Veterans Day

“The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.” – Douglas MacArthur

A couple of weeks ago while teaching at the VA, I ran into a vet who had attended my yoga classes at the in-patient building. From time to time, I run into men and women who attended my classes on the “outside” but it usually takes me a second to recognize them, as they usually appear very different to me, because when I see them in the hospital, they are in crisis mode so they don’t look like themselves. I initially didn’t recognize him because the last time I saw him, he had just made his third attempt at suicide. So I was delighted to see such a big smile on his face. He looked so grounded, happy, excited, as well as proud (a funny word to used here but that is the word that comes to mind). He said, “do you remember me? I went to your yoga class!”. And I said, “of course I do, it’s so good to see you. How are you?”. And he told me that after some very dark times, he was doing much, much better. And it showed. I couldn’t help but notice that he was wearing a VA hospital employee badge so I asked him if he was working at the VA. He told me that he was indeed working at the VA now, and that he was hoping to do peer counseling at some point. I couldn’t help but smile at him as it was so humbling to witness how far he had come. I told him how incredibly courageous he was to be able to face his wounds, trauma, and fears and now be able to come out on the other side so that he can help his fellow vets. He agreed. I ended with, “I’m so glad you are here, by the grace of God”. And he nodded and said, “yes, me too”.

I want to mention how fortunate I am to work at the VA hospital where they do an amazing job trying to provide support for our vets when they return. I have to give a special shout out the to WRIISC program who embrace alternative modalities like yoga and meditation and put a great amount of effort into providing these (even though is often really isn’t a part of their job). But they believe in this movement (not sure what else to call it).

Happy Veterans Day to all of our courageous vets, who work on the front lines and then come home and try to put their lives back together. Thank you for your service and sacrifices. Sending you thoughts of love, peace, and healing today and every day.

Stress and the nervous system

What happens to our nervous system, brain, and body during stressful times?

Not every challenging event becomes traumatic because we are pretty resilient. We can be confronted with difficulty but maybe we have support, we’re feeling good about ourselves and we may move through something somewhat unaffected.

When it becomes too much (financial or ongoing stressful or traumatic situations) the nervous system deregulates, things shut down, and the brain can’t manage what’s taking place. When the nervous system deregulates the brain’s threat response is stuck on a constant high alert. We are not designed to stay on high alert all the time. We are supposed to, ideally, respond to the “threat” when it happens, do what we need to do about it and then come back into a relaxation response.

From a physiological perspective, the body remembers everything. So tension from these events are absorbed into the body’s tissues. In order for the nervous system and the body to regulate, the stress (which becomes tension when absorbed) needs to be released.

Yoga, meditation, mindfulness, and TRE can help to re-regulate the nervous system so that is stays in a normal or “baseline” range allowing to sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system to be activated as needed allowing us to make our way back to the relaxation response as it was designed to do. Releasing tension in the body also can reduce pain, and, by discharging tension energetically, create a shift in negative muscle patterns.

A Day at the VA

People often arrive in mental health facilities during the holidays for a number of reasons. They are either hurting themselves, others, taking too many intoxicants to numb their pain, their families can’t handle their disruptive behavior during the holidays etc., etc. I often see people over and over (meaning they had been discharged, only to return at a later date). Some of their stories as to why they return are heart breaking. I always tell them, “it’s good to see you” and I mean it. Because if they weren’t back in the hospital, they’d either be in jail or dead…..not to be a downer, but this much I know is true.

Today was one of those crazy days. I had one man scream at me because I thought he was telling me his name was Jerry and it was Gary. After me trying to get clarity on his name a second time, he stormed out of the room. Another guy (who told me his name was batman) kept ignoring the boundaries we set in there, to see if I would react. I kept gently reminding him…asking him, “would you please not do that, it’s really difficult to teach when you are walking around the room, touching my things and walking in front of others”. I handle it in this way because I know one wrong word will trigger them. He apologized. He really just wanted to be in that energy in the room and I get that. But it can be a balancing act.

So that left me with one young man, who was really engaged and kept asking me questions. I’d seen him before and thought we really connected so I asked him (at this point, all bets were off)….”do you wanna really play a bit?”. He said sure, and we then went info a beautiful flow…Warrior 1, Warrior 3, Warrior 2, triangle, HALF MOON (mind you this guy is totally medicated), several variations of tree and more. He was awesome and so happy that he could do all of it. If only I could show you his face….priceless. People began looking through the windows outside of the room, and starting practicing in the corridor. It was beautiful!

If I’ve learned one thing teaching here (and it’s what we already know), is that what people really want is connection, they want to feel heard, they want to be seen, they want to feel that others care. And what was really cool about this encounter, is when others saw us connecting in the room, they wanted some of that too. It’s human nature and we can’t help it (like batman wanting to be in that energy). And, a bit of compassion/kindness/love can change someones day.

As I was leaving, “Gary”, said “thanks for coming”. I said “you’re welcome sir” and he screamed, “I’m not sir, I’m Gary”. And I said, “yes..you’re welcome Gary and I hope you have a wonderful day”. That’s all he wanted…to be seen, heard, and to know someone cared (even if it was just saying his name).

I have the best job in the world. May all beings be happy and free.

Gratitude Day 11

Last September I was leading a retreat near Tahoe and after the last session I taught there, a group of us went on a hike. During the hike, we came across a man who was wearing a Vietnam veterans hat. I thanked him for his service and we chatted quite a bit. He told me how great it feels when people thank him for his service because it wasn’t that way when he returned from Vietnam in the 70s, when people who were against that war took their frustrations out on returning veterans.

I told him I was co-leading a retreat to Vietnam next spring and he said he is ready to go back and see that country in a different light. We discussed my work with veterans and I suggested he try yoga which, surprisingly, he seemed open to the idea. He said he was grateful to the VA for all they did to help him with his PTSD. His wife was with him and I told her he was lucky to have her to support him through his healing. He and I had a connection and we probably could have talked much longer.

Two weeks ago, I went to an art show for veterans. The art these vets created is part of their treatment. I was surprised at how talented they are. And , of course, I was humbled by their brutal, raw honesty reflecting their process. Grateful for our veterans and their sacrifices, grateful for chance encounters, grateful to the VA and all they do to help our vets, and grateful that I get to have a tiny part in all of it. ‪#‎breathefirst‬ ‪#‎breathelosgatos‬‪#‎thankyouthankyouthankyou‬ ‪#‎veteransyoga‬ ‪#‎veteran‬ ‪#‎yogalife‬ ‪#‎yoga‬