RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Simple yoga poses are major leaps in the recovery of veterans with traumatic brain injuries.
“Inhale, arms, all the way up,” Suzzette Chopin leads the class. “Awesome, beautiful yes.”
One of Chopin’s students today is Dillon McLaughlin, an Operations Specialist Third Class in the U.S. Navy.
“I couldn’t remember a lot,” McLaughlin recalls the moment that changed his life.
McLaughlin was driving back to Norfolk from New Jersey over Thanksgiving weekend.
“Thursday, hanging out with my family, my girlfriend’s family,” he remembers the holiday. “I talked to her father the next day about proposing. Two days later I’m in this horrific accident.”
The car crash landed McLaughlin in McGuire Veterans Administration (VA) Medical Center for traditional treatment and more recently yoga designed specially for patients with traumatic brain injuries.
Chopin, a polytrauma neuropsychologist, is also certified to teach this adaptive yoga.
Physical and occupational therapists assist patients as she leads the class.
“Having the therapists in there who know the patients on an individual level and who are able to provide really specific modifications hands-on assisting and adjusting makes the class appropriate,” Chopin explains.
For many of the patients, their brain injuries are somewhat recent. Some even wear helmets to protect their brains as they prepare for surgery.
“Relaxation, close your eyes, and you reflect, you get taken away,” McLaughlin shares what he gets out of each yoga session.
McLaughlin says he is not surprised research has found this type of adaptive yoga reduces issues with sleeping, anxiety and any post-traumatic stress (PTSD) symptoms veterans may have.
McLaughlin knows every pose he does is getting him closer to his end goal.
“Get back on a ship again, go on deployments, see the world,” he says.