Free yoga, mindfulness lessons to help vets, public wind down this Memorial Day weekend

Posted: May 24, 2014 at 6:58 pm


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Notice what youre hearing. Take in your location, from the symbols to the souls behind these monuments, Ben King, yoga teacher and Iraq war veteran, told a semi-circle of 10 men and women with their eyes closed, standing on the plaza of the huge granite Womens Memorial just outside Arlingtons gate on Friday morning. This is real! Its happening right now! Youre standing in a posture at Arlington thinking of servicemembers who died in Iraq and Afghanistan! You are saluting them with your hearts, your minds and your actions.

Like all yoga classes, the one King led Friday morning was meant to bring focus and healing to participants. His ultimate target, however, is a much bigger, more complex one: American veterans.

King came home to Richmond in 2007 with a Purple Heart and, he says, a wrecked body and mind. After meditation and yoga finally brought him sleep and the ability to move forward in a sustainable way, the 32-year-old Army reservist founded Armor Down, a group aimed at promoting access to alternative healing programs for veterans coming home from the longest stretch of war in U.S. history.

On Friday and Saturday, Armor Down led more than a dozen groups to create Mindful Memorial Day, a series of classes and talks and an art installation meant to boost veterans programs from meditation and yoga to art and music therapy. Most veterans dont now have access to such programs, which are spreading fast in the culture generally. They are meant to increase mindfulness, a broad term for training ones mind to observe at some distance and accept thoughts, rather than ignore or be overwhelmed by them.

Although the group in attendance was small several veterans, veterans advocates and practitioners of alternative medicine the conversation around veteran mental and emotional health is expanding.

In 2008 then-Chief of Staff of the United States Army Gen. George W. Casey created and promoted a new program meant to increase emotional, social and spiritual resiliency. The program trains leaders in techniques like deliberate breathing and positive thinking and urges them to share those tools with soldiers.

Symbolic nods to the mindfulness culture are also spreading, with many bases creating small meditation gardens, for example.

But the growing popularity of practices like yoga and meditation in the general culture is pushing some to demand much more from the military. They want more options for the one-third of veterans who say their mental and emotional health is worse than when they left.

Bills pending in the U.S. House and Senate aim to expand research funding for alternative and holistic treatment for soldiers and veterans, and to take such programs that do exist to rural and poor areas. Among their patrons is Tara Brach, one of the countrys best-known meditation teachers, who runs packed weekly classes on Wednesdays in Bethesda.

Kristina Kaufmann, executive director of Code of Support, which connects veterans with services, was at the Womens Memorial this weekend. She said a preventative program focused on building resiliency isnt the same as engaging the crisis faced by many veterans.

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Free yoga, mindfulness lessons to help vets, public wind down this Memorial Day weekend

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May 24th, 2014 at 6:58 pm

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