Amy Cook the recreational therapist from the Lebanon VA Hospital was skeptical about getting the Veterans in the re-hab program to do something unusual (for them) as Yoga. These guys were toughies, she told me, and would be hard to convince to try something weird like doing Yoga.
“Yoga isn’t weird, Amy,” I told her. There’s been lots of studies showing how healing it is for everyone, but especially for people suffering with post traumatic stress disorder.
We had not had a scheduled River House PA event for a few months as I was traveling in Asia with my family over the holidays.
“I know Yoga isn’t weird but these guys don’t know you. They are a new group, I’m afraid they won’t come.”
And so we decided to hold a Owl Pellet Dissecting Class (that sounds weirder than Yoga to me!) and an Night Owl Walk as our first event for the new year. That was hugely successful and everyone learned a lot and thoroughly enjoyed themselves. Everyone left hugging. I said to everyone as I embraced them, “Make sure you come next time,”
“Oh, I’ll be there for sure.”
But the group of Veterans piling out of the vans in the parking lot of St John’s UCC Church in Orwigsburg, were mostly new guys. Many of the Vets form two weeks ago had already cycled out and graduated from the program. Alright, I thought, they are stretching themselves already, just by trusting enough to come here.
Yoga instructor, Ed Folk, offered to put on the special class for free in the beautifully carpeted peaceful gathering space at the church. He regularly teaches a Tuesday evening class that my friend, RH friend Susan McCartney joins in on and also helps coordinate between our organization and the church.
My friend Bonnie Boyer, who has the Second Floor Yoga studio in Orwigsburg, PA, lent us her mats. The vets filed in, grabbed a mat and rolled them out on the floor.
Ed began slow, doing some head rolls, shoulder shrugs, some of the guys even had a hard time sitting on the floor with their legs crossed. Some of them got the message that they should wear comfortable loose clothing, other swore tight constricting jeans, but they made the best of it.
Ed was the most unassuming instructor for the Vets. Many poses he would say, now you can take your arms over your head , or lift up your leg behind you, but only my more advanced people can do that, I can’t. That made all of the vets feel OK about their performance which is paramount when you are trying to win them over to a new activity like Yoga. Even my board member, Mike Schnurr, Vietnam war vet who tells me has bad knees and a bad back and who knows what else bad, said he wasn’t going to do it at first (just come for the camaraderie and food afterwards) and I said , “Oh yes you are,” and he did, in the rear, but I opened my eyes and peaked, cause I joined in just for the fun, and he was looking real good. One time, I peeked and saw everyone with their eyes closed and a blissed out calm and peaceful look on their faces and I felt so proud of them. Maybe this will resonant enough with one or two to use it in their tool box of aids and helps to get better and choose a healthier lifestyle.
That’s what these River House events are for, to give them tools and give them hope that we at RH believe in them and are here for them as they work to navigate a new life.
Afterwards, Nancy and Tom List, certified teachers of Transcendental meditation, gave a little info session on the fabulous results many Vets are getting from practicing TM. This form of meditation helps reduce and in some cases eliminates symptoms of ptsd as it takes practitioners from a state of noisy thinking to a state of inner quietness.
Then, we ate- homemade chili and corn bread and cake and fruit. The evening’s event was sponsored by Fran Pepoon from California, who is originally from the Reading area and believes in our misison. The Vets signed a thank-you card to her while they went up for seconds. Everyone helped with the clean- up some of the guys dove into the sudsy dish water, and left as always, with a full belly, a full heart and more tools in their tool box for getting better. We have so much fun at RH events, learn so much and enjoy each other’s company so much, who needs drugs and alcohol. We’re learning a better way, stretching oursleves to embrace new things and people. Life is good.
PS -Once again, if anyone wants to sponser ($200) or co-sponsor ($100) and just contribute to making these events happen, message me. If you live nearby, you can join in the fun on that event and meet all the Veterans so they can thank you in person.