Dan Libby is a licensed clinical psychologist, yoga teacher and the executive director of Veterans Yoga Project, a national nonprofit based out of Northern California. Dan specializes in the integration of evidence-based psychotherapies and complementary and alternative medicine practices for the treatment of PTS(D) and other psychological and emotional distress in active-duty military and veterans.
As a Postdoctoral Fellow with Yale University’s Department of Psychiatry and the VA’s Mental Illness Research and Education Clinical Center, Dan conducted research investigating the physiological effects of mindfulness meditation as well as the first epidemiological investigation of Complementary and Alternative Medicine in VA PTSD treatment programs. He is also former Director of Clinical Services for the Starlight Military Rehabilitation Program and has taught mindfulness and yoga to hundreds of veterans and active-duty service members. All that said, Dan claims to have learned everything he ever needed to know at the Feathered Pipe Ranch, the renowned nonprofit educational foundation and yoga retreat center.
In this episode, we discuss the clinical conditions of stress: lack of safety, predictability and control; how to create S.P.A.C.E. for healing to occur; the importance of evidence-informed yoga; and the five pillars of VYP’s Mindful Resilience programs: breath, meditation, movement, rest and gratitude. Dan shares his excitement for VYP’s new Mindful Resilience for Compassion Fatigue program, created to equip healthcare, frontline workers and caregivers with tools to prevent the effects of burnout, fatigue and vicarious trauma.
Dan’s background in yoga, massage and spirituality married with his extensive training in psychology provide a unique window into holistic healing, and this conversation is a worthwhile listen for veterans, their loved ones and anyone interested in reaching deeper levels of mental, emotional and physical resilience.
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This program is brought you by the Feathered Pipe Foundation and its kind supporting community, who has been inspiring positive change in the world since its inception in 1975. Please consider joining us with your kind donation.
Andy Vantrease 00:04
Welcome to The Dandelion Effect podcast, a space for organic conversation about the magic of living a connected life. Here we explore the ideas that our guests carry through the world. Remember who and what inspired them along the way, and uncover the seeds that help them blossom into their unique version of this human experience. This podcast is in partnership with the Feather Pipe Foundation, whose mission is to help people find their direction through access to programs and experiences that support healing, education, community, and empowerment.
Andy Vantrease 00:39
Hi, friends, welcome to the first ever episode of The Dandelion Effect podcast. I’m your host, Andy Vantrease. And I am so honored to be here and incredibly excited to be launching this project for the Feather Pipe Ranch and the Feather Pipe Foundation. We have high hopes to grow this already vast community that the Ranch has cultivated these last 45 years and really just bring this crazy wisdom and these life-affirming teachings to a wider audience and make them more accessible to people all around the country and all around the world. So today’s guest Danny Libby is a really special person to start us off. Danny is a licensed clinical psychologist, a yoga teacher, and the executive director of Veterans Yoga Project, which is a national nonprofit based out of Northern California. His work focuses on the integration of evidence-based psychotherapies, and complementary and alternative medicine practices for the treatment of PTSD as well as others psychological and emotional challenges in active duty military and veterans.
Andy Vantrease 01:42
In this episode, we cover a lot, Danny starts us off with a very grounding, breathing practice that allows us all to arrive in our bodies. And we also discuss things like the clinical conditions of stress, which he describes as lack of safety, predictability, and control. We talk about how to hold space for healing to occur, the importance of evidence-informed yoga, and the language being used around that, that I so appreciate with Veterans Yoga Project. And we also really unpack and get into the five pillars of the Veterans Yoga Project Mindful Resilience programs, which are breath, meditation, movement, guided rest, and gratitude. Danny shares his excitement for VYPs new Mindful Resilience for Compassion Fatigue program, which they created to equip healthcare frontline workers, and really anybody who’s a caregiver with the tools to prevent the effects of burnout, fatigue, and what they’re calling vicarious trauma. I’m really excited about that and can’t wait to share that with my friends who are nurses and doctors and people taking care of elderly patient…elderly parents, patients, really that one, that one spreads far and wide. And then we also spread awareness for the organization’s largest annual fundraiser, which is coming up in November called Veterans Gratitude Week. It’s November 6 through the 16th, and it culminates in a weekend online series that features a dozen or more of today’s most prolific health and wellness professionals. I cannot wait to tune in to that online summit on the 15th and 16th of November, and also participate in their annual fundraiser as well. It’s an incredible way to raise awareness, to get involved with their work, and really just to see what they’re up to, and to tap into that community.
Andy Vantrease 03:39
So Dan’s background in yoga, massage, spirituality. One thing I love about him is that he marries those things with this more clinical extensive training in psychology. So he really provides a unique window into holistic healing. And this conversation truly is a worthwhile listen for veterans, their loved ones in their communities, and honestly, anyone interested in reaching deeper levels of mental, emotional, physical, spiritual resilience. So without further ado, I would like to welcome Danny Libby and enjoy this inaugural episode of The Dandelion Effect podcast.
Andy Vantrease 04:21
I wanted to start with a breath practice. And I know that you said you start your meetings this way, and it really just allows people to arrive in their bodies and minds to prepare for, you know what we’ll talk about. So if you’re up for that, I think that would be a great way to just get into it.
Dr. Daniel J Libby 04:41
Yeah, yeah, that’s such a great idea. Thank you so much. So yeah, maybe we’ll just take go two and a half minutes or so. And so if you and your listeners want to just maybe take a moment to start to settle into awareness of your body and maybe start to bring your attention inward, we’ll just take two plus minutes just to start to ground into the moments. I’ll invite you to start by noticing first the physical sensations, where your body is making connection with something else. So just for a moment, just allowing yourself…I can feel the bottoms of my feet being pulled by gravity, and I can feel the sensation of my skin touching the socks, the floor underneath that. I can feel the sensations in the backs of my legs. And so I invite you just to take another breath or two as you bring all of your attention, all of your awareness just to notice these sensations.
Dr. Daniel J Libby 05:51
Without trying to feel anything in particular, I’ll invite you to expand your awareness to take in the sensations of your entire body…including the sensations of the rhythm of your breath.
Dr. Daniel J Libby 06:11
So without trying to control the breath…to see if you can start to become aware of the breath.
Dr. Daniel J Libby 06:25
And in particular, noticing the sensations. What do you feel when you bring your attention to the breath?
Dr. Daniel J Libby 06:39
Again, we’re not trying to feel anything in particular.
Dr. Daniel J Libby 06:49
Just using this exercise and awareness to ground us into this present moment. As we start to transition to whatever we’re doing to, we will be doing, to chatting here for the next hour or so.
Dr. Daniel J Libby 07:09
Or if you’re listening to this podcast…while multitasking…allowing at least have part of your consciousness grounded in the present moment in the sensations of your body.
Dr. Daniel J Libby 07:26
Then I’ll invite you to start to engage with your breath just by extending your exhale.
Dr. Daniel J Libby 07:36
So in your next exhale, maybe allowing the belly button to move towards the front of your spine as the breath empties more fully towards completely empty.
Dr. Daniel J Libby 07:50
And then just allowing that rebound, inhale to fill and noticing again, the sensation of the breath as it expands to the belly, the low back and the side waist. Maybe noticing the sensations of the breath as the expansion rises up through the entire torso.
Dr. Daniel J Libby 08:12
And then with each exhale, just allowing the exhale to escape slowly, more slowly than the inhale.
Dr. Daniel J Libby 08:24
Whatever the pace of your breath is, just allowing your exhale just to be a little bit longer and fuller and deeper than your inhale.
Dr. Daniel J Libby 08:32
And then as you continue to allow your breath to be full deep. If you can, I’ll invite you to take your hands to your heart center. In yoga, we often press the palms together, maybe having the thumbs resting on the sternum. Or perhaps the hand is resting on the center of your chest facing inward towards the heart, one hand on top of the other. Some of the vets I work with like to hold one fist in the opposite hand right at the center of their chest. Whatever gesture allows you to bring your attention to this part of your body that we call our heart center.
Dr. Daniel J Libby 09:37
So that as you continue to inhale…these long, slow, deep inhales. Then as you allow the longer slower, deeper exhales. We can also notice any sensations in this area we call our heart center, and we can call forth or invite a feeling of gratitude. Even if that means imagining what would gratitude, if you were feeling really grateful in this moment, what might that feel like right here in the center of your heart?
Dr. Daniel J Libby 10:18
And then from that place, or maybe just the thought of that place, I’ll invite you to silently acknowledge to yourself one thing in your life that you are grateful for today.
Dr. Daniel J Libby 10:34
I am so very grateful to be on this inaugural podcast with you, Andy. Thank you so much for having me. Thank you to all of your listeners for joining me in a few breaths, and getting us prepared to hopefully have a productive and enlightening conversation.
Andy Vantrease 10:55
What a great way to start out? And when did you begin starting your meetings that way?
Dr. Daniel J Libby 11:01
I don’t know we have? That’s a very good question. I don’t know. But we’ve been doing it for probably several years now, and it really it helps. You know, especially, you know, when I’m running an organization, and there’s people all over the country, and we don’t get to spend time together. And just to breathe together, you know, one, it brings my, you know, my arousal levels inside my, you know, window of tolerance. And I’m able to, you know, communicate more effectively. But there’s also a sense of community that I think gets built. And so I don’t know how long we’ve been doing that, but it’s the best way to start any meeting, I think.
Andy Vantrease 11:38
Yeah, I have a teacher back at home who would start…She was a breathwork facilitator. It’s…she’s kind of one of those people hard to describe, like she, in her bio, it says, like wisdom keeper and transformational coach. And she does a lot of different modalities and therapies. But one of the ways that she always begins work with individual clients, or if she’s doing a class is like, a breathwork practice like that. And then this really like wild shake off, like shaking of your whole body, which I always think is so fun, especially if you’re in a room with people you don’t know, or, you know, people who…She does a lot of work with corporate clients. And she said, it’s just the greatest thing to get people into their bodies and just feeling loose and, you know, more present. And it can turn into a silly thing. But the goal is always to bring you back. And I felt like that that happened with with their practice, you just let us through. So I appreciate that. I’m fully here now.
Dr. Daniel J Libby 12:47
Yeah, yeah, anything to get in their bodies, because we’re all I think, more intelligent when we are grounded, and when we’re coming from that somatic space.
Andy Vantrease 12:56
Andy Vantrease 12:58
Well, let’s dive in. I want to…I want to chat with you about the Feather Pipe. You spent nine summers there. And, you know, you and I just met a couple years ago, but through the grapevine hearing that you worked there, you know, I think starting at 19, you said. And so that’s that’s huge. I mean, that’s, those are such formative years, and so much happens, I feel like, so much so many internal shifts, so much figuring out who you are, and what you want to do and what you’re interested in. And I just feel like you know, the 20, anybody’s 20s are kind of a hot mess, and a really good way, typically, if you can get through it, you know, if you can get through and come out the other side. So, tell me a little bit about just what your connection with the Feather Pipe is and why it’s been, why it’s been such a huge part of your life, particularly in helping guide you and, you know, push you towards what it is that you do today. How did that play out?
Dr. Daniel J Libby 14:12
Yeah, I don’t know how it played out. By God’s grace. I say. I have been, I did my first sort of adult summer at the ranch when I was 19. I think it was 1995. And I’d actually been to the ranch two summers when I was younger. I was about maybe seven and eight years old. And so I had these memories of spending time at the Ranch when I was younger, and spending time with Crystal. And, so when I came back to the Ranch for their 20th anniversary party, I just came for a week. It was a place I hadn’t been to, you know, at that point for 10 plus years. You know, I didn’t intend to, to stay there. Like I said I was going to be there for a week, but I was there for two days. And you know, I just fell in love with the place And, Howard offered me a job. I asked them, I said, “Can I have a job?” And they gave me a tent in the woods, spent the entire summer in a tent. And I, you know, spent summer cleaning rooms and doing dishes. And it changed my life. And that was the first of nine summers working at the Ranch. And then after that, I was on the board of directors for several years. And now I get to bring groups there and do workshops at the Ranch. So it has certainly played a very formative part in my life. And, you know, I really feel like that is where I grew up. That’s where I woke up a little bit, you know. And I, and I learned so much from all those summers there and just meeting such extraordinary people, and from all different walks of life with, you know, talents, like you’re talking about, all these different modalities, and ways to heal and transform. And it’s really the place where I learned how healing happens.
Andy Vantrease 16:02
So…so how does healing happen? I mean, what the the, the fun, fun and funny thing about talking to people about the Ranch is asking them to put to words, things that are typically very hard to explain, like, things like healing, and…I’m just curious how you would, how you would answer that question, after all that you’ve learned there and the work you’re doing now. How does healing happen? And what are the factors that have to be in place.
Dr. Daniel J Libby 16:37
Um, I think speaking from a, from a personal place, I got my healing at the Ranch, because it held me, because I was, I was seen, and I was heard for who I was. And I was offered unconditional positive regard. There was something about there, like all the, you know, the kids that work there, the people that came through there. It’s just, just the…people are who you are. And there’s this interest in knowing who you are, and allowing people to be who they are. And in my experience, and again, I’m a clinical psychologist, and so if I do psychotherapy work, even as a yoga teacher, what I really learned is that people have the innate capacity to heal. Right? And just as, like, my poor niece just broke her arm I just found out. And, but what’s gonna happen in this picture, she’s got a cast on her arm. And what’s gonna happen is her arms gonna heal. Right? And the doctors aren’t going to heal her arm. The arm is going to heal itself. They’re just going to put a brace on it to make sure that the conditions are right for healing. And just as the body heals itself. Right? Or my daughter falls and scrapes her knee, and it heals itself. What I learned at the Ranch and what I’ve seen through the work that I do is that the mind and the Spirit are just like the body, and they are pre-programmed for spontaneous healing. Right? We are, we are designed to heal. And just like the body, just like that arm has to be casted, and you have to have…Right? She has to have the right nutrients in your body, and you know, be well hydrated and all that stuff. If you create the conditions, the body heals itself. And I think that healing work is about, you know, or being a quote healer is really just about holding space and giving people the space to be who they are, so that their own self healing mechanisms can kick in. Right? So can you create the just like creating a brace for the arm, can we create that brace for that safe place for somebody’s emotions and their spirit, so that their emotions and spirit and mind can do the work that needs to be done for healing. And I think that’s what I learned at the Ranch. That’s what I saw is that, you know, people go away for a week and you have this, you know, this week uninterrupted where you’re out of your normal life. You get fed three amazing meals a day. You’re surrounded by, you know, amazing, fascinating people. You’re learning, you know, contents that’s applicable to your life and that it’s all about healing. All of those are conditions. Right? You’re creating the conditions. Right, where now, right, from a nervous system perspective, your nervous system feels like it’s such in such a safe place. Like I am totally okay here. I’m totally held. It’s okay for me just to be who I am and to go through what I have to go through and move through whatever traumas or stresses or stuff that I have to move through so that I can heal and transform.
Andy Vantrease 19:44
Yeah, I mean, that’s such a beautiful visual. I’ve never really…I agree with all of that. And I think I have thought about it in that way before, but never like painted a picture like with the cast and with the, you know, just actually like putting structures in place for the, the emotional and the spiritual, like you would with with the physical.
Dr. Daniel J Libby 20:08
Yeah, yeah, and that’s what I feel like that’s what psychotherapy is. Right? It’s like you’re creating the conditions for people to…Right? You might also, you know, be providing, you know, different, you know, techniques and whatnot, but a lot of it is really just creating the relationship and feeling and creating the space where someone can start to process their own stuff. And I think, you know, the same thing can happen in a yoga class or in all the work that we do. But I think that’s really the magic to what the Feather Pipe is about. Right? There’s, there’s somehow…It’s just the shape of the bowl that the actual Ranch in. Right? Surrounded by the mountains like that, that it’s just like, you feel like you’re being held. And I feel like that’s how I felt every time I sort of walk onto that property.
Andy Vantrease 20:55
Are there any people or teachers or even, you know, other staff members that that were influential to you, that you felt particularly held by throughout your years? And, and that you learn from?
Dr. Daniel J Libby 21:08
I mean, India, of course. India, she held it all together. Right? And she, she held that space for everyone. But certainly, you know, she went to bat for me. Right!? She, she held the space for me. In the same way VJ, her sister. Right? And Howard. And it’s all the people that worked there, and that were part of it. And, you know, I was the first four or five years at the Ranch, I was, you know, cleaning rooms and doing dishes, and then I was the driver. And at some point, I went to massage therapy school, and I became a licensed massage therapist. And, boy, what did I, mean, the stuff that I learned from Michael, Edie Resto, and from Lynde, like, really about like bodywork and healing and, like creating space, like in the tissues. Like they, I mean, they held space for me personally. Right? And just sort of, you know, I do feel like, you know, age 19 to 28, or whatever it was. I was probably pretty young, immature, 20 something year old. And, and they did, they all, you know, they all held the space for me in that sort of, you know, almost parental way, you know, where they were, they were mentors, and they were, you know, people that I felt loved by, in addition to just sort of the very concrete, like, teaching me about the body and, you know, origins and insertions and, and how to how to work with the physical body. So, so all the people that were like, there. And then, you know, every week, you know, 25, to 50, of these really interesting souls would come through. And, you know, you would sort of get bits and pieces from them, some of them back every…Like, some of the teachers that came to the Feather Pipe…like Mary Dunn and Dean Lerner in particular, I have to say, I always felt really cared for, going to their classes, and just hanging out and having lunch with them. And I would say Erich Schiffmann was very much like that. I feel like just everybody…and they were just random, you know. There were people that, you know, I don’t even remember their names, and they were, you know, guests that would come through that you would, you would just develop this, like, really close, I feel, like close relationship for that one week. And, you know, then they were gone. But then they would come back the next year. And there’s just this, you know, there’s still like guests that I remember that I just feel very warmly towards even though, like, how well do I really know them, you know. But you know, you see him for a week out of a year, a couple times in your life, but still, I feel this affinity towards them. Because I did I felt a sense of love, and again, as a young man, growing up in that place, and there were there were a lot of crones. Right? There were a lot of wise women, who I felt like took me under their wing and taught me and, and held the space for me in that way. So to answer your question, yes. I feel like there are a lot of people at the Ranch who were able to embody that, and that, you know, which is where I learned, right, from that experience, like, oh yeah, this is how it happens.
Andy Vantrease 24:27
Yeah, I feel like too, there’s something. There’s something about the intergenerational group dynamic there. I know, for me specifically, it was, that played a huge part. And I’m curious if you, you know, have any thoughts about that when it comes to healing in general, especially for young people, like, you know, I kind of went through my quarter-life crisis via illness when I was like 25-26 and that’s when I came to the Ranch and it was just this grandmother energy almost, where its so incredibly unconditional and so deeply nourishing right away. I mean, often I feel like before I discovered the Ranch, I used to think that relationships, and healing just took time. Like, there’s just a certain amount of time and, and to a certain extent I, I, now I trust the timing of whatever it takes to process, but I also learned that like these bonds that you talk about with people that you only have known for a week, and the connections that you have, and the way that you felt with people…Just to say, like, I know what you’re saying, when you when you say, I don’t necessarily know, like facts about these people, and maybe I only knew them for for a week out of a year, but there’s something that’s created. And I think, for at least for me, I’m curious about you, but like there’s something having to do with that multi-generational setup, that the Ranch provides that, you know, the elders are there. They have been through so much like. You know, I remember India, just saying, like, you’re right on track. Like, no matter what I was doing. It didn’t even matter. You know, it didn’t even matter. Like, I don’t actually know if she was paying attention to like, what I was saying where I was and what I felt I needed to do or whatever. But it was like, oh yeah, you’re you’re exactly where you need to be. And to hear that from an older person who is creating the space for me to just be felt huge. Felt so helpful.
Dr. Daniel J Libby 26:42
Mm hmm. Yeah, I couldn’t agree with you more, I think. And that the grandmother energy that is a really good way to, to put it of just sort of being held and that sort of unconditional love. There is, there…I think that’s so important, right? For, you know, I feel the same way like I can think of, you know, older people that have, you know, even just with a few words. Right? Like there were, like, I can actually remember, actually, Judith Lasater…sitting with Judith Lasater in this smoke shed at the Ranch. And there was just something she said. And I didn’t know what she said, actually. I don’t remember the words. But the way she just looked at me. And it was just like, oh, thank…it just felt like confirmation. Or like, there’s something about when life is tough, right? For all of us, I mean, life is really tough. But for all of us, when we’re older, we’re wiser than when we were younger. And for us to hear from an old person, right, whose been through what we’ve been through, you know, just, hey, it’s gonna be okay, or, hey, you’re on the right track, or maybe even hey, you know, maybe you’re screwing up, and, you know, sometimes that’s what needs to be said. I don’t think that, I think, in a world that feels increasingly isolated, right, especially now with, you know, the pandemic, the importance of that intergenerational, I think that’s a good point. Yeah. I think part of that, also, too, might be is that, my hope, and my…that’s my strong hope, is that as we get older, we chill out a little more. Right? And that we’re not quite as stressed out about sweating, the small stuff. And when we are, when we’re not sweating, the small stuff, it enables us to be in the moment more, and we’re able to really see and hear others more. Right? And that’s where I really feel like, you know, healing, we all just want to be seen, we want to be heard. Right? We want to be recognized. I think that is what, you know, what I felt, right, from a lot of folks there at that Feathered Pipe, but especially those elders was that there’s something about like, hey, I’m in a space now, where like, the other 51 years, one weeks a year, you know, I might be kind of crazed and you know, have all this stuff going on. But then when I come here, my nervous system is actually able to settle and like be here. And now I can see the other. Right? I can see you and I can hear you and I have a really present conversation with you, because…right, again, the conditions have been created for that, right. The conditions for healing, for transformation, for connection, are created just by, right, taking the week off coming to this place in particular and, and doing that. And so my, my sense with the intergenerational thing is that, right, as you get older…right, you just see things that happen to you when you were younger, as though, not that big a deal, or you know, you got through it. So it’s not such a need for anxiety or stress.
Andy Vantrease 29:38
Mm hmm. How would you begin to describe what those factors are? Because it because again, it’s almost like this just state of being, but I think, you know, given your training and research, like you actually have figured out what those specific factors are that are playing on your nervous system. So, so what are some of the things that are imperative when thinking, Okay, I want to hold space for somebody?
Dr. Daniel J Libby 30:11
If you look at the basic, you know, basic research of stress. You know, what constitutes a stressful experience or a traumatic experience is a lack of three things. There’s a lack of safety, a lack of predictability, and a lack of control. And so if you think about, you know, even today, COVID, right, and the pandemic, the reason why we’re all so stressed out, is because it’s potentially unsafe, right? A lot of people are dying and getting sick. It is unpredictable, right? You can’t really predict anything about it, or when it’s gonna end or how, you know, if you’re gonna get it, or who’s got it, and you can’t control it. And so when things are unpredictable and uncontrollable, and there’s that lack of safety, right, we feel stress. And we feel like we’re not, you know, we’re not in the place to do anything other than to sort of have that stress response into being a defensive position to maybe try to survive. And so that safety, predictability control, if you think about, if you spell it out…safe and predictable, controlled…safe, predictable and controllable environment. Did I get that right? SPACE, so all traumatic events, for example, lack a safe, predictable and controllable environment, right? They lack space, both externally, right? But also internally. So I’ll take another example of a car accident.. right? A car accident, there’s lack of space, there’s lack of safety, right? People get hurt all the time. There’s lack predictability. You can’t predict what your car is going to do, what the other cars gonna do. You can’t control what yours or the other car is going to do. And so it’s an event where there’s this lack of space. And that’s partly why it can become a traumatic event. But what’s more important in determines kind of whether that event sort of results in symptoms or results in post traumatic stress, for example, is the internal experience. And I don’t know if you’ve ever had an experience where you felt like your own mind and body lacked safety, predictable and control. I had a vet tell me not in these exact words, hey, Doc, I, you know, I couldn’t really predict or control the fact that I was going to projectile vomit, the first time I had to pick up a body part. Right? This is not what I trained to do. This is not what I, you know, I tried like hell to keep it in. And it sort of certainly didn’t feel safe. Right? And so, or someone who, you know, you know, Doc, my body just kept shaking, you know, the car stops, and but my body just kept shaking, and I couldn’t stop it, it was like involuntary just couldn’t stop shaking. Right? Again, the body is lacking predictability, lacking control, or some people who freeze right at the time of a trauma or dissociate, right? Again, the mind goes blank or freezes, and it’s not what you think you would do. It’s not what you predicted you would have done, and you couldn’t really control it at the time. So this lack of safety, predictability, and control can be referring to the external environment. But it can also be referring to my own thoughts and feelings and bodily sensations. So for someone who has post traumatic stress, for example, right, they might be very often feeling like the external world is unsafe and unpredictable and uncontrollable. So maybe they isolate themselves, they keep their back to, back to the wall and keep their eyes on the doors and the exits. But what’s more debilitating, right, for many of us, if you’re dealing with anxiety, depression, post traumatic stress, is the lack of safety, predictability and control in our own thoughts and our own body and our own mind. For someone who has, you know, you know, OCD or post traumatic stress, right, your your mind can’t stop remembering or thinking about something and you’re obsessively thinking about that same thing over and over again, where you constantly have this intrusive memory, or, you know, your mind, just, you can’t control it, right? So it’s uncontrollable, and you can’t predict when all of a sudden you’re going to get triggered. Or you can’t predict when all of a sudden, you’re going to you know, lose it because you’re just so on edge, and all of a sudden, you just sort of past your breaking point. The lack of safety, predictability and control of the mind and of the body are what really characterize stress. And our ability to create safety, predictability and control in the body is enhanced through the practices. I spent all these years of Feathered Pipe, and most of the workshops were were yoga workshops. And, and I think there’s a reason for that, because it’s important to bring that safety, predictability and control into the body. One of the things, we do at Veterans Yoga Project is really just focus on the tools, right? So it’s not so much about the yoga. It’s really just about breathing. It’s about focusing your mind. It’s about moving in sensing your body. It’s about finding deep rest, and it’s about experiencing gratitude. And so these are the five tools that we share with the folks that we work with. The reason we do that is because they create safety, predictability and control in the body-mind. So, Andy, and all the listeners out there, I’ll invite you to take a nice, deep inhale with me right now.
Dr. Daniel J Libby 35:15
I can predict with 100% accuracy, what every one of you are going to do next. Right? Everyone’s gonna exhale, right? So all of a sudden, now I invite you to, let’s take another inhale. This time, hold your breath for four beats.
Dr. Daniel J Libby 35:34
And then exhale.
Dr. Daniel J Libby 35:38
So in that very short exercise, what we did is the breath just became a little more predictable. And it came just a little bit more controllable. Right? You actually took control of your breath. And after you sort of saw what it was doing. That’s breathwork, right? You’re bringing that safety, predictability control into the nervous system. Meditation, what’s the practice of meditation? It’s just about becoming familiar with where your mind goes, when you’re focusing on something, right? So if I’m focusing on the sensations of my breath, I’m going to get distracted right by a thought or a feeling or a sensation or sound. Over time, as I practice meditation, I start to notice that, you know, every time I meditate after lunch, I get distracted by thoughts of doughnuts. Right? All of a sudden, the mind starts to become more predictable, and you start to see your own thoughts. And over time, you start to be able to focus on the breath for two breath cycles before you get distracted. And then with practice, you can focus on your breath for four breath cycles before you get distracted. So over time, the mind becomes more predictable, more controllable, therefore feels more safe. The same thing happens with the body. So why do we do asana? Or why do we do sensory awareness practices? It’s the same thing, so we start to become aware of what’s happening in the body. We can predict the sensations we feel in our body. The more we start to feel and notice our body, the more predictable those sensations become. And then we also get greater level of control over the body, right? When we practice asana we get stronger, we get more stable, right, we get more flexible, we can get more refined in our movements, and we’re able to move muscles in a more refined way. And so all of these practices that we’re doing, this is what we’re doing, we’re creating safety, predictability and control in the body and the mind and the Spirit. And the way that we create the space to teach the tools as we create a safe, predictable and controllable external environment during the yoga experience. Right? So that when my clients are with me, when my students are with me, their nervous system can be so at ease, because we’ve paid attention to all the unconscious threatened safety cues in the environment, in my words, and how I’m presenting the materials, that your nervous system just falls into that place where all of a sudden, now you can hear the tool. Right? You can actually have the practice land with you. And you can be with it in that very present way. Even when there’s a urge towards avoidance even when you start to come across some of the stuff that’s less comfortable.
Andy Vantrease 38:14
Mm hmm. Are there any? Or I imagine there are? So what are the major differences between just, you know, a yoga teacher teaching a class to, you know, just people who want to come to a regular walk in yoga class versus, you know, trauma-informed, very specific to that veterans dealing with post traumatic stress? Are there any things that you can share of like, the main differences between how a practitioner would facilitate those classes and what they stay away from?
Dr. Daniel J Libby 38:51
You know, ultimately, it comes down to right, if you go back to those grandmothers, right, that make you feel safe. Right? They see you. They hear you. They’re holding space for you. They’re seeing you in this unconditional positive regard. They’re not, they’re not trying to fix you. Right? They’re not trying to…they’re not trying to do anything, right? They’re just sharing some tools with you and might share some time with you. That is ultimately, right, it’s the attitude. You know, I did this great meditation yesterday morning with Jillian Pransky. She’s an amazing yoga teacher. She actually, I met her at the Ranch many years ago. And I really liked the way she talked about, you know, the practice of meditation is about certainly noticing your thoughts and noticing what’s there, but it’s really the attitude with which you notice. And I think that’s what it comes down to. So, you know, the point is, is that there are things that you can do to make a safe, predictable, controllable experience. Right? Like, I can tell you that, okay, this class is going to be you know, 55 minutes long, and we’re going to end exactly at two o’clock and we’re going to do X, Y, and Z. And now it’s predictable, you know what’s going to happen, right. And that might be one tiny little thing that you do just to set my mind at ease. So I can just be fully present. And there are a lot of like little things like that, right, that I am just, same thing as, you know, if you take it out of the yoga room, the more that we are predictable for those around us, the more at ease that are, those around us are going to feel. So I use this even, you know, at home. Right? If, for example, if, if I were to come home late, right, and not, you know, text my wife, or tell my wife, you know, that I was going to be late. Right? What’s gonna happen, she’s going to be at home, and she’s gonna be wondering where I am. And she’s gonna do what I do, right? Same thing, if she’s late, the first thing I think of like, oh, my gosh, I hope she’s okay. And all sudden you hear a siren come down the block, and I think, oh, my gosh, where’s my wife and kid? You know, those are the thoughts that happen.
Andy Vantrease 40:51
Yeah, right, your mind goes.
Dr. Daniel J Libby 40:53
Yeah, your mind just go with that. It’s just sort of the natural part of it. And so the more that we can communicate with those around us, right, and that’s really what it comes down to is I feel like, the more you communicate very clearly and directly, and with that attitude of unconditional positive regard, the more I am going to be at ease in the moment. Right? The more I know what’s going to happen, less have to worry about what’s going to happen, so the more I can pay attention to what’s happening, if that makes sense. Right? If I don’t have to worry what’s gonna happen, right? If everything’s predictable, and I’m in control, and I know I can do what I need to do at any time, right? Now I can actually pay attention to what’s happening instead of worrying about what’s going to happen or what happened in the past. And that’s where the healing happens. It’s what’s happening right now, in my body, as I noticed the sensations. As I’m taking these long, deep exhales, right, as I move and press my arm out this way, or like, what’s actually happening? What are the thoughts? What are the feelings? What are the attitudes under the lying those feelings and thoughts? And it’s by being present with those?
Dr. Daniel J Libby 42:03
Right? So a lot of just to come back to actually answer your question, right? It’s just it’s in its in the language we use. It’s just about being predictable. It’s just about being authentic, and creating a, a space where you feel welcome, and you feel seen and heard. And, you know, we also work a lot in treatment environments. We work in VAs and Vet Centers, and we’re working with veterans who are dealing with post traumatic stress, and they’re recovering from, you know, significant mental health challenges. And so, unfortunately, in the health care field, there is this like, okay, you are the person with PTSD, right? And there’s this labeling, and there’s this identification with, and I think it’s really important that we see each other as the people we are not as the illnesses that we’re recovering from. And that’s partly what I hope that we’re getting across to all of our VYP teachers. And that’s I hopefully, the attitude that’s coming across to the students that we’re reaching, is that you are your own best healer. And I’m going to give you as many tools as I can to help you. And I’m going to give you the unconditional positive regard and hold the space for you and give you the time. And, and give you the support to to move through whatever you need to move through it at whatever pace you need to move through it.
Andy Vantrease 43:25
Mm hmm. Is PTS something that is seen widely as, like, this is something that an individual will be dealing with forever? Or like I noticed you keep saying the word recovery. I’m curious of what that conversation is like, just within you know, your field. Not necessarily among the patients, but just how is that viewed?
Dr. Daniel J Libby 43:54
One of the more upsetting things to me, and I’ve, or may have heard it a few times, as I’ve heard, one of the older vets I work with, or you know, at the vet center or something, say to a younger vet, well, you know, you’ll never get rid of it, but you can you can learn to deal with it. And that’s not exactly true. You’re never gonna get rid of the memory. You’re never gonna get rid of the event that happened in this horrible thing. But you certainly get rid of the post traumatic stress. There are definitely people recover from post traumatic stress. And, right, they can still remember that traumatic thing that happened that devastated them, that still makes them feel sad and terrible when they think about it or remember it. But, right, you’re not gonna erase that part of it. But people do recover from post traumatic stress all the time. Right? And it really is, it’s, and it’s…and it’s more. I don’t even like the word recovery from because it’s really…it’s not like you’re recovering and returning back to your old self, that you..
Andy Vantrease 44:52
It’s like an integration.
Dr. Daniel J Libby 44:53
It’s an integration but it’s also a transformation and a developing, and it’s post traumatic growth. Right? It’s a growing process. And that’s the thing is that trauma leads to both post traumatic stress and post traumatic growth, both things can be happening to the same person at the same time in different ways. But ultimately, the path through post traumatic stress really is about, I think, that growth and development. And people do that all the time. Does it mean that they’re, you know, going to be happy about the horrible thing that happened to them, you know, five years ago? No, but it’s no longer going to, it doesn’t have to run your life, right? It doesn’t have to, you know, debilitate you for hours or days on end, when you get triggered, or, you know, you have a memory. And that’s the message, I think that’s important for people to hear. And it’s partly what we see all the day, all the time, right? Again, life’s a struggle, right? Always, life’s always gonna be tough. And especially if you’re dealing with, you know, old traumas, right, that stuff is always there. But it doesn’t have to be there in the same way that it is now, if that makes sense.
Andy Vantrease 46:05
Yeah, it totally does. And, you know, I was curious about that, because of, I imagine that, you know, these, these same people who perhaps went to a more, I don’t know how you want to label it, like, conventional route before. I mean, I imagine that there’s a lot of pain medication, there’s a lot of like, you know, this is just how it’s going to be if they’re getting any help at all. And, and so that’s where I was curious about. I mean, it’s the same thing in…I’ve been through kind of some autoimmune challenges. And if I were to, when I go to like a primary care doctor, they say, hey, you’re going to be on this thyroid medication forever. You know, this is a, this is a diagnosis that will be with you until you die. And this is gonna keep happening, and dah, dah, dah, and then you go to a more, you know, naturopath or an alternative practitioner, you know, who may be specializes in nutrition and supplements and different alternative therapies where they’ll say, no, this is just an imbalance, and you can manage it. And not only can you manage it, you can, you can reverse it. and you can bring your body back to homeostasis. So, that’s where that question came from? Because I was curious if it’s similar in the mental health field, or, you know, just with the individuals and the diagnoses that you see on a daily basis.
Dr. Daniel J Libby 47:40
Mm hmm. You know, you have varying opinions and varying ways of seeing things, you know, throughout the mental health fields, you know, or at least one little part of it I know. Having seen such, like healing, why people do heal people heal in ways that, you know, that modern medicine doesn’t always understand. And there’s also a lot of weird snake oil, you know, stuff out there. And I think that this, you know, especially growing up in Feather Pipe, right? There’s a lot of, really fringe modalities, right, that I’ve been sort of exposed to, and people, you know, talk to or shared with me. And one of the things I really want to just sort of first make clear, right, is that Yoga is not a standalone alternative treatment for post traumatic stress. It’s a complimentary treatment. Right? No one’s going to yoga, their trauma away. That being said, I’ve had, you know, probably dozens at this point, veterans tell me that yoga saved my life. But that being said, I’m sure if I, you know, went back and asked each one of them, it was the relationships, you know, that, that, that held it together. And that therapy, and the work that we do is really meant to work in conjunction with the talk therapy, and with the evidence based treatments. There are evidence-based treatments for post traumatic stress. They don’t work for everybody. But they do work for a lot of people. And usually, when people have more skills and more of the tools at their disposal to self regulate to create that safe, predictable and controllable internal environment, that’s when these other therapies are going to be more effective. And that’s really, I think, the role that yoga can play. And again, there’s a lot of, there’s a lot of stuff out there, there’s…and I don’t think any of us really can say one way or another. I just know that, again, with the years of experience at the Feather Pipe and talking to people about a lot of different modalities, I’ve heard of a lot of spontaneous healing, right, in essence. And you can call it you know, the placebo effect. You can call it, you know, whatever you call it. But there is a way of looking at people and healing as more than just returning to…again, sort of thinking from that sort of mental emotional place, right, that you’re, you have to grow.
Andy Vantrease 50:19
Right. Right. But but typically, I mean, if you if you get to that growth period, you see it when you’re on the other side of it. I’m curious of what, how you’re measuring things, and what research you’re doing surrounding yoga, you know, what does it mean, when you say, clinically tested?
Dr. Daniel J Libby 50:37
So I think you bring up a good point, right? Because I think for a lot of the world still, and certainly, the clinical literature, academia, yoga is seen like, as, you know, trendy exercise. Or, you know, or it’s seen as some weird woo-woo thing for, you know, tree huggers. Or, you know, for, you know, the perfectly sized model on the cover of the yoga journal. And the…so it’s really been very important for me, right, to really just be very clear about what we’re doing and what we’re saying and not try to make claims that aren’t true, right? You know, people say a lot of things. There’s a lot of weird yoga-isms out there. And I just wanted our stuff to be accurate. Right? I want to make sure that we’re, you know, seeing what it is. So right, so we’re not an evidence based treatment. Right? And they’re, you know, there are other programs, they were evidence based, because there was a study that was done that showed that, you know, maybe one group doing your thing did better than another group. That doesn’t make something evidence based, right? We have, you know, a published study also, but it’s really…there’s, there’s specific definitions as to what, you know, evidence-based treatments are and whatnot. All we’re saying is that the we’re the work that we’re doing is based on the clinical science. Right? It’s based on an understanding of human anatomy and physiology and psycho-physiology and understanding human psychology. And that we’ve tested it, and it works. Right? And so one of the things that we do is we collect data from, you know, as many of our participants as we can, measuring, in particular distress and pain. Distress and pain are both predictors of suicide attempts and completed suicides. And as you know, suicide in military populations is an issue. It’s an issue in the general population, but there are a higher rate of suicides among military veterans. And so these are two outcomes that we can measure. And it’s very simply just asking people at the beginning of class and and the class to rate their pain and distress on a zero to 10 scale. And so if you go to veteransyogaproject.org/accountability, you can see we put reports up there of, you know, every six months, we, you know, collapse all the data, and we can actually show what’s happening. Right? Again, this isn’t research, right? This is program evaluation data, right? So this isn’t like we’re doing a randomized control trial. But we are just showing what the veterans are reporting to us. And we’re reporting that back to the veterans back to the clinical directors, into our funders, and to our teachers. And it’s a tool that helps us get better, right, so that we can adapt the work that we’re doing so that we can hopefully see better scores. We can, you know, talk to our veterans, if we see scores that are, for example, somebody’s score goes up, and they have more pain after class than they did before class, right, that should be a red flag. And that happens sometimes. And so now, here’s a mechanism where we can talk to you and say, like, what’s happening here, and how can we change our approach, so that this, this practice can be you know, something that is…And you know, this is, you know, all the pain organizations, like yoga is a first line treatment for chronic pain, before you take any pain reliever pill, this is what they say is the first thing you should be doing is doing yoga. And this is what I hear back from our veterans that are in, or they’re dealing with chronic pain, or, you know, just sort of aches and pains is that this is what Yoga is helpful for. And we see that in the data and that you can see that, you know, between 75 and 90% of the time our veterans leaves the class and less pain than they arrived. And very often, that’s a clinically significant reduction, meaning it’s at least two points on a 10 point scale. So I do think it’s important for us to be, and we’re a nonprofit, so we’re totally transparent anyway. So that web page has all of our financial stuff and all the data on the 26,000 veteran visits that we recorded last year, and 4300 classes that we serve veterans in. And you know, all that’s good like, to me, it’s like bragging because I’m really proud of the work that we do. I’m like, there aren’t that many clinical interventions where you’re going to see the reductions in pain that you that you see in the classes that we teach. So I think it is important to just be clear about what you’re saying, without trying to say too much, you know, without trying to overstate what your data means or that, you know, hey, come do my yoga class, and all your trauma is going to go away. Right? Like, no, this is really just about, you know, being transparent and, and looking at ourselves, right? It’s really about just opportunities to continually develop and improve.
Andy Vantrease 55:35
What’s the size of the community? Now, how many teachers do you have? And are a lot of those teachers, former students? Like, I imagine that there are some students that go through, you know, or take the classes and they want to, they want to turn around and help, you know, help their community and help serve?
Dr. Daniel J Libby 55:54
Yeah, yeah, that’s the best part. So we’ve probably had, I haven’t looked at the numbers, I’m gonna say, maybe 1700 teachers and health care providers come through our Mindful Resilience for Trauma Recovery training. We have about 150 in our Veterans Yoga Project Teachers Alliance. And so these are teachers that have, you know, gone through the extra steps to become part of our alliance and to adhere to some higher standards of quality, and who are out there delivering the yoga to our veterans. They’re the ones who are documenting these 26,000 visits. Well, we have about 100 plus volunteers in the organization. Out of how many of those I would say roughly 30% are veterans themselves, many of them are spouses, or have family members who are veterans. You know, the exciting part and actually this is probably a good transition to talk again about Feathered Pipe is that because this is like just kind of the juiciest part of the work we do. Right? When you have, you know, the one of the very first veterans that I ever taught way back when I started at the West Haven VA hospital, went on eventually to become a yoga teacher and teach yoga to other veterans. And that is such a demonstration or a manifestation of that post traumatic growth process, right, where somebody has used these tools to get better themselves, and now is sharing it with others. And so in that vein, we recently got a wonderful grant from the NFL in the Bob Woodruff Foundation. And we are putting 20 veterans and active duty service members through a 200 hour yoga teacher training programs. This is our inaugural Mindful Resilience 200 hour Teacher Training. And we were supposed to do it up there at Feather Pipe this summer. We were supposed to have sessions, one in May and one in September. Unfortunately, COVID had other plans for us. So we do plan now to complete that training. We’re doing most of it online. But we’re going to complete that training up at Feathered Pipe at the end of May. So I’m very excited about that. So that’s, that is, that’s the that’s the juice. And while anybody can be successful sharing tools with other folks, there is a certain brotherhood-sisterhood that veterans have. And so when you have a veteran sharing these tools with other vets, I think that there is a different level of buy in, there’s automatically this sense of safety that’s created, this sense of safety predictability and control that servicemembers feel with other service members. And I think just in our greater culture, veterans are put up on a pedestal to some extent, right, that we have this way of really idolizing the military and, and those who have served. And so these are the men and women who really have a voice and have really seen, some of them have really seen the worst of what humanity has to offer, and, I think, are really equipped to help serve our communities and help lead our communities. Right? These are these are men and women. And I say this, and I wrote a blog post a while back, right, that veterans are best assets. Right? For our communities, these are men and women that have, you know, training and have a penchant for service and for caring for others. And, you know, these are men and women that I want on my side, and I want, you know, working for the good of the world. And so I am really honored to get to work with a lot of really amazing men and women that are bringing this work forward and sort of, you know, perpetuating that cycle of, you know, post traumatic growth.
Andy Vantrease 59:52
Yeah, yeah, I remember last time we spoke you you mentioned a quote from Thich Nhat Hanh that had to do with veterans having voices, you know, that are maybe louder and stronger than just the general population. And that has really stuck with me. And just thinking about how many…Yeah, I mean, it’s just the ultimate for, it seems like it would just be the ultimate confirmation of what you’re doing, you know, for somebody to go through the course, feel so strongly of the value of the tools to turn around, and then, you know, serve their brothers and sisters in that way. That’s amazing.
Dr. Daniel J Libby 1:00:33
Here’s the quote, I just quickly googled it. “We who have touched war have a duty to bring the truth about war to those who have not had a direct experience of it. We are the light at the tip of the candle. It is really hot, but it has the power of shining and illuminating. If we practice mindfulness, we will know how to look deeply into the nature of war ends with our insight wake people up so that together, we can avoid repeating the same horrors again and again.” Boom, I like that.
Andy Vantrease 1:01:04
So Danny, I want to give you a chance to talk a little bit about the the Compassion Fatigue Program that you have going now because it’s, you know, it’s a little bit different than working with veterans, you’re expanding out to health care workers, frontline workers, anybody who is a caregiver, that may experience what you, you all call “vicarious trauma”, which was the first time I’ve, I’ve heard that, which doesn’t really mean much. I’m not in this field. But I really, I thought, oh, gosh, that’s a really good way of putting it.
Dr. Daniel J Libby 1:01:35
I saw, I saw it happening. Right? I saw it with my colleagues. I saw it with people in other, you know, related fields, or, you know, working in other like veteran service organizations, and that there is a level of burnout, Right? We can all get burnt out sometimes, on top of, you know, the vicarious trauma for those of us who get to hear or be around the trauma stories. And that, you know, on top of all the other stresses in the ordinary life stresses that we all deal with, it really, it bothered me to see, right, that so many, and hear about the rates of turnover, and to you know, learn that, you know, the the longevity, the lifespan of many people in the helping professions is diminished, right, because they get burnt out because they’re just tired, so they just can’t do it anymore. And I knew that there was there’s, there’s, there’s a better way, right? There’s…and I feel too, right, I get, you know, overwhelmed and burnt out by the stress of it all. And so, but I also know that these tools are really helpful. And so I started doing research on compassion fatigue. And this is a term that Charles Figley, he’s a researcher that’s been, you know, working on this for a couple of decades. But really trying to understand what happens to people who take care of others, whether it’s personally or professionally. And if you really look at the model and the research that’s been done over the past couple of decades, understanding what compassion fatigue is, and understanding what resilience is, in terms of compassion, fatigue, basically that model, you know, has been created based on this research perfectly lines up with what we’re trying to do. And really what we’re trying to do is based on that model, in that if we understand the empathy process, right, and understand how to be mindfully empathy, and how to engage in empathic discernment, right, then we are going to be more present in the moment for when that empathy is happening. And it’s not going to live in my body in my mind, and then leak out when I’m, you know, having dinner with my family tonight. I am going to be here for what’s happening right now. And then let it go and not take it home with me at the end of the day. And so we’ve created a six module online course. So it’s self paced, and it’s sandwiched by seven online meetings. And we, you know, limit the number of participants to each meeting. And the idea is that we get together during each of these meetings to review the content of the previous module, previous…preview the content from the upcoming module, and to actually like, you know, process the work that’s being done and the homework that you’re asked to do between the modules. And over the course of, you know, this six weeks, we are practicing all the tools of mind resilience. So we’re doing the meditation, the breathing and movement. And we’re also gaining an understanding of what burnout is and what compassion fatigue is, what vicarious trauma is, and also what compassion satisfaction and vicarious resilience are. And at same time, developing, and the whole point is to develop a personal practice or to refine your personal practice, so that you are experiencing more compassion, satisfaction and less compassion fatigue. And I have to say we’ve…there’s definitely been some hiccups and some technical difficulties getting this project up off the ground. But now that we’re running it, it’s really…I’m really hopeful and heartened. The folks that have gone through it so far have given us great feedback. And, and I think it’s having its intended effect. And so, so that’s, I’m very excited about that. And so we should have that running up again, at the beginning of the year. We’ll have some new cohorts starting in January. And that’s really where we’ve been spending a lot of our energy, is really trying to help the helpers per se.
Andy Vantrease 1:05:37
Are you partnering with different organizations for that? Or are the people that are going through the program are they coming to you? Or is this being like offered in places like, like the like the VA does for the veterans programs?
Dr. Daniel J Libby 1:05:53
Right, right. So it’s happening in both ways, actually, where individual, either practitioners, or maybe just, you know, a spouse of somebody who they’re taking care of come on. But then we’re also working with health care facilities. And so we’re working with a couple of VA facilities. And so the idea is to be able to get it out to more of the folks who need it. And so…
Andy Vantrease 1:06:18
Dr. Daniel J Libby 1:06:19
Yeah. And so more information is, of course, available at the website, veteransyogaproject. org/compassion.
Andy Vantrease 1:06:26
Awesome. Yeah, I really, I’m, I’m so excited to share that. I, a couple years ago, actually, I have a really good friend who I grew up with who’s been a nurse since college, and she had me read a paper, you know, I’m a freelance writer, and editor. And she’s like, hey, can you read this paper that I wrote, for my organization. And it was all about compassion, fatigue. And it was the first time that I had heard that. And as I’m reading it, I’m like, oh, my God, this is…this probably happens to everybody who’s a caregiver. You know, it’s just, it just seems like, yeah, just so so needed. And again, I love the language that you use around that, like compassion fatigue, to compassion, satisfaction. And that vicarious trauma to vicarious resilience. That’s really…I guess, as a writer, I really pay attention to the language. You know, in that way, I don’t know why, you know, words have a lot of power to me. So, you know, even just painting the picture of what people can expect or what you know, what they’re going for, just through just through those words is helpful.
Dr. Daniel J Libby 1:07:38
Yeah. It’s just about doing work. You know, it’s just about you know, I think our program is just giving you the space to, to reflect and just to start to become aware of how you can actually caregiver in a way that gives you juice instead of depletes you.
Andy Vantrease 1:07:52
Mm hmm. And, and, you know, with everything that you do too, community seems to be a huge part of it. And just being with individuals who are going through something similar to you, I’m sure, has a huge impact on, again, creating that space for healing. And, and being next to people and going through it with people, you know, whether it’s online or in person just going through with people who can relate, you know, when you don’t have to explain yourself.
Dr. Daniel J Libby 1:08:25
Andy Vantrease 1:08:26
So I want to plug your Gratitude Week, because it’s, I know, it’s the biggest fundraiser that you have each year, and it’s coming up. Does it start November 6?
Dr. Daniel J Libby 1:08:38
It does, yes. And this is an initiative that was also born at Feathered Pipe back in…
Andy Vantrease 1:08:44
Oh, wow, I didn’t know that.
Dr. Daniel J Libby 1:08:46
At 2014. I was doing a training at Feathered Pipe. And I had kind of said to the group, like, you know, I think I might be done. I can’t do this by myself anymore. It’s just too much. And I really, you know, I was just like, it’s just, you know, it’s just gotten too big, which is too funny to me now. And be careful what you wish for because a lot of people stepped up. And those 14 teachers apparently sat around the bonfire one night and said, well how can we support Veterans Yoga Project, and they all decided that well, we’re going to teach a donation based class on Veterans Day, and we’ll send the money to veterans yoga project. And that idea sprouted. And so that was August, and by the time November came, there were 98 classes across 25 states, and all with the intention of practicing yoga with an attitude of gratitude for our veterans. And so last year was our sixth year, we had over 600 classes around the world, mostly US with four different countries represented. And there were thousands of veterans and civilians, practicing at yoga with an attitude of gratitude for events. And it is like just energetically one of the…it’s really an important, you know, important event for our organization, right? Just energetically to, to, you know, have all those people supporting what we do. And then financially, it’s our biggest fundraiser and our biggest source of unrestricted funds. And so we’re not gonna have 600 classes this year, because it is a different world. And so we’ve had to adapt a little bit. Certainly, as an executive director of a nonprofit, I’m certainly anxious about if we’re going to be able to be as successful as we were in past years. Our goal is to raise $65,000. And we’ve gotten some of our supporters to offer dollar for dollar match for the first $20,000 that we raise. But essentially starting November 6 through November 16. That is our 11 day Veteran’s Gratitude Week. So we turned Veterans Day into an 11 day week where, again, we ask any of you who might be listening to this, to either teach a donation based class, either online or safe in person, and to do so with an attitude of gratitude for veterans, and to do so as a fundraiser for Veterans Yoga Project. This year, we’re also using a social fundraising platform called Rally Bound. And so we have folks who are doing their own, like yoga challenges and in creating their own social fundraising pages. And so we’ll be doing that for the, you know, the whole first couple weeks of November. Excuse me. And then November 15, which is a Sunday and November 16, a Monday, we’re going to have our weekend wellness series. And we have some revered professionals who have decided to offer their time and have offered to volunteer their time for a special session, a special online class or presentation. So we have everybody from Ralph Gates, Michael Lee. But these are all classes that are going to be by donation. So we’re asking you to make a donation. Again, if you’re in a place, there’s a lot of people right now who are not in a place to be making donations, I get it. And then there’s other people that can, that can afford to help support the work that we’re doing, and so we’re humbly asking folks to to do what they can to help, you know, support the work that we do. So can we got Jillian Pransky, Baxter Bell, and Perry Chattler and Noemi Nunez, Michael Lee, Elena Brower and Anna Forrest, Matt Taylor, Matt Sanford, Ishan Tigunait from the Himalayan Institute, and I’ll be doing conversation with Dr. Stephen Porges. And so we’re basically just going to have session after session for those two days. And so they’ll probably lots of fascinating material and tools to be shared. And so I would invite your audience to please go to veteransyogaproject.org, check out Veterans Gratitude Week, check out our Wellness Series. And join us!
Andy Vantrease 1:13:12
Definitely! I can’t wait to tune into that. I mean, the names there. And, and really, like if there’s one silver lining that I have found to doing a lot of things online, it’s just the access to people, you know, in a way that, like you didn’t have before. So you know, you putting together that Wellness Series with a lot of brilliant, brilliant minds is, I think, it’s such a fun thing. And I’ve done a lot of these different summits and just tuned in to people that otherwise, you know, they’re across the country, or they’re across the world or…But yeah, I’m excited for that. And we’ll be sharing that around as well.
Dr. Daniel J Libby 1:13:55
Yeah, definitely. Hopefully some good, unique content and all for a good cause.
Andy Vantrease 1:13:59
Great. Well, Danny, do you feel up for closing us out the same way that you started? Just, you know, maybe you can do a gratitude practice to send us off on a great note.
Dr. Daniel J Libby 1:14:11
Sure, I would love to. So yeah, thank you so much, Andy, for taking the time and allowing me to revisit my favorite subject, which is Feathered Pipe and the Veterans Yoga Project. So…so let’s end just by just taking just two minutes to breathe and to sit together. So I invite you to, wherever you are listening out there in the world, just to see if you can safely soften your gaze and start to take your attention inward. Maybe just starting to notice the sensations of support that you feel in your body…
Dr. Daniel J Libby 1:14:59
Including the sensations of the support of your breath.
Dr. Daniel J Libby 1:15:10
Maybe just allowing yourself to notice your breath, maybe first without controlling it, but maybe just by noticing.
Dr. Daniel J Libby 1:15:30
And then just with your intention, allowing your exhales to get a little longer and deeper than your inhales
Dr. Daniel J Libby 1:15:53
Nothing to do nowhere to go, just allowing yourself just another minute or so just to be where you are.
Dr. Daniel J Libby 1:16:06
To be in the experience of the inhale.
Dr. Daniel J Libby 1:16:13
To be in the experience of noticing the exhale.
Dr. Daniel J Libby 1:16:22
Even while you notice all the other things that are clamoring for your attention.
Dr. Daniel J Libby 1:16:30
Allowing all those other distractions to be there.
Dr. Daniel J Libby 1:16:36
Just returning back to the breath.
Dr. Daniel J Libby 1:16:55
And with that awareness of support underneath you, with the awareness of the sensations of expanding and contracting, of filling and emptying, of inhaling and exhaling.
Dr. Daniel J Libby 1:17:17
With all of that going on, I invite you to bring your hands to your heart center.
Dr. Daniel J Libby 1:17:26
Maybe noticing what that long, slow, deep exhale feels like right here in the center of your heart center.
Dr. Daniel J Libby 1:17:41
And among all of the things that we can feel, when we pay attention to the center of our chest, I’ll invite you to invite a sensation or an awareness of gratitude to arise.
Dr. Daniel J Libby 1:18:02
Maybe for you that feeling comes very naturally and easily. Or maybe for you, it’s just really imagining. Maybe taking a moment to imagine what would it feel like if I was feeling really grateful and thankful in this moment. How does it feel right in the center of my chest when I am really humbly grateful.
Dr. Daniel J Libby 1:18:34
Then from that place…Or maybe it’s just the idea of that place. I’ll invite you to silently acknowledge to yourself one person in your life, one person in your life for whom you are grateful for today.
Dr. Daniel J Libby 1:18:59
Breathing deep into that sense of gratitude.
Dr. Daniel J Libby 1:19:05
From that same place of gratitude, please accept my gratitude for allowing me to share in this little practice and to share in this past hour. Thank you, Andy, and thank you to everyone listening.
Andy Vantrease 1:19:18
There you have it, what a beautiful discussion with Danny about his life journey about trauma, recovery and mental health in the veteran community. Not to mention those two breathing exercises and gratitude practices that he led us through. I don’t know about you, but that has me floating through the rest of my day in a really good way. So I hope you enjoyed that as well. To learn more about their Mindful Resilience programs for both trauma recovery and compassion fatigue, you can visit veteransyogaproject.org and consider supporting their work all year round, but specifically during this upcoming Gratitude Week starting November 6.
Andy Vantrease 1:19:58
Another thank you to Matthew Marsolek and the Drum Brothers whose music you hear at the beginning of this podcast. They worked at the Ranch when they were just teenagers and their music and their drumming has touched lives all over the world. And we are so grateful to them for being able to begin our podcast with that upbeat and wonderful melody and intro. Another thank you to Jean Shinoda Bolen, who first introduced the visual and the idea of the dandelion effect to us, just to actually a few short weeks ago, as we were still deciding on a title for what it is that we’re doing here. She gave us permission to use the the idea and to spread it to our communities and just really continue to plant the seeds of goodness in all who we come in contact with.
Andy Vantrease 1:20:47
If you liked this episode, please share with friends and family particularly those in need of support within the veteran community. And be sure to tune into our next conversation as I’ll be going deeper into mindfulness for health care and frontline workers with another special guest, who is bringing many of these tools to, yeah, people who are just on the front lines of this pandemic, and even outside of the pandemic, people who are giving so much of their energy and efforts and so much of their lives to help others. How can we give back to them? How can they you make sure that they’re taking care of themselves and and filling up their cups as well as all of the people who they are supporting and helping. So look out for that conversation coming in the next couple weeks. That is it for me. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for tuning into our first episode and have a very beautiful day.