Finding your true self

Photo by Chaitanya Tvs

By Anne Platt

I noticed “Mark” the moment he walked into my class. Heavy beard, baseball cap pulled down over his eyes, silent, wary, and very much disconnected from his fellow soldiers. He didn’t want to be there, and we both knew it. He set his yoga mat in the farthest corner of the room and went through the motions for 60 minutes without ever opening his eyes. As soon as we’d finished the final savasana (rest pose), Mark was gone.

There are a lot of Marks in the U.S. Veterans Administration (VA)—and in the world, for that matter. People who for one reason or another have lost sight of their true essence and exist on the brink of complete despair. Severe posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) does that, but it doesn’t change the fact that each one of them is a whole person—just like everyone else.

As a yoga therapist, I consider nothing more important than helping those who struggle find the path to their true and perfect selves. Yoga therapy is a process of uncovering that already-existing perfection. It can be a slow and often frustrating process, but it does happen.

Mark came back the following Wednesday. (I was surprised to see him, in all honesty, but very grateful.) And this time, his mat was a bit closer to the front of the room. Over the next few weeks—as we practiced breath awareness, pranayama (focused breathing exercises), guided imagery and meditation, and asana (physical yoga postures)—I began to see a change. Mark started to engage with his classmates and help the new guys set up their mats. He even told me that yoga was changing his life.

And then one brisk winter day, a clean-shaven, bright-eyed man walked into class. I couldn’t resist asking, “What’s your name, soldier?” He just smiled.

Anne Platt, C-IAYT, co-created the yoga program for the Greater Los Angeles Veterans Administration, where she employs therapeutic yoga techniques to help vets reduce and manage symptoms of PTSD and other combat-related injuries. Read her previous blog post for here.

For more information on the therapeutic benefits of yoga for PTSD and other high-stress issues, check out this video, which features IAYT-certified yoga therapists Jeffrey Sargent and Robin Carnes. Research into the specific effects of yoga therapy on PTSD is in the early stages, but this qualitative study discusses some of the considerations involved.