Last month was Suicide Prevention Month, and we can’t ignore the fact that every day, 22 American veterans commit suicide. There are numerous ways — beyond traditional medication and psychotherapy — to reduce those numbers. And while yoga doesn’t fit into the typical military model of physical training, that’s all changing.
Two programs, Yoga Warriors International and Yoga for Vets, are tag-teaming to help veterans’ healing efforts by using the proven millennia-old practice — both during and after their service.
Lucy Cimini started Yoga Warriors back in 2005, training certified yoga instructors how to focus their classes for veterans suffering from PTSD. Cimini is based in Boston, but travels around the country holding weekend-long seminars for instructors looking to get certified in the program, which is approved by the National Association of Social Workers.
“Yoga Warrior classes can help ‘unfreeze’ bad memories or gently unlock rigidly held memories in ways that normal talk therapy might not … classes allow participants to safely release and express stored emotions such as guilt, shame, anger, sadness and grief so they can better understand, make peace with, and manage those feelings. … the mind is allowed to safely associate the body with pleasant sensations, which is important for traumatized individuals who associate their bodies with unpleasant sensations due to war wounds, rape, etc.,” Cimini tells Task & Purpose.
For vets looking to try a class, Yoga for Vets is a website community of yoga “studios, teachers, and venues throughout the country that offer four or more free classes to war veterans.” Founder Paul Zipes, a former Navy deep sea diver, has been doing yoga since 1995 (he’s an instructor as well) and has seen firsthand the transformative ability it has on stressed and injured troops.
Interestingly, not all yoga forms are helpful just for healing — the Army Special Forces use it for strength and conditioning. But a study conducted at a forward operating base in Iraq found that “yoga is an effective, low-risk means of managing combat stress, and potentially preventing combat stress from developing into Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).”
The truth is, our government and the VA can only do so much. And while adequate medical attention and treatment is essential for getting vets affected by depression and PTSD over the initial rigor of transitioning back to civilian life, yoga can also make a real and lasting difference.