Veterans Discover Healing Power of Yoga and Meditation

An old course in a new venue specifically tailored to veterans affected by combat-stress, PTSD, and trauma, takes students to Paradise Island in the Bahamas to discover the healing power of yoga and meditation.

Veterans doing yoga in Paradise Island, BahamasFor nearly a century, Manhattan College has invested in the education of veterans, spanning from World War I to the Iraqi and Afghanistan wars. Most recently, the College is helping to support veterans’ well-being as they make the transition to both civilian and academic life.

This spring, eight veterans traveled to Paradise Island, Bahamas, to study the science of stress reduction and the art of relaxation at the Sivananda Ashram, a center for yoga and meditation. The four-day experience was part of a first-year course, The Nature and Experience of Religion, led by Stephen Kaplan, Ph.D., professor of religious studies.

For the past several years, Kaplan has served as a regular panelist and coordinator at the Sivananda Ashram. He is also author of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Religion, “Scientific Approaches to Mysticism, ” and planned to teach a seminar on mysticism entitled Journey into Mysticism. Looking for ways to enhance this seminar, he planned a trip for his mysticism students to the Sivananda Ashram during spring break. However, when a student veteran relayed his interest in the course — particularly for the stress-reducing properties of a yogic lifestyle — Kaplan recognized it as an opportunity to serve the ever-growing veteran population at the College.

With the help of Robin Carnes, the executive director of Warriors at Ease, an organization that brings the healing power of yoga and meditation to military communities around the world, he developed a special section of Religious Studies 110 that is specifically tailored to veterans.

“Manhattan College is uniquely positioned to serve its veteran population,” Kaplan says. “All MC students are required to take RELS 110, and this course can serve as the intellectual and cultural platform to understand how different forms of yoga, meditation and stress reduction, found in the religious traditions of the world, help individuals focus their mind and relax. This knowledge helped the veterans easily acclimate to the Warriors at Ease program.”

Because the veterans bill doesn’t cover study abroad opportunities, Manhattan College funded the travel portion of the course.

​​​​“Manhattan College has an unwavering commitment to support our veteran students as they transition from active duty to civilian and academic life,” says Troy Cogburn, director of transfer admissions, and coordinator of the veterans’ student organization, VALOR (Veterans Academic Learning Opportunities Realized) at Manhattan College. “Professor Kaplan and the Religious Studies department are visionaries who have implemented a first-year experience that will positively affect the lives of our veteran student population for years to come.”

Kinesiology major Dale Andrews ’17, who served as a Navy combat medic for eight years, says the experience was both physically and mentally demanding. However, the process helped him discover an altered state of consciousness — a path to ultimate relaxation.

“We focused on meditation in yoga, concentrating on our breathing technique to transition to the point of meditating. At first, I thought everyone was just sleeping, but as Robin was taking us through the practice, I felt like I was there but I wasn’t. I felt like I was asleep, but I was very aware and conscious.”

Now that the group has returned home, they’re incorporating yoga and meditation practice into their daily routines.

“Yoga and meditation are great aids, especially at school,” Andrews says. “When everything is stressful, sometimes you need to take 20-30 minutes of your day to sit down and try to relax and realize the purpose behind your actions. Overall, the experience was mind-blowing in a way, because now that we’ve returned, I’m still discovering things that I learned.”

“It was a very calming experience,” he adds. “I’m very grateful to the College for actually giving us the opportunity to experience it.”

By Sarah Schwartz