Veterans at Home

5 Questions with Dr. Dan Libby

by Lauren Hales
Photo by Robert Sturman

Transitioning from active duty military service to civilian life is challenging in many ways. To help make that transition smoother for those individuals suffering from post-traumatic stress (PTS), Dr. Dan Libby founded the Veterans Yoga Project (VYP). The VYP is an educational and advocacy organization dedicated to improving the health and well-being of military veterans, their families, and their communities. We asked Dr. Libby, a licensed clinical psychologist and certified yoga teacher, to share with us his background and approach to practices that address the spirit-body connection as a complimentary therapy to mental health problems, such as PTS.

What first sparked your interest to apply yoga to help those suffering from PTS?

I had spent many years living and working at a yoga retreat center, so even before I attended graduate school I was able to witness healing on that level. Then, I started working at the West Haven Veteran Affairs Hospital as part of a postgraduate fellowship, and part of my interest was to see if yoga could be used to complement other types of mental health therapies. What I found is that, in the fourth yoga class I ever taught, one of my veterans came into class and said, “Hey I stopped taking my sleep medication, because now I can meditate to go to sleep”—and that hooked me.

How did you go about developing the VYP?

When I first got to the VA at the end of 2010 I saw that yoga instructors were working at VAs and that they needed training. If you have never had experience teaching veterans dealing with PTS, there are certain things you probably should and should not do. As a yoga instructor, you will not have the same knowledge that a health care provider will have. Very simply, I thought I would throw together a workshop for yoga instructors to teach them a little about what trauma is and what mental health issues are. It grew from there organically into the Veterans Yoga Project that we have today.

How does the VYP create a safe space for class participants?

When teaching yoga instructors, I stress that the ideal way to set up a yoga class for individuals dealing with PTS is to make that experience as safe, as predictable, and as controllable as possible. By enhancing those conditions, what we are doing is creating the conditions for healing to occur. The body has an inherent self-healing capacity, and I would argue that the mind and the spirit have that same self-corrective agenda.

Can you explain the Mindful Resilience model?

Breathing. Meditation. Mindful movement. Guided rest. Gratitude. These tools help veterans breathe easy, focus clearly, move freely, rest deeply and remember what is working well in their lives.

How can congregations take advantage of this information?

Educate yourself and try these techniques, and when your congregation has a veteran, or someone who is dealing with PTS, you can recommend these practices from your own experience.

Many veterans are suffering, and despite heroic efforts by many at the VA, they are just getting prescriptions they do not want—they want tools that work. Again, yoga is not an alternative therapy for PTS, it is a complementary therapy for PTS. I believe it is important for everybody, including members of congregations, to learn tools that can help them be better versions of themselves.

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