My First Year With Yoga written by Mystic Yoga Shala student and Vietnam Veteran Joseph Dolock.

I have PTSD and depression.  I was a Combat Infantry Officer while I served in Vietnam and been in treatment since 1995 - group counseling and individual counseling.  I have taken different types of pills for the PTSD and depression.  It took almost six years to finally come up with a combination - or “cocktail” - to stop the intrusive flashbacks and nightmares. Not to mention, I had feelings of not wanting to get out of bed, leave my house or travel. I had panic attacks, anxiety attacks - from being in crowed places, and everything else that goes along with PTSD and depression.  Don’t get me wrong. The “cocktail” did not make it all go away.  What it did was it made my life a little easier to cope with.  One of my counselors said, “Joe there is no light at the end of the tunnel.”  That is somewhat bleak. I keep up my counseling, pills and life has became a little easier.

One day, I saw an ad for Yoga for Veterans and it is hard to believe that a whole year has passed since I first walked into that class. Who in their right mind would take up Yoga at 69? For years my daughter had tried to get me to go, but I said I was too old or I did not have the time. The other thing was I thought that yoga people sat around drinking carrot juice and contemplating whatever.  As I mentioned earlier, I was being treated for PTSD and depression so I said to myself, “Why not?” 

I drove to the yoga class, and had no idea what was going to happen.  I could not believe how nice everyone was. They did not look at me as some old guy. I had never taken a yoga class before.  The instructor did not say this might be too hard for you or maybe you should be with older people.  She accepted me as a person.  As time went by I could tell that she was really concerned about me.  It is hard to make friends or trust people being a Vietnam Vet.  Being a Vietnam Vet,  no one, and I mean no one, wanted to know us when we came home -   not the VFW, American Legion or the VA and in some cases... our own families.  That was 1970.  Today it is much better.  There were 2.7 million who served in the country. Today there are 8 million who have said they were in Vietnam. So when you find people who care about you before they even know you, it is a shock. 

I thought I was in good shape. I played tennis three to four times a week and on the off days I walked my Golden Retriever one to two miles - plus do work around the house.  Well, after my first yoga class, my butt was dragging so bad I had to get a cart to move it off the floor.  My first yoga experience - there was no carrot juice, but I did leave a lot of sweat on the floor.

I kept coming back week after week realizing I am not in such great shape. Also these people are real and, like I said, they care that I become the person I want to be. 

One day I was asked what makes you keep going to yoga?  I don’t have all the answers to anything, but it appears to me (at the time) yoga gave me one more arrow in my quiver to fight off the depression and the PTSD.  I still feel that way today but even much more.  

Each year around my anniversary in May, I usually withdraw, become over vigilant and don’t want to engage. I am stand-off-ish, I don’t want to leave the house, and am short tempered. I basically become a real pain to everyone around me.  This past May, my wife said that she has never seen me so calm and engaging.  Me, I thought, I was the same person.  However, when other people make statements, then something has changed or happened.  For me, the only change from my routine was yoga.  I did notice my family would question me if I did not go to yoga.  That says something.

Like I said, I don’t have all the answers, sometimes I don’t even know what the questions are.  I do know that PTSD and depression don’t go away on their own.  What we have to do is find ways to alleviate the symptoms and lessen the impact on our lives. You won’t be able to stop the different triggers. You have had all your senses shocked and you can’t stop that, but now after 40 plus years since Vietnam and 15 plus years of treatment at the VA, I have found another way to calm my whole being.  Yoga has helped me relax and at the same time build some of the muscle mass I have lost over the years.  I don’t think my body will ever be 25 again, but yoga has helped my mind and body become stronger.  I am okay with who I am right now.  I am not sure I am all the way there, but I am better than I was a year ago.

Thank you to Recovery Yoga and Mystic Yoga Shala

Veteran Vietnam 1968-69