Veterans Yoga Project is Helping Promote Wellness of the Body and Mind
May is National Mental Health Awareness Month and few things are more closely aligned with mind and body wellness than yoga. With help from the NFL and the Bob Woodruff Foundation, Veterans Yoga Project (VYP) is helping expand the therapeutic reach of one of humanity’s oldest surviving traditions.
VYP is a Bob Woodruff Foundation (BWF) grantee that works with veterans, active-duty military personnel, student veterans organizations, and other non-profits to promote “mindful resilience” through yoga. VYP's promotes yoga to provide immediate relief as well as harnessing its power to help prevent struggles with mental health from taking hold.
COVID-19 interrupted our daily lives in almost every way, including wellness of both body and mind. Many felt the stress about the virus, financial concerns, and a lack of social interaction combining to create mounting obstacles for overall wellness. Unfortunately, most in-person yoga classes were no longer available to help alleviate the stress that was building during the pandemic. With the help of BWF funding, VYP quickly adapted its offerings virtually and continued to deliver its much-needed services. Veterans now have access to free yoga sessions through both live and recorded classes. Although some may prefer in-person sessions, the online classes can provide helpful social bonding to even more participants.
“Yoga can bring people together,” Dan Libby, founder of VYP said at a recent virtual event on veteran self-care hosted by BWF. “The real value is in social support.”
Practicing yoga and achieving balance does not always require an abundance of free time. Although we may be spending more time at home these days, the opportunities for self-care may be greater than ever.
"In less than one minute, you can change your physiology such that your thoughts change,” Libby said as he demonstrated a simple yet effective breathing exercise during the self-care event. Even through a digital environment like Zoom, Libby was clearly able to help promote relaxation for attendees in just 60 seconds.
Despite the ease at which Libby can demonstrate yoga’s benefits, many hold skepticism toward the ancient practice. VYP Virginia Regional Director, John Mory, a former Army “Green Beret,” initially held reservations about the benefits of yoga.
“I had been holding down a lot of emotions and events for my combat experiences,” Mory said. “One day all of that boiled over and I finally asked for help. I was diagnosed with anxiety/hypervigilance and depression.”
Fortunately, John was introduced to yoga, and experienced substantial relief.
“Yoga was life-changing for me and I felt compelled to spread the word among my fellow veterans,” Mory said. “Although not a cure, I honestly believe yoga is definitely part of the solution toward preventing veteran suicide.”
Mory now uses his experiences as both a combat veteran and an instructor to try and promote yoga among former and current service members.
“As a former Green Beret, I feel that I possess the 'street cred' of overcoming the stigma of yoga with fellow veterans,” Mory said.
In Mory’s view, the prerequisites for being able to participate in yoga are rather simple.
“If you have connective tissue and a nervous system, yoga is for you, period,” Mory said bluntly. “There are a lot of stigmas about yoga that keep veterans from coming to the mat. For me, it was the science behind yoga that sold me. Once I was sold on yoga, it became a gateway to try meditation, which has also been a huge part of my practice.”