ENCINITAS — Iyengar Yoga Center of North County is reaching out to San Diego’s 230,000 veterans as well as active-duty military personnel and their families to offer a 75 percent discount on yoga classes. Simply put, this translates to $5 for adult classes and $2.50 for children and teen classes.“Few civilians understand the stresses endured by our military, veterans and their families,” Carolyn Belko, center director, said. “Yoga, a proven method of stress relief and relaxation, can help ease their burden during a difficult time.”
Belko is not alone in recognizing the benefits of yoga in treating post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, in warriors and secondary PTSD often experienced by their families.
Two years ago, a small study funded by the U.S. Defense Department, and led by Harvard Medical School, found that veterans diagnosed with PTSD showed improvement in their symptoms after 10 weeks of yoga classes.
Journalist Rachel Zimmerman reported on the findings in an article titled, “Harvard, Brigham Study: Yoga Eases Veterans PTSD Symptoms” published in Common Health: Reform and Reality which is produced by the Boston affiliate of National Public Radio.
“PTSD is a disorder involving dysregulation of the stress response system, and one of the most powerful effects of yoga is to work on cognitive and physiological stress,” said Sat Bir S. Khalsa, Ph.D., an assistant professor of medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, and the principal investigator of the yoga study.
“What we believe is happening, is that through the control of attention on a target — the breath, the postures, the body — that kind of awareness generates changes in the brain, in the limbic system, and these changes in thinking focus more in the moment, less in the past, and it quiets down the anxiety-provoking chatter going on in the head. People become less reactive and the hormone-related stress cycle starts to calm down.”
Rashaad Thomas is a young Air Force veteran, and a student in the yoga teacher training program at Scottsdale Community College where Belko teaches throughout the year. After completing his two-year commitment in the military, he found himself unable to get a job and homeless. Thomas enrolled in community college to take advantage of the GI Bill and seek direction in life.
“I was just looking for something simple and wanted something new,” he said. “I have always been athletic and thought I’d try yoga.”
Today, Thomas is in the third year of a five-year program to become a Iyengar yoga instructor.
“I work in the Veteran Affairs office on campus and see veterans who have been discharged and who are on disability or retired,” he said. “One gentleman with PTSD said yoga really helped him settle down and not feel so stressed. He jumped out of helicopters in the Army and said yoga challenged him to the point that, after the class, he felt more balanced.”
Thomas added that yoga has taught him that life’s not so much about what’s going on around him as what’s going on inside of him.
“I was diagnosed with anxiety disorder and hypertension in the military,” he said. “When I got out, everything was moving fast. When I got into yoga, life slowed down. I took time to live in each moment, which helped with problem solving.
“I’m not perfect, but I can see progress. That’s what keeps me coming back: progress in body, mind and spirit. I’ve become more in tune with myself, and those around me, and am more of a compassionate person.”
Belko also offers yoga discounts to the \t “_blank” Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice and residents of Encinitas women’s shelters.
“What inspired me was when I saw Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee and the two other women who won the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize with her that had a sit-in and stopped the civil war in their country,” Belko said. “I read her book and she cited the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice.”
For more information about the benefits of yoga for veterans, visit YogaforVets.com.
Iyengar Yoga North County is located at 2210 Encinitas Blvd., Encinitas. For more information, call (760) 632-0040 or visit iyengaryoganorthcounty.com.