Exchange Veteran Yoga Therapy

Army veteran Bryan Fant of Camp Hill, Pa., was in a tailspin of prescription painkillers, weight gain and depression when he discovered yoga, and turned his life around. May 21, 2019. (Dan Gleiter/The Patriot-News via AP)

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — At his darkest point, Bryan Fant was addicted to vicodin, benzodiazepine, prozac, Xanax and various other powerful medications. All had been prescribed by the Veterans Administration to treat his debilitating pain, anxiety, depression and insomnia.

Multiple deployments to Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Kuwait had ravaged him physically. War had ravaged him emotionally.

Fant lived with chronic pain. He underwent no less than seven surgeries to the neck, back and shoulders. He had spent thousands of hours in military helicopters wearing heavy gear. The jarring and jumping had taken a toll on his spine.

At his lowest, his existence played out in a continuous reel of waking up in the morning, dragging himself to the mailbox to collect the new shipment of medications sent by the VA and then crawling to the couch in a drug-induced stupor.

“I was miserable,” Fant said. “I wasn’t a functioning human being. I wasn’t contributing to society in any way........I was an asshole...straight up not fit to be around. I was like a wounded animal that was in a corner so everyone that approached me in that corner, I wanted to strike out at them, which made me feel worse. Deep down I wanted that love and I wanted that affection and I wanted to heal but I was so wounded that I couldn’t let that in. I just didn’t understand.”

His grandfather had lived to 92, but at 41, Fant was certain he did not have 50 more years to live.

“There was no way,” he said. “I could see the writings on the wall.”

He woke up one day on the bedroom floor, his son and paramedics standing over him. Fant had a seizure. He was rushed to the hospital where doctors determined that he was over-medicated, chronically stressed, fatigued and malnourished. He weighed 240 pounds, and had high blood pressure and acid reflux.

The VA’s answer: change the medicine.

That’s when things began to change.

“I was like ‘What are you doing to me? This was the VA...these people were trying to kill me,” Fant recalls.

Fant took control of his life.

He had been experimenting with cannabis to treat the chronic pain, but the VA informed him that he would have to start having periodic urine analysis, and that if cannabis was detected, he would be expelled from the pain management program.

Fant had lost everything — his wife, his son, his will to live. He realized he didn’t have much left to lose. He walked out of the outpatient clinic and never went back.

“I had made up my mind that the meds were not the answer,” Fant said. “I knew there had to be something different.”

He turned to yoga and meditation, immersing himself in a journey of self-exploration through breath work and the physical and spiritual practice of yoga.

“I just remember the first class being very nervous and not knowing what to expect but the contrast from the beginning to when I left was so great,” Fant said. “There was something there that I needed more of.”

He had only a vague understanding of the ancient practice. Fant began to educate himself about yoga, absorbing as much information from books, DVDs and teachers.

In the beginning, he had a hard time sitting still for meditation; he was in so much pain. But in time, Fant discovered the proper balance between strength and flexibility. He began to move with more ease. He kept up with classes and was usually the only man in class.

Yoga began to alleviate the physical symptoms. He found a new sense of equanimity and contentment.

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