This is a repost from a Healthy Homefront article.
For many people, the idea of yoga is tied up with specific images of what it’s supposed to look like and who’s supposed to be doing it. Maybe it’s a group of flexible young women posing with their bodies stretched into various poses. Or maybe it’s an older man, sitting alone in nature repeating a phrase with his eyes closed. But what about images of Veterans, of all ages and ability levels, using different forms of yoga as an approach to address a wide range of health issues, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic pain and more?
Yoga is one of the evidence-based complementary treatments offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) through its Whole Health Care approach. According to VA’s research, yoga has shown improved mental health, sleep and quality-of-life outcomes for Veterans.
Tod Sherman teaches yoga classes at the VA Sierra Nevada Health Care System in Reno, Nev., and is the Veterans Outreach Coordinator at a yoga center in Reno. Tod’s personal journey, along with his wife’s battle with PTSD, gives him a unique perspective on the benefits of yoga within the Veteran community.
Tod Sherman is a certified Kundalini yoga instructor with a specialty certification in Kundalini Yoga for Stress, Anxiety and PTSD.
Tod has been practicing Kundalini yoga, which focuses on repeated movements, breath control, chanting and meditation since 2007.
“I somehow always knew Kundalini yoga was right and perfect,” he reflected.
Tod’s Kundalini yoga name is “Bachansukh Singh,” which means “The lion of god whose presence brings peace to all through his powerful words.” But his life hasn’t always been a peaceful one. Tod is a full-time caregiver for his beloved wife of 42 years, a Veteran living with PTSD and physical illness who needs around-the-clock care to survive.
In 2014, Tod’s wife suffered a major health scare. With a broken shoulder bone, she contracted a deadly infectious disease and was in a coma, non-responsive for four months. Tod recalled sitting by her bedside “through rain, sleet and snow.”
“I was there at 4 a.m. chanting, waiting for the doctors every day in my white Kundalini clothes,” he shared.
Eventually, Tod’s wife opened her eyes and spent weeks recovering in a nursing home before returning home.
The stress of this health scare, along with the pressures of caregiving, brought on serious health problems for Tod too, including a heart attack in 2015. Doctors had to perform emergency surgery to save his life. Within three days, he was released from the hospital and practicing yoga back at home. Tod and his cardiologist credited his quick recovery to his daily yoga practice and breath work.
“He said my yogic breathing was probably why I am alive today,” Tod shared.
That same year, with the inspiration and urging of his wife, Tod took his training and received his certification for teaching Kundalini Yoga for Stress, Anxiety and PTSD.
He has spent the past several years teaching Kundalini yoga to Veterans at the local VA health care facility.
“The yoga I teach is all seated, meditative and breath-oriented,” Tod explained. “If a Veteran has a physical disability of some kind, this type of yoga – with no jumping and pumping – gives them an opportunity to reconnect to a time, place or memory of a more peaceful time in their lives by using their breath to eliminate painful blockages and move oxygen to places we forgot about.”
More About Yoga and Its Health Benefits
Yoga is a practice that connects the body, breath and mind. It uses physical postures, breathing exercises and meditation to improve overall health. There are many different styles of yoga, ranging from mild to intense. For example, power yoga moves you quickly from posture to posture, creating a more demanding workout, whereas Kundalini yoga, as described above, emphasizes the effect of breath on the postures.
Tod explained that whether you train daily or haven’t exercised in years, yoga can work for anybody. It can be geared toward your own health, activity level and pace. Its benefits are just as unique. For example, it may be helpful for someone suffering from insomnia related to PTSD, or it may help someone experiencing balance and coordination issues after a physical injury.
According to Medline Plus, research shows yoga may provide several health benefits, including:
- Improved sleep and reduced fatigue
- Lowered stress levels
- Reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression
- Improved overall fitness level, including posture and flexibility
- Improved balance and coordination
- Reduced neck and back pain
- Reduced blood pressure and heart rate
- Improved self-confidence and concentration
VA research has found similar benefits connected to practicing yoga, including improved quality-of-life outcomes for Veterans suffering from PTSD.
A Deep Connection to the Veteran Community
In addition to Tod’s deeply personal connection to the Veteran community through his wife, Tod’s work with other Veterans has also had a profound impact on his life.
“The opportunity to serve my heroes in this way is unimaginable,” he shared. “I have served thousands of Veterans and their family members and have developed relationships with many of them over the years,” he continued. “I still get the chills when a Veteran comes up to my wife and me while we’re out and thanks me for the yoga classes.”
Tod can still recall one of the first Veterans he taught. This Veteran was considered a danger to himself and others at the time they began working together.
“He trained for a couple of years and now he continues to train and go to yoga festivals. He just purchased a home through VA and has found a lot of success,” Tod shared.
Tod has been recognized by the VA in Reno for his commitment and volunteer work serving the Veteran community. If you’ve been inspired by his work and are interested in adding yoga to your wellness routine, check out the resources below.
Resources for Veterans Considering Yoga
- VA offers yoga as one of the evidence-based complementary and integrative health approaches included with a Veteran’s medical benefits when deemed clinically necessary. An Introduction to Yoga for Whole Health is a handout full of information, including more on the benefits of yoga, the different types of yoga and additional resources.
- Healthy Homefront has other articles on the benefits of yoga, including Relieve Pain, Burn Fat and Relax With Yoga and Shake Off Some Stress With Yoga.
- The Veterans Yoga Project offers free in-person yoga classes, as well as online resources for Veterans wherever they are.
- Meghan’s Foundation offers free yoga and meditation classes to Veterans who may be experiencing symptoms of PTSD.
Whether you’re new to yoga or looking for a new type of yoga to try, talk to your health care provider about its potential health benefits and how it may fit into your health and wellness routine.
Editor’s Note – Thank you to Tod Sherman for participating in this article. Tod is Veterans Outreach Coordinator at The Yoga Center – Reno, and a guest speaker with SuperHealth, Inc., a non-governmental organization providing yogic education and consultation to government agencies and industry. The Yoga Center in Reno is just one of thousands of providers caring for Veterans, including wellness and integrative health. If you are a network provider caring for Veterans with a story about Veteran care to share, please email us at Media@TriWest.com.