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Focusing on Body, Mind, and Spirit, Alum Helps Veterans Heal

Thursday, November 17, 2016

“There are a lot of veterans out there who are really suffering,” said Dan Libby ’09Ph.D., Founder and Executive Director of the Veterans Yoga Project (VYP). “But if you can teach somebody a practice that helps them feel a little less pain—it makes it all worthwhile.”

Dr. Libby established VYP in 2011 after employing yoga exercises at a Veterans Affairs hospital in Connecticut. Today, his initiative is a national network includes 600 instructors trained to help veterans primarily afflicted with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Recognizing Dr. Libby’s contributions, the American Psychological Association recently included him among its “Nine Rising Stars”—early career practitioners in the field who have demonstrated notable creativity and entrepreneurial sense.

Tools for Healing

Dr. Libby’s work with veterans was born out of research he did while pursuing his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology at St. John’s University.

He and his mentor, Elizabeth Brondolo, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology, coauthored a paper on averting post-traumatic stress. “We were looking at how organizations can help prevent the onset of PTSD after a mass-fatality incident,” he explained. “The work was rooted in my St. John’s education, which prepared me to be a consumer of science who can distinguish between high quality and not-so-good research.”

Dr. Libby applied what he learned while teaching a yoga class at a Veterans Affairs center. “One gentleman in my class told me he’d stopped taking his sleep medication,” Dr. Libby recalled. “He told me, ‘Now I can meditate and not medicate.’”  

Engaging the mind and spirit, yoga helps veterans create the right conditions for healing to occur. “It’s like when you break your arm,” he said. “You’ve got to brace and set it in order for the body to heal itself.”  Yoga, he added, comprises five tools—breathing, meditation, movement, rest, and gratitude. “We invite veterans to try them out and see which ones work best for them,” said Dr. Libby. 

A Focus on Others

Yoga alone cannot cure PTSD, Dr. Libby observed. “We’re not treating PTSD, per se,” he explained. “We work in partnership with clinicians and psychologists who are more directly trained to address the problem.”

Traveling across the country, Dr. Libby trains other yoga instructors to employ techniques for combating PTSD. He also prepares practitioners to work within a health-center environment. The knowledge and skills Dr. Libby gained at St. John’s are vital to his success. “That’s where I learned how to think critically, to teach what might seem like esoteric concepts,” he said.

Dr. Libby is prospering in a career that allows him to be true to the Vincentian mission of the University. It’s something he shares with other alumni. “At St. John’s,” he said, “I learned that above all, you are rewarded more by serving others than by serving yourself.”