Every Thursday evening, Veterans all over the United States meet up to practice yoga. The Veterans spend an hour together, but they never see one another and likely will never even meet. This yoga class requires no travel, no membership or studio, and no special clothing or mat. Veterans perform the weekly yoga nidra session in their own space, on their own bed, couch or favorite chair. These Thursday evening classmates meet over the phone to participate in an hour of yoga nidra that follows the iRest methodology.
Yoga nidra, also called yoga sleep, is an altered state of consciousness in which participants meditate and go into a state on the cusp of the sleep state. Participants must completely relax and rest while the brain remains active and able to hear everything the instructor says, though the person may not be fully aware.
Integrative Restoration (iRest), is a version of yoga nidra developed by Dr. Richard Miller with Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the Department of Defense. It was first used by soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffering from PTSD. This meditation method is very helpful for issues like PTSD and anxiety, sleep problems and chronic pain. Data collected from iRest participants indicates the practice improves sleep quality, reduces anxiety, and enhances resiliency in stressful situations.
Guided, weekly sessions
VA’s War Related Illness and Injury Study Center (WRIISC), located in Palo Alto, Calif., offers weekly phone meditation sessions. The virtual guided meditation begins Thursday evenings at 5 p.m., Pacific time, and all Veterans are invited to join the class.
“It relaxes my whole mind and body; all stress melts away,” said Air Force Veteran Joe Valentino. “A lot of it is sensing your body and quieting your mind. So while I’m meditating, I’ll picture my blood stream running through a coffee filter that’s filtering out all the bad stuff that I’ll throw away when I’m done.”
Valentino gets his care from the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System’s medical center in New Orleans. He first learned about yoga nidra and iRest from a flyer his provider gave him.
“I try not to miss a week,” Valentino said. “It helps release anxiety, tension, helps me sleep better. I really enjoy it.”
No referral, experience, or prescription needed
Veterans can try yoga nidra any Thursday evening of their choice, without referral, prior experience or prescription. They only need a phone, an open mind and a quiet, safe space to meditate.
“This meditation is all about increasing and enhancing your own sense of awareness, your sense of being a whole person that is perfect just as you are,” said Louise Mahoney while teaching a weekly class. “We all have everything we need inside of us. We just are not always aware of it, so this meditation helps us to become aware and to allow that awareness to creep into our daily life more often that it did before. So whether you’re at work, taking care of your kids, with your significant other, by yourself, you will find a way to remain at ease and to navigate stressful situations.”
All Veterans are welcome to attend the weekly live sessions over the phone. Just call 800-767-1750 and type in access code 24953#. Learn more about yoga nidra at www.warrelatedillness.va.gov/WARRELATEDILLNESS/clinical/integrative-health/ca/yoga-nidra-meditation-veteran.pdf.
Veterans who would rather try a prerecorded eight-session series can find it on the WRIISC website at www.warrelatedillness.va.gov/WARRELATEDILLNESS/meditation/default.asp.
Learn more about VA’s War Related Illness and Injury Study Centers located in California, New Jersey and Washington D.C. at www.warrelatedillness.va.gov/WARRELATEDILLNESS/index.asp.
Jamie Mobley is a public affairs specialist at the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System in New Orleans. She is an Army Veteran and a graduate of Kansas State University.