Volunteer Spotlight: Ann Hoffman
Many of Veterans Yoga Project’s volunteers are civilians who have felt the call to help veterans. And, similarly, Veterans Yoga Project is fortunate to have volunteers who have devoted their academic and professional life to finding solutions to problems facing veterans.
Ann Hoffman grew up in a small town in western Pennsylvania. Her grandfather served in the Army for WWII, two of her uncles served in Vietnam, and some of her friends have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I’ve always felt connected and supported by our military and see the sacrifices and common consequences that can occur following deployment,” says Ann. It is through this connection that Ann wanted to focus her work on a way of giving back.
Ann received her PhD in Behavioral Neuroscience at Arizona State University and did a postdoctorate fellowship at UCLA. She is currently a research scientist at UCLA, studying how brain injury and emotional trauma can affect the brain.
“My professional work focuses on understanding the underlying brain mechanisms in those that have comorbid traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is too common in military populations,” says Ann, whose mentor at UCLA has received the Strength of the Nation Award from the Army for his contributions in helping soldiers with traumatic brain injuries. “Through our research we hope to better understand these conditions to develop effective treatments and interventions to mitigate suffering and improve quality of life.”
While in college, Ann started practicing yoga as well.
“At first I loved taking heated yoga and power yoga as an intense workout,” says Anne. “When I committed to joining a studio and started practicing daily, that’s when I really started to gain the inner benefits of the practice and saw it reach and improve other parts of my day to day life.”
This feeling only grew when Ann took her 200-hour yoga teacher training – an endeavor she undertook to deepen her own knowledge of and connection to the practice.
“By the end I now had tangible tools to improve my own struggles with anxiety that were truly effective, and I felt compelled to someday find a way to share the practice with others that may also benefit.”
Ann’s drive to find more ways to give back spurred her to look for additional trainings after her 200-hour teacher training. This lead her to Veterans Yoga Project and their Mindful Resilience Training.
“I looked into the organization, read all of the fantastic press, and listened to the interviews with founder Dan Libby,” says Ann. “Looking into Dan’s background and seeing his values in science and research, I knew our intentions were aligned in this way.”
“[It] involves curating and organizing data, which is one of my favorite things to do!” says Anne. Ann began volunteering in the Fall of 2019, and would complete a Mindful Resilience Training in January 2020 – which would end up being one of the last in-person trainings to occur before the pandemic sent the country into lockdown.
For the monthly reports, Ann collects data from across the country to demonstrate the reach of Veterans Yoga Project’s programs.
“Teachers input their class data and I put it together in graphs and presentation form to track where and how many veterans are attending VYP classes in mindful resilience. I put all of the data together across several categories in a report each month. It is so much fun to see and build these data sets that represent personal connections, growth, and moments of peace that are added to our veterans’ days and nights.”
Ann hopes to someday teach for Veterans Yoga Project; presently, she is teaching class weekly via zoom for friends, colleagues, and family during the pandemic. Until then, she is grateful to be a part of Veterans Yoga Project by working with the data.
She has also been impressed with how Veterans Yoga Project has been handling the pandemic, and continuing to serve veterans despite COVID-19.
“It has been inspiring to track the true resilience of the VYP community in real time from the challenge we’ve all faced from COVID19. When the world shut down in March, the yoga didn’t stop. Even though in-person classes had to stop, there was a major surge in number of plays on our online libraries though YouTube and SoundCloud. Our team quickly developed multiple online platforms to continue to hold space and share the practice in live classes in a time we urgently needed it.”
The stars truly aligned for Veterans Yoga Project when it comes to Ann – with her professional interests in research, her personal connection to yoga, and her drive to give back to veterans. And, in turn, Ann is grateful to be able to work with Veterans Yoga Project and appreciates the supportive team she has.
Ann encourages everyone, regardless of physical abilities, to find some frequent practice of movement with breath.
“The data support this, but every individual practice can serve as a reminder. VYP brings that to veterans, active duty, first responders, their families and others. It’s free and accessible and can be a powerful tool in healing and overall health,” says Ann. “Tracking the data and reading the heartfelt testimonials that the students submit truly attest to the gift of the practice and the organization.”