Carol, a Living Yoga volunteer teacher, shares her insight teaching at the Veterans Recovery House:
Volunteering at the Veterans Recovery House in Vancouver over the past year has been a very rewarding and valuable aspect of my own yoga practice.
The Veterans Recovery House has a rotating population. Typically we will only see students for about three months. I have seen men, within the context of our class, looking frail, afraid, and tired change to encouraged, strong and ready to move. I have also seen anger be replaced with focused attention and a strong easy breath. It is truly amazing to see the changes that a simple practice can have on people.
The students at the Veterans Recovery House live in very challenged bodies. They are in recovery from drugs and alcohol. Many have the addition of recovering from injury, illness, or PTSD. It is not uncommon for us to hear someone say “I had a stroke last week” or “look what happened to my leg when a road side bomb went off.” Or “I lost everything, I hate everything,” I have seen these students stay with their practice for the whole duration of their treatment, which is an amazing testament to the power of yoga.
Some students here can find the simplest of movements difficult, so being aware of options is essential and also knowing that the most powerful thing we can teach is breath and awareness. It does not need to be complicated pranayama breath techniques. The instruction, to see or notice your breath, can have huge impact. Then adding simple movements, giving them permission to be in charge of that movement, assessing where they are and what their body needs this day and to make the choice that will best serve them has HUGE impact.
One gentlemen told me, “I do stuff like this all the time in physical therapy but this is so much better”. I asked why he felt that way, he wasn’t sure but he said it is almost a spiritual experience.
It is incredible to see a light of awareness when students can look at what they are feeling, whether physical or emotional and see it for what it is, reserve their judgments about it and just know what is true. Then they can make a decision about how they will move with that challenge, whether that challenge is “good or bad”. For many of the students this is the first time they have had an opportunity to practice noticing what they feel then deciding how to approach it in a way that is thoughtful.
As instructors, we have all heard the phrase, “If you can breathe with awareness you can practice yoga.” For people in recovery and suffering from PTSD, this is an essential truth that can never be over emphasized.
I have learned many life lessons from the students here, they help me keep my own personal tragedies in perspective. My biggest lesson: sometimes asana is the very last thing yoga is.