This weeks post is focused on drawing attention to the hidden wounds of veterans. Our guest blogger, Bill Howerton is a veteran who was diagnosed with PTSD in 2006. Yoga became a healthy way for him to cope with his new reality as well as the one left on the battle field. Along with yoga, Bill runs, rides horses, and writes poetry. Bill will be hosting the First Annual Rock Steady Race this Sunday, November 10th in Kennesaw, GA. The mission of this race is draw awareness to the hidden wounds that many of our veterans suffer from upon returning from combat. If you are a runner or even a walker please consider joining Bill in support of our veterans this Sunday. Monday is Veterans Day after all. More information and online registration can be found on the Rock Steady Race web page.
After two deployments into the Persian Gulf and 22 years of service in the US Army, I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and my life was forever changed. Searching for alternate forms of non-medicated treatment, writing poetry and yoga came to the forefront. Aligning my body, mind, and spirit helped me take control of my life and move positively in the world. Yoga re-orientates the organs, muscles, bones, physical systems, and the other elements of the body that are not tangible, such as thoughts and feelings. Even the slightest movement affects my internal and external space. The movements challenge my body, mind, and spirit weekly requiring focus, determination, and a desire to improve. Performing my weekly yoga routine allows me to react calmly and without the threat of harm to me or others because I return to my breath to reduce a stressful situation.
Yoga complements a great physical workout regimen through muscle poses increasing stamina and flexibility. US Veterans cope with the effects of PTSD using yoga as part of a cocktail of non-medicated therapies. The poses challenge the warrior to tune in with their body and remain present with the moment, and to quiet the mind from run-away thoughts. Through time the body becomes more pliable as the mind slows down and thinks on the level of moment to moment, instead of being stuck in the past or fearful of the future. As thoughts evolve into clear ideas and become more manageable, this powerful 3-way method of focusing the body has made yoga an important tool in the fight of impacting whole body after trauma has impacted the mind.
Thoughts sometimes come in the form of flashbacks or projections of future interactions that can prevent the person from feeling whole and healthy. With yoga the mind has a safe place to process the continuous internal dialogue resulting from flashbacks or projections. Yoga prompts the individual to not judge the thoughts, but to let them pass by – treat them like a leaf on a stream. Yoga makes that stream available and provides a safe bank by the stream so the mind is able to mentally relax.
Research shows that yoga helps chemically balance the body. The chemical responses that place a trauma survivor in fight or flight mode helps in the body’s production of endorphins and serotonin. These chemicals help the body heal, sleep, and regulate various other functions such as proper digestion, hormone balance, oxygenating, as well as detoxing the various body systems.
On a personal level, yoga has impacted my ability to accept that I am a trauma survivor through the bend not break mentality. I have learned to manage my life and my health differently than before my trauma. Yoga has shown me there is a different way to manage my stress and well-being. It is no longer about taking RX medicine, altering my physical body, and numbing my mind and spirit. Going to therapy sessions confirms a new way of thinking and coping with my PTSD. Yoga has given me control back and has enabled me to approach my healing through a holistic method. From learning the simplest pose, the sit and listen pose, to performing standing tree or learning new poses challenges my body and the healing continues one small movement each time I learn or improve a yoga pose. It is not just about becoming more flexible; allows me to move more freely in my thoughts and accept my redefined abilities.