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New yoga program helps veterans cope with PTSD

by Tara Giles
Sports reporter - Coos County Democrat and Berlin Reporter

Abby Pisegna and Jennifer Green are pictured here at the Root to Bloom Yoga studio in Littleton. The two are offering a free six week yoga course for women veterans, active military or any woman who is a trauma survivor. (Photo by Tara Giles) (click for larger version)
May 22, 2019
LITTLETON — A new tool to help ease post traumatic stress disorder for veterans has taken hold, and those who practice it are making huge strides. Typically, the practice of yoga is stereotyped as something modern day 'hippies' practice; however, the science behind it is extraordinary as many veterans are finding out.

While the yoga that is geared towards veterans is a bit different, the same practice can be used for anyone who has experienced trauma or has issues with anxiety or depression. Yoga can also work wonders for athletes as well and can offer anyone in the general public a benefit, not yet discovered until you try it.

The Veterans Yoga Project has found it's way to the North Country and is spearheaded by locals Jennifer Green, a veteran, and Abby Pisegna, a Yoga instructor who is certified in Veteran specific yoga.

The two will be offering a free women's class for veterans, those who are still active in the military or any other woman who has suffered trauma for a six week session beginning Monday June 3 through July 8. The class will take place at Root to Bloom Yoga located in the old tannery in Littleton. To sign up for the class, visit the Root to Bloom Web site.

Green is a Veteran of USAF service in the Gulf War and spent time overseas on humanitarian assignment. During 911 at ground zero she served as a medic and trauma nurse. She began practicing yoga over a year ago and has since found relief from many health issues. This led to her formal training and certification as a teacher for VYP. She will complete YTA 200 hour certification in July and in fall of 2019 will bring to the North Country trauma specific focused yoga . Her vision would be to hold sessions specific to military, first responders, rape and domestic violence survivors and for foster children at no cost.

Pisegna is the ambassador for the northern region for VYP and owner of Root to Bloom in Littleton. She has been a yoga practitioner for ten years and a 500 hour YTA teacher, her studio offers zero stress instruction.

US service members both actively serving or veterans make up less than 1 percent of the population in the United States. These men and women bear the burden of both visible and invisible scars, with rates of PTS(D) among service members and veterans increasing with estimates as high as 20 percent for those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and more than one million Vietnam Era veterans continuing to struggle with the symptoms which often plague trauma survivors.

Green said, "Consider that currently in the United States we are failing to assist these men and women and are losing as many as 22 men or women a day to suicide. We now understand that the neurobiology of the brain changes with traumatic exposure, and that mindful practice and learned resilience actually change the chemical composition of the brain, calming it down-we can actually 'rewire' the neuro-pathways."

Pisegna added, "We hold the space necessary to release the traumatic imprints that negatively influence our lives and create new habits that are more aligned with our values and goals."

Green explained that many veterans struggle to find comfort and recovery within the current VA and DOD treatment programs.

She said, "Unfortunately even evidence based psycho-therapies do not work for most veteran and service members, and the common practice is to experiment with a cocktail of pharmaceutical medications to mitigate symptoms but fail to address the root of the issue leaving a veteran bereft and often without the necessary support to heal."

Green stresses that yoga alone may not be a cure all but it's benefits have reduced the use of medication dramatically among those who partake. Yoga does not cure PTS(D). However veterans with PTS(D) have found that yoga therapy helps them sleep better, concentrate and think more clearly, manage anger and aggression more easily and find comfort in their own skin. Green said, "Mindfully practiced yoga therapy provides patients with symptom relief as well as self regulation skills needed to engage in trauma processing therapies. Though it may not cure PTS(D) veterans and active duty members from all branches and eras of service find these practices to be a significant part of healing."

The science behind the practice is that mindful resilience with the Veterans Yoga Project teaches five areas to focus on that develop the skills that will help identify and cope with the unique challenges that arise after deployment of traumatic events that if left unaddressed may linger long after leaving the military or experience. With support and knowledge gained through these classes the individual will work to develop coping skills that will help to ease the many symptoms of PTS(D).

The program entails breathe techniques that build a bridge between body and mind, calming the nervous system and increasing vitality.

"Breath regulation is the quickest grounding and anxiety management technique. This cultivates greater mental control over emotions and our reactions to them." explained Green.

"Breath directed movement is a very powerful way to bring awareness to transform traumatic residues." she added.

A form of yoga, called Yoga Nidra or conscious sleep is about conscious relaxation, mindful awareness and gentle breath techniques. "Many trauma survivors have disrupted sleep cycles and this further exacerbates symptoms. Properly performed, Yoga Nidra calms the mind and achieves what the brain feels as four hours of sleep or deep rest.

Green explained that gratitude is a simple practice which when acknowledged and practice everyday allows your focus to shift and leads to building and broadening inner resources that lead to mindful resilience.

"This practice is inclusive to anybody who struggles with mental health and traumatic stress. Children exposed to domestic violence and trauma have brain mapping (diagnostic tool to scan active areas of the brain) which is almost identical to combat veterans," she said. "This is especially startling but very important to acknowledge. The north country has a light to shine in the darkness and therapeutic yoga for trauma may be that light and hope."

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