Releasing Issues from the Tissues: Adaptive Yoga Helps Troops Heal

DoDLive blog post by Petty Officer 2nd Class Kayla Finley, Defense Media Activity
Adapted from a story by Rebecca A. Perron, Naval Medical Center Portsmouth Public Affairs

Physical fitness has always played a major role in my life which worked to my benefit when I decided to join the Navy. However, my back started bothering me about two years into my Navy career despite my regular fitness routine.

I decided to visit a chiropractor to find some relief after one of my good friends referred me to the clinic she worked at.  The visit was interesting in that I knew there might have been something wrong, but it turned out that I completely under-estimated the severe state of my spine.

Photo :Ann Richardson, yoga instructor for the Exalted Warrior Adaptive Yoga program at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, sits sideways to demonstrate the proper posture during the weekly yoga session at the center. U.S. Navy photo by Rebecca A. Perron

Ann Richardson, yoga instructor for the Exalted Warrior Adaptive Yoga program at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, sits sideways to demonstrate the proper posture during the weekly yoga session at the center. U.S. Navy photo by Rebecca A. Perron

After a just a few minutes with the doctor, he stopped the exam and told me he didn’t want to do anything until he had seen my x-rays.  Thinking that my visit would be the normal crack-the-back-a-few-times-and-go-home, I was more than curious to find out what the problem could be.

As it turned out, I had scoliosis and other spine deformities.  This was news to me. Big news. Not to mention that I had other joint damage as a result of my condition going untreated; my hips had sustained damage and one leg appeared longer than the other (no wonder photos of me always seemed crooked).

After the diagnosis, I decided to seek advice from other doctors to learn about my condition and determine how I should care for my back over the long term (and avoid having a rod surgically implanted to straighten my spine).  Almost every doctor I saw was surprised that I could be as physically active as I was, if at all.  With their guidance, I learned new ways to alter my workouts to avoid further injury to my spine and joints and to make my back stronger.

To help with my posture and strength, my physical therapist suggested that I start incorporating yoga and Pilates into my routine. I was familiar with Pilates from my pre-Navy days, but had never tried yoga. Since implementing yoga, my pain has decreased and I’ve noticed marked improvement in my posture.

As I continue to learn more about the practice of yoga, I’m amazed to learn about the vast health benefits many people have experienced from it, including wounded warriors and veterans struggling with Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome.

Marines assigned to the Wounded Warrior Battalion-East Portsmouth detachment on Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, Va., know exactly what I’m talking about. They have the opportunity to participate in the Exalted Warrior Adaptive Yoga program sponsored by the Exalted Warrior Program and taught by Ann Richardson, a certified yoga instructor and owner of Studio Bamboo in nearby Virginia Beach, Va.

The practice of adaptive yoga is geared more for people with physical limitations or injuries. The program at NMCP is in its third year and gives Marines recuperating from PTSD an option for healing through comprehensive, complementary and alternative therapy.

Since the program’s inception, Ann Richardson has come to NMCP to lead the Marines in a weekly class, offering them an opportunity to relax and reconnect with themselves. For many, it is learning to connect to their changed bodies.

“I had worked before with friends who had been injured and used yoga to help them get back into their bodies after the injury,” Richardson said. “To help keep them focused on what they are trying to do, you have to adapt the yoga to them. That’s why it’s called adaptive yoga.”

The Marines’ medical care at NMCP often includes traditional physical therapy to help them heal and become stronger. The yoga class supports the care they are already receiving.

“Many of them have orthopedic issues – injuries or amputations – and balancing is a big deal,” Richardson said. “I have to be quick to tell them a modification so they can participate in every aspect of the session, but a lot of times they figure out a modification for themselves.”

Sgt. Allan Olson, who has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and is being evaluated for a TBI, has attended only a few sessions, but has already figured out how adaptive yoga can work for him.

“I’ve had anxiety, nightmares and don’t sleep well, so the nap time at the end is my favorite part,” Olson joked. “Actually, I want to get into meditation and yoga for the relaxation, so I get a good workout on my own for the hour before and then stretch and relax for the next hour. It’s some of the best stretching and helps slow things down. It’s great because it slows down my mind and my body and gives me a break.”

Melissa Marshall, the detachment’s deputy officer in charge, has seen for herself the effects the program has had on her Marines.

“I think it’s a great program,” Marshall said. “The Marines are generally reluctant to participate at first, but that soon changes when they see it doesn’t fit their preconceived ideas of what yoga is. I have seen some really fabulous results for some of the past participants. The relaxation techniques are very beneficial to the overall morale of the guys here.”

 If you’re currently struggling with PTSD or physical injuries, I strongly suggest you look into yoga as a means to find relief. I’ve been amazed at the difference I’ve noticed in my life and the Marines stories are a testament to the healing that yoga is capable of.

If you’re a wounded warrior or veteran who would like to find an adaptive yoga program near you, visit http://www.exaltedwarrior.com/ to find locations.

 

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