Story and pictures originally published in Taos News
Since Connected Warriors was created in August 2010 in South Florida, the nonprofit organization has been offering free yoga classes to veterans to help them recover from trauma and live fuller, happier and more productive lives.
Judy Weaver, Connected Warriors founder and director of education, offered a free workshop on Thursday, November 20th at Aurafitness. The four-and-a-half hour session was designed to teach Yoga Alliance certified teachers how to best work with veterans who may be suffering from PTSD or simply want to reap the many benefits of yoga.
“Yoga postures, as well as breathing and relaxation exercises, help people learn how to handle stressful situations in a relaxed manner,” said Weaver. “Yoga quiets the mind and fosters positive thoughts and self-acceptance.”
Once the yoga instructors take the workshop, they are encouraged to teach free classes to veterans and their families.
“Right now we are hoping to create awareness about our organization and establish a core group of yoga teachers and veterans in Taos,” said Weaver.
Aura Garver offered her studio, Aurafitness, free of charge for the session.
“I am always interested in hosting events that contribute to our overall wellbeing and the health and happiness of our community,” said Garver. “This is an opportunity to honor our veterans and support them with the deeply nurturing practice of yoga in an environment that is safe, healing and inspiring.”
Garver just finished training a group of new yoga instructors who received their teaching certificates on November 8th.
“I encouraged all of them to attend the Connected Warriors training as an important enhancement of their skills and knowledge as teachers,” she said.
Living in the now
Many Connected Warriors students have had life transforming experiences, Weaver said, and that has inspired her to offer the training nationwide.
“Soldiers are taught to be present in times of chaos and war, but not how to be present in times of peace, so they often have problems adjusting back to civilian life,” she said. “Yoga training gives them the tools to live ‘in the now.’”
Weaver considers that trauma isn’t necessarily the result of personal injuries or stress—it can also be passed down from parent to child in the body’s cells.
“It is a generational condition as much as a psychological one,” she said. “That’s why cognitive therapy isn’t always effective. In fact, talking about traumatic experiences may make the person feel even worse. On the other hand, a mind-body discipline like yoga can be more helpful because it reconnects the mind and the body, which have been separated due to trauma. Once the connection is reestablished, people can be fully present in the moment.”
Classes are designed for military veterans, active service members and their families. They are all free. Participants also receive a yoga mat and a t-shirt.
“Our classes allow veterans to establish a close-knit community when they can meet others who have had similar experiences and enjoy a special sense of camaraderie,” said Odette Artime, a Connected Warriors board member who is also part of their fundraising committee.
Artime can attest to the crucial role that such closeness plays in recovery. Her father, Manuel Artime, who was part of the assault brigade of Cuban exiles in the Bay of Pigs invasion, was captured and spent nineteen months in a Cuban prison.
“Once they came back to Miami, he and other soldiers often met to have dinner and spend time together,” she said. “They were like family, always helping each other, and that contributed to their recovery. It isn’t easy for many veterans to get that sense of community, though here in Taos Not Forgotten Outreach is doing a great job at it.”
The yoga teachers
Twenty one yoga instructors participated in the workshop.
Among them was Carrie Leven, who has been teaching veterans free weekly yoga classes at the Questa Health Center for several years.
“I am so happy that they will also be available in Taos, where there is a large veteran population,” she said.
“Yoga is a wonderful tool that can help veterans and their families immensely,” said Bob Foeppel, a US Navy veteran that has also studied with Leven. “I know it first hand, and I am planning to offer classes soon.”
“The practice of yoga helps veterans sleep better, concentrate and manage anger and depression,” said Kirsten Wing, a counselor who currently works at the VA Hospital. “It has been proven to be a significant part of their recovery.”
“The training that they received today will allow yoga teachers to be sensitive to the special dynamics of individuals who have been at war,” said Don Peters II, Not Forgotten Outreach executive director, who also participated in the training. “They learned how veterans react to different situations and can now help them even more.”
“A big part of yoga is seva, or selfless service,” said Artime. “Carrie Leven has been doing it for a long time, but now we all need to pitch in and support her efforts. Use two of the most powerful words that exist—‘I will’—and commit to helping our veterans.”
To find out more about Connected Warriors, visit its website http://connectedwarriors.org
Call Judy Weaver at 954-278-3764 or email firstname.lastname@example.org