When I separated from the Air Force more than 16 years ago, “yoga and the military” was generally believed to be an oxymoron. I took my first class in 2004 in Baghdad from an Air Force Reserve Captain, who called it “Combat Yoga”. That certainly seemed like an oxymoron.
What I didn’t know was that almost at the same time (but not quite — 2003), Dr. Richard Miller was invited to consult on a research project at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The purpose of the project was to study the effect of yoga nidra on healing military personnel experiencing PTSD. They called the practice Integrative Restoration (iRest), probably because if you said “yoga” military people would run screaming. But it was so successful that it was immediately integrated into the PTSD regimen at Walter Reed (Miller, 2015, p. 2). And then the word “yoga” became acceptable in the military. Now it is synonymous with holistic healing for military members and veterans.
iRest and yoga nidra are types of meditation and mindfulness, practices that benefit anyone and everyone. If you don’t know how to start a meditation practice, or would like to re-start or re-invigorate a previous meditation practice, this is the blog for you.
What is Meditation
According to Wikipedia, Meditation is a practice where an individual uses a technique–such as mindfulness, or focusing the mind on a particular object, thought, or activity — to train attention and awareness, and achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm and stable state.
Benefits of a Meditation Practice
- Mind-Body Connection
Components of a Meditation Practice
Once you develop a meditation practice you will be able to meditate anywhere but to train yourself to meditate it helps to have a consistent setting with items that appeal to your five senses and prepare your mind for practice.
soft lighting that does not provide a distraction (such as a bright light on your face might). You may find that using candles provides the ambient light that gets you “in the mood”.
Lavender oil has definitely become the scent of yoga for a good reason — it promotes relaxation. Using lavender oil in a meditation practice via a diffuser or directly on your skin can facilitate readiness for meditation.
If you have the ability to set up a serene, uncluttered place to practice (even if it’s a postage stamp-size oasis) that also helps to create the setting to prepare your mind and body for meditation.
No special equipment is necessary. If you like, you can use a yoga mat.
- If you are laying down in savasana (corpse pose) for meditation, you might find a pillow under your head and/or a roll under your knees, an eye pillow to cover your eyes, and/or a light blanket to cover yourself with can facilitate the ability to stay in savasana comfortably for a period of time.
- If you are seated for meditation, you may find that sitting in a chair with a back allows you to stay in meditation comfortably, or seated on a pillow on the floor. You may have to experiment a bit to find out what works for you. I use a pillow that is thick enough that when I sit criss-cross apple sauce 🙂 that my knees are on the floor and my pelvis is tilted in such a way that it makes it easy to sit comfortably and maintain good posture for an extended period of time.
The Western thought for meditation is that whatever works for you, works for you. Don’t beat yourself up that is not how the monks meditate — you’re not a monk! That being said, typically most people meditate in one of two postures. You may go with one as your default, but most likely there will be certain meditations (or moods) that call for one or the other.
Savasana (corpse pose): This completely takes the focus off of figuring out how to get comfortable in a seated position. Critics will say it’s “cheating” because you could be sleeping in meditation, but Western thought is “maybe you just need the sleep” and you should listen to your body.
Seated: Can be in a chair, on a couch, or on the floor. A seated pose on the floor can be a bit distracting when you first start out because it is important to have that good posture that your mom told you about — and it can take a bit to figure out what works for you. It is valuable in the long-run if you commit to figuring it out though.
In Sanskrit the word “prana” means both breath and life-force. For good reason, you have to breathe to stay alive but most of us un-learn breathing. Breathwork is an important part of any type of yoga — it is what brings you that feeling of zen. Who knew? Breathing is good for us 🙂 There are many types of yoga breathwork to help us relax, energize, find balance. Each has a place in a meditation practice, but in the beginning a simple breathing technique such as 4 (inhale on a count of)-2 (hold for a count of)-8 (exhale on a count of) dirga breathing is beneficial to facilitating relaxation and a mind and body ready for meditation.
The reason yoga purists prefer a seated posture for meditation is because they believe that it is best for maintaining presence — in other words staying in the meditation to focus your mind. Whatever posture you choose, you can use your breath and your five senses to help to keep you connected to the present to initiate your meditation and to stay in your meditation.
We use our third eye, that space between our eyebrows and slightly above them, to facilitate focus in our meditation practice and stay present for the meditation, in order to reap maximum benefit. It is part of “clearing the mind”.
Longer meditations can bring up memories or feelings that we haven’t dealt with. In the beginning of a meditation practice, it’s important to build up slowly from 5 minute meditations on up; and also to build a safety net for yourself — that if something comes up you can use this safety net/item to visualize and bring you back from going down a path you’re not yet ready to go down. A short visualization exercise conducted in the beginning of your meditation journey can be used to help you identify your safety net.
Meditation doesn’t require any “stuff” but if you’re looking for a couple of items to facilitate your setting, or to do some reading, here are some items we like:
Samaya Meditation Cushion (a bit more than I wanted to spend but I’ve had mine for years, use it almost daily, and it has never let me down for comfort and endurance)
Majestic Pure Lavender Essential Oil (great value)
Blissful Being Tranquility Eye Pillow – Lavender
The Mindfulness Solution: Everyday Practices for Everyday Problems, by Ronald D. Siegel (Jan 1 2010)
Yoga for Emotional Balance: Simple Practices to Help Relieve Anxiety and Depression (Mar 8 2011)
At the Peace Through Strength Yoga Academy (PTSYA) is to serve the military and veteran community by training members of these communities as yoga instructors, to increase access to yoga for military members, family members, and veterans. If you are a member of this community, already serve them in a VA or similar setting, or are interested in serving this community, please contact us to learn about our cost-effective and comprehensive yoga teacher training. PROVIDE CONTACT HERE OR ACCESS TO THE WEBSITE
And check out the following cool articles about veterans in yoga.
Miller, R. (2015). The iRest program for Healing PTSD. Oakland, California: New Harbinger