Are yoga and other mind-body centering practices now offered by VA worth trying?
On a recent trip to represent a veteran at a Decision Review Officer hearing regarding his VA disability appeal, one of the attorneys at our office came upon a remarkable story in Spirit, the official magazine of Southwest Airlines. In "Fighting Chance," the writer Hannah Wallace details how VA Medical Centers are offering alternative medicinal practices such as yoga and meditation.
The article, which can be read here, is about "VA hospitals and military bases across the U.S. [that] have begun adopting [mind-body centering practices] for ailing soldiers." In "Fighting Chance," Ms. Wallace asks, "How do no-nonsense combat veterans react to shaking and dancing?"
Some veterans ease their PTSD symptoms by fishing, attending veterans' discussion groups, cycling or even - in the recently reported case of an inspirational limbless veteran - skydiving. Yoga and other mind-body centering exercises are now helping veterans as well.
James S. Gordon, founder and director of the Washington, D.C., Center for Mind-Body Medicine, which teaches yoga and meditation "to veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who are suffering from anxiety, depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder," told Ms. Wallace "This is good for every human. There are no contra-indications."
Feeling like you're "in your body for the first time" can let out a huge amount of tension and offer tons of sincerely positive perspective. Mind-body centering practice is not easy, but it can be rewarding if you stick with it.
In "Fighting Chance," Gordon says, "There are always people who walk out of the room [but] the way to learn it is to do it again and again."
Gordon's affable antics during mind-body centering exercises "spark laughter" as well as focus - both of which can lead to healing - and he engages in the breathing, meditating and physical exercises "right along with" the veterans in class.
A retired sergeant first class who attends a regular discussion and mind-body exercise group in New Orleans shares his war experience in “Fighting Chance,” as well as how sessions with his group (swapping stories and learning centering skills such as soft-belly breathing ) help him "relax" rather than "get more pissed off." According to the veteran, "meditation helps me control outbursts. It gives me a whole lot more control."
Some veterans may be put off at first by utilizing mind-body practices to combat service-connected disabilities such as PTSD, and when I recently asked a mental-health official at one VA hospital whether they offer mind-body centering practices such as yoga to veterans as treatment for PTSD, even she replied curtly, "We offer PTSD treatment, not yoga." But it's worth a shot, and when I called the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System in New Orleans, they were much more helpful and friendly, and shared the following list of VA Medical Centers currently offering mind-body centering courses:
New Mexico VA Healthcare System (Albuquerque)
VA Puget Sound Health Care System (Seattle)
VA Connecticut Healthcare System (Newington & West Haven)
VA Boston Healthcare System
Cincinnati VA Medical Center
Overton Brooks VA Medical Center (Shreveport, La.)
Wm. Jennings Bryan Dorn VA Medical Center (Columbia, S.C.)
Southern Arizona VA Health Care System (Tucson, Ariz.)
William S Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital (Madison, Wis.)
Washington DC VA Medical Center
VA San Diego Healthcare System
Perry Point VA Medical Center
Salisbury VA Medical Center
Louis A Johnson VA Medical Center (Clarksburg, W.V.)
Central Arkansas Vet Healthcare System (Little Rock)
Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System (New Orleans)
Tomah VA Medical Center (Tomah, Wis.)
Salt Lake City VA Medical Center
Boise VA Medical Center
Memphis VA Medical Center
Northern Arizona VA Health Care System (Prescott)
Northampton VA Medical Center
El Paso VA Health Care System
Robley Rex VA Medical Center (Louisville)
Grand Junction VA Medical Center (Colo.)
St. Louis VA Medical Center
VA New Jersey Health Care System (East Orange, N.J.)
Austin VA Outpatient Clinic (Texas)
Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center (North Chicago)