Today’s blog posting was submitted by Denise Olsen, owner of Strong and Soulful Yoga. Denise is a yoga therapist that works with the Family Reintegration Program. The program supports the spouses, children and parents of service members who are struggling with PTSD. She shares how yoga is used to help families recover from these wounds:
The literal meaning in Vedic Sanskrit of the word yoga is “to add,” “to join,” and “to unite.” Marriage is also a joining or a union. Both words conjure up thoughts of sacredness, commitment, joy and fulfillment.
Deployments, combat, and PTSD all cause significant stress on a marriage and the family. The scars of war are not only found amongst those that have served, they are also evident in all those that love them. The Family Reintegration Program managed by Hope For The Warriors® and HolliswoodHospital address these issues in a comprehensive and holistic manner. Traditional treatments are enhanced by methods such as yoga therapy.
As the yoga therapist, my goal is to offer space for connection, emotional release and relaxation, all accomplished through the breath and the movement of the body. When working with a group of spouses, my focus is solely on encouraging self-care and mindfulness. It is a time for honoring yourself – your body, your mind, your spirit. Spouses who are also in the role of caretaker tend to put their own needs last.
“You can’t give away what you don’t have. Self-care is vital.”
It is also a time to recognize that you are not alone – there are others that are experiencing the same fears, angers and frustrations as you.
When working with couples, verbal and nonverbal communication is encouraged through shared movement. The poses often require simultaneous but opposing movement accomplished only through communication and trust. Synchronicity in the breath is also utilized as a tool for connecting on an unspoken level.
“It allows for vulnerability, for insecurity to be replaced by trust,
courage and a sense of teamwork.”
When working with families, the yoga session is geared for all to participate in a period of connection. It is a shared, non-threatening experience with everyone on the same level – again fostering a feeling of support and teamwork. In all scenarios, it is intimate and powerful.
Intense therapy causes emotions to be exposed and raw which also take a physical toll. The body is tense. The mind is racing. The heart wavers from heaviness to the excitement and hope for a new normal. When we join together on our yoga mats – we are able to release this and refill. We are able to become centered and focused on the possibilities rather than the problems. We become co-creators in our lives, not just spectators waiting for someone else to make the first move.
“Although I have never walked a day in the shoes of a military spouse/family member,
we do find common ground in loss.”
Family members grieve the loss of the person who left for combat because the person who returns is not the same. Establishing a “new normal” is often accompanied by fear, anger and resentment which then cause guilt. I have felt all of these things. I share my story of being a 9/11 widow. I speak openly about it and encourage each person to do the same.
We then close our eyes and focus on our breath – our life force. As we exhale, we release emotions and create space in our mind and hearts. When we inhale, we are filled with positive energy and hope. Focusing on the breath allows us to be present. Anxiety is created when we spend too much time in the past or worry too much about the future.
We then float into the physical movement. It is a slow, deliberate stretching and opening. I focus on the areas most affected by stress – the neck, shoulders, hips and heart. Opening these areas and releasing the physical tension leads to an emotional release as well. We end the class with meditation and aromatherapy. The silence and stillness allow the healing energy to be absorbed in the physical body and for the mind to rest. Often, participants express a feeling of relief, relaxation and of being re-energized. The feeling of chaos is lifted.
“All of these feelings result in the ability to process clearly what has already been given in previous therapy sessions and creates space for forward movement in the upcoming treatments.”
Yoga therapy makes the intensive therapy more bearable and more effective. It offers a sense that there is a solution, there is a way to a brighter future, there is HOPE.