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Amputee Vets Heal with Yoga

in YD News

If you’ve ever been too hung up on getting a certain pose or you’ve ever caught your egomonkeymind giving your body a hard time, read on and maybe be inspired by these amputee yogis, to have gratitude for who you are, what you have and for your yoga practice.

We’ve posted about yoga in the military before, in pre- and post-deployment, yoga helping therapeutically for injuries sustained, those visible and those that go unseen to the eye. We came across this article about amputee vets who participate in Adaptive Yoga held at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and had to share. (That headstand is pretty impressive, no?)

The yoga is taught by instructor Daniel Hickman who tailors the classes specifically to the needs of each individual student, no easy task.

“I’ve taught several combat veteran amputees who are below-knee amputations or above-knee amputations, so there’s a lot of stuff we can do on the arms. But then, every once in a while, someone will walk in and they don’t have a hand. So there might be people without feet and an individual without a hand,” Hickman says.

Hickman who’s been teaching yoga classes at Walter Reed for the past 6 years knows modifying and checking in with the students every day to see how they’re doing is important, as well as keeping the yoga open and social.

For the vets, it’s less about getting the poses and more about feeling. Marine Staff Sgt. James Sides, 30, had his right hand and wrist amputated after he was injured by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan’s Helmand province in July 2012. He also lost partial vision in his left eye from the explosion. Even though his hand is missing he can still feel it, often referred to as a “phantom limb.”

“I started noticing after about the third or fourth session, my phantom limb pain would go away. Or it would ease up just from doing yoga, from just not thinking about anything,” he says.

There are others who have lost limbs, have metal pins or wheelchairs.

To his right, Marine Cpl. Nathan Jakubison reaches his hands toward his left foot, making sure to avoid the metal pins sticking out of his shin. To his left, Marine Sgt. Mike Nicholson, 23, has no legs to stretch over, but rather focuses on extending his spine.

A reminder that your yoga, your body, is yours.

“People ask me, ‘How do I even teach someone who has been blown up by a bomb or shot by a rocket and are missing parts of their body?’ And I say, ‘It’s no different from anyone else, you have to start where they are,’” he says.

The stories like this one from WTOP.com won’t change your perspective on war, but they are certainly a great refresher in compassion and a sobering shot of reality. Thank you, yoga.

The Adaptive Yoga class is part of the Exalted Warrior program that started in 2006 and works with Yoga for Vets, a national program that offers veterans free yoga classes in their hometowns.

Adaptive Yoga

Adaptive Yoga

During the Adaptive Yoga sessions, top 40 music blends with the sound of weights clanking together and the occasional trainer yelling in the background, "Give me four more!" (WTOP/Megan Cloherty)

Veteran Yoga

Veteran Yoga

Marli Jakobison watches on from her husband's wheelchair while James Sides, Mike Nicholson and Nathan Jakubison work on their upper body strength, stretching their necks and spines on Thursday, Jan. 31. (WTOP/Megan Cloherty)

Adaptive YogaVeteran Yoga

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6 comments… add one

  • Vision_Quest2

    Precisely. Way to go. This guy missing body parts, in a headstand.

    Long live cross-training. That-and not 10,000 hours of yoga–is probably what built his headstand.

    Makes me feel lacking that I dare not try to do any kind of headstand anymore. And I still have use of my legs. And arms.

    But then I get over it. I have other things to manage right now.

  • Julie

    See I disagree…I know many more people who practice yoga that can do a headstand versus people who only cross train. As where the people who cross train definitely have the strength (they would have no problem kicking up against a wall), the stilling of the mind needed for headstand that leads to balance may not be there.

  • Vision_Quest2

    Yeah, just like a snake charmer … all it took was his intentioning his way up there …

    Dream on, yoga proselytizers … there has to be a strong foundation in order to have a building … especially if it isn’t to be the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Perhaps his (most likely natural) strength was engendered by having been in combat …

  • eJ

    there are many aspects to a yoga practice that can be adapted to all body types. It is more important the breathing and mind control than the physical postures

    it can be practiced by everyone at any time

  • Pam Ahern

    It’s perfect ….we “start where we are”.

  • I find this so inspirational. Stories like this have compelled us to launch a charity called Community Minded, where 10% of the profits from the sale of our mat made of recycled rubber tires can be donated at the discretion of the customer. The initial focus for the charity was to support yoga instructors in under-served communities to aid people with mental health issues, like PTSD, which includes many vets. Yoga for Vets has smartly expanded that. Bravo!

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