ABOUT THE PROGRAM
The grant from the Invest in Her Foundation funded a full day retreat program held on November 23, 2019 at The Journey Space located in Glen Echo, MD with the goal of making a difference in the lives of women veterans. A breathwork community was established in this mindfully created space wherein the women felt safe to be open, sharing, and vulnerable. It was through this vulnerability that they were able to help the women transform and move into an empowered state of being. All attendees shared their experience of personal growth. Participants and staff found the program to be a tremendous success.
Participants received a workbook specifically put together for this unique program. The workbook provided a wealth of information around the benefits of breathwork, different breath techniques to use in different situations, as well as research on how the breath supports health and well-being. The workbook also included exercises for introspection and opportunities for journaling and reflection.
Space was created for the attendees to share their stories and visions of what healing feels and looks like through conversations around empowerment and addressing limiting beliefs. The process created a trusted space for them to feel comfortable, to be seen, heard, and listened to. Trauma-sensitive language was used to address the different stressors of life, while keeping the nervous system regulated. During lunch, the women engaged in mindful eating and nutrition practices. The group received coaching, safety protocols for Conscious Connected Breathing (CCB), learned how to increase lung capacity, and the importance of the main respiratory muscle the diaphragm.
A 2-hour private, in-person or remote session was included. Following the event, the facilitators agreed to donate their personal time to match the grant.
Attendees expressed excitement about incorporating mindfulness techniques taught into their everyday lives, relationships, and self-care. All attendees verbally reported experiencing re- regulation of their nervous system and releasing energetic patterns of trauma from the body. Seven participants continue to work with us on an ongoing basis either privately or through various supporting events such as workshops. Some of the attendees have expressed their interest in continuing their healing path, but lack the financial resources to attend classes, workshops, or private sessions. Future financial consideration is being requested.
COMMUNITY INTEREST & SUPPORT
Veteran-focused non-profits and other organizations were willing to contribute staff support and reduced rental price for the location of the event and purchased materials. Different yoga studios and wellness centers such as The Mindfulness Center, Thrive Yoga, and The Journey Space advertised our event and offered discounted or free services for program attendees. The program was also advertised through the Maryland and Virginia Department of Veterans Affairs reaching 5000+ contacts on their mailing list, the Veterans Resiliency Project, Veterans Holistic Clinic, local Vetoga mind-body teachers, the local news channel, and WRNR radio which supported the program through a 30 second airtime announcement. This promotion led to general excitement within the community.
The story by the local television news media link can be accessed at here.
Multiple women communicated their challenge with finding a community where they can process their experiences with non-judgemental, like-minded people. Every attendee in this population suffered from some sort of disability or challenge related to their time in the military, many with a diagnosis of MST (Military Sexual Trauma) and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). As a result, by combining breath awareness, consciousness, stillness, and inward reflection, the attendees experienced personal growth and empowerment in areas of life/relationship, self-care, behavioral pattern changes, and feeling safe enough to heal mental and physical ailments. The women stated the class size and intimacy of the group was an important aspect of feeling comfortable. Many expressed sincere gratitude in being offered a safe space to talk openly about their personal experience with trauma and to be surrounded by other women who can relate.
The practice of private breathwork has been more effective in transformation after a number of sessions; ten is typically the recommended number of sessions for a new breather, especially for those dealing with trauma. Continued efforts to support these women financially is a priority.
As a result of this program, an important outcome was the creation and expansion of contacts, connections and community around this event at a leadership level between the veteran and healing arts community. This program brought awareness and increased needed resources for other healing modalities for military members, their families, and community. An example of this is a male member of Vetoga, who reached out to provide PTSD relief for a discounted offering, is now co-collaborating in teaching a monthly Sound & Healing workshop through the end of the year.
The retreat opened up many of these women to meet their trauma with self-compassion and gentleness as well as offered them tools for freedom from the suffering of PTSD. A powerful piece was the follow-up sessions wherein the participants had one-on-one focused attention. These sessions were focused on breathwork as a tool for trauma resolution and stress reduction as well as personal growth. Some women reported experiencing major shifts in their mindset and body.
For example, one women (LB) was so moved by the workshop that her family funded 3-private sessions. As both a part of the program and as an additional gift, she was also offered 3 additional remote sessions. She stated, “I am a skeptic by nature, but through Ashira’s Wellness Retreat for Female Veterans I discovered the importance of breathwork. I have struggled with PTSD and the chaos it brings in my life for a long time, then last fall I started working with Ashira. My ability to handle stressful situations or feelings has significantly increased and so has my confidence. I look forward to keep working with her and further strengthening myself through breathwork.”
Ashira: When I first met LB at the retreat, she stated she was not a “touch” person and asked for no contact. In her private session, we worked on boundary repair in addition to trauma-sensitive breathwork. After the first session, LB initiated a hug upon saying goodbye and her level of discomfort with touch work was completely eliminated by her third session. She is regaining agency and her sense of safety and empowerment in this world. As she nears the end of her college career and prepares to enter the workforce, this sense of safety in her body along with the tools to handle stress is a precious gift. LB is back at college, has developed a daily breath and self-care practice, and is scheduled for remote sessions.
CW, a high-ranking Government official from the Pentagon who leads a critically important team of people, was able to bring tools from our session together into her work that included regulating her own breathing as to support her team in entraining with her system as she learns to relax deeper. She knows now that she can take a deep breath throughout her meetings to connect more deeply and communicate with her team (as they mirror her). CW also felt empowered to establish new boundaries in her relationships. She is prioritizing focusing on her self-care. CW is now scheduled regularly for trauma resolution and breathwork. I have been taking a 60-75% discount of her private sessions because her income doesn’t allow for this kind of expense. Due to the nature of this situation, further financial aid is being sought.
Several participants reported solid sleep every night since the workshop which demonstrated improved regulation of the nervous system.
Another attendee, Christina Wheeler, took advantage of the breathwork class that was offered and taught by Ashira several weeks following the retreat. She is grateful to be able to attend for no-cost and is currently scheduled to attend more.
The initial steps taken to develop this program required an investment of significant time. We consulted with various organizations to bring about a program which encompassed numerous organizational pieces to create the most supportive environment possible for this special population. Putting on this event has involved more than 2 dozen people and businesses and in excess of 168 combined hours. We thank the many groups involved in supporting this population and helping to make the program a success. A strong foundation was laid to continue this program in the future.
Thanks to the grant from Invest in Her, the participants experienced greater emotional freedom, giving them full agency to manage their emotional experience both in the workshop and in their lives. They also have a toolbox of mind-body techniques (self-care) that will contribute to lifelong skills for stress management.
Another participant describes her experience, “Peace, comfort and healing. Everyone’s experience will be different–mine was like getting a soothing massage on the inside. Another result for me has been a solid 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night. You have to experience this type of journey with someone you can trust, and Erin is definitely that [person].”