Our Work in the World

Sarah Brindle: Providing Hope and Healing for Veterans

From the moment that Sarah Brindle first worked with veterans at a VA hospital during her graduate school studies, she knew she had found her calling. As a student of Counseling Psychology, Sarah was deeply interested in health psychology and found that working with veterans was complex and interesting, explaining that often medical and psychological issues often overlap and affect each other. Later in her graduate school career, while completing a pre-doctoral internship at Long Beach VA, she was exposed to working in the spinal cord injury unit and found this too was a complex area to work in, for similar reasons that she found in working with veterans. These experiences since then have become the foundation in all of Sarah’s clinical, writing, advocacy, and volunteer work with and for people living with physical disabilities.

Today, you can find Sarah at Tibor Rubin VA Medical Center in Long Beach, CA where she works as a staff psychologist. She’s been in the Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) Service for 13 years and works exclusively with paralyzed veterans, many who were injured several years ago and are now aging with a physical disability. She has dedicated much of her life to serving people with disabilities and finds great satisfaction in serving veterans in this way, too. “I love working with veterans in particular because of the shared experiences of veterans, the camaraderie, and community that many of them find helpful, and the fact that everyone I serve at the VA ‘signed on the dotted line’ to serve our country—whether they experienced combat or not.”

Sarah first learned about Matthew through a colleague, and she immediately felt connected to his insights about awakening the link between mind and body. She explains, “I was hooked on the idea of connection to the whole body, even if a person can’t feel or move certain parts of their body, and I wanted to bring that to my SCI veterans. Very often, I see that people with paralysis, in particular, have lost that connection and sometimes simply ignore those parts where they have less sensation or complete lack of sensation. As a psychologist, I know that this has implications as well in terms of body satisfaction, pain experience, intimacy, and overall wellbeing.”

Between her professional background and personal interest in yoga, she began lobbying for funding to attend Opening Yoga training at MBS. She was determined to attend and knew it wasn’t simply about modifying postures. “I knew this training was different—not just ‘oh, if you can’t do this pose, just do it from your chair,’” Sarah explains. Her persistence finally paid off and she was able to experience a transformative week with a group that mostly consisted of trained yoga teachers. She quickly realized after the training that she wanted to go deeper into this work and part of that journey was to deepen her understanding of yoga. She enrolled in a 200-Hour teacher training program at Be The Change in Irvine, CA and calls it “another transformative experience.” Now with Opening Yoga Level I/II training and her yoga teacher certification in hand, she was ready to start teaching adaptive yoga classes. Even before she began her training, she had already spent a few years trying to gain support for offering adaptive yoga to veterans with spinal cord injuries and finally, in March 2018, Sarah taught her first class at the VA. Now, she leads two classes each week – one with a physical therapist that involves seated and floor poses, and a seated-only class focused on seated poses and meditation exercises.

Since offering these classes, Sarah has experienced several standout moments with the students. She recalls a student who initially resisted the idea of removing his shoes then promptly fell asleep during the beginning centering exercise despite his chronic sleep issues, and another student that experiences major chronic pain yet makes special efforts to come to class because it’s just that important to him. Another woman with paralysis told Sarah she hadn’t gotten on the floor in over 20 years since her accident and that doing so in class was in itself a healing experience. While Sarah assisted the same student with a rhythmic reclining leg exercise, the woman exclaimed, “My lower back is saying ‘Where have you been my whole life?’”

For Sarah, creating this healing space for veterans is a highlight of her work. She explains, “It feels wonderful to create a space where these moments can happen. I think the experience of coming to a class that is not geared towards strict therapeutic goals, but where the individual is allowed to experience their whole body in a relaxing, supportive environment is unique and healing in its own way for people with disabilities.”

Sarah continues to dedicate time to continuing education and recently returned to MBS for our weekend workshop, A Mind Body Approach to Trauma and PTSD. She’s excited to utilize the skills and insights she learned in her adaptive yoga classes and clinical psychology work. “I was blown away by some of the ideas that were presented and really feel that the mind-body connection is an untapped area in terms of trauma body-work,” she explains.

In the process of cultivating tools to help others, Sarah has also discovered techniques and concepts that have helped her become more present in her life. “In my work with adaptive students, I need to cultivate my own inner awareness to be able to teach well.” She continues, “Being able to give and receive support is essential to us as human beings and can happen in so many small, subtle, but important ways.”

Do you recognize yourself in Sarah’s story? We’d love for you to come find us at a training! Head to our training page to learn more.