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Healing warriors

Lance Holdforth - Special to the Examiner

A yoga program helping American soldiers cope with traumatic stress has come to Barrie, and it's the only one of its kind in Canada.

For 10 years, Nicole Taylor has seen the positive effects yoga has on the human body, and now, being the only Yoga Warriors instructor in the country, she's preparing to see how it affects the mind.

"People get prescribed all kinds of things," Taylor said. "Pills don't solve everything."

The program was initiated at the Worchester Vet Centre in Massachusetts and has helped thousands of soldiers get through post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which sparked classes to spread to U.S. military bases, Taylor said.

"In the States, I could not believe the huge movement behind this; just about every (military) base has a Yoga Warriors class," she said. "It's been a lot of work, but now it's starting to take flight."

Taylor took up yoga to relieve the stress of her job as an operating nurse at the Southlake Regional Health Centre in Newmarket, and now teaches people how to do the same.

"The goal is not to bend yourself into a pretzel. It's more passive yoga with stretching," Taylor said. "We work a lot on the spine and just releasing tension from your hips, shoulders and the neck."

Veterans from the Gulf War, Afghanistan and Vietnam have all taken part in classes and reported improvements in stress conditions and sleep deprivation, Taylor said.

When Taylor heard the program was helping soldiers, she went to the Boston-area vet centre where she was the only Canadian in the training class.

"I said that I was from Canada and they couldn't believe it," she said.

"She (the trainer) said they would like me to come back in the winter time to train to be a trainer and to get it (the class) going right across Canada."

Classes will be offered at Studio Bliss, 72 Dunlop St. E., starting Nov. 23 from 6:15 p.m. to 7:15 p.m., and Taylor is opening the doors to anyone with severe job-related stress.

"It would be so great for first-responders like firefighters who go into burning buildings or police officers with trauma," she said. "I've opened the Yoga Warriors program to soldiers, past and present, police, fire and EMS paramedics."

Taylor lives at CFB Borden with her husband where she teaches yoga classes, but said the Warriors program differs by focusing on unique types of stress and healing.

"There's a whole science behind it. It is primarily for past and present serving vets," she said. "Basically they're all high-stress areas. They're all dealing with a lot of the same issues."

The program's goal is to relieve war-related stress, and developers of the class removed the term "surrender to the mat" because the word 'surrender' may act as a trigger of PTSD.

"Even the lingo this program has developed is amazing," Taylor said. "It's also a lot of meditation components because these guys are usually very active."

Although the class will offer three free sessions to start and it may not be as intense as other classes, Taylor said even those in good shape are surprised with the results.

"When I get soldiers in my class - and they're fit - they find they can let go, but see that yoga isn't that easy," she said.


Symptoms of PTSD

- Recurrent re-experiencing of the trauma (for example, troublesome memories, flashbacks that are usually caused by reminders of the traumatic events, recurring nightmares about the trauma and/or dissociative reliving of the trauma)

- Avoidance to the point of having a phobia of places, people and experiences that remind the sufferer of the trauma or a general numbing of emotional responsiveness

- Chronic physical signs of hyperarousal, including sleep problems, trouble concentrating, irritability, anger, poor concentration, blackouts or difficulty remembering things, increased tendency and reaction to being startled and hypervigilance (excessive watchfulness) to threat

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