Brian Flood and his wife Donna have been attending the weekly Tuesday morning yoga sessions at American Legion Post 94 in Babylon, N.Y. While Donna has been practicing yoga for many years, Brian never went with her to classes. It wasn’t until he learned that a new yoga class would be at held at his American Legion post that the 81-year-old Army veteran tried it and brought his wife. Recently, Donna woke up at 5 a.m. and decided to wake up for the day because she couldn’t fall back to sleep. Brian told her to lie back down and practice the yoga breathing that they learned in class. She did and fell back to sleep.
“That is a testament to the work that we are doing and how one encourages the other,” said Deb Jeannette, board president of Veterans Yoga Project, who teaches the weekly yoga class at Post 94. “Yoga has helped demonstrate that we can regulate the body and the breath, help reduce stress and anxiety, and chronic pain. That to me is what we are doing for many of our veterans.”
The weekly yoga classes through the Veterans Yoga Project have been held at Post 94 since January. Veterans Yoga Project is a nonprofit that offers free in-person and virtual yoga classes nationwide for veterans, military families and communities to support recovery and resilience. “Our mission is to bring yoga to veterans and their family, free of charge. They deserve to get whatever assistance they might need on their journey to wellness,” said Jeannette, who has been teaching yoga for Veterans Yoga Project since 2015, to serve veterans, including her son, and help them on their path to healing and wellness. Jeannette discovered and incorporated yoga to help her handle stress and anxiety when her son deployed with the U.S Marines as a helicopter pilot multiple times, including to Afghanistan. “My why is about being to help others with my love and compassion to serve. It’s very real for me.”
Yoga teachers trained through the Veterans Project are trained from a place of trauma informed training, Jeannette said. “So the training that our yoga teachers go through gives them more tools and makes them more cognizant specific to a military culture. We not only talk about PTSD and what that is and its effects on the body and the brain, but we help our teachers know how people dealing with PTSD may be handling it.”
The opportunity to bring yoga to the Babylon veteran community was initiated by former Babylon Village trustee Robyn Silvestri and Army veteran and local councilman DuWayne Gregory who approached Jeannette. They then met at Post 94 with Commander Michael Hernandez to see if it could work. “It was everyone getting together to want to make this happen,” Jeannette said. “We have been really fortunate with Post 94. They opened their doors and embraced us and the program this year has really taken root.”
Hernandez, a Marine veteran, does yoga to help with post-traumatic stress. “If you can spend an hour to get your mind and your body in balance, it’s a positive thing,” he told Newsday.com.
Since January, the class has grown from six participants to between 15 and 20 weekly. Chair and mat yoga are offered for beginners to all levels of yoga with modifications based on individual needs.
John Reynolds, an Army veteran and 32-year member of the Legion, said at 76 years old he’s “suffering from high blood pressure, excessive weight and loss of mobility. With the yoga class I find that I’m able to improve on my mobility and I’m also sleeping better.” He added that the yoga class provides not only mind-body exercise “but also the camaraderie of getting together with other veterans.”
Jeannette is interested in working with other American Legion posts to offer free Veterans Yoga Project mindful resilience yoga classes either in person at a post or online. Learn more about the online classes here. Veterans Yoga Project has over 300 trained teachers throughout the United States, but there’s also the online yoga class resources available where veterans and their families can participate immediately – classes on movement, breathing, meditation and sleeping (yoga nidra). Jeannette said the nidra class has the highest participation and views.
“From chair yoga to dynamic flows, breathwork to relaxation, Veterans Yoga Project online streaming classes have presented a variety of free live classes to veterans, caregivers, active duty, our families and communities 24/7,” she said.
The Veterans Yoga Project is hosting a Veterans Gratitude & Warriors Salute Nov. 4-11 through live and online classes. Each day will honor a branch of the military service by having the class taught by a yoga teacher who is a veteran. The Veterans Yoga Project trains veterans to become yoga teachers through a 200-hour yoga training program. They recently graduated a class of 24 veterans who will go back into their community to teach veteran yoga; the first class had 16.
In her years working with veterans, Jeannette has seen the healing power of yoga. She has been teaching yoga at the Northport VA Medical Center in New York since working with the Veteran Yoga Project. She teaches yoga for the VA’s substance abuse program; a mandatory class for the patients during their 28-day stay. While in the lunchroom at the VA, a veteran approached her and said, “You may not remember me, but I remember you. You saved my life. The breathing and meditation saved me.” Jeannette replied, “No, you saved your life. I just gave you some tools that helped you on your journey.” The veteran was in her yoga class as part of the substance abuse program. He went back to school on the GI Bill and now works at the Northport VA. “This is one of the moments that really, really makes a difference,” Jeannette said. “Many teachers have shared how veterans say yoga has saved and changed their life.”
National data collected by the Veterans Yoga Project in 2019 showed that of about 1,900 veteran participants, 76% reported a reduction in pain through yoga and 87% reported a reduction in stress.
“This is just by doing breathing and mindful movement. When we give people the tools to learn to self-regulate their mind and their body with their breath, linking the mind-body connection, this is where the power happens. This is the transformation. I always say your homework is to go home now and practice breathing. This is where it makes all the difference.
“The history of yoga is vast; it’s not some new age thing,” Jeannette added. “For many veterans dealing with post-traumatic stress they’re in their head day and night, night and day. The same thing repeats over and over. Just getting a veteran to stand with both feet on the ground, feel the sensation, to notice where in your physical body right now are you feeling any tightness, any tension. In that moment you’re not necessarily in your head with that dialogue. These are the tools that we try to bring them in to this pure physical sensation of breathing, noticing the breath, put the hand on your heart, feel the warmth of your hand touching your body. All these types of practices and reminders are what bring them in to the present moment.”
To bring Veterans Project Yoga to your post in person or virtually, American Legion post leadership can email Jeannette at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Our staff, teachers and volunteers are passionate and hardworking, dedicated to getting yoga and mind-body tools to the people who need it most. By providing support to all veterans, whether they are currently struggling with severe symptoms or focused on increasing resilience and giving back to others.”