Yogi uses the power of mindfulness and stretches to treat soldiers’ PTSD

"If this works for me, it has to work for other people"
July 5, 2018 11:35 am Last Updated: July 5, 2018 11:35 am

A little bit of yoga can go a long way. It can improve flexibility, help us lose weight, and serve as a great form of stress relief—but there are many other benefits as well.

Did you know that yoga can be used to help treat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)? One woman has been using this technique to help veterans across the United States.

When Charles Eggleston was injured in the Iraq War, his fiancée Pamela became his caretaker.

In 2003, Charles Eggleston was fighting in the Iraq War. His then fiancée, Pamela Stokes Eggleston, was home waiting for him, keeping in constant contact. When she hadn’t heard from him in three days, she knew something was wrong.

Pamela’s hunch was 100 percent correct. Charles’s vehicle had been hit by an improvised explosive device (IED) during combat. The explosion severely injured him and he was momentarily pronounced dead.

For the next three-and-a-half years, Charles stayed at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C. This time felt like an eternity to Pamela who felt she had been treated unfairly.

“I had to navigate a system I wasn’t used to navigating,” she told Yoga Journal. “If you were engaged to a service member, you were treated differently because you weren’t a wife. I didn’t like it, and I wasn’t conditioned to fall in line.”

This prompted her to co-found Blue Star Families, an organization which provides resources for families and partners of those facing military-specific challenges.

The terms TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) and PTSD were used frequently there but even still, “We weren’t saying that Charles had PTSD, because the military would have snatched up the security clearance he needed to continue working.”

They were able to get away with calling what Charles had developed “anxiety” for a time. Yet, when Charles was transferred to Washington D.C. VA Medical Center he was formally diagnosed with PTSD and Pamela was his de facto caretaker.

With all the stress that came with caring for Charles, Pamela took up yoga again.

(Yoga2Sleep/Screenshot)

Anyone who takes care of someone with PTSD knows it’s a lot of work, but Pamela (who by this point was Charles’s wife) refused to ask for help.

“I didn’t want to burden people, so I took it all on,” she said. “When things happen, we’re supposed to get on our yoga mats. And I didn’t do that; I didn’t do anything. I was fostering illness instead of wellness.”

Spending so much time around Charles and doing so much work to take care of him triggered some deep-seated trauma within Pamela and she began to develop what’s known as secondary PTSD—it’s common among caregivers.

Soon Pamela was plagued with the same long sleepless nights her husband was. She knew that this wasn’t healthy for either of them, so she got back into yoga.

“Asana [sitting poses] helped me process and move energy through my body,” she said, “and pranayama [breath control] helped as well … meditation was the answer.”

That’s when Pamela made a big realization.

“If this works for me, it has to work for other people,” she said.

Pamela became a certified yoga instructor and now teaches veterans with PTSD and their caretakers.

(Yoga2Sleep/Screenshot)

Pamela soon completed her 200-hour, 500-hour, and yoga therapy certifications. By 2012, she was implementing her 5-minute movement and breath sessions into Blue Star’s caregiver program.

In that same year, Pamela launched a program called Yoga2Sleep, which helped veterans, caregivers, and military families overcome sleep deprivation.

Two years later she partnered with an organization known as Hope for the Warriors, which has since been using Pamela’s yoga program in its curriculum. She is now the executive director at Yoga Service Council.

While many stress what Pamela is doing to help veterans, she feels that the work she’s done for her fellow caretakers is equally important.

(Yoga2Sleep/Screenshot)

“It’s selfish not to take care of yourself and run ragged, because if something happens to you, then everybody else has to deal with that,” she said. “When you get too enmeshed with another person, even if it’s your spouse or son, you stop having your own life.”

It was once believed that PTSD had no cure, but these days, there is a lot more discussion about post-traumatic growth.

Even if there’s no proven cure yet, doctors and scientists are on the right track. In the meantime, Pamela’s yoga serves as an excellent form of treatment.

“I believe in the power of mindfulness and meditation to get back into your body, breath, and soul,” she said.

“The only way to do this is to practice radical self-care every day. It’s critical.”