- Written by Gabriele Amersbach Gabriele Amersbach
After a nearly seven years of active duty in a 29-year career with the Army Reserve, Brian Linton came home safely. Yet after a deployment in Kuwait, he started waking up in the middle of the night, heart racing, in a cold sweat.
“I hadn’t experienced direct combat but often saw the aftereffects of IED attacks,” says Linton.
He does not wish to share details of a post-explosion scenario but admits he suffered from PTSD after viewing vehicles that had been bombed.
“There are two kinds of people who have suffered a war trauma: those who admit they are disturbed by what they have seen and done — and those who lie,” he explains. “Everybody reacts differently to what happens to them. You have no control over how your brain reacts.”
To reduce his symptoms, Linton went to the VA as an outpatient and sought counseling, which helped somewhat.
Finding Inner Peace
While many vets do find medications helpful to manage their symptoms, Linton preferred to take a different approach without pharmaceuticals. He started finding relief with his yoga practice, which he began during his teen years and has continued to present day.
“Yoga is Sanskrit for ‘yoke’ or ‘union,’” he explains. “Through the practice, mind and spirit are yoked with the body and are intertwined.”
He continues, “By focusing on the specific poses, you are blocking the external world and release stress-related tensions as a way to find inner peace.”
In 2020, during the height of the quarantine, he found a yoga instructor training program online and completed 200 hours of training. According to Linton, the program gave him not only a deeper understanding of each pose, but also taught him techniques to calm the brain and reduce stress.
After he completed his yoga instruction training program, he found another online yoga program that especially intrigued him, Warriors at Ease, specifically aimed at vets with war trauma.
For the instructor program, he completed 60 hours of online training as well as a full week of in-person instruction in Silver Spring, Maryland.
“I had a lot of ‘aha’ moments during the program and got a better understanding of what happened and why,” says Linton.
He explains that some vets also develop PTSD based on “moral injuries,” where the soldier finds what he or she is asked to do morally unacceptable.
“These concepts were new to me,” he explains. “I discovered that participating in something you don’t believe in can trigger flashbacks. I wish I would have discovered this program 10 years ago.”
No Tinkling Bells
According to their website, warriorsatease.org, the Warriors at Ease yoga program was designed to “bridge gaps in care” and “equip teachers, providers, and the military community with the tools and practices to … find self-empowerment and heal from challenges encountered during military life.”
Linton explains that for some vets, selecting yoga as a treatment for PTSD may be a stretch. The program website admits that many vets may consider it a woman-only practice for alternative individuals who “burn incense and can put their foot behind their head.”
To remove the stigma that some vets associate with yoga, Linton points out that in the Warriors at Ease programs, the focus is on doing the poses without Sanskrit terms or background meditation music with tinkling bells. Sessions are usually presented without music, and no one will ask you to get into the “corpse” position or wish you “namaste” at the end of the session.
However, the program retains the core concepts of yoga. By concentrating on the poses, the instructor (who is also a vet) gives participants something else to focus on instead of what may be troubling them.
“There is a different level of trust vet-to-vet,” Linton says. “There is also a benefit for likeminded people to meet as a group. Even if the vet just lies on their back on the mat during the class, there is some benefit.”
The Warriors at Ease program notes that although these practices are highly accessible, low-cost, and without the possible side effects of anti-anxiety drugs, service members often turn to yoga, meditation, and mindfulness practices as a last resort.
According to the website, the program was designed to “integrate these practices into the lives of the military community earlier and help pave a new path forward for those who feel like it’s too late.”
As Linton personally discovered, the benefits of incorporating yoga to relieve PTSD symptoms can be life altering.
According to the research studies that led to the development of Warriors at Ease, yoga and meditation can calm the nervous system, reduce symptoms of PTSD, increase range of motion, reduce chronic pain, help with sleep, increase attention span, and more.
Based on the success of the program, the Warriors at Ease network includes nearly 1,400 teachers who live in over 11 countries and in all 50 states. They teach in VA facilities, on military installations, at vet centers, in behavioral health and substance abuse facilities, and at yoga studios.
More than 185,000 service members, including veterans like Linton, and families have been impacted by the program.
While Linton taught a few Warriors at Ease classes as a volunteer, currently he is busy with his day job as project manager at an industrial electronics manufacturer in Middletown. He also teaches mat and reformer Pilates and restorative yoga at Absolute Pilates in Harrisburg.
“Teaching a Warriors at Ease class requires total commitment — and a replacement instructor if an emergency requires a class cancelation,” says Linton.
He explains that for someone with PTSD, taking a weekly class at a regular time is crucial to their healing process. A canceled class can be very detrimental.
Linton summarizes that through yoga, meditation practices, and Pilates, he has improved his balance and flexibility and has found an inner calm, even during a Saturday run to Costco.
“It was a madhouse. I did one of the meditation practices that I learned during my training — breathe in for five seconds, hold for five seconds, release for five seconds, hold for five seconds, breathe in, repeat. With these meditation practices you become your own resource for stress relief.”
He concludes, “I feel better now, both mentally and physically, than I did 20 years ago — with no PTSD symptoms.”