The practice of Hatha yoga is widely known to have the benefits of initiating great mental and physical change. Yoga can bring a sense of calm and peace to our hectic lives and help to heal our bodies, and for those who suffer from extreme trauma as a result of combat, this practice can assist in dealing with the memories and effects of war.
Recent images of the war in Iraq are awaking traumatic memories in Veterans of all ages across the country. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a condition characterized by severe and recurrent emotional reactions to extreme psychological trauma, and close to one in every three soldiers returning home from Iraq are being diagnosed with some form of it. Fortunately, some groups of these Veterans are finding solace in the practice of Hatha Yoga.
Hatha yoga classes have a deep emphasis on peace and stillness. For many reasons, the practice of the physical postures, or asanas can be soothing and balancing. The word asana means “to sit with.” So the practice of yoga asana asks participants to put their bodies in certain postures and then sit with whatever physical or emotional experiences that surface. The practice encourages finding peace within these experiences and letting go of frustrations and fears, which can surface quite frequently as anger. The practice of yoga supports the work of releasing traumas and anger, a healing process that may be beneficial for veterans of combat.
PTSD does not go away, but through the practice of yoga and its work in cultivating peace, veterans can begin to learn how do deal with the symptoms, and maybe even lessen them. Australian Vietnam vet Peter Board spoke of the benefits of yoga, "My levels of anxiety and paranoia were probably much reduced. I was a lot more relaxed. I could sleep better, and I was a lot more content within myself."
The website www.yogaforvets.com lists teachers and studios that offer free yoga classes to anyone who has served in any past or present wars or military conflicts. Veterans can search the site for studios or teachers in their area who offer four free yoga classes for active duty military personnel including Reservists, National Guard and any discharged military veteran of war. Paul Zipes, RYT and founder/director of www.yogaforvets.com comments that, “Regardless of your views about war, everyone seems to agree that letting a vet try yoga is good karma.” Teachers can sign up by visiting the web site, and students can help by spreading the word. In addition, YogaBasics.com is offering a 6 month premium membership to any war veteran. You can sign up at YogaBasics.com by filling out this short form.
Historically, Yoga is not an uncommon path for warriors. Arjuna, the hero of the Bhagavad Gita, was a warrior who was led to fight by the great lord Krishna. Many of the Hindu deities were warriors, yet what set’s these warriors apart from our veterans of today is that they all shared the realization of the peace within. This is what gained them their greatest power and victory, and this is what our warriors of today are lacking. The hope is that through the practice and path of Hatha yoga, they can begin to regain this awareness and again find peace.