Yoga for veterans: New program helps war veterans adjust

Whether reaching for the sky or for your toes, you stretch mind and body in yoga and pilates, says Jessica Mark, owner of Happy Body Studio. But reaching out to the community is the most important move her studio can make this year, by offering a new class for veterans, service members and their families.

"We're in that discerning place right now of continuing to get to know the community and have the community get to know us while we plug into places where we really are needed and grow from there to see what possibilities could be," she says.

That philosophy explains the new class, which starts Jan. 24 as part of the school’s outreach program. The weekly Thursday class will be offered in partnership with Connected Warriors, a Florida-based nonprofit that’s establishing a nationwide network of volunteer yoga teachers who offer such free classes at local studios, veterans centers and other donated spaces.

"My whole reason for wanting to do this is to connect with people and to sort of break down the boundaries of what yoga might seem to be," says Melanie Trivette, who will teach the free yoga class. "I just want bring [yoga] in very approachable manner to other people while connecting on very human level."

With that in mind, Trivette will lead a basic class that keeps the needs of individual participants in mind. Noting some particular challenges veterans may face — such as post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury — she remarks, "There's really a focus on the mind-body connection and trying to establish that [connection]. We're going to do breath-work. We're going to be doing meditation techniques. We're going to do the poses that encourage the relaxation, the rest, the mind-body connection, getting into the present moment."

But the class is also about building a sense of community.

"The reason why families are invited is to get the support network to come with the veteran or the service member. It really gives them that sense of confidence in being there," Trivette says. "The family members are also affected when someone is deployed or lost a loved one in a conflict or war. They also need this service and the ability to practice without having to pay."

Mark adds that another reason for a free class, complete with all mats and props, is because yoga, bodywork and pilates can get a bad rep for being exclusive and expensive.

"I wanted to … bring back the joy of moving, being in your body and finding the connectedness of how more awareness of your body brings you greater peace and happiness," she says. "At Happy Body, we want to bring the fun back into pilates and yoga, and take out pretentiousness and the idea that you have to make this much money to to afford classes."

Bringing yoga to people who have not been able to practice before is something that Trivette is familiar with. Before moving to the Asheville area eight months ago, Trivette lived in Florida, where she volunteered to teach yoga at Lakeview Health System, a substance-abuse clinic. This was where she saw the impact yoga could have on someone's strength and balance, as well as their life, she says.

"Yes, we were doing yoga. Yes, we were doing breathing. Yes, we were doing meditation. But we were also having communication, we were having conversation," Trivette says.

This is not the first time Happy Body Yoga Studio has experimented with community outreach work.

Last year, the studio partnered with six different nonprofits for the year (Open Doors, Arts for Life, All Souls Counseling, Center for Disordered Eating, Our VOICE and Western Carolinians for Criminal Justice). Those six nonprofits were then featured by the studio in its newsletter, and a portion of class proceeds were donated to those nonprofits.

In the coming year, Mark says that the studio plans to continue giving back.

"The sky is the limit, but we're trying to be contentious about sustainability," she states. "But the bigger dream is really some kind of nonprofit or foundation that enables anyone with a passion of teaching any kind of movement or pilates or yoga or somatic education to say, 'Hey, I want to do a 12-week program at my son's school for this age group, or I want to work in a senior citizen home and do yoga for a 12-week thing.'"

For now, the first step is to give back and give thanks to a group of service members, veterans and their families.

"It's sort of like a giving of thanks for what they have done,” says Trivette. “It's one other way to be of service to people and of gratitude to people."

For more details about the class, contact Melanie Trivette at

— Send your health-and-wellness news and tips to Caitlin Byrd at or, or call 251-1333, ext. 140.


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