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.”

Finding Balance

Michelle Finerty by Michelle Finerty | October 13th, 2015 | 1 Comment
topic: Personal Growth, balance | tags: balance, compare, crow pose, happiness, life transitions, self care, self confidence, self-affirmation, self-love, tree-pose, Yoga, yoga-for-beginners, yoga-therapy

As seasons change and the beginning of another school year is here, most of the conversations I’ve been in lately have been about how busy life gets and how hard it is to keep everything in balance…emotionally, physically, and mentally.

Autumn Transitions

Michelle Finerty by Michelle Finerty | September 30th, 2015 | No Comments
topic: Conscious Living News, Health & Wellness, Yoga | tags: autumn, autumn yoga, ayurveda, digital yoga, doshas, fall, fall colors, fall yoga, home, home practice, pitta dosha, Yoga, yoga DVDs, yoga-practice, yoga-therapy

Autumn is approaching here in the Northern Hemisphere. The mornings are getting cooler and the air is crisp. The changing of the seasons is a good time to honor the changes taking place within you.  As you transition from the heat and relaxed mindset of the summer to the cooler days of autumn, it’s a good time to tune in and determine what you want to change in your life and how your yoga practice can aid in your growth.

Savasana with a Chair and Weight

Colleen Saidman by Colleen Saidman | September 29th, 2015 | No Comments
topic: Detox, Health & Wellness | tags: back-pain, colleen saidman, Colleen Saidman Yee, deepen-your-yoga-practice, exhaustion, recharge, restore, rodney yee, savasana, Yoga, yoga-for-beginners, yoga-practice, yoga-therapy, yoga_positions

Relief for back pain, exhaustion, fuzzy brain and much more!

If you answer yes to more than two of the questions below, then find a chair and grab a sandbag. Tell everyone in the house that you’ll resurface in 10 minutes.

  1. Are you tired?
  2. Are you wired?
  3. Are you lacking in patience?

Practicing Ahimsa

Heather Larson by Heather Larson | September 22nd, 2015 | No Comments
topic: Conscious Living News, Health & Wellness, Personal Growth | tags: ahimsa, daily practice, inner peace, nonharming, peace, spiritual practice, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Yoga, yoga sutras, yoga-practice, yoga-therapy

You may have heard the word ahimsa, but weren’t quite sure what it meant. That was me. Then my yoga instructor talked about it one night before we started our class practice. Now, in the face of all the violence making the headlines and the havoc raised by folks drenched in hate, I’m trying to embrace ahimsa more than ever.

Yogi Not Flexible

Lynda McCullough by Lynda McCullough | September 11th, 2015 | 4 Comments
topic: Health & Wellness, Inspirational Media, Yoga | tags: benefits of yoga, deepen-your-yoga-practice, finding a yoga teacher, flexibility, flexible, real life, Yoga, yoga teacher, yoga teacher training, yoga teachers, yoga-for-beginners, yoga-practice, yoga-techniques, yoga-therapy, yoga_positions

When You Aren’t The Most Flexible Yogi On The Block: One Woman Finds Her Niche As A Teacher

Who is eligible to become a yoga teacher? Those with X number of years’ experience? The most adept practitioners? Anyone who wants to?

Passport hOMe

Chrissy Carter by Chrissy Carter | August 6th, 2015 | No Comments
topic: Health & Wellness, Healthy Home, Yoga | tags: chrissy carter, deepen-your-yoga-practice, Eco Travel, France, gaiam, nature vacation, summer-travel, travel, vacations, Yoga, yoga poses, yoga-for-beginners, yoga-therapy

France is my happy place. I don’t know if I can even describe it, but France just has a certain je ne sais quoi that makes me feel at home.

This Precious Body … A Reservoir of Hope

Katherine Robertson-Pilling by Katherine Robertson-Pilling | May 17th, 2012 | No Comments
topic: Health & Wellness, Personal Growth, Yoga | tags: benefits of yoga, broken leg, femur, healing, health, HOPE, inspiration, motivation, Spring, springtime, Yoga, yoga-therapy

Hope and the BodyIf hope were a season, it would be Spring. Flowers are budding, bees are buzzing, trees are leafing and birds are building nests. Life picks up its paintbrush and makes a splash across Nature’s canvas. Its message:

“No matter where you are today,

Something new is on its way.”

While Spring gives evidence in the world around us, life flows just as hopefully within us. We usually relate to our physical world as solid and fixed. But it is not — it is alive, active and changing at every level, seen and unseen. Science now demonstrates that everything is energy, particles dancing with each other all the time. And I have learned this lesson in my bones.

One afternoon three years ago, in the fullness of Spring, I went out to buy groceries, stepped up onto a sidewalk and fell. I did not take another step for four months. Unable to stand, as I waited on the curb for the ambulance, I kept my mind focused on the desirable outcome. But I knew the truth. Even in those first five minutes, something in me responded, “Okay. If this is what’s next, let’s go.”

UZIT and Gaiam: Adding “Urban Zen” to Patient Care

by guest | April 20th, 2011 | No Comments
topic: Fitness, Health & Wellness, Yoga | tags: alternative therapies, cancer, clinics, colleen saidman, contemplative care, donna karan, Eastern-Medicine, essential oil therapy, gaiam-yoga-club, healing techniques, holistic medicine, hospitals, learning, New York City, nutrition, NYC, patients, program, Reiki, rodney yee, school, students, teachers, Urban Zen Integrative Therapy Program, UZIT, Western-Medicine, yoga gear, yoga props, yoga-therapy

Urban Zen Yoga Therapy Program

A guest post from Lisa Sunshine of Urban Zen

Anyone who practices yoga regularly knows that it can be a healing experience, both mentally and physically. In addition to the health benefits to be gained from a regular yoga practice, yoga therapists teach their patients specific ways to use yoga to combat everything from depression to back problems to side effects from cancer treatments.

Recognizing the importance of yoga and other Eastern healing techniques such as Reiki, essential oil therapy, nutrition and contemplative care, Donna Karan’s Urban Zen Integrative Therapy Program (UZIT) in New York trains its students to combine these therapies with traditional Western medicine to create a holistic approach to patient care. During the program, each technique is taught separately, then instruction is given on how to interweave them to create a truly integrative healing session. Graduates of the UZIT program leave with experience working bedside with patients and their loved ones and caregivers in hospitals, as well in yoga studios, private practice, outpatient clinics, cancer support groups and a variety of other settings.

Is Yoga Therapy Right for You? The Next Wave of Conscious Care

Jill Miller by Jill Miller | April 11th, 2011 | 7 Comments
topic: Fitness, Health & Wellness, Healthy Aging, Yoga | tags: aches, American Viniyoga Institute, back-pain, body, breathing, chronic, core, doctor, donna karan, emotion, Gary Kraftsow, healing, instructors, Jill Miller, Kripalu’s Institute for Extraordinary Living, Larry Payne, Loyola Marymount, medical conditions, medicine, meditation practice, mind, nerves, neurological, New England School of Integrative Yoga Therapeutics, pain medicine, physical therapist, physical therapy, postural assessment, pranayama, psychological, reduce stress, rehabilitation, rodney yee, spirit, students, teachers, therapist, training, UZIT, wellness, yoga nidra, yoga poses, Yoga Tune Up®, yoga-therapy, yogic sleep

Yoga TherapyIs yoga therapy right for you? Have you tried everything under the sun to eliminate an ache, pain or chronic condition? If your doctor has suggested that you try yoga therapy (and not just yoga classes), the first step is to find a great yoga therapist to steer you into a customized practice that may potentially improve the conditions of self-healing in your body, mind and spirit.