Holistic Healing for Veterans – Applying River Flow Yoga Teacher Training

By Cameron Ripley

When you put in the time and energy to learn a new skill and become a Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT), you want to make sure that your investment is going to pay off. This week, I got to sit down with a current student of the River Flow Yoga Teacher Training Program and ask her a few questions about how she has applied the training to her professional career.

Kari Clendenning Yoga Holistic Healing Veterans River Flow Yoga Teacher Training

Kari Clendenning is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) and soon-to-be RYT-200. She works for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) as a behavioral health therapist and is currently using her training to integrate yoga into the Whole Health Initiative Plan offered to veterans in her rural area. Kari was gracious enough to take some time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions about her experience with the River Flow Yoga Teacher Training and how it has impacted her work.

What Have You Been Getting Out of the River Flow Yoga Teacher Training Personally and Professionally?

Personally, as a busy mom and a full-time therapist, I often overlooked the importance of my own health and balance to maintain the health of those around me. I used to get bad headaches, insomnia, anxiety, and some depression, feeling like I never had enough to give and that I was always falling short.

With a busy schedule, it sometimes feels like you never have enough time in the day. I remember thinking “I’ll never be able to devote time to daily practice. The time just doesn’t exist!” But when I HAD to set aside time to practice for my classes, I realized that even 15 minutes a day is enough to feel a difference. This program has taught me how easy it is to change a life for the better, which has helped immensely with my professional career.

I truly loved this program and all that it has brought to my life. A few weeks ago, a coworker asked me, “why do you do yoga?” I answered, “because I like myself.” That’s what the program has done for me.

How Is the VA Integrating Yoga into Whole Health Focus?

Yoga is a holistic approach to wellness that works as an effective treatment for both physical and psychological conditions. Based on personal accounts and scientific research, we have started to integrate yoga into our Whole Health Initiative Plan that we offer to veterans.

The VA is starting to encourage staff to become certified yoga instructors so we can continue to roll out more services to veterans in the future. Currently, yoga is offered in various VA clinics and hospitals all over the country.

How Have You Been Using the River Flow Yoga Teacher Training in Your Work with the VA?

I work as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker therapist in behavioral health, so my primary focus is cognitive interventions, but I’ve always been interested in a holistic mind/body approach to healthcare. I’ve been using my River Flow Yoga Teacher Training to offer the veterans I work with an innovative, outside-the-box approach to manage their symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Yoga can be intimidating for some at first, but with the gentle, more individualized approach to the practice, veterans have found yoga to be more accessible than ever. I always love hearing feedback from my patients about the benefits they’ve been experiencing from breath practices, simple postures, and repetitions. Even outside of lessons, many students are creating and using personal yoga toolkits for self-help to manage their overwhelming symptoms.

How is Viniyoga Different from What You Were Exposed to in the Past?

When I first started with yoga, I practiced Hatha and Vinyasa Flow. I always loved taking the classes and working with the teachers but was hesitant to recommend yoga to others because of the rigorous nature of the practices. Fast paced flow classes are great, but the level of intensity can be a turn off for many newcomers or, worse, lead to injury. I was afraid that one bad yoga experience would give some people a negative mindset about yoga and deter future practice.

Viniyoga is different; it offers a safer place to practice because it moves at a slower pace. Teachers can be more observant, and students have more time to process instructions. Through repetitions and stay, students also gain a better understanding of the benefits of the different postures. I like that Viniyoga is accessible to a wider range of students regardless of age, ability, or physical condition, and it feels safer to teach as well.

Viniyoga is yoga rated E for everyone!

What Are Some of the Difficulties Teaching in a Rural Area?

Since most of the teachers and therapists who work for the VA are centralized in primary locations, it can be hard for some of the veterans who live in more rural, isolated areas to have access to the care they need. To help solve this problem, the VA has created mental health teams that travel from the main facilities and clinics to rural areas to help ensure that all veterans, no matter where they live, can still get the help they require.

I work as an in-home therapist for patients who are unable to travel to a clinic. Sometimes I bring yoga mats along to my house visits so I can incorporate Asana and Pranayama practices into my appointments right there in the patient’s home. It can be difficult to travel around all the time and not have a defined workspace to practice in, but I’m grateful to the VA for providing an innovative way to treat veterans, even in remote areas.

Have You Had to Change Your Teaching Methods Because of the COIVID-19 Pandemic?

Of course, not being able to meet with patients face-to-face has been a challenge, especially for those who are new to yoga and require more instruction. I have been using Video Connect for my appointments, relying on more verbal instruction than demonstrative. Because it is mostly voice-only instruction, I have had to adapt some sequences and suggest fewer complex postures and transitions.

But on the bright side, I have been able to offer more one-on-one practice sessions than before.

What Are You Looking Forward to Doing with the VA in the Future?

I’m just looking forward to continuing and expanding the whole health approach to healthcare and offering yoga as a treatment option to more patients in need. I genuinely believe in a holistic approach to wellness and think that it can benefit people with both physical and psychological conditions. That’s why I took the 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training and why I plan to continue my yoga education in the future.

I’m truly grateful to Mary and the River Flow Yoga Teacher Training School Faculty and the 5 Koshas Yoga & Wellness for the training, as it has given me these useful and beneficial options to incorporate into the services I offer. There are many people out there who want to learn to develop the personal toolkits for self-help, and I’m happy I get to be a part of that.

Cameron Ripley is a writer who helps small businesses with marketing and communications.