Saturday, May 31, 2014

Yoga Promotes Relaxation in Veterans

Today I volunteered with a group of incredible professionals at the VA in Asheville. Approximately 25 veterans age ranging from late 20's to 70's were in attendance. This population of men and women suffer from a range of health concerns including: PTSD, anxiety, depression, insomnia, chronic pain, addiction, etc. The Asheville Yoga Center hosted the event and there were yoga therapists and teachers, an acupuncturist, psychotherapist, meditation teacher, a Jin Shin Jyutsu practitioner, integrative health coach and a representative of Helios Warriors on staff for the day. Ashley who works with Asheville Yoga Center and Helios Warriors did a fantastic job organizing the event. 

The Schedule
9-9:45am Group Yoga Practice
9:45-10am Break with Fruit Infused Water and Granola Bars
10-11:30am Small Group Sessions, topics included:

  • Ear Acupuncture
  • Jin Shin Jyutsu for Self-Care
  • Mandala Coloring
  • Meditation
  • Pranayama (Breathing Practices for Health and Balance)
  • Yoga Therapy for Upper and Lower Body
11:30am-12pm Group Yoga Nidra

I lead the breathing small group and thoroughly enjoyed getting to talk to the veterans about their needs. Most of them were interested in breathing practices to help calm them down and promote relaxation. Several students said they experience shallow breathing, anxiety, overwhelming negative thoughts and physical discomfort. I taught two simple techniques to each group with a combination of: belly breathing, breath retention and/or hand breathing. The students practiced breathing for a total of 8 minutes and spent several minutes talking about the experience afterwards. Here are some of their unfiltered responses:

"I feel calmer."
"I can see better."
"The breathing made me feel anxious but when I focused my mind on the air conditioner noises I felt better. Paying attention to my body makes me more aware of my fears."
"I feel grounded."
"I feel good."
"My mind hasn't felt this clear in years."
"I feel like if I practice this it will be easier to get up off of the couch everyday."
"I feel relaxed."
"I feel more alert."
"I used to breathe like this when I was high on drugs and wanted to look like I wasn't tore up. I would take 4 deep breaths and drive home. It makes me think clearly."
"My belly feels stronger."
and lastly..."that was hard."

These comments paint a very real picture of the struggles these individuals are facing. Seeing them physically relax during the breath practices was so rewarding. At the conclusion of practice I saw their facial muscles soften, wrinkles in the forehead release, and deeper breaths moving into their chests. I think it's safe to assume that if body is relaxing the mind is also in a state of relaxation. In as little as 10 minutes spent breathing, meditating or practicing hatha yoga can significantly impact your well-being. I hope if these men and women realized anything from these sessions they understand how easy it can be to incorporate more self-care into daily life.

Overall, there was a visible and understood sense of ease, relief, and lightness in the veterans as they experienced each small group session in the multipurpose room turned peaceful haven. By the end of the day everyone was talking, making eye contact, some smiling and even laughing. It is so incredible to see the shift that can happen in such a short amount of time when human beings come together for a good cause. 
Article by Keri Marino.

 Keri Marino is an internationally Registered Yoga Teacher and Yoga Therapist. She's owns and operates Yoga Unique offering therapy, classes, workshops and yoga products. Keri teachers both privately and publicly around the Greenville area. Check out more here: YogaUnique

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