For National Women’s Health Week (May 8-14), Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) is sharing the inspiring story of an Air Force veteran and woman warrior who found peace and healing through one of the world’s most practiced forms of exercise – yoga. National Women’s Health Week encourages all women to seek the help that’s right for them while considering the factors that influence their mental health, such as stress, anxiety, and depression.
After two tours in the Middle East, Jessica Coulter returned home to fight her next battle: transitioning to civilian life as a single mother of two sons. Plus, she didn’t know how an unreported sexual assault she endured during the first year of her Air Force service would affect her daily life.
“When I was deployed, I had to look for bombs underneath my car every time I went out,” Jessica said. “When you combine that with being sexually assaulted and hypervigilant around men, it was an intense combination that made my quality of life terrible. But I didn’t know it because I didn’t talk about it. When you don’t talk about something, ignore it, and bury it, you have no idea how much it is actually running your life.”
Dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from her military sexual trauma (MST), coupled with not being able to afford groceries or find a full-time job, Jessica needed help. She started working with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and it was there that a VA social worker learned of her story and handed her a gift card for groceries. The gift card was from WWP and ultimately helped change her life.
With the help of WWP, Jessica turned to veteran wellness programs for peace and healing. During an all-female Project Odyssey®, Jessica met a fellow female veteran who taught the group yoga. It was an instant connection. Surrounded by other female veterans, Jessica learned she wasn’t alone. Together, these women warriors bonded over the common experience of having PTSD and finding healing through conscious, unique movement and meditation.
Yoga combines physical postures, breathing techniques, meditation, and relaxation. Yoga for veterans with PTSD has significantly reduced natural biological arousals, such as escalations in blood pressure or increased heart rates, by improving overall body regulation and awareness. The emphasis is on bridging mind and body connections while also helping forge a sense of safe community that empowers their recoveries.
“For me, yoga did what mental health and counseling was unable to do,” Jessica shared. “Yoga helped me get back in touch with the safety of my body and taught me how to be in my body. Yoga helped me access my feelings, which were terrifying, but I felt better. Every time I went to yoga, I was breathing, and I was still, and I was quiet, and I started crying a little bit. It terrified me, but it felt better. I was like, ‘Oh, there’s something here.’”
Jessica combined two of her passions – helping veterans and holistic healing – into a stable career as a yoga teacher at a VA hospital. Focusing on the military community, Jessica has taught groups of veterans, active-duty service members, and family members at various bases. She believes they deserve to have a semblance of peace and stillness for their service and sacrifice.
“My students are my greatest teachers,” Jessica said. “No matter what you’re going through, what life you have, everybody can benefit from yoga; I see it happen every day. My students release a little bit of stress. Even if it’s only one breath, that’s one breath that is not filled with stress. I’ve seen how it changed my life and saved my life. It’s very cliché, ‘yoga saved my life,’ but my kids and yoga are the things that saved me, and they are the things that sustain me.”
Learn more about the veteran wellness programs and services offered by WWP that aid warriors on their recovery journey, like #WWPFit. If you’re a registered warrior or family support member, join the #WWPFit movement – a campaign to empower warriors to make long-term changes toward a healthier life through movement, nutritional education, coaching, goal setting, and skill-building. Visit the WWP Live Facebook page or use the hashtag #WWPFit to connect and engage online.
Contact: — Krissty Andaur - Public Relations, firstname.lastname@example.org, 904.760.6957
About Wounded Warrior Project
Since 2003, Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) has been meeting the growing needs of warriors, their families, and caregivers — helping them achieve their highest ambition. Learn more.