Veterans Returning to Wholeness through Mindful Yoga and Meditation

By Carrie Leven

Questa Veterans find peace during free weekly Veterans Yoga class in Questa, New Mexico

Medical research shows that alternative and complimentary mindfulness practices like Yoga and Meditation can help trauma survivors return to a feeling of peacefulness.

Mindful Yoga Therapy for Veterans teaches, “Mindful movement is a tool to direct the breath through the body. Movement connected to the breath is powerful and helps bring Veterans back into their bodies, while helping move trauma out of their body, mind, and spirit.”

After attending just two of my Veterans’ Yoga classes in Questa, a Vietnam Veteran who was used to sleeping in 2-hour shifts told me, “My sleep has gotten so much better since starting yoga. I’m now sleeping 3 or 4 hours at a time.” Another Veteran, of the Iraqi war, stated, “I feel so peaceful after your yoga class.”

Dedicated Veterans and their family members continue to attend our Friday morning Free Svastha Yoga class at Questa Health Center, now well into our second year serving the community. A few have come and gone, but one Veteran loved the benefits of Yoga so much that he enrolled in the Yoga program at UNM – Taos and received specialized training in yoga for veterans.

Veterans under standard care for stress, anxiety, depression, and post- traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are usually treated with psychotherapy and pharmaceuticals like anti-depressants, anti-anxiety, and sleeping pills. A typical remedy is to increase dosages to deal with increased symptoms, but some patients want to use less medication and maybe eventually, no medication. They want to begin healing their unseen injuries from inside, to reawaken the connection to their body and mind, to gain more control and become whole again.

Mindful Yoga Therapy for trauma survivors is complimentary to what I’ve learned through Svastha Yoga Institute with Monique Parker and Dr. Ganesh Mohan. Svastha is Sanskrit for “returning to self” and has reintegration as a goal. Both Svastha Yoga Therapy and Mindful Yoga Therapy for Veterans encourage a peaceful Yoga practice done at deliberate and slow pace, while focusing on the flow of the breath.

Together, these disciplines use familiar and simple movements to awaken the mind-body connection and keep one connected to the present moment while contributing to overall health and wellness. Repeated practice of mindfulness techniques retrains the brain and body to be more resilient to stress, lessen future anxiety and depression episodes, and recover more quickly from mental and physical setbacks.

The best advice from Veterans to other Veterans is to reach out and seek help when feeling overwhelmed or if having trouble after returning from military service.

In the Taos area, counselor Kirsten Wing at the Taos VA Clinic is also trained in Mindful Yoga Therapy for Veterans, as is psychotherapist and Svastha Yoga teacher Deborah Halpern in Angel Fire.

VA Representative Michael Pacheco can direct Veterans to New Mexico VA services and programs, and Not Forgotten Outreach in Taos is a treasure for Veterans and families. Please see The National Center for PTSD website for more on Mindfulness Practices at www.ptsd.va.gov/public/treatment/therapy-med/mindful-ptsd.asp

Svastha Yoga teachers offer Svastha Yoga classes for stress management in Taos, El Prado, and Questa. A complete schedule of classes can be found at Svastha Yoga Institute at www.svasthayogainstitute.com.

Please join us in Questa for Carrie’s Free Weekly Svastha Yoga class for Veterans and families, every Friday 10:30 to 11:30 am at Questa Health Center. Her Community Svastha Yoga class on Wednesdays is also Free for Veterans, and held from 5:30-7PM at OCHO in downtown Questa.

Carrie Leven is an archaeologist and Svastha Yoga teacher living in Questa with her husband Monte Doeren, a Vietnam Veteran who attends her weekly yoga classes. This article first appeared in The Taos News May 22, 2014.