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yoga for veterans project.

you can leave at any point…

Dan Nevins Yoga Warrior on CBS Eye on Veterans
With Courtesy of Dan Nevins.


The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website states that “We do not provide diagnosis or treatment of PTSD.” these are some symptoms people with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) could have. Depressed mood, irritability, fear, severe anxiety, self destruction, flashback of trauma, and avoiding situations that bring back the trauma.

PTSD can develop at any age. Women have a higher chance to develop PTSD than men do. About 7.7 million adults are affected by PTSD in the U.S., military members exposed to war/combat or other high risk jobs (within the military) are in danger of developing PTSD.  There is some evidence that PTSD can run in families. People with PTSD have depression, which leads to substance abuse, or other anxiety disorders.

In researching treatment of veterans with PTSD in the U.S., I was shocked to find that many sources avoided the question. Many websites only recommended medication for PTSD, including Zoloft, Paxil, and Prozac, all of which help treat depression and mood swings. The side effects, however, include headaches, pain, insomnia, tired, tremor, vision changes, and loss in apatite.
For a country that claims to respect our veterans, why are we not helping them? Why do the majority of resources for vets point to medication, instead of a more sustainable treatment?I sat down with my mother Charlie Harrison who teaches trauma-informed yoga and asked her some questions about her teaching and the people she works with.

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Dan Nevins is fundraising for Warrior Spirit Retreat in Florida and speaker for Wounded Warrior Project.

Everett Harrison: What is it that you teach?
Charlie Harrison: I am a yoga teacher, I teach trauma-informed yoga. I work for the Veterans Yoga Project we specialize in teaching yoga to people with PTS(D) and TBI. Our method is a very specific, it’s called mind full resilience. We have five pillars of our method the first one is breathing, the second is metastatic, the third is mindful movement, the fourth is guided rest, and the fifth is gratitude. We end every practice with a gratitude practice, we want to encourage people to very specifically think about things in their lives that they feel grateful for and the more you do that you build synapse in your brain and these patterns in your thinking that cause you to look for things that are positive vs what they are used to; probably, which is looking at how things don’t function well because that is the condition their brain is in at this point.

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EH: Who started the program, what was their motive?
CH: Dr. Dan Libby, he is a research scientist that did a small study at yell about yoga and PTSD and how it affected people (the yoga) the results from his studies were remarkable. He was compelled to continue trying to figure out a more specific way that this could be utilized. He wanted to train people to teach a certain group of people in a specific style of help. So he fine-tuned yoga teaching, because it’s not like a regular yoga class we do things differently we have our rooms set up in a certain way. We use a specific style of speaking our language is very invitational. We don’t move a lot, were in most yoga class your teacher is all over the room. We never touch our students because that can be triggering and uncomfortable for people. We do things so that our students have a clear sight to exist, we start off each class with saying “you have the choice to leave at any point.” So if things become overwhelming they can step out. This makes it so that it is their choice to be there and their choice to make every single move with their body. At this point, we currently have over 800 VYP( Veterans Yoga Project) trained teachers throughout the united states. We run over 290 programs throughout the country and Germany, we are in VA’s, Veterans Centers, American Legion, VFW, and we are in yoga studios.

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Dan Nevins bootcamp is open to all and not only veterans.

EH: What made you join the project, and how long ago was that?
CH: I have been teaching trauma-informed yoga for three years. I started teaching at the vet center right before I was certified because part of my certification was to do some voluntary hours, so I called the vet center and asked them if they wanted a volunteer teacher and they were like “yeah!” so I came and started teaching there, then got my certification about two months later and have been teaching at the vet center for about three years now. Meanwhile, there was another teacher at the VC (Veteran Center) who was VYP. (Veteran Yoga Project) He contacted me and asked me if I wanted to go to the training and see what they had to offer. I had been reading up on trauma-informed yoga and different things and studies about trauma. I was reading this book by Emerson, he was talking about how to handle people and your class from a trauma-informed perspective. Every single thing he said made sense to me. I guessed this is what I should be doing because it all made sense. So that’s why I joined. I am in the process right now of finishing a training with a domestic violence system, which again this is a group of people who have undergone highly stressful situations and in many cases’s are dealing with PTS(D). I have gone through level one training with VYP(Veterans Yoga Project) and I have taken a week of advanced training.

EH: Can you tell me what a class is like and how is the atmosphere in the room?
CH:  So one of the things people always say when I tell them about this is, “oh my god that must be so intense, and stressful.” It’s actually not because I am a yoga teacher, I am not a therapist so we don’t get into what caused their PTS(D), TBI, or their experiences in war. We don’t talk about that stuff. They come in and they want a yoga class where they can feel better. we don’t do a yoga class where it’s hot and sweaty, there is plenty of that out there and it’s good/useful but in different settings. Most of these people are military people who know how to work out to make themselves hot, sweaty and amped up. What they aren’t necessarily as good at is calming themselves down and finding that mellow space. So our classes are designed to activate your parasitic nervous system. That is the opposite of your fight or flight, that is your rest and relaxation. We are trying to help people get in the zone so that they can into the zone in the outside world. We begin each class with some breath work, a little bit of centering and quiet so that you can get yourself in the room and let go of the things that brought you there. We do some movement that is generally seated and opening. Then we ended up in some standing positions, then we end up back on the matt usually doing some twist to kind of clear out the system. Then we ended our class with final pose which is a resting pose, so I will talk the students through, head to toe noticing their body, how they feel, how they can release and let go. Then we sit up, have a moment of gratitude. I am very clear we have to think of specific things. Because we are trying to help people rewire their brains, they have been in this state where their go to is pain, negativity, or discomfort. we are trying to help them find a different go to. That rest, relaxation, steady breath, gratitude, joy, noticing the small things that give them peace.

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