Veterans of Foreign Wars Post Turns Hip

In Denver, the country’s oldest VFW post added yoga, meditation, fitness, and art programs to its repertoire.

Post 1 in Denver is now akin to that of PS1. The oldest Veterans of Foreign Wars organization in the country recently made the transition to the most hip.

To draw a younger crowd, the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans of Post 1 began offering once weekly free yoga classes on Tuesdays, meditation on Wednesdays, weekend photography and art workshops, and more. Once regarded as a place to drink and commiserate, the dark alehouse ambiance has faded into the past. What has emerged is a brightly lit gallery setting—its aim to foster a creative, family-friendly space for healing and spiritual growth.

It’s safe to say that yoga and meditation programs for veterans have become widely popular in recent years. Keith Mitchell, a former NFL player turned yoga teacher spearheads the movement behind the Light It Up Foundation, and renowned teacher Beryl Bender Birch co-founded the Give Back Yoga Foundation, both of which support victims of PTSD.

The motivation behind the recent makeover of Post 1 is to make veterans both young and old feel more welcome, as membership as of late has been on the steady decline.

The New York Times has the whole story:

Once a dying post like many others, Post 1 began recruiting aggressively among veterans at nearby colleges and threw open the doors, welcoming other veterans’ groups to use the building. It is now a hub for volunteering, exercise and art, where the focus is on camaraderie and community service. And the membership is thriving. Before, some meetings drew only five people. Now, more than 40 regularly attend.

Post members say they hope to create a model for attracting young veterans that could be adopted across the country. And just in time for the 116-year-old V.F.W. The nationwide network has lost more than 500,000 members in the last decade, tracing the declining number of veterans fromWorld War II and Korea. More than 1,000 posts have closed. The average age of its 1.3 million members is now 68.

Young veterans have shown little interest in joining. Only about 15 percent of eligible Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are members.

“People think it’s just a bar,” said the V.F.W.’s senior vice commander in chief, Brian Duffy, who will lead the national organization next year. “They don’t want to join. We have to be more innovative to reach the millennials. Post 1 is doing that.”

What’s noteworthy here, is the distinct, progressive effort led by the VFW to start embracing these healing practices for veterans who are transitioning back to their normal lives, many of whom undoubtedly have experienced high level degrees of trauma. Self-medication through drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism can no longer serve as a means to an end. Yoga, meditation, and art are creative outlets that can help veterans of war live better lives with more sustainable mental health.

The Military Times, which recently recorded that VFW membership has fallen by nearly half, has more:

Ask veterans from the most recent conflicts about the VFW, and some common themes emerge. Many say the VFW all too often is:

Not focused on the needs of younger vets.
Dismissive of female veterans.
Resistant to changing times.

On most Thursdays, [Curtis] Bean—the sniper who [once] said he’d never join the VFW—runs his Art of War Project gatherings.

And on the first Friday of every month, the post opens its doors to thousands who flock to the art district for its monthly art walk. Other Fridays are movie nights, projected on the post’s 150-inch pull-down screen.

With one of the oldest, most regimented institutions in the country now embracing the healing power of yoga and meditation, isn’t it about time we all agree that these practices are truly beneficial for everyone?

What other institutions are now embracing yoga as a way to draw in millennials?

Photo via iStock

andrea_rice_headshot300pxAndrea Rice is the Practice and Community Editor for Wanderlust Media. She is also a writer and yoga teacher. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Yoga Journal, mindbodygreen, Yoganonymous, AstroStyle, and several music magazines. Her teaching style is a blend of her love for music and intuitive movement, with emphasis on core strength. You can find her regular classes at Shambhala Yoga in Brooklyn and connect with her on Instagram and Twitter.