Thursday, May 30, 2013

Working With Vets

I am honored that I get to work with an amazing teacher, Joanne Varni. She is dedicated, professional, compassionate and fearless. I'm sharing her recent blog post that describes her experience working with veterans, how people view pain and what it's like to live without the ego. You can learn more about Joanne from her website:

"Each week, I look forward to Fridays, when I get to spend a good portion of my day at the VA in Palo
Alto, teaching yoga.  I teach at the in-patient part of the hospital to mostly men and, sometimes, a few women veterans who have substance abuse issues as well as other emotional and mental health challenges.  I get a range of people of all ages, genders, and physical abilities.  Sometimes the classes are quiet and the attendees simply listen to my instruction and sometimes there is playful banter between the vets in the class and between them and me as well (and maybe some colorful language from time to time).

There are many reasons why I am grateful to be teaching to this audience.  For starters, the vets who are in this part of the hospital go there voluntarily, meaning that they know they are not well, so they go to the hospital and check themselves in.  Once there, they stay until they are told it's time to leave (which can be five weeks or more).  For some, staying is difficult.  For others, the leaving is difficult, because they thrive on the structure that is offered to them in this setting.

A few weeks ago, I was telling the group, as I do every week, that I would rather they not be in pain during class (we all suffer enough), and if something didn't feel right to please tell me so that I could give them an alternative posture.  As I was suggesting this at the beginning of a session, one of the vets said,

"pain is weakness leaving the body."

I was kind of speechless (yes, unusual for me) and humbled because I came face to face with their vulnerability. And I realized, it takes a lot for these men to attend a class taught by a woman doing a modality that isn't considered tough (at least when you compare it the boot camp they had to go through when they enlisted), and that it must take an enormous amount of courage to show up at all.  All of them are in some sort of physical, emotional, or mental pain.  There are those who can barely sit still and those who can barely move.  The vets who think yoga is for the weak rib some of the guys, but they come anyway. Why do they come?

Many of them are simply tired of being sick and tired and really just want to feel better.  So they are willing to try anything.  

Knowing this, my intention every week is to offer them something, anything, to make them feel better - even if just for a moment.  I do my best to let them know that I see them and that they matter.  The vets don't have to attend, but the ones who do usually come back.  And sometimes vets come and go throughout the class.

It doesn't matter to me if they stay for a few minutes or the entire time.  I am there to serve them.  

I get so much out of this experience, and feel fortunate that I get to start my weekend this way… I am honored that I get to work with them and maybe give them a sense of peace if only for one breath."