Healed by yoga: Special forces version

Scratch the conversational surface in a yoga class and you will find healings galore. Healings run rampant in the yoga world the way fleas do on a country dog.

After one class, when I asked the teacher how she’d gotten into yoga, she related how she’d had crippling back injuries and — after surgeries — was told she’d have to live with the pain and limitations. To look at her now, she is as elastic as they get, supple as a willow. Yoga did that.

Others chimed in — conditions that had seemed permanent melted away. One story led to another, all equally refreshing to hear, because we’re programmed to accept certain maladies as lifelong. Yoga will have none of that.

I’ve heard enough of these stories — and I’m a yoga dilletante, I do it mainly in the winter when I can’t swim and tread water — to believe there are far more yoga miracles than at Lourdes.

Here’s my favorite new story of resurrection — the resurrection of one man’s spirit — told to me by yoga sensei Holly Briscoe.

This is about a young man who’d been in the special forces in Afghanistan — at one point captured for seven days before being rescued. You can only try to imagine the brutality he suffered at the hands of the enemy during those seven days, and likely your imagination would be insufficient.

As he told his story Holly repeated to herself don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry. As she noted: “This is just one guy, and we’re sending them off and they’re coming back crushed.”

“He was only 24, six foot four, full of muscle, but right here, Evan (she frames her eyes with a rectangle made from her fingers), he looked like he was 90.”

He could live through the day, but it was the nighttime he couldn’t face. He’d been medicated, was on anti-depressants, sleeping pills, still he couldn’t sleep. He would give himself 12 hours to sleep but would be lucky if he got three hours total.

To try and sleep “he started with a six pack, then eight, then hard stuff.” Eventually he found himself with a handful of pills, thinking that might be the only route left to him. He had an awakening there, realizing he needed to figure out a way to live. He couldn’t continue zombied out on meds.

His Mom suggested yoga (but he was keeping it from his friends, apparently yoga isn’t the bomb in a rural area), which is how he found his way to Holly. Having grown up with martial arts, this young man did have a deep respect for eastern philosophy.

His muscle memory kicked in and he was able to adapt quickly to the postures.

Holly: “I’m watching him move. He had a twitch here and there, that he managed to hide pretty well.”

After the first session he came back three days later and told Holly: “I was able to sleep for six hours.” 

After five sessions, this: “I just want to tell you, I give myself eight hours to sleep and I get eight hours of sleep.”

Just from the yoga.

A month later: “I’ve got to tell you something. I don’t bite my nails anymore.”

During these private classes Holly noticed he struggled at his edge (Holly’s term for that space at the reaches of your capability). He would experience flashbacks. Yoga was allowing him to work through them physically.

Holly had changed the rhythm of the practice to fit him, but only marginally . . . . 

She discovered this: she didn’t need to tweak the yoga much — this is profound, take note — because yoga itself heals traumatic experience.

Healing his body healed his mind. 

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