Yoga is not just about touching your toes and standing on your head.
This 6,000-year-old practice is also a way to become more comfortable and confident in your body, and to learn techniques that can help calm an overactive nervous system so you can make better life choices. It also has the added benefit of potentially relieving back pain and insomnia and reducing sports-related injuries.
And for veterans and the military, yoga can mean the difference between life and death.
“With my students, I know they used breathing techniques and didn’t choose suicide,” said Kelly Wulf, Executive Director of Comeback Yoga. “If you think life is too heavy and you can’t handle it anymore, doing some of these techniques for a few minutes can help bring rational thoughts to bear so you can’t make a decision you can’t take back. .”
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Comeback Yoga was founded in 2014 to provide free, accessible, trauma-informed science-based classes to the military community. The Denver-based nonprofit now offers online and in-person classes in Colorado, Utah and Hawaii, including three in Fort Carson. While two of these classes are closed to the public, one is accessible to anyone with access to the base. You can find online courses at comebackyoga.org.
Live online classes are also offered weekly: 8:00 a.m. daily and 6:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Go online for comebackyoga.org/online– yoga practice or search for Comeback Yoga online at youtube.com. Hundreds of archived classes are also available, including yin yoga classes, classes designed for people with traumatic brain injuries, chair yoga, meditation, and classes in Spanish.
“They’re military-friendly, but anyone can attend,” Wulf said. “We’ve found that they’re really good for people who may be suffering from post-traumatic stress or other trauma, who may be isolating themselves or not feeling comfortable practicing in a group.”
Niche classes are different from traditional classes taught in a yoga studio. The teachers, trained in trauma-informed yoga and military culture, stay on their mats instead of walking around the room. They teach alongside students, providing visual and vocal cues to help practitioners move their bodies into poses. There is no handy help and the room is set up so that there are no students standing behind each other. Some teachers don’t use music and those who do don’t play music with lyrics.
“A lot of sounds can be triggered,” Wulf said. “We have no idea what song a unit might have played before going on a mission, so why risk it? There are no nature sounds, because if someone’s trauma s happened on a beach, we don’t want to recreate it for him.
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Teachers refrain from using Sanskrit names for poses, which often happens in traditional classes, and teach only in English. Savasana, the relaxation pose that ends most yoga classes, is called yoga rest.
“We want to make everyone as comfortable as possible,” Wulf said. “We find that much of the military community is religious, and we don’t want to interfere with anyone’s religious beliefs by contributing spiritual ideas.”
Before John Evans, a former US Army combat medic, took his first class in 2017, he assumed yoga wasn’t for him and was primarily a workout for women. But he was willing to do anything to help him deal with post-traumatic stress, alcohol and drug addiction and suicidal thoughts he was experiencing as a civilian after being deployed twice to Iraq.
It only took one lesson for him to change his mind. He then became a yoga teacher and taught for Comeback Yoga for about eight months. He is now a veteran ambassador for the nonprofit.
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“There is more to the practice than meets the eye. To do it, and to do it consistently, is not for the faint of heart,” Evans said. “That’s not what our culture intended. It has become a bit of a personal refuge. Being dissociated from my body and living in my mind is an opportunity to reconnect with my body and myself. It’s so healing.
Course requests are up nearly 30% from 2019. In 2020, the pandemic put a stop to many in-person offerings, but the nonprofit is picking up steam. But because the organization is funded by individuals and not by federal grants, funding has dropped by 25%, in part due, according to Wulf, to COVID-19 and the loss of jobs and wages that went with it. resulted and a reduced ability of the public to donate.
“We don’t have an office. We don’t pay rent. We don’t have a workshop. We go to spaces where the military are. We need money to pay teachers and buy mats, and we are short of money,” Wulf said. “We’ve been around for a while, and everyone assumes we’re reliable and will continue to get there one way or another, but we need the community to help us get there. We don’t we can’t do it on our own.