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War Veterans Seek Peace Through Yoga

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War Veterans Seek Peace Through Yoga

Your Health

War Veterans Seek Peace Through Yoga

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Today on Your Health, we'll hear about ways to manage two different kinds of pain. In a moment, a stress management program teaches the basics of meditation to help pain go away. We begin with a group of veterans of several recent wars. They found a way to help manage the difficulties of life after combat. They used yoga.

Here's Allan Coukell of member station WBUR in Boston.

Ms. JOAN PLATT (Yoga Instructor): We're going to do a practice centered on opening the heart today, so you can begin by lying down on your mat in Shavasan.

ALLAN COUKELL: Shavasan, also known as the corpse pose, though they don't call it that here.

Ms. PLATT: You put the bolster underneath your knees to support your lower back, and then rest back down.

COUKELL: Thirteen veterans lay on their backs in the Central Mass Yoga Studio above a strip mall in West Boyleston, about an hour west of Boston. Teacher Joan Platt leads the meditation for the vets, who together represent half a century of major conflict.

Mr. JOE HOWARD (Veteran, World War II): My name is Joe Howard. I was in World War II in the Seabees.

Mr. LOU CARJILLO (Veteran, Vietnam War): Name's Lou Carjillo(ph), career military, Vietnam '67, '68.

Mr. DAN DWYER(ph) (United States Army): Dan Dwyer, I'm a master in the United States Army, of 23 and a half years of active duty. Was in both Desert Storm and returned from Iraq about a year ago.

Ms. PLATT: Breathing through the nasal passage.

COUKELL: One or two are lean and muscular, others paunchy and arthritic.

Ms. PLATT: My heart fills with loving kindness. I love myself.

Mr. MICHAEL JAKONSKI (Veteran, Vietnam War): When people would tell me PTSD, I'd say, that's B-A-B-Y.

COUKELL: Michael Jakonski - Marines, Vietnam - spent 40 years scraping by, as he says, with his anger and depression.

Mr. JAKONSKI: The Iraq war just really threw me for a loop. Found myself on the top of the mountain crying one day and thought I've got to do something about this.

COUKELL: Jakonski turned to yoga first to help a stiff neck, but it helped his anger too.

Mr. TOM BOYLE (Veteran, Vietnam): Anger is a problem that all the veterans have, all combat veterans have.

COUKELL: Jakonski told Tom Boyle, himself a Vietnam combat vet and a counselor at the Worcester, Massachusetts Vets Center. Two years ago, Boyle got the veterans yoga program going.

Mr. BOYLE: ...becomes part of you. It's just an instinctive response to any kind of threat.

Mr. TOM CONNER (Veteran, Vietnam): I was in Vietnam '67, '68, forward observer, and I was attached to artillery unit Delta 2-11.

COUKELL: Tom Conner stretches, wearing sweats and a yellow t-shirt. He's another vet who found the old memories triggered by the new images from Iraq.

Mr. CONNOR: So many things that I tried desperately to suppress - I started losing sleep at night. The nightmares came back.

Ms. PLATT: May all beings in this vicinity be happy. May they be peaceful, may they be liberated.

(Soundbite of a bell ringing)

Mr. BOYLE: Everything that she is doing is about relaxing, slowing down, becoming mindful.

COUKELL: Boyle, from the Worcester Vet Center, says PTSD doesn't go away, but you can learn to live with it.

Mr. BOYLE: It is a theme of peace. It's woven into just about everything that is said, because that's what the philosophy of yoga is. It's about attaining peace, inner peace.

Ms. PLATT: Inhaling, imagine you're gathering prana, life's energy.

COUKELL: So far, most of the vets have been paying for the sessions themselves. Boyle hopes the VA system will start to offer yoga nationwide. He's already seeing PTSD and other symptoms of battle stress in troops back from Iraq, and he knows there are thousands still to come.

For NPR News, I'm Alan Coukell.

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