exercise more, and what ever else tickles our fancy. Resolutions generally all have good intentions behind them. Sadly, by March most resolutions are completly forgotten. This year...instead of making a resolution (or two) might I suggest making an intention. Yeah...just like in a yoga class when you set an intention for your practice. Most likely in your yoga practice you come back to your intention several times. Do you know why? Every time you repeat your intention you are doing two things. 1) You are sending it to the universe for support and 2) You are bringing it to the forefront of your mind...your pre-frontal cortex (PFC). This is where your conscious memory exists. Over time, the intentions you repeat and bring to your PFC will slip into your subconscious memory. This is where the real work happens. It is an auto-pilot workhorse of action!
If you plan to make resolutions this year...perhaps you'll set intentions instead. Furthmore, only set intentions that relate to the mind, body, and spirit. Use compassion instead of judgement when doing so. Then make them part of your daily practice. Speak them when you first wake up. Post them near your computer, or where ever you spend a good bit of time. Recite them after your meditation practice. Speak them before you go to bed. I would even share them with others. This creates a level of accountability. Lastly, set monthly reminders on your calendar app. These monthly check-ups provide you an opportunity to reflect on your intentions. You might even want to start a journal to collect your thoughts.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Chris Eder serves as our Director of Communications. He is a retired Air Force Combat Correspondent who now spends his days teaching yoga, making mala beads, and occasionally, getting back in front of the camera to talk about what he is passionate about....HELPING VETS!
"Cause you're a sky, 'cause you're a sky full of stars...I'm gonna give you my heart
'Cause you're a sky, 'cause you're a sky full of stars...'Cause you light up the path
Chris Martin of Coldplay
There are about 100 billion neurons in your brain. Each of them connects to another via a neural pathway. On average, each neuron receives about five-thousand connections, called synapses from other neurons. (Lindon 2007) The number of possible of connections between all of these neurons is roughly 10 to the millionth power, or a 1 followed by a million zeros. In theory, this is the number of possible states your brain can achieve. For perspective, scientist estimate the number of atoms in the universe to be "only" 10 to the eightieth power.
The same brain that has evolved over time to protect us from extinction with super survival skills is also responsible for our pain and suffering. Even though the majority of us would classify our lives as good, happy, and fulfilling, our brain is programmed to initially respond counter to those thoughts. These thoughts are known as explicit memories, or memories which you can recall. For example, I felt really good after yoga. I totally remember how I felt after the class...I was sort of on cloud nine. Here is where the problem lies...our brains have a default setting that scours our entire brain for unpleasant experiences. These experiences are known as implicit memories. This is an unconscious memory based on years of accumulated "lived" experiences. It is the jest of who you are. Scientist believe our brains are like velcro when it comes to negative experiences. In other words, that stuff sticks with us...forever! Conversely, our brains are like Teflon when it comes to positive experiences...that stuff just won't stick!
It is important to know and understand that this evolutionary development is very important to our survival. It is the President and Chariman/Executive Officer (CEO) of our Central Nervous System or CNS. There is also the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) who runs the Autonomic Nervous System. (ANS) The two major departments within the CNS are the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) andParasympathetic Nervous System. (PNS). The SNS is responsible for signaling all of the different parts of our mind and body to get up and get out! The PNS does the opposite, it relaxes you and comforts you. It signals you when it is OK to chill out.
The SNS and PNS are in fact a Yin and Yang duality. We need them both. It is the SNS that alerts us that even a baby shark is still a shark...that a rattlesnake is poisonous...or that a person with a knife running towards you screaming is a dangerous scenario...you too must now run! The PNS is totally the opposite. It is cool, calm and collective. It allows us to rest and digest. Both of these two systems are automatic...hence they belong to the Autonomic Nervous system.
So...where is the problem? Well, since they are automatic, we really can't control them. Remember how our brain defaults to our implicit memories...or the negative/unpleasant? Well, when these systems are out of whack...which by the way, they are defaulted to do for survival purposes, the rest of our body systems will follow suit and thus also be out of whack. Oh...and it gets worse! According to a study by Maletic et al. 2007, even a single episode of major depression can reshape circuits of your brain to make future episodes more likely. THANKS!
We have to fight back...with COMPASSION!
"The root of compassion is compassion for oneself." - Pema Chodron
In a nutshell, we have to create more happiness, joy, love and positivity. Esoterically, we have to pull out weeds and plant new seeds. (implicit memories) Scientifically, we have to create new neural pathways. I like to call this, "Taking in the Good!" There are three neural systems if you will that will help us along this Pursuit of Compassion. Actions, Emotions, and Thoughts. If we can change our actions, emotions, and thoughts, then we can according to Dr. Rick Hanson and his book, "Buddha's Brain," bring happiness, love and wisdom to our lives. Who do you chose to feed?
This is where the REAL battle comes into play! There is an old folklore story about the two wolves that live inside each of us. The wolf of Hate and the wolf of Love. As the story goes, which ever you feed will prevail. But remember, it is so much easier to feed the wolf of Hate...it is our default setting. I liken it to getting upset almost to (and sometimes over) the tipping point when someone cuts you off on the interstate. Our first reaction more often than not is, "what a jerk!" (or some other colorful expletive!) That is is us feed the wolf of Hate. What if...the person who just cut you off was rushing to the hospital because his wife, who is in the back seat is going into labor? If you knew this...would you still think the person was a jerk? Ah...the wolf of Love! Yet another Yin/Yang battle.
Here is a very simplistic approach on "Taking in the Good." We have to change our Actions, Emotions, and Thoughts with small positive actions every day that will add up over time and build new neural structures.
ACTIONS: I had a yoga student come up to me prior to a yoga class and tell me she finally figured it out! It was her actions to others that was causing stress, not others causing her stress. Perfect! That is a clearheaded response. It is virtually impossible to change the person or thing that irritates you, that makes you mad, or causes you stress. However, you can change how YOU react to it. Sometimes called the "Second Dart" syndrome. It works like this. If I were to tell you that you were a failure who really didn't meet their true potential...you have two options. Option #1 - Strike Back! "How dare you say that to me?" "Who are you to judge me?" "You're life isn't so great either...you big loser!" (Feeding the wolf of Hate...super easy, instant gratification.) OR Option #2 - You could pause, tap into your explicit memories, rather than your implicit memories and instead of sending a "Second Dart" back at me, change you ACTIONS to that of compassion. It is nowhere near as easy. There is also a good chance there will be no instant gratification. However, you are now feeding the wolf of Love.
EMOTIONS: Our brains need to have a regulated flow of Nuerochemicals. Chief among them (for the purpose of this blog) are Serotonin, Dopamine, and Oxytocin. Serotonin regulates our mood and a deficiency can cause major depression. Dopamine controls our reward and pleasure systems and helps with our "emotional" responses. Low levels in dopamine can effect your ability to think clearly, and reeks havoc on your ability to focus and concentrate. (Think ADHD.) Oxytocin aka the kissing hormone, promotes nurturing behaviors. When we kiss someone, or are in a romantic/loving state of mind we produce oxytocin. Low levels of this neurochemical is linked to autism-spectrum disorders...as well as poor social functions and depression. We can actually think "Happy Thoughts" according to a study in the Journal of Psycharity and Neuroscience. Additionally, breathing practices and physical exercises like yoga can alter and even regulate the levels of these neurochemicals to help regulate your emotions.
THOUGHTS: Oh the thoughts..the self-doubt, the worries, unfounded conclusions. The list could go on and on. My personal opinion is that changing our thoughts is the most difficult task. We now are working on both explicit and implicit memories. However, the task is still very worthy of our attention. And...with some basic building blocks we can begin to build a practice and daily routine that will over time become very powerful and rewarding.
Start with smiling! Yep...that easy. The simple act of smiling excites several neurochemicals in our brains and we begin to feel...HAPPY! Try this. Sit in a comfortable and supportive position. Close your eyes and listen to your breath and pay attention to your thoughts. After a few minutes, put a smile on your face and notice how your thoughts change.
We can also bring change to our thoughts through meditation. There are many different styles and approaches to meditation. I believe meditation is like pizza. There really is no such thing as bad pizza, nor bad meditation. For the purpose of this article, I would highly recommend compassionate/kindness-based meditation. Meditation that will trigger neurochemicals (limbic-system) such as oxytocin (rewards/emotions) and will begin to engage your Prefrontal Cortex. (PFC) The PFC is kind of like the quarterback in your brain. It sets goals, makes plans and directs actions. It also allows and sometimes inhibits us from doing things. It works mostly on a conscious level. One of my favorite types of compassionate/kindness based mediation is Loving Kindness Meditation. (KLM) In KLM you will be meditating for...bringing love and kindness to, three different people. The first is someone who you love...who brings value to your life. The second is someone who you'd much rather slap in the face...so to speak. In other words, someone who brings strife or conflict. Perhaps the person who cut you off on the highway. :) The third person...and this might be the most difficult person...is YOU! Self-Compassion as Pema Chodron describes it above. I have added a sample of one that I really enjoy. I would highly recommend keeping a journal next to where you meditate to keep track of who you are picking as your #1 and #2 just to see what happens of the course of time. Another word of caution...if you are new to meditation, I would recommend not going for the jugular for your #2. Start small and work your way up. I went right for the biggest issue in my life and got very sick.
Another real easy compassionate-based practice is the practice of Gratitude. Mindful Yoga Therapy uses this practice with Veterans with PTSD. The simple act of taking time to be grateful for something no matter how big or small is very powerful. It too triggers all the same neurochemicals that simply and easily make you feel good! Or as is the case with Vets with PTSD...simply feel...something.
There is one person in this world who holds all the power, maybe even the greatest power over you. It is the future version of you. You have the ability to be the best you that you can be. It might not be the You...you're use to, nor the You...you once were. It is however...the You...that you are...NOW! The power is in your hands...in your control. Which wolf do you choose to feed?
You see, if we know that our brains are programmed to default to highlight negative experiences, our goal is not to suppress our negative thoughts into a deep dark place. Instead, we need to cultivate more positive experiences. Taking in the Good! We do this by practicing on a conscious level. We practice changing our Actions. We practice by changing our Emotions. We practice by changing our Thoughts. In the beginning we act happy, loving, kind, grateful, and calm. Over time, millions of new neural pathways will shape...and instead of "acting," we will simply...BE!
_()_Namaste - Chris