Fifteen years ago, U.S. Navy veteran Val Brainerd was encountering some ongoing back and hip pain. After two decades in the Navy, she was still active, running and going to the gym. Her doctor suggested she take a yoga class.
Reluctantly, she attended and was in awe of how much she enjoyed it.
“’You want me to do what?’” Brainerd asked her doctor. “’You want me to take a yoga class? Are you crazy?’ So, I did. … It became like my second family. … It helped me not through just the physical aspect of dealing with parts of my body that were not cooperating with me but mentally, as well. It really started that whole mind-body connection.”
Now a certified instructor of five-plus years, Brainerd created a veterans yoga program, which Steamboat Adaptive Recreational Sports will host at the STARS Ranch. The classes are open to military, veterans, first responders and their families. No yoga experience is necessary.
“Just show up with an open mind,” Brainerd said. “Enjoy it. We’re not here to focus on perfect form. We’re not here to do a workout. We’re here to get inside ourselves, try to help find a little bit of internal peace, internal calmness and body awareness and to feel good.”
The program will be held from 4-5 p.m. on Thursdays for nine weeks and is free. STARS is able to provide some mats and equipment, but people who have a mat are encouraged to bring their own. The first class will take place Sept. 16 and conclude on Veterans Day, Nov. 11.
“(The class will be) based on breath, meditation, mindful movement, guided rest and gratitude and just providing a safe, comfortable, predictable space, a protective space where folks can come and be with like-minded people that maybe have similar backgrounds or served in the military,” Brainerd said. “First responders are welcome, as well. They’re all dealing with things.”
Brainerd began teaching yoga a little more than five years ago but was only recently introduced to the Veterans Yoga Project. She learned about the program in the spring and enrolled in a mindful resilience class for instructors to allow her to teach mindful resilience classes.
STARS Executive Director Gardner Flanigan said the program aligns with STARS’ mission and is an extension of the programming the nonprofit already offers.
“First of all, we have the space, and STARS wants to do stuff that supports the community,” Flanigan said. “This is a constituency that doesn’t get enough attention. We do have a lot of veterans programs and participants that come throughout the winter. We thought it was a really good alignment. We’re able to do this in a way that there’s no cost to any of the veterans. It’s a way for us to give back to the community that supports us so much. We couldn’t be more excited.”
Brainerd isn’t sure how many veterans will be interested in this program, but depending on how it goes, it may return in the future.
She knows how expensive and intimidating it can be to attend a class. She hopes offering free classes in a nontraditional space will bring in people who otherwise may not attend a yoga class.
“I felt like this could be my real calling, trying to help veterans because there are so many people who don’t know how to reach out or don’t want to reach out or don’t want to tell people what’s wrong with them,” she said. “They don’t want to have that stigma attached to them. … You’re welcome to come. That’s how I look at it.”
To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.