Finding Peace

Gaiam Staff by Gaiam Staff | November 10th, 2015 | 2 Comments
topic: Inspirational Media, Yoga | tags: benefits of yoga, Bikram, breathe, how to quiet your mind while meditating, meditate, meditation, meditation practice, military, PTSD, veterans, veterans day, Yoga, yoga teaching, yoga-practice, yoga-therapy

Exalted Warrior is a small organization, based out of a two-room yoga studio in downtown Tampa. The front of the building is unassuming—just a single-story concrete facade with room for maybe five cars to park in front. The interior is about what you’d expect too, from the hardwood floors to the stacks of bolsters and mats in various cubbies around the lobby. What happens in this building, though, is anything but ordinary.
When Nick Caris first came to this studio, several years ago, he was angry. Nick had suffered a traumatic brain injury in Afghanistan, the result of a poorly-timed rocket blast, and had only returned from Afghanistan a few weeks prior. He wasn’t even in class voluntarily—his uncle had dragged him to his weekly Bikram session, hoping it would help him relax. “I remember the first time that Nick came into the studio,” recalls Annie, Exalted Warrior’s founder. “I could kind of tell that he wasn’t comfortable where he was, but he was hanging in there, doing the best he could.”
Nick’s story is, unfortunately, far from unique. Every week, Annie welcomes in dozens of combat veterans, from young men and women in their 20s, fresh off the plane from Iraq and Afghanistan, to Vietnam vets with greying beards and ailing joints that haven’t had a restful night in 40 years. Some have traumatic brain injuries, some are missing limbs, and some just feel out of place and ostracized in a culture they don’t recognize any more.
Nick didn’t like the class, and he didn’t like Annie, but she was persistent. She met him in a coffee shop just down the street and convinced him to keep coming back to class, week after week. Gradually, his defensive walls started to come down. “I didn’t have the awareness that I had changed, when it came to dealing with civilian life,” Nick explains. “The frustration was there—people didn’t understand, or they didn’t want to understand, or they assumed they knew and they didn’t, and I didn’t really know how to respond to a lot of that stuff. It’s really funny,” he adds with a smile, “when you start telling a story to somebody they would start to cry, and it was kind of like ‘well, I just don’t want to tell anybody anymore, ’cause then everybody’s going to keep crying and I don’t want to see anybody cry.’”
Yoga and meditation provide Nick an outlet that other people couldn’t. When the lights go down and his breathing slows, his past comes bubbling back to the surface. But in the calm and safety of the yoga studio, he doesn’t panic or shy away. He’s able to face his problems, acknowledge them, and move on. Nick now teaches for Exalted Warrior, as well as volunteering at the VA hospital just south of town. He’s calm and soft-spoken, happily discussing his past, his injury, and his journey to the man he is today. “It wasn’t until yoga and me finding true acceptance for what I did and letting all of those things go that I really noticed how far away we were, from military veteran to normal civilian.”
At Veterans Alternative, based in the little town of Holiday, FL, they’re taking a different approach to that same transition. “It was very difficult to transition back into the civilian world,” says Gabriel Muñoz-Calene, a former Marine now working as an attorney. It’s hard for returning vets to find people they can relate to, from the life-changing experiences they’ve had to something as small as the swear words or three-letter acronyms that crept into their everyday vocabulary while they were on duty. Veterans Alternative offers them a return to that environment, giving returning vets the culture they’re used to without the trauma or stress of active duty. Vets can participate in military-style obstacle courses, weekly barbecues with their peers, hand-to-hand combat training, and interval-style workouts. Some described the exercise itself as a “moving meditation.”
Every day, though, everyone comes into the main room in Veterans Alternative’s little house and turns out the lights for iRest yoga. iRest Yoga Nidra, shortened from “integrative restoration,” is a practice developed over the last 26 years by Dr. Richard Miller, a clinical psychologist, author, researcher, and yogic scholar. The practice originates in meditative traditions dating back thousands of years, but Dr. Miller thought its spiritual component might seem inaccessible to a Western audience, so he adapted the practice to include more modern language.
“What was interesting about it was that people don’t know how to meditate,” says Brian Anderson, cofounder of Veterans Alternative and a former Ranger himself. “So when you have a practice like iRest where you’re actually able to sit through a guided meditation and just let your mind be free to go where it needs to go, whatever it needs to go to, that day, that time and space, it’s absolutely amazing.” And it seems to be working. Forest Spall, an injured veteran from the area who comes to practice yoga and meditate at least once a week, says that a 15-minute iRest session makes him feel better rested than a two-hour nap.
And Janel Norton, Brian’s co-founder and a former combat photographer with the Air Force, can hardly believe the results herself. She leads the meditation sessions in Veterans Alternative’s main room, a pre-fab building with screen doors and the occasional rattle from an air conditioner. She reads from a well-worn paperback iRest book in a calm, slow voice, reading glasses balanced on her nose, with a dozen veterans of various ages and experience levels laid out on blankets and bolsters around her. Some can’t lie on the floor due to stiffness or injury, so they sit in reclining chairs around the edge of the room. Some have service dogs that lie next to them, resting their noses on their owners’ hands. Some of them even begin to snore as the session goes on. “Since I started using it,” Janel says, “I can’t believe the effects that I’m hearing it has on people. It amazes me.”
There are almost 22 million veterans living in the United States. These men and women often feel ostracized, misunderstood, and even shunned by the people around them. Many of them have physical or mental injuries. And according to NPR, growing numbers of them are becoming addicted to painkillers prescribed to them by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Veterans Alternative and Exalted Warrior are not alone. They’re part of a growing movement, seeking to use interpersonal contact and mental training to help veterans, whether they’re fresh out of the service or have been struggling with inner demons for decades. “In less than a year, we’ve had over a hundred veterans come through our doors,” says Brian. “They’re coming from other states, other organizations are sending their warriors to us, and they’re loving every aspect of it.” Meditation and yoga offer them a non-pharmaceutical alternative to treat what ails them—and a better one, according to Nick Caris, who says that yoga and meditation have helped him more than any medicinal approach ever did. “It was a huge deal to finally find some relaxation,” he says, a smile emerging on his face. Everyone involved with these organizations is as passionate about their work as Nick is. “My favorite part is just knowing that I’m giving these guys something they can take with them that they can use to help them stay focused and calm,” says Janel. “I’m giving them a piece back that maybe they lost.”

Being Mindful: The How, What and Why

Heather Larson by Heather Larson | August 25th, 2015 | 1 Comment
topic: Health & Wellness, meditation | tags: health, health benefits, interview, meditate, meditation, mindful, mindfulness, mindfulness practice, practicing mindfulness, restorative, restore, Yoga

All the talk lately about mindfulness got me thinking: do I really know what this is and how to practice it? If I wondered about how to be mindful, I imagine others did, too. So, I took my questions to an expert, Cara Bradley, author, yoga and meditation teacher, and founder of Verge Yoga in Philadelphia, PA.

3 Restorative Methods to Practice Daily

Nichole Golden by Nichole Golden | July 14th, 2015 | No Comments
topic: Health & Wellness, meditation | tags: breathe, breathing-exercises, meditate, meditation, restorative, restorative yoga, restorative yoga poses, restore, sleep, Yoga, yoga breathing techniques

We are a proud people of the mentality “gotta’ do more, gotta’ be more,” where it’s common practice to boast about the busyness of it all and go, go, go until life is gone, gone, gone. I get tired just thinking of the running around that is inherent to the life culture of the masses. What we forget is that our ability to exert ourselves is proportionate to our ability to rest and rejuvenate. To that end, we must create as much time and space in our daily life to rest and restore. These days, all doctors’ orders should be something in this realm. Here are some ways to encourage restoration in your daily life.

Breathing Meditation for Patience

Jessica Mehring by Jessica Mehring | July 25th, 2014 | 5 Comments
topic: Health & Wellness, Personal Growth | tags: breath, breathe, colorado, gaiam, mediation, meditate, mindfulness, Pema Chodron, practicing mindfulness, Spring, Yoga

“Patience is not learned in safety.” -Pema Chodron

Spring tests my patience. Every single year. Especially here in Colorado, as the weather whips back and forth between snow and sun, and as calm mornings give way to blustery afternoons, my patience is tried every spring. I become anxious for warmer, more stable weather.

Every spring, I am reminded once again that I am not in control. Patience is the only way through.

We humans, though, don’t learn patience the easy way. We don’t learn patience when things are going our way. Rather, we learn patience when we are tested, and when we finally have to accept that we can’t control the world.

4 Ways to Get Enough Vitamin L

Nichole Golden by Nichole Golden | March 18th, 2014 | No Comments
topic: Health & Wellness, Personal Growth | tags: breathing, Cognitive neuroscience, cooking, emotional health, food, love, meditate, meditating, positivity, self-love, vitamin l, vitamins, Yoga, your yourself

I can remember the days when my multivitamins tasted like candy. It was an absolute pleasure to take those little Flintstone chewables every day in the hope of “growing strong bones,” as my dad used to put it. As I’ve gotten older, taking my daily vitamins is a sweet ritual that I have carried with me. I line them up and remember their purpose as I ingest each one. But this month, my focus has shifted. I’m not as concerned with my calcium supplementation or the millions of strands in my probiotic. I’m now interested in is a much more important vitamin, Vitamin L—Love.

12 Tips for a Better Yoga Practice

YOGANONYMOUS by YOGANONYMOUS | January 17th, 2014 | 4 Comments
topic: Fitness, Yoga | tags: hydrate, meditate, plateau, relaxation, savasana, ujjayi breathing, water, yoga class, yoga clothes, yoga props, yoga tips, yoga-practice, yoganonymous

yoga practice

Feel like your yoga practice has reached a plateau? We’ve got 12 quick and easy tips to keep your practice evolving.

1. Hydrate all day: Stopping to sip in the middle of your yoga practice can mess with your flow, so it’s vital to arrive to class hydrated. Focus on drinking water all day long — you’ll be amazed at what a difference it makes.

9 Yoga Moves to Blast Holiday Calories

Sadie Nardini by Sadie Nardini | December 5th, 2013 | 4 Comments
topic: Fitness, Health & Wellness, Weight Loss, Yoga | tags: abs, arm balance, belly, Boat pose, body, Bound Lunge, burn-calories, Child’s Pose, christmas, core, Core Plank, diet, Dog Splits, downward dog, Easy Pose, eat, exercise, Fitness, flexibility, food cravings, handstand, health, holiday weight, holiday yoga, holidays, inversion, lose-weight, meditate, meditation, release, Revolved Pigeon, Shiva Kicks, Side Angle, side plank, strength, stress, Sukhasana, thanksgiving, thighs, Yoga, yoga for weight loss

GAIAM SIDE ANGLEHolidays are a time for family, friends and — let’s not kid ourselves — food. I love to go away for a few days and eat things I normally don’t in amounts that would shock a Sumo wrestler. Hence, it may be the season to be jolly, but it’s also a time when it’s all too easy to pack on the pounds along with the cheer.

America’s No. 1 Addiction: Food

Jenny Sansouci by Jenny Sansouci | January 22nd, 2013 | 3 Comments
topic: Detox, Health & Wellness, Healthy Eating | tags: addicted to food, brain chemicals, cocaine, comfort food, crack, cravings, detox, diet, DNA, dopamine, drug addict, emotional eating, epigenetics, exercise, fat, food addiction, Gaiam Inspirations, gaiam tv, GaiamTV, genes, gratification, healthy-eating, impulse control, meditate, meditation, mind, neurotransmitter, nicotine, nutrition expert, Pam Peeke, physician, pleasure, pre-frontal cortex, receptors, reward center, salt, stress hormones, sugar, The Hunger Fix, Whole Foods

Did you know that the brain has the same chemical reaction to sugary and fatty foods as it does to cocaine or nicotine? According to Dr. Pam Peeke, author of The Hunger Fix, the chemical reaction happens before you even eat the food — all you have to do is think about it!

Dr. Peeke recently appeared on’s Gaiam Inspirations to talk about America’s food addiction and how to retrain your brain to make healthier choices. Dr. Peeke’s interest in the topic of food addiction started because of the way her patients talked about food. “I can’t get off this stuff.” “The withdrawal is killing me.” They sounded like drug addicts, and she started to wonder if there was a connection between food and addiction.

She found that there’s a very striking connection — and the same centers of the brain are involved that regulate drug addiction. And, she says, don’t think for a second the food industry hasn’t figured this out.

The Many Ways (and Days) to Meditate

Leslie Garrett by Leslie Garrett | December 4th, 2012 | 2 Comments
topic: Health & Wellness, Personal Growth | tags: boost immune system, deadlines, food, how to meditate, improved memory, joint ache, lotus pose, lotus position, lower heart rate, meditate, meditation, meditation chair, meditation cushion, medtation anywhere, memory and meditation, mind, muscles, perfectionism, querling children, red bull, stress, tight hip, tight hips, traffic, walk the dog, walking meditation, work

MeditateI, like so many, thought meditation was something only others could do. Others, for example, without quarreling children, looming deadlines or hips that mutinied at the thought of the Lotus Position. Those with minds that didn’t race like a toddler on Red Bull.

Although I wanted to be someone who meditated, I wasn’t someone who meditated.

Someday, I would tell myself, imagining that glorious future when my children, work schedule, muscles, joints and mind would finally and fully cooperate.

But while I was waiting, the research piled up. About how meditation improves memory. Boosts the immune system. Lowers our resting heart rate. Makes us calmer. Happier. Healthier.

I wanted some of that. Not later but now.

4 Ways to Have a More Peaceful Evening

Kate Hanley by Kate Hanley | November 27th, 2012 | 3 Comments
topic: Family Health, Health & Wellness, Relationships | tags: back, bed, bedtime, body, breath, breathe, car, channel surfing, children, cleaning, cooking, couch, decompress, evening, family, floor, happy, intention, Internet, kids, meditate, meditation, mind, night, parenting, peaceful, pillow, relax, relaxing, rest, sleep, spine, stress, stressful, transitions, TV

Peaceful Evening

In theory, evening is a glorious time of day — a time to eat and spend time with loved ones and then unwind before bed. In reality, though, it’s often a stress fest – feed the kids, put the kids to bed, answer some emails, fall into bed. Or simply lost time – eat whatever, channel surf, cruise the Internet, then look up and wonder how it got to be 11:30 already.

Luckily, it doesn’t take much to transform your evening hours into the respite they ought to be. Here are four of my favorite tips for a peaceful evening. I’d love to hear yours!