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Come Join Veterans Gratitude Week

It is estimated that over 500,000 veterans developed PTSD as a result of the wars since September 11 2001. Add to that those who fought in Vietnam and the Gulf War, and the number is doubled to over a million.

Beginning November 4, teachers in 49 states, and counting, will be holding donation asana and meditation classes to support the work of Veterans Yoga Project, an organization which has supported resilience and recovery among our veterans and their families for the past five years. Gratitude Week runs through November 13th, and all proceeds raised will go to VYP's mission.

Teachers offering classes in the Tri-State area include Madelaine Mayer at Three Jewels on November 5; Stephanie Paz at Sacred Sounds on November 11; and, reminding us that asana can happen anywhere, Ceasar F. Barajas at the Capitol One Bank in Union Square on November 6. (There are also many classes throughout Long Island.)

All classes can be found with this handy map. Students are encouraged to seek out these classes and donate to the cause. The Project also welcomes support through one-time or monthly donations by clicking here. VYP is an IRS-recognized 501(c)(3) charitable organization. Yoga instructors interested in participating can register by clicking here.

This initiative began in 2014 with 14 teachers holding donation-based classes on Veterans Day to support the work of VYP. Last year it grew to 400 classes in 39 states. “We’re almost to 50 states this year,” says Angel Bennett, Marketing Director of VYP. “By the time it kicks off, we’ll have probably close to 500 classes across the country, as well as Germany, South Africa and Canada.”

The Veterans Yoga Project was created to ensure that not only do our veterans have the opportunity to explore the healing possibilities of yoga, but also that their teachers have the proper tools and knowledge to properly help, explains Dan Libby who co-founded the organization.

“There are teachers working with vets who aren’t prepared for it,” says psychologist and yoga teacher Libby. “If you’re going to be working with students or even a classroom full of people dealing with acute issues and symptoms of PTSD, you better know what you’re doing.”

When Libby, a Postdoctoral Fellow with Yale University’s Department of Psychiatry, realized this, he co-founded the Veterans Yoga Project in 2011. The organization works with vets, active military members, veterans organizations and related nonprofits.In addition to providing yoga classes to vets and active-duty personnel, VYP trains teachers and healthcare professionals to bring yoga modalities to vets, with a simple but profound program called Mindful Resilience.

Dan’s own journey began when he spent nine summers living and working at the Feathered Pipe Ranch in Helena, Montana, one of the oldest centers for yoga retreats and conscious living in the country. “That’s where I learned about trauma and PTSD.”

During this period Dan participated in a workshop for coroners and medical examiners who work with mass casualty incidents. “It was really about, how do organizations provide the necessary support to prevent PTSD when these horrible incidents happen? What I learned about is the idea of safety, predictability and control. If you think about it, what defines traumatic events is a lack of these. And that’s what I brought into the world of yoga…when we create a yoga experience that is supported by a sense of safety, predictability and control in the classroom, we can help our students start to develop them in their own bodies.”

While teaching yoga and meditation at a Veteran’s Affairs Hospital in Connecticut, Dan realized that many teachers still don’t have this skill.

“These practices are essential,” says Dan. “Certain individuals are dealing with very serious issues: Post-traumatic stress, fighting the deep scars of war. When I’m educating my teachers

it’s really about coming back to the simplicity of the mind-body connection.Yoga/Mindful Resilience is five tools: breathing, meditation, movement, guided rest, and gratitude. We really try and keep it that simple."

According to Dan, it's important that people are aware that we actually do have direct voluntary control over the nervous system, and how our body is operating and feeling. By regulating the breath through slow and deep exhales, we can help change the way our nervous system is functioning.

"When we begin to directly control the autonomic nervous system, we start to gain direct control over our own thoughts and behaviors, so they can be more in line with our values

and goals," says Dan. "With anyone who’s practiced yoga, you know they get to that moment where they suddenly feel comfortable in their own skin, more at ease than they ever have been before. At that point you don’t have to educate any more, it’s just about teaching people to come back to that place.”

To learn more about the Veteran's Yoga Project, and other events connected with the week, click here.

--Jim Catapano

--bottom three photos by Robert Sturman

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