Yoga for Vets Organization Aims to Relieve Trauma, PTSD

When Yoga For Vets founder and ex-Marine Corps captain Anu Bhagwati left the military in 2004, she didn’t know where to turn.  Suffering from multiple injuries, as well as depression and PTSD, she began a yoga teacher training course to try to regain the mental and emotional balance and physical well-being she had lost.

But Bhagwati discovered that yoga presented a challenge she didn’t know if she could meet: unlearning the rigid military way of life, which was preventing her from “healing.”

“Being forced to let go of the Marine way of doing things was a humbling experience,” she wrote in an article for the Huffington Post, “and one that I fought every step of the way. Before yoga, sitting still or enjoying a quiet moment was my idea of torture. Physical movement was my way of processing stress. As a Marine, if I saw a mountain, I had to run to the top. Objects were meant to be lifted, and open space was meant to be conquered, and fast.”

Slowly, Bhagwati overcame her physical and emotional limitations.  She credits her regular yoga practice with helping to treat her depression and PTSD without drugs.

After becoming certified as a yoga instructor, she decided she wanted to reconnect with the military community and give something back to them.  So, in 2008, Bhagwati started Yoga For Vets NYC, a free yoga program for veterans in the New York area.  Each class is small and tailored for participants recovering from injuries or trauma.  Even seriously disabled veterans can participate.

Bhagwati says she downplays competition and physically demanding yoga poses, focusing more on yoga for emotional well-being: helping vets to relax, breathe deeply and break out of the military mindset.

“I think that anyone who has been through the military is an expert at sucking up pain and functioning well under extreme stress,” Bagwhati said. “We try to make the class a place where you don’t have to fight anymore. I think it’s more challenging for most of us to calm down and let things go.”

Most of Yoga for Vets’ students are veterans of the Iraq and Afganistan wars, but there are Vietnam vets who participate and even a regular who served in WWII.  Spouses and family members are also eligible to participate in the free classes.

Morgan Cooley, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan and a regular participant in Yoga for Vets classes, says, “Yoga for Vets changed my life. I found the class just after returning home from Afghanistan. It showed me that medication wasn’t the only form of therapy out there. Since I started yoga, my anxiety and stress levels went down and I felt a sense of peace I had never known.”


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