Story by Christine Aurigema
Army Recovery Care Program
ARLINGTON, Va., -- Sometimes, Soldiers assigned to the Soldier Recovery Unit at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, step onto mats to take an adaptive yoga class that involves Warrior postures. Other times, they roll out their mats for a guided meditation practice called Integrative Restoration (iRest).
Yoga and iRest are part of the SRU’s adaptive reconditioning program, which conducts activities and sports to help Soldiers optimize their wellbeing, return to active lifestyles and achieve goals. It’s part of the Army Recovery Care Program, which helps wounded, ill and injured Soldiers transition back to the force or to veteran status.
This past February, Alli Houseworth, a registered yoga teacher, started instructing the SRU’s hour-long adaptive yoga class, which incorporates physical movements and postures, breathing exercises and meditation.
The physical postures practiced in yoga offer stretching and strengthening benefits and increase mobility, she said.
“The stretching helps with my flexibility, which also helps with my knees,” Sgt. 1st Class Sharon Andrews said.
Houseworth explained that breathwork helps students regain a sense of control and ease, while meditation helps participants learn how to respond rather than react, and to accept things as they come.
“I like yoga because it helps with my pain and stress level and it helps me to be more mobile,” Sgt. Cathleen Nebre said. “I guess it’s the mind-body connection. It doesn’t take away all my pain, but it helps. It helps me to learn to be calm and practice being calm.”
Andrews and Nebre like yoga because it’s easy to modify to their needs.
“The teachers show you alternative poses to do if you need to adapt it,” Nebre said.
Yoga isn’t always a movement-based practice. In fact, iRest is actually a form of yoga nidra, which means “yogic sleep.” It’s a mindfulness-based practice that integrates body, mind and spiritual healing, Houseworth said. She pointed out that thousands of years ago, yoga would have looked more like a meditation similar to iRest than the movement-based practices that we know today.
The Schofield Barracks AR program began offering iRest in March of 2019. Adaptive Reconditioning Support Specialist Janalyn Dunn said that it’s one of their most popular classes.
An average iRest class is one hour long and can be practiced seated or lying down. Houseworth described the 10-step protocol, during which participants create a place where they feel secure and consider an intention or heartfelt desire that helps them find a sense of grounding. The practice flows into body and breath sensing, which reconnects participants with physical sensations inside their bodies, she said.
Through testimonials, iRest participants reported reduced pain, help relaxing and not being tense, realizing goals and a feeling of acceptance so that one can move on with life. One participant experienced feeling refreshed and having peace of mind every time iRest was practiced. Another participant was able to acknowledge emotions and self-negativity and can better cope with life’s struggles and daily experiences.
When it comes to the mind-body connection, concepts like movement-based yoga and iRest have another thing in common. According to Houseworth, they are therapeutic techniques for trauma survivors.
“We don’t speak about the mind-body connection a lot in our western culture,” she said. “When someone experiences trauma, you can experience disassociation and that disconnects you from physical feelings in your body.”
In response to COVID-19, the classes moved online in April. Sgt. 1st Class Gerardo Familia attends several virtual classes, including yoga.
“[The Home Based AR program has] helped me stay actively engaged and lose five pounds,” he said.