Seva is a sacred yogic principle that translates to “selfless service.” More specifically, it is service free from expectation of reward. Seva seeks the amelioration of humanity; seva unites us with others.
Military members are often commended for serving and providing the ultimate sacrifice, yet they are frequently forgotten in civilian society. Veterans and troops embody seva, and Veterans Yoga Project (VYP) is providing the tools for them to thrive by serving those who have served and by guiding them through recovery and building resilience with yoga.
Val Brainerd, Veterans Yoga Project Colorado state director, yoga instructor and navy veteran, says, “We believe that every veteran has earned the right to reintegrate into civilian life fully empowered to become successful, well-rounded individuals with healthy relations to their families and communities.” VYP believes that through breath, meditation, mindful movement, guided rest and gratitude, veterans can accomplish that.
Brainerd points out that yoga is for everybody, and VYP extends help to all veterans, active-duty troops, first responders, their families and their communities. The organization works in partnership with other veteran services including Veterans Affairs, American Legions and student veteran organizations.
Yoga is not one-size-fits all, and it does not cure post-traumatic stress or post-traumatic stress disorder, PTS(D); it is simply another tool to help people be their best. “Veterans with PTS have found that yoga therapy does, however, help them sleep better, concentrate, think more clearly, manage anger and aggression more easily and find comfort in their own skin,” Brainerd shares.
Many veterans and active-duty troops may be hesitant to jump into a yoga class because of the unique atmosphere. As Brainerd explains, though, yogic values align with military values, making yoga an inviting medium for healing and self-exploration; each branch of the military holds a specific set of values, and many of them are rooted in integrity, respect and commitment to service before self, which are foundational yogic principles, too.
VYP instructors are encouraged to call upon these values in their classes. They offer a myriad of classes including gentle yoga, yin yoga, chair yoga, power yoga, breathwork and more. VYP instructors teach over 100 free yoga classes a week — both in-person and online — for veterans, service members, first responders, their families and their communities. Plus, VYP organizes in-person and online events around the nation to bring people together.
To create more safe spaces for veterans, military members and first responders, VYP offers trainings for yoga teachers, yoga therapists, clinicians and others who assist those with PTS(D) and mental health challenges. The trainings are created by the military community for the military community. Some of their trainings include the Mindful Resilience for Trauma Recovery training and a 200-hour yoga teacher training, and they are held online and in varying states, including Colorado.
The call to union through selflessness is deeply woven in military service and the practice of yoga. As yogis and teachers, it is vital that we recognize veterans — and the other groups of people that have made commitments to serve 24/7, 365 days a year — and welcome them into our spaces and classes. “Some of us have visible injuries, some do not. Some might want to ask for help, most will not,” Brainerd emphasizes, “but veterans, just like everybody else out there, can benefit from a yoga practice. Welcome veterans into your classes, an accept them as they are.”
“I feel really fortunate; I’ve had a lot of great teachers along the way, a humongous support network, and I wish everyone else could have that,” Brainerd says. “In the classes that I teach, I try to bring that approach to it.” In addition to the classes she holds for veterans each week, Brainerd also works with Steamboat Adaptive Recreational Sports, where she teaches VYP classes at their facility and as part of their veterans’ camps.
Seva comes in many forms. For some, seva shows up in their work, others volunteer with organizations such as VYP (like Brainerd, one of the many volunteers that make VYP prosper) and others find seva through random acts of kindness. When we are aware of the endless opportunities to serve, seva becomes inherent and synergetic, benefiting our communities and ourselves. Supporting every human effort to thrive is a patchwork of others who have chosen to serve in both small and big ways.
Originally published in Summer + Fall 2023 issue of Colorado YOGA + life.
YOGA + Life Partnerships Director + Digital Editor