Warriors at Peace
veterans take refuge in yoga,
discovering its ability to soothe and repair war-torn
minds and spirits.
Journal Magazine, August, 2010
2007 Samantha Lord was stationed in Iraq with her Army
National Guard unit, assigned to some of the most
stressful military police work imaginable. On some
days, the communications specialist, who is also a
sergeant, found herself driving top Iraqi government
officials in a Humvee convoy. Constantly under threat
of gunfire and mortar attacks, her nerve never
wavered. "You can't mess up on those
missions," she says. "They're no fail."
She didn't mess up, but she did pay a price.
mind remained on high alert, even after she returned
home to Massachusetts. Fourth of July fireworks made
her run for cover. Plagued by memories of wartime
driving, she was unable to drive her own car. There
were times she felt she had to have a drink before she
could even leave the house. Severe insomnia plagued
her, and when she did fall asleep, she had nightmares
of explosions, being shot at, or of her Humvee
overturning. It was difficult to shed the feeling that
every action had life-or-death consequences.
"Even something like burning dinner," she
says, "it's like you failed the mission."
experiences in the war were darkening her civilian
life back home. "I felt severely disconnected
from reality," she says. "No one here
understands what I went through."
attended therapy sessions at the local VA, or Veterans
Affairs, center, which helped a little but not enough.
The nightmares and paralyzing fears persisted. In
October 2009, almost a year after she had returned
from Iraq, Lord started practicing yoga with the There
and Back Again program in Charlestown, Massachusetts.
The teacher, Sue Lynch, understood what Samantha Lord
needed, because she was a veteran herself.
is calming," Lynch says. "You develop the
ability to feel safe and in control, to be aware of
what's going on. If you feel an intensity of sensation
in your body, you can work with it. You don't have to
take it on if it's overwhelming. Those types of cues
in the practice translate to life off the mat."
yoga, Lord began to regain her confidence. She's also
able to focus better. "I'm a much more even
person," she says.
active-duty military personnel, recently returned
vets, and those who came back from the Persian Gulf or
Vietnam decades ago, the problems associated with post
traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, can be intractable
and crippling. But yoga helps soldiers deal with the
effects of their wartime experiences. Thanks to yoga,
many report feeling less anxiety, sleeping better, and
having an easier time reintegrating into civilian
life. In the past few years, yoga programs for vets,
once almost impossible to find, have proliferated all
over the country. Many programs were started by
current or former military personnel, and in some
cases, they're sponsored and funded by the military
itself. "The military doesn't have a
choice," says Sat Bir Khalsa, assistant professor
of medicine at Harvard Medical School and director of
research for the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health
and the Kundalini Research Institute. The military has
to be open to it, Khalsa says, "because yoga may
contribute to benefits above and beyond those provided
by traditional therapies." To prove some of those
benefits, Khalsa is conducting a 10-week study of yoga
for veterans with PTSD, which is being funded by a
Defense Department grant. The study incorporates
postures, breathing techniques, meditation, deep
relaxation, and more.
Calm and Control
serving as an artillery-man in Iraq, Paul Bradley
twice suffered concussions when the vehicles he was
riding in turned over. After he returned to his former
life as a Boston firefighter in 2006, a doctor at the
VA diagnosed him as having a traumatic brain injury
noises drove Bradley crazy. He had trouble remembering
things and would fly into violent outbursts at the
slightest provocation. He responded to everything the
way a child would. "There was no thought
process," he says. "I'd just react." To
cope, he drank and lived, as he says, "the fast
like Bradley's are common for returning veterans who
suffer from PTSD, says Lynn Stoller, an occupational
therapist who works with Yoga Warriors, a program for
veterans in Massachusetts. With their survival
dependent on hyper-vigilance at all times, soldiers at
war basically reset their neurological patterns.
regular daily living, the sympathetic nervous system,
responsible for the "fight-or-flight"
instinct, releases cortisol, the stress hormone,
whenever the body senses danger. In wartime, when the
body senses danger virtually all of the time, the
sympathetic nervous system is cranked into permanent
overdrive, and soldiers remain in that state even
after they are out of danger. "When that self-regulatory
mechanism gets distorted, then it's hard to regain it
sometimes," says Bill Donoghue, a minister, yoga
practitioner, and former Marine who counsels returning
soldiers. "Yoga seems to be the simplest, least
expensive, and most efficient vehicle for regaining
that sense of calmness and control again."
Emerson is the director of Yoga Services of the Trauma
Center at Justice Resource Institute in Brookline,
Massachusetts. He says that yogic breathing techniques
are important for people who suffer from PTSD to
practices, like counting the out breath or doing
alternate-nostril breathing, can make a difference.
Quickly and simply, breath work replaces the
fight-or-flight response with the relaxation response,
a state of physiological relaxation, where blood
pressure, heart rate, digestive functioning, and
hormonal levels return to normal.
soldiers, says Donoghue, have already experienced the
powerful way that controlled breathing can focus and
redirect the mind, even if they've never heard of
pranayama. "An integral part of centering on your
target is controlled breathing. So Marines can relate
to that concept. They just haven't used it, except on
the firing range."
after struggling with PTSD for several years, saw a
flyer in 2008 at the VA center for a There and Back
Again yoga course. After just one class, "I left
more centered and relaxed," he says. "From
there, I just got hooked on it. It's what worked on
me. Since I'v e started yoga, I've gotten more
productive. I started seeing a counselor again. I'm
able to talk about my problems, whereas before, I
wanted nothing to do with it. It seems like I'm not as
angry after I do yoga. I'm able to function more in
inability to get to sleep is one of the most common
problems that returning soldiers face. A hyperactive
nervous system simply doesn't allow a body to shut
down for the night.
Patrocinio, a 27-year-old Miami resident, served eight
years as a Marine infantry man, including two tours of
duty in Iraq. He was getting ready to go back for a
third time when he was diagnosed with PTSD. He could
sleep only with the help of heavy prescription
medication. Psychotherapy didn't help. Then he took a
yoga class. Within the first 10 minutes of the class,
after some breathing exercises
and instruction to let the mind drift away, he fell
asleep. The teacher let him sleep the entire time.
"When the class was over, I finally felt like I'd
had some rest," he says.
may help returning service members get temporary
relief from insomnia, but it can also, if practiced
regularly, imbue them with a deeper sense of mental
calm, so they can reestablish normal sleep patterns.
Patricia Lillis-Hearne, an active-duty military doctor
in Maryland, spent a year in Iraq. When she came home,
she found herself suffering from neurological problems
similar to her patients'. "Even though I'm a
doctor and I'm supposed to be older and wiser, I wound
up coming back with a certain amount of baggage of my
own," she says.
had trouble sleeping and suffered from intractable
migraines that would last up to a week. Her doctors
put her on two medicines to prevent them, and two
other medicines to repress the symptoms. When they
added a Percocet prescription for the migraines,
Lillis-Hearne, who'd practiced hatha yoga on and off
for years, decided she had to try something else.
morning, while seeing her daughter off to school, she
met a neighbor, Karen Soltes, at the bus stop. Soltes
taught yoga, specifically, a practice called Yoga
Nidra. "When I went to try the class, I went to
get two blocks and a strap and I saw everyone else
getting a bunch of blankets," she says.
"That's when I knew this would be
Protocol for Yoga?
Nidra, or yogic sleep, is one of the four states of
mind described in the Yoga Sutra. It's not sleep as we
traditionally know it, but rather a state of conscious
sleep used for deep relaxation and subtle spiritual
exploration. Richard Miller, a clinical psychologist,
yoga teacher, and president of the Integrative
Restoration Institute in San Rafael, California, has
developed a protocol for the military, based on the
techniques of Yoga Nidra, that is in use at Walter
Reed Army Medical Center, in Washington, DC; the Miami
and Chicago VA hospitals; and Camp Lejeune in North
Carolina. Miller says he designed the program to help
returning soldiers find "a place of well-being
that was never wounded."
program is a 35-minute guided meditation, initially
learned lying down, and then integrated into all body
positions. He incorporates breath awareness and
"body sensing" but goes beyond that, asking
participants to observe their emotions, thoughts, and
memories from an objective distance. It introduces the
yogic concept of the observing Self, something beyond
body, mind, and spirit that never changes, regardless
of thoughts, emotions, or experiences. This is
referred to as purusha, though Miller deliberately
left yoga and Sanskrit terminology out of his program.
At the military's suggestion, he renamed it iRest.
can be tricky to impart this esoteric brand of yoga
thought to a military population that has seen and
experienced terrible things beyond ordinary
imagination, says Soltes, who teaches the iRest
protocol at the Washington, DC, VA Medical Center. But
through this practice, she says, soldiers learn that
they are more than all these things. They have these
thoughts and feelings and images, but they learn to
remember that there's a part of them that's never been
touched by trauma. It's still whole, it's still
healthy, and it's still intact.
Nidra may sound like an odd fit for VA hospitals, but
it's finding enthusiastic quarter in a military
medical establishment dealing with a huge and growing
population of traumatized soldiers returning from a
nearly decade long war. Nisha Money is a
preventive-medicine physician for the U.S. military,
who is helping to integrate programs such as iRest
(Yoga Nidra) protocols as an adjunctive therapy for
post traumatic stress disorder. She says that soldiers
with PTSD respond well to the practice because it
draws on internal resources during the stress of
military life and post battle trauma-related
of military training involves re-assembling the
internal mental structure to become a warrior,"
Money says. "As a result, a typical soldier is
more inclined to have a beginner's mind. It opens up
the awareness that you don't know everything, and that
you'll have to be open to new ways of being."
her first class in the Yoga Nidra program, Lillis-Hearne
started sleeping better. "By the second class, I
knew I was at home," she says. Very gradually,
her headaches became more manageable. She dropped her
medications. Much more quickly than she'd expected,
she went from pain and confusion to a state of feeling
calm, centered, and whole. Within a few months, she
was training to be a Kripalu instructor herself.
a million years, I never thought that I'd be teaching
yoga," Lillis-Hearne says. "But what it did
for me was so incredibly profound that I really wanted
to share it in any way I could, and in particular with
a group of people who ordinarily would never enter a
Bhagwati is a former Marine captain and the executive
director of the Service Women's Action Network, an
advocacy and direct-services organization for service
women and women veterans. During her second year in
the Marines, she took a two-week leave to study at the
Sivananda Ashram Yoga Ranch in Woodbourne, New York,
an experience she calls "a total mind warp,
because I was very much militarized at the time."
Then she returned to military service and promptly
dropped her yoga practice.
she left active service, Bhagwati found herself
diagnosed with PTSD and depression. At her lowest
point, her mind became "a dark and depressing
place," and thoughts of suicide lurked close to
the surface. She decided to do yoga again, she
says,"because it worked when I'd done it before.
It was natural, free, and good. I tell people it saved
my life." This time, she took her practice
further and became a certified yoga teacher. Now she
gives a thrice-weekly class to veterans at the
Integral Yoga Institute in New York City. She doesn't
feel the need to give her classes a hard edge.
who want to 'boot-camp-ify' their yoga haven't been in
the military," Bhagwati says. "I heard of
one group that advertised their yoga classes as
'blood, sweat, and tears.' Is that what you want to
give the military community? They've got that already.
Wouldn't it be OK to just learn stress-management
for vets often have a different look and feel:
Students might face the door, to avoid the anxiety
that comes with thinking someone might come in unseen,
and they usually don't hear a lot of esoteric ideas.
Washington, DC-area yoga teacher Robin Carnes, who
teaches iRest at Walter Reed's program for patients
with acute PTSD, says, "I never Om with my
students. Why put that barrier in the way?" She
also avoids the word "surrender" and doesn't
"Corpse Pose," so as not to upset her
Soltes says the practice often brings out a side of
the soldiers that has long been repressed.
"Sometimes there's this very tender openness to
life," she says. "They're not on some kind
of spiritual journey. They just want to feel better.
They come to it with innocence and no preconceived
notion about what it should be. It's almost like they
get out of their own way." Bill Donoghue says
that the nature of military life can actually leave
returning soldiers more open to a transformative
experience than civilians are. "It can be a
life-changing experience, sometimes for the
what happened to Paul Bradley. Since he's taken up
yoga, he's experienced a spiritual connection that had
been absent even before he went into the service.
"Yoga brought spirituality into my life. I had no
spirituality before. And after, I was just trying to
get through the night and forget what I saw in the
Army of Yoga Teachers
has had such a profound effect on vets returning to
their civilian lives that many of them want to spread
the word. Sue Lynch, a military lawyer, was once on
the receiving end of a missile attack while serving in
Saudi Arabia in 1990. When she returned home to
Boston, she thought she had it together, but PTSD
struck her hard. Depression and anxiety made her daily
life almost unbearable, and therapy offered little
relief. "A studio opened nearby—I started
practicing and said, 'Oh my god, that's
it!' " She became a yoga teacher, and now,
through her organization, There and Back Again, she is
training returning soldiers to teach as well.
the Boston firefighter, is going through Lynch's
training because he wants to bring classes to the
rough streets of Charlestown. Patrocinio is taking
regular trips from Miami to go through training
sessions in Boston as well. "In many ways, it
helps you reconnect," he says. "There's a
lot of anger and numbness, emotions and feelings
because of the situations you were put into in combat.
Yoga teaches you how to live the moment, how to accept
the past, and even let it go. When I first started
doing yoga, I didn't realize these things. But it's
been very helpful."
Tips to Help You Lose Weight
Maj. Karen E. Fauber,
FORT LEE, Va. – The new year is here
and you are off and running with your
resolution to lose weight. Tennis shoes
in one hand and water bottle in the
other, you are going to lose those five,
10 or more pounds this time, right?
Well, to help you reach your individual
weight loss goal try these tips and the
pounds will melt away:
real. Set a realistic goal for
weight loss and write it down.
Losing two to no more than three
pounds a week is generally
recommended by the experts. Remember
how long it took to gain the weight?
Give yourself time to lose it
gradually and you are more likely to
keep it off as you change your
the burn. Calories in, calories out
or what you eat is what you get.
This means be active. Go walking,
swimming, jogging, bicycling and
dancing to burn those calories. The
key is to make physical activity a
part of your everyday life.
small. Use the small plate and small
bowl at meals instead of the large
ones. It is too easy to eat too much
when you use a big dinner plate or a
large bowl, especially for that
nighttime ice cream.
fiber. Aim for 25 to 35 grams of
fiber a day. Fiber fills you up and
helps you feel full for a long time
between meals. Easy ways to get more
fiber include eating cereal for
breakfast that has 10 or more grams
per serving, eat a pear or an apple
for a snack, add beans to your
meals, soups, and salads, and add a
few nuts as a snack or on a salad.
protein? Do not skimp on
protein; this includes chicken,
fish, turkey, lean beef and pork. It
also includes dairy foods like skim
milk, yogurt, low fat cheeses, beans
and nuts, all found in your
commissary at savings of 30 percent
or more. The average person needs .8
grams protein per kilogram body
weight, about 60 to 90 grams protein
that plate big enough? Portion
control, portion control, portion
control. A serving that is bigger
than your fist is probably too much
to eat – unless it’s vegetables.
said, “Eat your veggies!” And,
mama was right. Eat vegetables at
lunch and dinner. Portions are not
so important here. In fact, eating
vegetables is a good place to cheat
if you need to. Make sure to fill up
half your plate at meals with
vegetables. The fiber, water content
and nutrients in vegetables helps
the body lose weight. Fresh, canned,
or frozen veggies are all great
choices. Avoid the sauces, though,
as they add many extra calories.
forget the fruit. Fresh, canned
or frozen: they all make great
snacks and a nice desert. Dried
fruit is OK, too, as long as you
control the portion sizes.
get by with a little help from my
friends.” Get support to stay on
track with your weight loss from
your family and friends. How about
creating your own biggest losers
contest and invite others to join?
Support goes along way with weight
your progress. Give yourself a
pat on the back and more as you
continue to lose weight. It’s no
easy task. As you reach a weight
loss goal how about something
special to reward yourself? Make it
something that you really can enjoy
like a new outfit, season tickets
for your favorite sport, a special
vacation. You decide what it is and
write it down with your goal.
See you in the commissary!
For more information on weight loss or
other nutrition topics, go to the DeCA
Dietitian Web page at www.commissaries.com.
and Drug Rehabs
pre-diabetes to help delay or prevent
– Diabetes affects nearly 21 million
Americans with its many health risks and
complications. One in every four
Americans has diabetes or is at risk for
developing it. Before people develop
Type 2 diabetes, they almost always have
pre-diabetes, according to the American
Diabetes Association. During American
Diabetes Month in November, remember to
talk with your health care provider
about diabetes testing, prevention and
Pre-diabetes is very similar to
diabetes. Blood glucose levels are
higher than normal but not yet high
enough to be diagnosed as diabetes.
Research has shown that some body
organs, including the heart and blood
vessels, may already be damaged during
pre-diabetes. Research also shows that
if you manage your blood sugar when you
have pre-diabetes, you might be able to
prevent developing diabetes.
Diabetes is more common among blacks,
Latinos, American Indians, Asian
Americans, and Pacific Islanders. There
is also an alarming trend in children
and teenagers developing diabetes. This
has been linked to the increase of
overweight children and an overall lack
of physical activity in young people
to manage pre-diabetes
One way to help prevent or delay
diabetes is to get tested early. You can
get a blood test, the fasting plasma
glucose test, or an oral test, the oral
glucose tolerance test, through your
doctor. These tests are also used to
Nutrition plays a key role in warding
off diabetes. Eat a healthy diet with
the foods you buy at your local
commissary and follow these guidelines:
● Eat lots of fruits and vegetables
● Control portion sizes
● Eat fish two to three times each
● Eat whole grain breads and foods
● Eat beans with meals
● Eat less high-calorie snack foods
like ice cream
● Drink calorie-free drinks and
Regular physical activity including
strenuous exercise also can help lower
blood sugar and reduce weight, two chronic
issues with diabetes. Break out your
walking shoes and walk every day for 30 to
60 minutes. Add other physical activities
to help prevent or delay diabetes.
See you in the commissary!
For more information on diabetes or other nutrition topics,
post your questions on the “DeCA
Dietitian Forum” and be sure to look for other
useful information in the “Dietitian’s
Introduces Commission to Review Military
In order to ensure that troops get the
best care, Bush introduced a new
bipartisan presidential commission that
will review servicemembers’ health
care. “This review will examine their
treatment from the time they leave the
battlefield through their return to
civilian life as veterans, so we can
ensure that we’re meeting the physical
and mental health needs involved,”
Bush said. The commission, headed by
former Sen. Bob Dole and former Health
and Human Services Secretary Donna E.
Shalala, currently president of the
University of Miami, will conduct a
comprehensive review of military medical
care. Meanwhile, a separate task force
will assess short-term needs, Bush
Information Now Housed Under One
Forces Press Service
|WASHINGTON, Nov. 2006
– Tricare beneficiaries will
get a pleasant surprise the next
time they visit Tricare Online.
The Web site has a new name, a
new look and a new home. It’s
now part of Tricare.mil, the
official Web site for all
“We reorganized the Web
site with our beneficiaries in
mind,” said Army Maj. Gen.
Elder Granger, deputy director,
Tricare Management Activity.
“Now they can go to one site
to look up benefit information,
schedule an appointment or track
claims. Everything’s in one
place, making the site easier to
Tricare.mil comprises five main
-- My Health (Tricare Online) --
personal health information and
online appointment scheduling
for Tricare Prime enrollees;
-- My Benefit -- Tricare benefit
-- MHS Staff -- resources for
Military Health System staff
-- Tricare Providers --
information for Tricare network
-- Pressroom -- the latest news
about Tricare and the military
In the next phase of Web site
improvements, beneficiaries will
be able to enter their profile
and receive benefit information
tailored to them. Tricare
expects this feature to be
available in winter of 2007.
Vets Receive Priority for VA Medical Care
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
The estimated 120,000 veterans of operations
in Iraq and Afghanistan receiving medical care
through the Department of Veterans Affairs are
getting top priority as they access some of
the world's best-quality medical treatment,
the secretary of Veterans Affairs said.
R. James Nicholson spoke to American Forces
Press Service and the Pentagon Channel in
anticipation of National Veterans Awareness
Week, which began Nov. 6 and continues through
Although the wounded veterans of Operation
Iraqi Freedom represent just 2 percent of the
VA's total patient load, "it's a very
important 2 percent because these are young
people who have come back from the combat
zone," Nicholson said.
As a result, the VA is "giving them
priority and making sure we are taking care of
their physical and mental needs" so they
can continue to enjoy productive lives, he
Seeing the nation's young people return
home from combat reinforces the message that
freedom comes at a high cost, Nicholson said.
"Freedom is not free, and they are paying
the ultimate price," Nicholson said.
"And so, they will be taken care of and
given whatever (health care and related
assistance) they need ... for the rest of
It's gratifying to watch the recovery these
wounded veterans make, particularly when
hearing many of them say they want nothing
more than to return to duty with their units,
But for those unable to do that, Nicholson
said, the VA's responsibility is to help them
see beyond their wounds and recognize that
they can continue to live productive lives.
"That's part of our mission, to show them
all the things they still can do and not have
them focus on the things they can no longer
do," he said.
While the nation gives special
consideration of its veterans this week, the
VA continues its longstanding commitment to
the nation's veterans year-round, Nicholson
said. For the past 75 years, the VA has
provided health services and other benefits to
veterans, living up to the promise made by
President Abraham Lincoln during his second
inaugural speech: "To care for him who
has borne the battle, and for his widow and
Over its history, the VA has created the
world's most comprehensive system of
assistance for veterans, including what
Nicholson described as "world-class
health care." Some 237,000 VA
professionals provide health care to more than
5 million veterans through 187 medical centers
and 860 outpatient clinics.
A computerized medical record system -- one
Nicholson said he hopes will serve as a model
for the Defense Department and other
organizations -- helps eliminate hospital
mix-ups and ensures more thorough patient
care, he said. In addition, VA remains a
leader in medical research, from studies
involving Parkinson's disease to a recent
breakthrough in immunizations for shingles, he
Nicholson said Congress and the Bush
administration have demonstrated through
increased funding for VA health care that they
remain committed to ensuring veterans receive
the top-quality services they deserve. VA
funding has increased more than 50 percent
since 2001, he noted.
"Veterans of every era can rest easy
knowing that access to what has been described
as the finest integrated health care system in
the country will remain undiminished --
especially for low-income veterans, those with
service-connected disabilities (or) special
needs or who have recently returned from
combat," Nicholson said.