Teaching Yoga Instructors to Teach Veterans
Jan 30, 2014 06:34PM
By Ariana Rawls Fine
Veterans Yoga Project
The realities of a veteran’s transition upon returning from one or multiple tours of duties can create a surreal space where adjusting back to civilian life is challenging. This is compounded by the increasing numbers of veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS). For those who reach out for help to cope, alternative therapies that offer self-regulation and grounding skills provide an invaluable benefit to veterans to use in conjunction with evidence-based talk therapies. Yoga can offer these skills while also speaking to their need for physical challenges and healing.
Yoga teachers who are looking to work with veterans face specific challenges. Daniel J. Libby, PhD, RYT, a licensed clinical psychologist whose post-doctoral fellowship brought him to the West Haven campus of the VA Connecticut Healthcare System, was trained to use evidence-based treatment for PTS. As Libby delved personally into yoga and teacher training, he saw a void where teachers were instructing classes in a way that did not work well for veterans. He founded the Connecticut-based Veterans Yoga Project and launched its Mindful Yoga Therapy for Recovery from Trauma intensive program to prepare yoga teachers to better understand and work with the unique, varying needs and comfort levels of veterans. “Specific practices, guiding principles and resources found to be helpful for veterans coping with trauma, including a detailed treatment manual with an empirically-informed, clinically-tested 12-week protocol are key parts of the teacher training that differ from ‘regular’ yoga training,” explains Libby.
The Veterans Yoga Project and similar programs such as Massachusetts’ Yoga Warriors International and Newington’s Mindful Yoga Therapy Training coach yoga teachers to adapt within the class, whether it be sharing different reasons for certain practices to match common veteran complaints or physically changing class layouts or poses. Physical changes to classes include ensuring that the door is in a line of sight for all attendees, placing mats against the wall in a single formation and not touching vets unexpectedly.
Libby says it is key to coach teachers on regulation skills to find out which practices work for veterans. This will in turn enable them to build a highly individualized skill toolbox that addresses their particular difficulties and allows them to find a little space between stimulus and response to respond more appropriately in situations. Teachers can offer breathing and mindful movement practices as coping tools for their students to utilize when they are in situations where anxiety, anger or mood changes are heightened. Regular meditation may help them focus more clearly and lessen flashback intensity. Teaching guided resting techniques can aid them in sleeping more soundly and restfully and combating the havoc wreaked by frequent nightmares. Encouraging gratitude can help attending veterans focus more on the positives in their lives and turn the tide away from depressing, demoralizing thought patterns.
In his years working with yoga teachers, Libby found that 10% of the nearly 250 teachers he has coached through the Project are veterans or active duty while 15% are immediate family members of veterans. “To be able to create a job opportunity for a vet to teach other vets is the most rewarding. Since yoga is an unregulated profession, healthcare facilities have a hard time hiring qualified yoga teachers. We provide education, training and job opportunities with supervision and consultation,” said Libby. With many returning veterans going back to school to advance their careers, the next step for these teaching programs is to work more with universities to offer veterans teaching veterans yoga opportunities as well as a coping mechanism for veteran students to have a more regular experience with other students.
Daniel J. Libby, PhD, LMT, RYT-200, Veterans Yoga Project’s Co-Founder and Executive Director, is a licensed clinical psychologist, author and yoga teacher specializing in the mindful integration of evidence-based psychotherapies and complementary and alternative medicine practices for the treatment of PTS and other psychological and emotional distress in active-duty military and veterans. The Project will hold its next Connecticut training February 28-March 2 in Hamden. For more information on other upcoming trainings and Veterans Yoga Project, visit VeteransYogaProject.org.
Ariana Rawls Fine is Assistant Editor of Natural Awakenings Fairfield County. She resides in Stratford with her family.