Fighting a Different Battle: Yoga for Wounded Warriors

Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro is no small feat, but for Marine Staff Sgt. Mark Zambon, it was a particularly daunting task. A veteran of war, both of Zambon’s legs had been blown off in Afghanistan by a buried bomb.

Wearing prosthetics and accompanied by Tim Medvetz of the Heroes Project in Los Angeles, Zambon made it to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro in mid-2012, 18 months after his injury, according to a June 16 article in the Los Angeles Times. 

How did Zambon prepare? Four hours of yoga a week, according to Zambon, along with other training activities.

“Yoga has been one of the pillars of my recovery,” Zambon, 28, said to the Los Angeles Times. “Yoga is all about getting your mind and your body in a healthy state.”

Zambon is one of tens of thousands wounded and traumatized veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, who return home to face a different kind of battle: Many have suffered considerable physical and psychological trauma, and the most serious wounds of war are often the least visible. In addition to amputated limbs or chronic brain injury, a large number of returning warriors suffer from post traumatic stress disorders.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is turning to complementary therapies to address the physical and psychological needs of wounded veterans, including yoga, tai chi, transcendental meditation, and Reiki at its major medical centers and clinics around the country. Zambon is one of thousands of wounded veterans benefitting from the practice of yoga as part of his recovery.

While these techniques are not a cure-all, returning veterans are experiencing their benefit when used in conjunction with counseling, medication, and physical and occupational therapies.

An illustration showing the brain experiencing PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress DisorderFor war veterans with amputations or those struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety or depression, yoga has been shown to have a calming effect. The practice of yoga can also help individuals with amputations to regain flexibility and strength.

Navy Captain Robert Koffman, a physician and stress expert at the Walter Reed Medical Center, relates that military veterans feel an affinity with Eastern traditions. Yoga is “a challenge and has readily evident results,” he notes.

Yoga helps soldiers to find relief, and to believe in life again. It enables many to fulfill dreams that may have seemed impossible following their injuries.

The potential of yoga to help our service members is enormous. For some a headstand may represent their first pain free experience since their injury. For others, the relaxation and peace experienced during a practice may provide relief from PTSD, depression, anxiety, and traumatic brain injury.

Far from the battlefield now, these military heroes move into stillness at the end of their yoga class, chanting, “Let the light and life within me honor the light and life within you.” Their light and courage offer inspiration to us all.

Wounded veterans turn to yoga for strength and solace
by Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times, June 16, 2013

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