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Yoga is Helping Veterans to Relieve Stress, Anxiety and Become More Physically Active with Less Pain

Real Stress/Real Relief

At Yogapilots. Our goal is to encourage and help people learn yoga with plainspoken, clear and science-based explanations. Veterans practicing yoga are one of the best examples of the benefits of yoga and backed up by research and clinical evidence.

Yoga relieves stress and anxiety for the men and women who have served our country and often suffer some of the most severe forms of stress known as PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder. Several of the yogic techniques used by veterans can also be used to combat stress and anxiety in our everyday lives.vets yoga 2

Yoga is now taught at more than 12 military bases and 30 veterans administration facilities. Both the US Army Surgeon-General and Defense Centers of Excellence confirmed Yoga as a complementary practice for the treatment of PTSD, and for the management of chronic pain in military and veteran settings. Please read out the article, Research and Clinical Evidence – Yoga for the Relief of High Levels of Stress and Anxiety in Veterans.

The Veterans Yoga Project is a non-profit organization teaching yoga to veterans around the country. Dan Libby, Ph.D., the Founder and Executive Director designed a yoga practice specifically for veterans called Mindful Resilience.

The Mindful Resilience yoga practice is a collection of mind-body practices that veterans use to help them breath easy, focus clearly, move freely, rest deeply and remember gratitude. Yoga is presented in a toolkit, in a clear and practical format making it easier to understand and accept.

Five Tools of Mindful Resilience

  1. Breathing -​ Simple techniques that enhance the relaxation response.
  2. Meditation – ​Awareness exercises that enhance focus and concentration. Taught to veterans as help to think more clearly, and be more aware of the stimulus and stress on their body
  3. Mindful Movement – ​Deliberate exercises that bring the body through its natural range of motion to enhance strength and flexibility. The exercise part of yoga that include stretching, bending, twisting and isometrics and calisthenic-like motions.
  4. Guided Rest – ​Guided meditation practices that lead to deep and profound relaxation and rest in the mind and body.​
  5. Gratitude – ​Simple exercises in being thankful for what is right.

Deb Jeannette is President of the Board of Directors of the Veterans Yoga Project and teaches free yoga class to veterans five times a week at the VA in Northport, NY. Deb creates a predictable, safe environment to bring yoga to the veterans in her classes. Yoga classes are an hour; there are 30-year-old veterans in top shape and some in veterans in wheelchairs. In a recent class of about 20, Deb taught veterans from Iraq, the Gulf War, Korean War, Vietnam War and a 90-year-old WW2…. all in one class.

Veterans are keen on supporting each other. And a yoga class is an environment where they can actively do that adding positive force to the power of these yoga classes.

Deb Jeannette and the Veterans Yoga Project have some Great Recent Success Stories

Charles: Iraqi veteran, suffers from nightmares, can’t sleep through the night. Recently slept through the night and credit the diaphragmatic breathing and guided relaxation techniques to giving him his first full night of sleep.

Larry: Vietnam veteran who was experiencing high anxiety over a medical procedure. Larry credits the tools he learned in yoga to bring his anxiety down. He credits the guided meditation and breathing techniques to enabling him to approach the procedure with a positive and relaxed attitude.

 Joe: Iraqi veteran who suffered from nightmares and would wake up in an angry rage often banging things around. Joe attended a weekend retreat, sponsored by the Veterans Yoga Project. After some initial reluctance, Joe tried and, used the breathing techniques and mind-body work to change his pattern. Joe credits yoga for the tools he now uses to change his pattern and create a different and better response. Yoga has helped him develop an awareness and put more space between stimulus and response.

 Ed: Vietnam veteran. Ed suffered a shattered pelvis replaced with a titanium one. His first question to Deb, his yoga teacher was, “Can I do yoga?” the second questions was, “What is yoga?” Ed had difficulty lifting his foot a few inches off the footplate of his wheelchair. Ed continued coming to yoga classes twice a week for ten months. Ed had been doing physical therapy for about ten years with little result. After ten months of yoga, Ed can cross his legs and lift his leg straight out. Ed credits his rapid progress to the breathing and relaxation techniques he learned in yoga. Ed was also encouraged by fellow veterans in his yoga class and started doing some addition stretching each day before getting out of bed and going to the gym to lift weights and strengthen his arms. Ed is now able to lift his whole body supported by his arms placed on the seat of the chair. While Ed was learning yoga in the twice-weekly sessions with 20 other veterans, he remarked to his teacher, Deb, “I thought yoga was for pansies, this is really tough.”

John: 75-year-old Vietnam veteran. John came to yoga class not being able to get down on the ground or up off the ground. Deb put the yoga in clear language, explaining to John that the yoga postures were strengthening his calf muscles, a secondary pump to the heart and a key to getting up and down. Five months after going to yoga practice, twice a week at the VA, John told Deb he was able the get down in the sand and build sand castles with his grandchildren, and the next week he missed class to play golf for the first time in ten years!

Two types of yoga in the Mindfulness Resilience Toolkit have been exceptionally successful in relieving stress and anxiety and are often cited by veterans as the yoga that has helped them the most.

Diaphragmatic Breathing – This type of breathing focuses on breathing deep and filling the lungs fully and expanding the diaphragm. Biomechanically, this type of breathing reaches the bottom of the lungs and stimulates the nervous system responsible for resting and digesting. Slow and steady deep diaphragmatic breathing is something almost anyone can do to reduce and anxiety and stress. Everyone has heard, “take a deep breath” (chill-out, relax). But it should be, “take a deep exhale.” The heart naturally slows upon exhale; a biomechanical response called sinus arrhythmia. Doubling the length of exhales while breathing deeply is an additional yogic method to slow down and relax.

Guided Restful Meditation – Often cited by veterans as their favorite part of the class. Guided restful meditation takes 15 to 30 minutes and is practiced lying down or reclined in a chair. A yoga teacher leads the class through a guided meditation of deep breathing and consciously trying to relax different part of the body by thinking and feeling while in resting position. This form of meditation is called Yoga Nidra. Yoga Nidra was tested by the military and renamed “iRest” because the military said, “We don’t do yoga.” Yoga Nidra and its new form iRest are now widely available in yoga classes and online. Read more about it here.

The Veterans Yoga Project is doing great and meaningful work helping the men and woman who have served our country. They are currently fundraising and asking yoga studios to offer a yoga classes during Veteran’s Gratitude Week in November. To learn more or make a donation go to www.veteransyogaproject.org.





  • Michelle Donahue October 23, 2015, 6:29 pm

    I’m a certified group exercise instructor who gravitated to yoga after injuring my neck in a car accident resulting in 5 of my 7 cervical vertebrae being fused. Yoga is restorative, especially for the joints. I would love to volunteer my time to teach it to vets in need. I am a retired Marine.

    • Mark Anthony November 12, 2015, 4:08 pm

      Thank you Michelle. Please contact Deb Jeanette, the person I talk about in the article who is president of the governing board at the Veterans Yoga Project. She can be reached at deb@veteransyogaproject.org

  • Eli Ehrle November 7, 2015, 2:59 pm

    This is a most useful contribution to the debate

    • Mark Anthony November 12, 2015, 4:14 pm

      Thank you. Pretty cool that the US Military has validated yoga and I was surprised that they are one of the first large organizations in the U.S. to sponsor yoga.

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