As our medical understanding of the brain continues to grow, treatment options for brain-related issues continue to expand. Service members with a psychological condition or traumatic brain injury now have a variety of clinical treatment options as well as supplemental care options. Retired Air Force Master Sgt. Chris Eder describes how yoga helped him with posttraumatic stress disorder. All experiences shared are that of the author. Individual contributor articles are the personal opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Defense Health Agency, the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, or the Defense Department.
This is the first in a series of posts titled myVoice on the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury website.
When I first practiced yoga in 1999, I wasn’t seeking enlightenment or to become a better person. I wasn’t even looking for relief from PTSD. I was in pain from a pinched sciatic nerve, and I discovered that yoga stretches made my pain go away for longer periods than cortisone shots. It wasn’t long before I noticed that yoga also relieved symptoms of my attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. I was hooked!
As I traveled up and down Iraq a few years later, I practiced yoga in the same room where Iraq Ambassador Paul Bremer announced of Saddam Hussein: “Ladies and gentlemen, we got him!” I began teaching yoga during the 2007 surge. My motivation for teaching was the same as for doing it myself: It made me feel good physically.
In 2010, I began to recognize symptoms that I thought might signal early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. It turned out it was PTSD. I took a weekend training class that explained PTSD and how yoga helps. My practice officially changed and so did my life: I began practicing yoga as a means of enlightenment and inner peace.
Healing from the Inside
Yoga is described as a way to heal your body from the outside in and from the inside out in the book “How Yoga Works: Healing Yourself and Others with the Yoga Sutra” by Christie McNally. That’s how it happened for me. Initially, I picked yoga to help me recover from physical pain. My body began to physically change. I was healing “from the outside in.” This is totally acceptable and appropriate – there’s no need to subscribe to any esoteric beliefs about yoga to reap its physical benefits.
However, I also experienced the second aspect of yoga – healing from the inside out. I believe that as much as I picked yoga, yoga picked me. Thanks to PTSD, my sympathetic nervous system was completely out of whack. I was suffering even more than I realized at the time. Yoga, including meditation and nidra (a yoga state between waking and sleeping) allowed me to concentrate on healing from the inside, not just to find peace, but to help tap into my parasympathetic nervous system and slow down my heart rate and breathing. Collectively with talk therapy, it worked!
Climbing out of a Hole
I’ve gone through just about every protocol there is when it comes to managing my PTSD symptoms. I’ve been on meds, off meds, on combinations of pharmaceutical and natural solutions – you name it, I’ve probably have done it. Additionally, I have been through various talk-therapy programs. Each helped me climb out of my dark hole, just a little. Some of the therapies really drained me, to the point where I didn’t want to “be here” any more. Sometimes I would hang out in a park or in my car for up to an hour to collect my thoughts before I could do anything else. I often used one of my meditation practices….ahhhh…relief!
I firmly believe I am still here today – and not a statistic – because of my approach, which includes yoga and meditation along with medication and talk therapy.
I share all of this because I am a firm believer that everybody’s body is different. Yours may respond differently than mine or your friend’s. I also share this because I subscribe to a holistic body-and-mind theory of wellness, not just PTSD symptoms.
Finding a Purpose
There is an old adage that suggests that if something is not broken, we don’t need to fix it. That seemed fair until I read “Anatomy of the Spirit: The Seven Stages of Power and Healing” by Caroline Myss. She says that we can be so used to being unhappy, hurt or in pain – “broken,” or in less than optimal condition – that we don’t realize we have a problem that needs fixing.
Every one of us has a purpose in life. We each have unique talents and gifts that make us, us! The closer we get to this purpose and the more we share our gifts and talents, the happier and, perhaps, the less broken we are.
PTSD can completely blind you to your purpose, talents and gifts. Just as Myss described, PTSD patients begin to recalibrate and to believe that their new situation is OK. In the new normal, they lack cognitive awareness that they are “broken.” Over time that can lead to horrific outcomes such as suicide.
Everyone in the military knows the acronym BLUF, which stands for bottom line up front. If I were to give you my BLUF for yoga it would be this: It doesn’t matter if you pick yoga or yoga picks you. It doesn’t matter if you only want to stretch, or if you want to connect breath and movement. You will reap benefits from a yoga practice.
Disclaimer: It’s important to talk to your health care provider before starting any new exercise program. If you are in treatment for PTSD, work with your provider to figure out the best treatment plan as well as complementary programs that may enhance your recovery.
Re-published content may have been edited for length and clarity. Read original post.
The Military Health System is taking extra steps to spread awareness about healthy lifestyle choices, cancer screening, disease and other potential health risks that can affect men of all ages. MHS officials are encouraging men to be aware of one unexpected health risk in particular that may come as a surprise to most: male breast cancer.
Males make up less than 1 percent of all new cases of breast cancer in the U.S. every year, but MHS officials are urging men, especially those who have a family history with the disease, to be mindful of its risk and to seek advice if a lump is found in the chest area.
Army Col. Craig Shriver, director of the Murtha Cancer Center at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, encourages all men to be aware of the potential risks of the disease and the benefits of being checked out by a physician if a lump appears.
“For most men, it’s just kind of shock at the recognition that they could even be getting such a diagnosis,” Shriver said. “It’s not even on their radar as a possibility. The most typical symptom for males is a lump, and many times the lump isn’t felt by the patient but by a partner, interestingly.”
With about 2,600 new cases a year, according to the American Cancer Society, male breast cancer cases are significantly less common than female breast cancer, and are typically found at a later stage in males. While most female breast cancer is picked up in early mammography nowadays, men have no recommended screening program and often do not consult a physician until well after a lump has appeared.
“In almost every case that I see these men, and I see these men here at this center, they say, ‘Oh, yeah, I’ve had that lump for a couple of years and finally my wife told me to go get it checked out,’ or ‘It started bothering me.’ But almost always, it’s been there for quite a period of time and the man has just ignored it,” Shriver said.
Little research is available on male breast cancer due to the low number of men diagnosed with it, and no data currently links general military service and an elevated risk of developing breast cancer. However, high levels of estrogen and family history are the most significant risk factors for male breast cancer. Males aged 50 or more should be wary of any lumps that appear in the chest region, but it is most likely to affect men in their 60s and 70s.
“Awareness is key,” Shriver said.
Two federal organizations are cooperating more closely than ever to ensure wounded warriors are able to thrive. With the survival rate from battlefield injuries at record levels, coming home with more severe injuries presents its own issues. That’s why the Military Health System and the Department of Veterans Affairs are streamlining the system to make sure veterans, service members and their families are well served as the population ages.
“This causes … challenges for both [the MHS and VA] on how we actually provide care for these individuals we saved on the battlefield, but really want them to become as good as they can be in the constellation of their injuries,” said Dr. Karen Guice, acting assistant secretary of Defense for Health Affairs. “We’re trying to figure out how to get from today to tomorrow.”
Guice made her remarks before the National Academies of Sciences Forum on Aging, Disability and Independence in Washington, D.C., June 27, 2016. The daylong event fostered dialogue and addressed issues of mutual interest and concern to the military and civilian organizations related to aging and disability.
Guice said part of the solution lies in a cooperative partnership between the Department of Defense, VA and the private sector, known as the Interagency Care Coordination Committee (IC3). She said more than 50 programs serve wounded warriors. IC3 helps all agencies better coordinate to solve the physical, mental and emotional problems of those hurt on the battlefield.
“We had patients and families who would tell us, ‘I have literally 300 business cards [from all the different case managers].’ We needed a different model of care, something more integrated across the two departments and integrated across every single transition one of these individuals might make,” said Guice. “The goal of this committee is how we better coordinate the care and manage all these case managers for these families and individuals so they don’t have to.”
In October 2012, DoD and VA formed IC3, creating a culture and resources enabling DoD and VA care coordinators to more seamlessly collaborate and share information to align care. Guice said the past year has seen tremendous strides made toward achieving these goals. She summed up the vision in one statement.
“One mission, one policy, one plan,” said Guice, pointing out the daunting task of trying to get two different federal government agencies to come up with one common plan. “Those of you who have ever had that kind of experience know immediately you get a headache. But we actually did it.”
IC3 gives both the DoD and VA one policy and one plan to get there. That way, individuals have one comprehensive treatment plan that sticks with them wherever they go. Guice said the addition of electronic health records is helping.
“At any point in time, if I’m the lead coordinator and I’m managing a patient and family, I can look and see what was done, who did it, and if anybody dropped the ball and I can hold them accountable,” said Guice. “We can actually look forward and plan out what they need when they get home through all these transitions. That way all the individual and the family have to say is ‘I want to get better, I want to go back to work’ or whatever their goals might be.”
Guice concluded saying it’s important to make sure the families are taken care of as well, ensuring everyone at every level of care has the information they need to give and get the care needed.
“All of these things are possible, and the key enabler to all of it is knowing where you can get services,” said Guice. “It’s not a lack of programs; it’s just not enough awareness of how you get to it.”
When Wade Foster heard of the tragedy that struck his community on the morning of Sunday, June 12, his immediate reaction was to help.
A gunman killed 49 people and wounded more than 50 others at the Pulse Nightclub in downtown Orlando, making it one of the deadliest mass shootings in the United States.
“This hit me in my heart. And we as The American Legion wanted to let the public know that we are a part of Orlando; we’re a big part of it,” said Foster, commander of Orlando Memorial Post 19. “We are a small post, but I didn’t let our size dictate what we can do for our community.”
Located less than 10 miles from the nightclub, Post 19 showed its community support by raising a pride flag and hosting an “Orlando Strong” event June 26 with proceeds benefiting the GLBT Center of Orlando to help the shooting victims and their families. The free outdoor concert, which was open to the public, featured five bands, food trucks, raffle prizes and a silent auction.
“This is what The American Legion stands for and this is what we do – we take care of our own, but we also want to make sure that everyone is being watched over,” Foster said. “It’s called giving back to the community. This is where we live.”
White tags featuring the names of the fallen were tied to 49 small American flags that lined the sidewalk in front of the post. The flags will not be taken down until the last wounded Pulse Nightclub victim leaves the hospital. And a banner that read “Orlando United, American Legion Post 19 Will Never Forget” was inside the post for concert attendees to sign and write personal messages. It will be placed at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, a memorial site for the shooting victims that has become a gathering place for people to remember and mourn.
The Post 19 Legion family raised nearly $1,100 during the Orlando Strong event, through donations, bar sales and raffle prizes, which included restaurant and salon certificates, a Walmart gift card and an Adirondack chair. The food trucks also raised and donated more than $200.
“I was so overwhelmed, I was crying at the end because the Legion members, Auxiliary, SAL and Legion Riders, everybody came in and supported and we had such a fantastic turnout with donations,” said Debra Foster, wife of Wade and senior vice commander of Auxiliary Unit 19. “I am proud of each and every member that showed up.”
Foster also was proud of the Legion family support and the benefit itself, saying it made him “feel awesome.”
“When you are in the military, you work with every walk of life and you have to respect each and every person,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what their skin tone is, what their lifestyle is. We don’t judge anybody. What we do is we help all of those who are in need of our help; whatever assistance we can give we make it happen.”