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.
Those of us who practice yoga and meditation on a regular basis often notice changes in ourselves that can be hard to put into words. Perhaps we find ourselves less prone to stress or anger. Maybe we are calmer when faced with challenges which historically would have thrown us into a swirl of negative emotions. It can almost seem like the simple act of practicing works some unseen magic on the mind itself.
Not surprisingly, there have been myriad neuro-scientific studies on this topic, specifically where the practice of meditation is concerned. The amygdala, the brain-center for our emotions, ‘lights up’ when we feel intense emotional responses to difficult, frightening, or stressful situations. Studies show that practitioners of meditation exhibit reduced amygdala activity, and are therefore more able to regulate their emotions. Physiological testing indicates that those who develop mindfulness-based practices (like meditation) feel negative emotions with less intensity, are less prone to anxiety, and adapt well to stressful situations [Desbordes, G. et al.]. These studies indicate that meditative practices really do create enduring, positive changes in the function of the brain.
Mindfulness practices like yoga (which many consider a form of moving meditation) have also been shown to positively affect practitioners’ attitudes toward their own experiences in life [Keng, S. et al.]. For example, we may be more apt to approach situations from a place of curiosity and openness, rather than reacting with fear or judgement. This makes it easier for us to cope with the changes that life inevitably brings.
The data is pretty undeniable: If you find yourself facing life’s constant changes and challenges with a little more equanimity, you really can thank your yoga and meditation practice!
Peace and Love,
P.S. If you’d like to read these studies (and many others like them) in more depth, check out the Research link on the MYT website.
Desbordes, G. et al. (2012 Nov 01). Effects of mindful-attention and compassion meditation training on amygdala response to emotional stimuli in an ordinary, non-meditative state. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. 6: 292. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2012.00292.
Keng, S. et al. (2011 Aug). Effects of mindfulness on psychological health: A review of empirical studies. Clin Psychol Rev. 31(6): 1041–1056. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2011.04.006.
COMING UP: NATIONAL STRESS AWARENESS DAY
April 16th is National Stress Awareness Day...#MYTStressAwareness | We are looking for 2-3 yogis to share their experiences on how yoga & meditation have helped them deal with stress. If you're interested, please send an email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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!
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.
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.
THIS IS BIG NEWS!
The Mindful Yoga Therapy team is extremely honored to announce the Newington Yoga Center will soon be the Mindful Yoga Therapy Training Center...basically, our new Headquarters. MYT Founder, Suzanne Manafort has been operating the two separately, but over the past few years, there has been more and more requests for training. Suzanne says this transition, "is a natural evolution."
Not only has there been more requests for training, but our team is getting bigger too. Suzanne believes a dedicated home base will allow MYT to, "expand the way that we serve our local community with our center."
Mindful Yoga Therapy is for everyone and so too will be the training center. According to Manafort, "The center will be open to all. The focus at the MYT training center will be mindful programs and the ability to work with people that have experienced trauma, or are dealing with stress and anxiety."
Rob Schware is the co-Founder and Executive Director for the Give Back Yoga Foundation. MYT is one of the four programs GBYF supports. Schware believes having a dedicated training center will enhance their mission of bringing yoga and mindful-based programs to underserved and under-resourced segments of the community. "MYT is not just for veterans. Having a dedicated training center will help train yoga teachers and people living with or managing eating disorders, stress and anxiety disorders, drug and alcohol addiction, and domestic violence."
For the Newington local yogis, it will be business as usual. Same great classes and same great teachers. A new sign may be in the works.
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!
Twenty Yoga Teachers Graduate from 100 hour Mindful Yoga Therapy Certification Program
Meet our second graduating class! The Mindful Yoga Therapy 100 hour certification program awarded certificates to 20 new graduates in November. We're so proud to have worked with this group, and honored to know they will share what they've learned.
The 100 hour journey for these teachers began in 2015. To build on what they had learned in our 15-hour program, they enrolled in the 100-hour, one-weekend-a-month program at Studio Bamboo Yoga in Virginia Beach, VA. With Suzanne Manafort and Ann Richardson, they learned the set of tools to help Veterans with Post Traumatic Stress “to find a calm and steady body/mind to continue productive and peaceful lives through the support of the mindful practices of yoga.”
In November, they graduated with their certifications, and aim to bring the practice of Mindful Yoga Therapy into the world.
We’re honored to congratulate the graduates of Mindful Yoga Therapy’s second 100 hour Yoga Teacher Training Program. We are grateful for every one of you, and look forward to hearing from you all.
Are you a certified yoga instructor interested in taking our next 100 hour course? For teachers who have completed our 15-hour program, we offer 100 hour courses in Newington, CT beginning in March, and Virginia Beach, VA beginning in July. Please check our schedule page for program details and registration information.
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.
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.
Ali Warrick (Yoga With Ali Warrick) and Chris Eder (MalaForVets) are leading the charge for a 22-Day Challenge to raise awareness about the daily rate of Veteran suicides. The two hope to raise, not only awareness, but funds for two non-profits making a difference in the quality of life of Veterans: Save A Warrior and Mindful Yoga Therapy. For 22 days starting May 1st, Ali and Chris will post various pictures and videos of themselves performing a yoga move, yoga sequence, or fitness-related exercise on their Instagram pages (Chris: @afnbroadcaster, Ali: @yoga_w_ali ) These posts will also be shared on their Facebook pages. The goal is to encourage others to do the same. This share & post social media campaign is the thrust behind the awareness component of the campaign. To make things sweeter, Mindful Yoga Therapy has offered up some swag and MalaForVets has offered up a Strength & Courage mala. Guidelines are below on how to be entered to win
HOW YOU CAN HELP!
For 22 days (starting May 1st), post a picture of yourself doing the daily pose tagging all hosts and sponsors and using #22aDayChallenge! Beginners welcome! All of our poses will be accessible to ensure every yogi can participate!
Yoga isn’t your thing? Donate $22 and take a screen shot of your confirmation! Post and tag us using all of the hashtags to let us know you chose to support in a different way!
To be eligible for prizes:
- Follow our hosts & sponsors on Instagram: @afnbroadcaster, @yoga_w_ali, @givebackyogafoundation, @mindfulyogatherapy, @saveawarrior, @fractal.9, @flexiblewarrior
- LIKE our hosts and sponsors on Facebook: @MalaforVets, @Yoga With Ali Warrick, @givebackyogafoundation @saveawarrior, @mindfulyogatherapy, @flexiblewarrior, @heather’s treasures, @Fractal 9
- Repost this Challenge Announcement to help spread the word, tagging all hosts and sponsors.
- ADD these hashtags to all of your posts: #22aDayChallenge #SaveAWarrior #MindfulYogaTherapy #Gratitude #GiveBackYogaFoundation #Yoga_w_Ali #MalaforVets #afnbroadcaster
Your profile needs to be public so we can see your posts!
Thank you to all who choose to join in on this challenge and help spread awareness for our veterans and the organizations that support them.
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."
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.
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....
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!
Mindful Yoga Therapy for Veterans is taking root in Long Island, thanks to teacher Danielle Goldstein, founder and owner of Mindful Turtle Yoga & Wellness. Beginning in May, Mindful Turtle will offer a special class that veterans and their families can attend free of charge. Danielle is also partnering with Suffolk County United Veterans to launch a Mindful Yoga Therapy pilot program for vets - the first step toward developing a formal county-wide program.
Suffolk County is home to the largest population of veterans in New York State, with nearly 160,000 vets calling Long Island home. Studies show that nearly 20% of returning veterans are impacted by post-traumatic stress and other behavioral health disorders, and the need for a complementary alternative treatment like Mindful Yoga Therapy is great. We're honored to be making a difference - and grateful to Danielle for taking the lead!
About Danielle Goldstein
Danielle has had a dedicated yoga practice for over 15 years and has studied many traditions of classical yoga, particularly the Ashtanga Yoga Method, developing a respect and appreciation for yoga and its life changing possibilities. Her classes are motivating, inspiring and compassionate.
Her training includes both a 200 and 500 hour yoga teacher training from the Yoga Teacher Training Institute under the guidance of Ma Mokshapriya Shakti and Marianne Mitsinikos. She has an additional 500 hour certification in Classical Ashtanga Yoga with with Beryl Bender Birch of The Hard and The Soft Yoga Institute, has assisted Beryl at various workshops, trainings and is a faculty member of her yoga teacher training.
Danielle is also a parent and child counselor with over twenty years of experience in the fields of education and counseling. She holds a Master's Degree in Counseling and is a Nationally Certified Counselor. She also serves of the board of The Morgan Center, a preschool for children undergoing chemotherapy.
Danielle has studied Mindful Yoga Therapy extensively with Suzanne Manafort, and is passionate about bringing this work into the world and supporting Vets with PTS and trauma.