Yellow Ribbon events are mandated by the United States Department of Defense for pre and post-deployment Reserves and National Guard Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen. All service branches have their own versions of a YR event. My experience is primarily with the Air Force, secondarily with the Army and Marine Corps.
Because of the unique character of Reserves and National Guard in military service, these YR events directly address issues that are specific to this population and their families. For the past 12 years, these men and women have served as Active Duty personnel when called upon; then they return to their civilian employment and family responsibilities. A tremendous toll has been taken on marriages: the divorce rate is well above 70%. Job retention has also been a challenge for these “Citizen Soldiers”.
Beginning in 2009, I deliberately sought out and networked with a local non-profit, Welcome Home Vets, Inc. The Secretary and later Vice-President of this group took me under her wing and advocated for me at the local Air Force base. She opened many doors for me. I made presentations all over the base, met decision-makers and basically went with her anytime and every time she asked.
This relationship led, eventually, to work at 2 of our local VA hospitals and to small and then larger and larger YR events as well as the National Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors Good Grief Camp in Arlington, VA. In 2015 I was invited to present iRest to all 54 States and Territories of the Air and Army National Guard Yellow Ribbon Program Directors. Let me insert a exclamation mark here! iRest is now a “household” word in this niche of specialized warriors.
Every YR event I attend is a bit different. For example: 20 Marines for 2 one hour sessions over 2 days; 800 pre and post-deployment Air Force Reservists, 4 breakout presentations ranging from 45 minutes to 20 minutes. I may spend a weekend with 29 service members and 41 family members and offer 2 hour-long sessions. The rooms are all different, but I work with the event organizers to create the best and safest atmosphere possible, which means:
1. A quiet location, if at all possible, i.e. not next to another breakout session that is boisterous, or worse, next to the kitchen.
2. Some control over room temperature and lighting. (It’s difficult to stay comfortable for meditation and relaxation when the air conditioning is set at 62’ and bright florescent lights are blazing overhead.)
3. Room set-up: chairs to accommodate the number of attendees, arranged in a semi circle, blankets if at all possible. If I drive to the event, I bring my own soft, thick, washable yoga studio blankets. I’ve invested in 50 fleece blankets for when I travel. Some events provide their own fleece blankets.
4. I bring party favors to inject some play into the breakout (and to welcome group participation.) I also share handouts, printed two-
sided, and invite everyone to give me their email address if they’d like an mp3 download recording I’ve made of a 20-minute practice.
5. I disseminate information about www.irest.org, its resources of information about trainings, workshops, research, free downloads and the Teacher Locator.
So, a typical breakout session looks like this: A room monitor scans people as they enter the room, they find a seat, I give a brief self-introduction (why I’m here,doing what I do) and a brief introduction to iRest (its history and pertinent applications and research.) Then I use the “map” (“what Happens During iRest?”)to familiarize participants with the protocol.
At this point I invite attendees to try a “mini-meditation” which is a focus on the breath and simple hand movements, then ask them to go to a place inside their minds or in their imagination where they feel at ease, etc. and give them an experiential exploration of the Inner Resource. I interview them and stress the importance of this piece of the protocol, with scientific information regarding neuroplasticity and anecdotes.
Then we return to the “map”, I demonstrate or have volunteers demonstrate “settling in”. I ask permission to firmly place my hand on anyone who is snoring and share anecdotes about hyper-vigilance. After that I move through the basics of the iRest practice - initial Settling in and connecting with the body, Inner Resource, a shared intention, Body sensing, Breath sensing (I tend towards mental alternate nostril breathing) and opposites of feeling and emotion. Given time, I guide them to Joy (or gratitude, etc.). From the outset of the practice I establish Witnessing and Pure Awareness. Then we return through the Inner Resource. As they return to a Waking State, I commend them and thank them for taking the time out to treat themselves with loving kindness and how this is a service of love and kindness that they are giving to everyone around them.