Trauma Sensitive Yoga for Soldiers and Veterans

 

I worked as a mental health counsellor for a Canadian military base for about a decade. During this time, I saw many soldiers with PTSD – infantrymen, pilots, intelligence officers and other trades, all of whom had been exposed to unspeakable horrors in war-torn countries such as Rwanda, Afghanistan and Bosnia. Many of them struggled with nightmares, anxiety, intrusive thoughts and reintegration into the civilian world. Some treatment modalities helped, some did not. At some point, a new military psychiatrist came into town, and all of a sudden I started hearing of clients being referred to hot yoga and mindfulness meditation (MBSR) classes. This, in the early 2000s, was very unusual in our neck of the woods. Many of us were familiar with the benefits of yoga and meditation, but to convince hard core soldiers to participate? But this wonderful psychiatrist did just that – she talked, badgered and cajoled them into it, and the benefits quickly became apparent: after initial reluctance, many of my clients experienced tremendous relief from both the yoga practice and the MBSR. Still, I had concerns about clients with a severe trauma history and how some of these practices may interact with their symptoms – would it feel safe to be in a crowded, enclosed room, would closing your eyes for meditation be possible, or even advisable for some of them?

There is increasing awareness of the crucial importance of establishing a mind-body connection in treating trauma, but it must be done carefully. David Emerson and Elizabeth Hopper have answers to these concerns and questions in their book “Overcoming Trauma through Yoga” and their Trauma-Sensitive approach to Yoga.

It is very exciting to see how traditional medicine is slowly becoming more open to recognising that there is a deep connection between the body and the mind. In the United States, the department of Veterans’ Affairs is even funding Trauma Sensitive Yoga initiatives: In this article, our friend Yael Calhoun’s work with veterans is featured. In this 10 minute video, Yael explains how her non-profit,  GreenTree Yoga managed to get a full year of funding from Veterans’ Affairs to implement a trauma sensitive yoga program in Salt Lake City.

These are very exciting times for integrative approaches. We will be continuing to cover these topics in future blog posts. Stay tuned!

Resources:

Click here for a book review of Emerson and Hopper’s work

For more information on Trauma Sensitive Yoga click here.

10  minute video by Yael Calhoun of GreenTree Yoga: “Five Steps to Introduce a Trauma-Sensitive Program” click here

 

3 Responses to Trauma Sensitive Yoga for Soldiers and Veterans

  1. Christine Skinner says:

    Dear Lynda,
    I would be very interested in finding out how your mini pilot program went. I work with families of ill/injured and fallen military in the NCR and would be very excited to have another resource for this sensitive population.
    Thank you kindly for all the work you do!

    Christine

  2. Françoise says:

    I think that you and Yael would get along famously, Lynda. Salt Lake City road trip? 🙂

  3. Lynda Pedley says:

    Thank you, Francoise, for posting the link to Yael Calhoun’s video on how she has implemented a trauma-sensitive yoga program for Vets in Salt Lake City. I have taken David Emerson’s trauma sensitive yoga teacher training and am on a similar mission to offer this powerful approach in Ottawa. I’m currently running a mini-pilot in a partnership with the Ottawa Anxiety & Trauma Clinic. So far the feedback from the participants (vets, first responders & trauma survivors) has been very positive and humbling. I’m hoping to expand this mini-pilot, and Yael’s experience is wonderful support.

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