A Chat with Sue Lynch
The owner of Charlestown yoga talks about how she's come to love the neighborhood, and the amazing yoga program she's brought here to help combat vets.
Charlestown resident Sue Lynch credits yoga with saving her life. After a decade of struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Lynch, who has served in the Army Reserve for the past 24 years, is the owner of Charlestown Yoga and founder of There and Back Again, a wellness reintegration program providing yoga, meditation and traditional and alternative therapies to combat veterans at no cost.
Q: What makes Charlestown different from other Boston neighborhoods?
A: I moved to Charlestown, reluctantly, over 15 years ago from the North End with roommates. I say “reluctantly” because, at the time, Charlestown felt so far from downtown. What I discovered is that Charlestown is the hidden gem of the city. Nowhere in the city, that I’ve found, has the neighborhood feel like Charlestown does. I found real community here.
Q: Who goes to Charlestown Yoga?
A: The students at Charlestown Yoga represent the community of Charlestown. Those who practice are at different stages of their lives – newborns to seniors. One of my goals when I opened the studio is to offer something for everyone.
Q: My New Year's resolution is to practice yoga - is Charlestown Yoga beginner friendly?
A: Absolutely. For years, our schedule reflected “all levels” classes. I did this because I wanted to promote the sense that we all practice together as a community. However, I realized the importance of a beginner’s class a few years ago. Many students wanted to try yoga but didn’t want to go into a mixed class. They wanted a class where everyone else was a beginner too. Now we offer beginners classes on Mondays & Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, we offer a gentle class which is another great place to start. Starting next Sunday, we are offering a Yoga Flow – Level I & 2 class.
Q: Where do you see Charlestown in 20 years?
A: I see the community continuing to come together. I think the “toonies” and the “townies” will continue to see the similarities that bring us together as a community. While I didn’t grow up in Charlestown, I deeply respect those who have. I’ve had the great fortune of becoming friends with many who have born and raised here.
Q: How did you com up with the idea for There and Back Again?
A: At 20, my unit was deployed to Saudi Arabia where the area outside our compound was hit by a scud missile. It was that moment in time where I completely disconnected from my body. I was unable to get into my gas mask or chemical gear on my own. I was traumatized but only temporarily. Many more scud attacks came in but because I had to find a way to cope, I did. Like many of us do, we make it a game. We bet on how many patriot missiles took out the scud missiles. We ran to the rooftops to watch like the 4th of July fireworks. We had to. There was no other way to cope with the fear of death. However, reintegrating home after war was far more challenging than the deployment itself. The first 30 days brought the cakes, parades, family and friends. I attempted to get my life back. I returned to my full-time job and went back to college to finish my senior year. Soon, my life began to overwhelm me and I began to unravel. At the 90-day mark, I crashed, dropping out of school and barely managing to drag myself to work every day. I sought many avenues to heal. I went to therapy, tried hypnosis, and exercised excessively. Moments in between the healing, I drank more than my share of alcohol and likely acted out more than I knew. Shortly after this time, I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Among these symptoms were depression, anxiety and suicidal ideations.
One exact moment, the first scud attack, has shaped the direction of my life and work. After a decade of struggling with PTSD, I found that yoga and alternative therapies were the key to managing its symptoms. While traditional therapies offer the intellectual understanding of the emotional underpinnings of combat trauma, yoga provided relief. In 2005, I bought Charlestown Yoga and founded There & Back Again, a wellness reintegration program providing yoga, meditation and traditional and alternative therapies to combat veterans at no cost. In conjunction with traditional therapies, these techniques put veterans in control of their own wellness.
Since 2005, There & Back Again has worked with over 3000 combat veterans through the Massachusetts and Connecticut Department of Veterans, Massachusetts Yellow Ribbon Program, Vet Centers, Community Based Warrior Transition Units and other veterans’ service organizations.
Our Saturday program is held at Charlestown Yoga at 12:30 p.m. It is open to combat veterans at no cost. We also offer monthly holistic clinics for all veterans and their families.
I still serve as a Major in the Judge Advocate General Corp in Army Reserve as a trial defense attorney. Over the last several years, over 50% of the cases that I’ve handled involved soldiers who had a diagnosis of PTSD and had tested positive for drugs, Driving Under the Influence (DUI) or nonparticipants. Almost 2 million service-members have deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan since 9/11 for at least one tour. Out of those who have reported, 1 in 5 has been diagnosed with PTSD or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). The divorce rates have increased by 63%. Suicide rates have increased 150%. Psychiatric medication prescriptions have increased by 76%. Substance abuse has increased since 2003. Bring alternative therapies to returning veterans will make a difference. Yoga saves lives. It did for me and many of the veterans with whom I work.
Q: How can I get more involved with There and Back Again?
A: There & Back Again’s 3rdAnnual Evening to Supporting the Wellness of Veterans is on Thursday, Feb. 24 at the Boston Fairmont Battery Wharf. As part of our fundraising efforts for the evening, we will produce an event program and offer a silent auction. There are many ways for you to contribute to our cause, visit thereandback-again.com for details.