Yoga Practices for Veterans: Healing “I AM” Mantra

This five-part series explores the insight "American Sniper" offers into the yoga of war, the mind of a veteran, and the practices crucial to finding the next mission.

In this five-part series, author Bhava Ram explores the insight the film American Sniper offers into the yoga of war, the mind of a veteran, and the practices crucial to finding the next mission.

Follow your breath…
Anchor into the gap between each breath…
The space between each heartbeat…
Single-pointed gaze…
Target in crosshairs…
Finger slowly on the trigger…
Enemy killed.

I was stunned by the yoga of American Sniper. Actor Bradley Cooper as Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle, accessing breath practices I do on my mat each morning before sunrise, only with different intentions.

The movie also transported me back to the life I once had as a war correspondent in Iraq, Afghanistan, and beyond. The PTSD that came with a broken back, stage-four cancer, and a lost career. No more peak moments, an identity shattered. The painful inability to integrate back into American life. It all felt drab, tasted like cardboard. And if you came into my emotional crosshairs, I would instantly pull the trigger on my inner rage.

How Yoga Serves Vets Suffering from PTSD

Yoga saved my life. Daily practice slowly healed and transformed me. I found a new mission. Facing PTSD and learning to cultivate resilience takes time and devotion. As I experienced, however, it is possible to experience peak moments deep within ourselves, to bring color and taste back into our lives, and even to find a new mission that calls to us from the depths of our hearts.

See also Hala Khouri’s Trauma-Informed Yoga Teaching Path

Teaching Yoga to Veterans

When working with veterans in yoga classes or private sessions, I always seek to facilitate the transition from the fight-or-flight syndrome of stress to the rest-and-restore state, where true healing begins. Five practices comprise the cornerstones of my teaching. Here’s how I instruct the first of five:

“I AM” Mantra

This is a yoga pose for the mind. It’s much more powerful than physical asanas. It focuses us, brings us into the present moment, melts stress away.

1. Begin cross-legged, eyes softly closed, anchor your attention to the breath.
2. Silently, chant “I” on the inhale, “AM” on the exhale.
3. Sustain the chant throughout the yoga practice, gently returning to it whenever you forget.

The effect? Rough emotional edges get softer, heart rates slow, jagged nerves relax. We learn to let go. In time, peace replaces panic. Healing becomes possible.

See also Kathryn Budig’s Rise + Shine Mantra Meditation

Bhava Ram is founder of the Warriors for Healing Foundation, in partnership with Yoga Journal LIVE!, Give Back Yoga, and Connected Warriors. He is also author of the highly acclaimed memoir, Warrior Pose, How Yoga Literally Saved My Life, which is scheduled to be released as a feature film in 2016.