Two Upcoming Veterans Retreats in California

HPW Rafting 2012 pic 01


By Dyan Ferguson, Founder, Honoring The Path of The Warrior, and US Army veteran

Honoring the Path of the Warrior is pleased to announce our two upcoming retreats:

  1.  The Women Veterans Retreat at Tassajara Mountain Retreat Center from June 17th – June 21st 2013 and
  2.  The Whitewater Rafting trip open to both men and women from July 30th to August 2nd.

Both of these events combine nature and engaging physical activities with meditation, Sensory Awareness and mindfulness practices.  The intent is to provide Veterans with connection, community and tools that support them in using their strengths and experiences to find a meaningful and productive path in civilian life.

US Navy veteran Scott Gunning made this video about a White Water Rafting retreat by Honoring The Path of The Warrior.
US Army veteran Steve Lewis talks about his experience: “You get a bond, and you have fun….” Here’s what others have said about these events:

I really can’t put into words what this trip meant for me, but I can say that this was easily one of the most meaningful and special experiences in my life.  I got more out of this 4 day trip than I did in the entire 5 months that I was in the […] PTSD program.”

“I just want to take the time to say thank you both from my complete and whole heart for what you two have given me this weekend. I’m speechless cause the gift you both gave me was HOPE. And I really can’t remember the last time I truly had it. The act of pulling a trigger from a man made weapon on another human being has shattered my person. You both have given me the hope and energy I need to some how find a way to try to put my shattered soul back together.”

All events are nondenominational and are completely free of charge to veterans.  We do, however, welcome contributions from veterans and members of the broader community so that other veterans may attend future events.  Please support us as you are able:  Honoring The Path. 

Wisdom: The Sound Application of Knowledge

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion” -The Dalai Lama

By CJ Keller
Veteran, USMC

Wisdom is the sound application of knowledge.  It is a deep understanding and realization of people, things, events or situations, resulting in the ability to apply judgments and actions that serve optimal outcomes.

How can we cultivate or tap into wisdom through yoga?  Wisdom often requires control of one’s emotional reactions and control of the senses, so that universal principles of reason and morality prevail to determine our actions.  Our practice, whether in a physical posture, breath control or meditation, facilitates presence and grounding in the moment.  This grounding enables a yogi to draw upon judgement from a more objective place, where the mind is calm and freed from emotional barriers of stress and anxiety.  A quiet mind can listen to the authentic inner voice that we all posses. Ultimately, this is the voice in line with your values and this is the voice that guides your actions.

CJ Keller, USMC, Retired
CJ Keller, Veteran, USMC

The mindful movement, breathing and relaxation techniques used in SFHW’s yoga teachings, allow us to be lifted from the fog of our senses and from our selfish and often misguided desires.  As brothers and sisters bound by the honor and pride of military service, we can use our unique knowledge from training and combat, combined with a focused mind to make better, wiser choices for good in the world.  Mindful yoga fosters connection, sharpens intellect, and strengthens knowledge of self and others. This wisdom is a compass for our actions, leading us to happiness and compassion for ourselves and those we serve.

Tim Hetherington: Fundraiser for RISC, Help James Foley, and The Book

Screen Shot 2013-04-20 at 8.13.56 AMWe can’t begin to count the ways that Tim changed lives, including our efforts here. We don’t want this to sound like a post-eulogy, so we’ll cut right to the point.

As a way to mark the two year passing of Tim and Chris Hondros, we’re raising money for RISC (Reporters Instructed in Saving Colleagues).  This is the effort started by Sebastian Junger after Tim died of acute blood loss after and injury to his femoral artery while covering the war in Libya. Donate Here. If everyone who reads this would give the cost of a cup of coffee and a bagel, that would help a lot. Or heck, a boat load of money. Jillian, Chris and I are going to bug people all week long on twitter and FB. Please help us by telling all your friends.

Screen Shot 2013-04-20 at 8.28.23 AMRISC is a multi-day course, which instructs journalists in advanced life-saving skills. Photos of the first and second year course can be found at the Bronx Documentary Center page. A course is coming up June 18-21 in NYC, with others in London and Beirut to be announced.

Why is this necessary?  Because journalists are going over with lots of heart and varying degrees of knowledge about conflict and war, but they don’t know how to apply a tourniquet because it isn’t taught in college. Increasing numbers are going over to chaotic and unsupported territories, with or without the support of news agencies, and unlike the embeds that marked both Afghanistan and Iraq –they are on their own. Donate here. 

images-1In addition, we’re asking you to sign the appeal to Free James Foley. Sign Here. From the Foley family:

“Unidentified gunmen kidnapped journalist James Foley in northwest Syria on Thanksgiving Day, November 22 2012.

 Jim is the oldest of five children. He has reported independently and objectively from the Middle East for the past five years. Prior to his work as a journalist, Jim helped empower disadvantaged individuals as a teacher and mentor assisting them in improving their lives.

The family appeals for the release of Jim unharmed.

The Foley Family  -Sign here

imagesAfter encouragement from my friend Greg Victor, who reviewed the book, and also a request from Tim’s beloved Idil, I’m reading, “Here I Am: The Story of Tim Hetherington, War Photographer” by Allan Huffman.

My response? I laugh, marvel, cry, and shake my head. I cannot put this book down, even while going through in detail what happened the fateful day he was killed. Tim was the real deal. He got it. He was so much more than anyone could have imagined, and our sorrow is that we never got to see him move on to the second act of his life. And so, as friends, we carry on his life and spirit with a multitude of projects, inspired by his creativity, passion and willingness to reach out and dialog with others. He was not a war photographer, he very much was the “image maker” he claimed.

In addition, if you haven’t seen Sebastian’s film (a tribute to his late friend), “Which Way Is The Front Line: The Life & Time of Tim Hetherington”  try to catch it on HBO, or whenever it becomes available to purchase or moves to Netflix. It’s excellent, and leaves you with the sense that there is much each of us can do in this world fueled by our desires and a willingness to go into the unknown through collaboration with others.

We’ll wrap it up with a video of the RISC training. Please donate and tell your friends. Give

Why Yoga?

{VIRIN}People often ask me why I “do” yoga.  This is usually followed by: jokes about guys doing yoga, questions about levitation, and references to contortion.  Once the laughter settles, I’ll answer in one of several ways.  If the question  comes from a guy or group of guys who are joking about “guys doing yoga,”  I say something about how horrible it is to be the only guy in a room full of women.  That usually gets their attention.  If the question comes from an overly-muscled person who questions the “manliness” of yoga, I usually respond in the form of an asana.  Usually eka pada koundinyasana that transitions into a variation of Mayurasana.

When the question comes from someone who really wants to know “why I do yoga,” I will sit down and tell them about my yoga journey.

Invisible and Unnoticed


SFC Petry“Troops with visible injuries receive accolades, but those with unseen wounds are ignored.” – SFC Leroy Petry

SFC Leroy Petry, Medal of Honor recipient made this comment at the Warrior Resiliency Conference in Washington DC March 3 2012.  I was in the audience.  He also said servicemembers with internal injuries and psychological damage suffer the most, not necessarily those with external wounds.  Adding that when he walks into a room, his robotic hand clearly identifies him as an injured Warrior…however, when an injured Warrior has an invisible wound…they go unnoticed. Petry is referring to PTSD…an invisible wound!

These Warriors often go unnoticed forever.  Too many of them go unnoticed and without help.  An often lethal combination. I am not a doctor, nor can I say for sure that the Marine in the video that went viral recently has the said “invisible” wound.  I can say, that as someone with PTSD, and who has researched PTSD… uncontrolled fits of rage like that captured in this video is one of many horrible side-effects of PTSD.

I by no way condone the actions of the Marine in this video clip.  I use this clip not to bring discredit upon him, nor the Marine Corps.  Rather, to illustrate a point about this horrible side-effect of war!  Once again, I am not a doctor and have no proof the Marine has PTSD.

I want to share with a conversation I had with a fellow servicemember and co-worker.  We saw this video posted on Facebook.  My co-worker instantly noticed how inappropriate his conduct was and how it shines a bad light on all Marines.  I offered the possibility that maybe he had PTSD.  Quickly, my co-worker came back with how sick and tired he was about people throwing around PTSD…almost as if it was a “get out of jail free pass.”  He continued that it seems “everyone has PTSD.”  The kicker for me was when he said, “just because he has PTSD doesn’t give him the right to act like this.  He should know better!  He needs to control it.”

Really?  Control it?  You mean like turn it on and off like a light switch?  That’s like telling a person with autism to stop acting autistic and be normal…or telling a person with Alzheimer’s to stop faking that they can’t remember things.

When SFC Petry walks into a room with a silvery-purple hand, few people would ask him to dribble a basketball with his prosthetic.  For the record…he probably could.  We see this false hand and instantly make assumptions based on shared and accepted etiquette.  Therein lies the problem!  The Marine in the video, the co-worker who sits next to you, or the person you saw last week acting like a complete “ass”  at the restaurant potentially all have something in common.  They don’t have a high-tech hand, leg, or arm identifying them as “wounded.”

I wish it was possible to turn off my PTSD.  I often times wish I was invisible and unnoticed.  Sadly, that is not the case.  Having PTSD is not a carte blanche for me or any other Warrior with this “invisible” wound to act inappropriately. It is more a reason instead of an excuse.

It is difficult for those who suffer from this unwanted alignment to thwart or hold back emotional outbursts.  I asked my current “happy Doctor,” Dr. Sheela Reddy about what she thought about these “outbursts.”

“People do not have the empathy for someone who is having a “moment” .. and they don’t see the “guilt” felt afterward.  193_Sheela_101108If it were a switch you could turn off you would because the person engaging in the behavior that’s hurtful is also in pain but people only see the anger or “bad behavior” and not the pain within.”

So…the next time you see someone acting poorly…I ask you to pause…just for a moment.  Thanks.

Boston On My Mind: Resolve, Uninterrupted


Sicut Patribus Sit Deus Nobis.*

Yesterday, my stomach was messed up. I couldn’t figure out why.  Perhaps it was something intuitive about the balance of my conscious world about to be shifted once again?  Or maybe it was just something I ate, a lack of mindfulness about my diet, a shortage of sleep following a rather stressful spring break. Then, news of Boston.

I grabbed my stuff, shuttled to yoga, went through the breathing and moving, the shifting to and fro on the mat. But then again, my stomach started fluttering.

I broke with routine, laid down on the mat, and held my hands over my tummy, thinking of my friend Deb, aka Yankee Mom, who is a no bullshit person, and also a well-trained Reiki healer. Things settled down, I rejoined the class modifying the poses –after all, a yoga practice isn’t about keeping up, as much as it is being in touch with how your body is feeling.

What Boston reminds us is that we’re not immune from the thread of violence being played throughout the world. From the IEDs that killed six in Afghanistan just recently, to what one friend, a  Marine veteran, referenced in a FB post late last night:

“Also today, at least 6 bombs went off in various cities in Iraq killing at least 33 and wounding another 70+. This followed a weekend in Iraq where a couple political candidates were assassinated over the weekend.”

breatheWhat differentiates us is how we respond to the chaos. Those who attempt to shift terror our way so it paralyzes us, or throws us into a cycle of instability as it has other places will be sorely disappointed. Carl Salazar, a Navy veteran and founder of Expedition Balance wrote:

I’m going to the movies. I’m going to sporting events. I’m going on airplanes. My kids are going to school. Not armed. Not worried. Not hiding. Brave, happy, free. Living. Alive.

F–k fear.

This isn’t to say we overlook the fact there are bad guys in this world. There most definitely is, and they live in fear 24/7. To accept fear, and have a life governed by it is conceding to their way of life. And that’s not acceptable. We will keep praying, breathing, and living in the now with purpose to be here for others. With each breath, we beat back the terrorists.

*City of Boston motto, which means, “God Be With Us As He Was With Our Fathers.”

What Yoga Really Is: A Lesson

Our friend Paul Zipes recently shared with us a post from his blogger friend Auntie N over at Icy Exhale: Defrosting the Human Condition. We left compelled to share her post as it tells a story about what yoga is, what it isn’t, and unfortunately what it is often perceived as being. Thank you to Auntie N for allowing us to share this post!

The Sting In the Yoga Buzz

An online journal I read as often as they post new articles recently took a vacation.  They posted a nice little piece about how they were taking two weeks off and promptly took two weeks off.

So this website is all yoga all the time, but they’re the back alley sort that makes me happy and I’ll tell you why.  They’re the bell ringers and the bullshit callers regarding all things Yoga-lebrity.

I’ve used this word in articles both here and abroad, but I’ll break it down for you.

There are people who grow up and move to LA because they want to be movie stars.  There are people who move to New York because that’s where you go when you want to be a writer.  There are people who want to be famous athletes when they grow up and they pursue that.  Then there are people who decide that they want to become a yoga teacher when they grow up because a person can become famous from this and this alone.  Once a Yoga-lebrity becomes famous, usually they become too expensive for the peasants to train with and so move on to Lady Gaga and Madonna.

What’s interesting is that I’ve been in the presence of a Yoga-lebrity and the yoga practice they deliver is no better than the high quality loving instruction I receive at my local yoga studio – or participating in a Pilates class for that matter.  I’m just saying.

My favorite website’s motto is “Giving the contemporary yoga culture the star treatment.”

As soon as they went on hiatus all hell broke loose and I watched with woeful eyes that these watchdogs were nowhere to be seen.  A prominent yoga teacher is sued for sexual harassment while another member of the elite yoga stars resurfaces with a new revamped style and ethic after returning to the world of instruction not seven months after several allegations of sexual assault and misconduct are reported by female students.  That makes three heavy hitters in the upper echelon of the yoga community hit with a scandal.

In addition, there was a tasteless “April fools” joke perpetrated by Lululemon that I don’t have the stomach to revisit here.  Let it be enough that there were yoga mats made out of cow hide.  With your purchase, they’ll tell you the name of the cow on which you’re bending and shaping yourself.

Perhaps my favorite is a write up on Marilyn Monroe’s yoga prowess and how she was an ardent practitioner with several centerfold shots of her in various “leg in the air” poses.  Let’s not forget what a great role model she is for young women, but add that she does yoga to the mix and there you have a recipe for admiration that the new Pope would do well to try.

I’d like to add that there is a video on another online yoga journal that features a completely nude Play Mate practicing all manner of yoga poses.  I can imagine the liberation she feels in Warrior II without the cumbersome experience of panties.  This video is the most viewed video this site has and the numbers keep rising.

I like to know what’s going on.  There was a time when I subscribed to Yoga Journal because I thought I was learning new things, but eventually I  realized they were reusing sequences with new, prettier and skinnier models in more serene settings.  There wasn’t anything new to be learned from these glossy pages.

Apropos of nothing, today when I arrive to teach my 3:30 class I realize pretty quickly that I have at least two sick students, maybe more.  The two I’m sure aren’t well are recovering from variations of the flu.  Though they’re on the road to recovery, both are a little wane looking but need to move around a bit to feel more normal.

One lady says, “I’m better but still not at a hundred percent.  I’m just gonna do what I can, if I fall into child’s pose just keep going.”

This is a perfect opportunity to give a little demonstration of the healing aspects of yoga practice.  People with congestion and especially those recovering from a cough, sometimes it’s nice to do gentle chest opening poses and to spend time in extended variations of forward folds.  I can’t say the three teenagers who came to my class had the best time, but they were champs and didn’t mount a resistance to the slightly longer relaxation period at the end of class and they certainly didn’t besmirch my choice of ambient and soothing music for the occasion.

It was an excellent tool, having two people in class “not one hundred percent” because yoga practice is something you should be able to do all the time and is available to everyone.  It’s not a thousand dollar mat or hundred and fifty dollar transparent pants that makes a yoga practice.  In fact, yoga postures make up one eighth of what yoga practice actually is.

Fundamentally, the cash cow that the yoga industry has become with the naked yoga videos and industry leading celebrities, turns as many people off of yoga than it attracts them to yoga.  If I’d never known a thing about yoga and saw The Real Housewives getting their dog on, yoga would be the last thing I’d want to practice.

Luckily I got into yoga before it became cosmopolitan and cliquish, or maybe I just didn’t see it until I began trying to follow the trends in the business side of things.  As it turns out, the world turns with or without the flash of cosmopolitan yoga-lebrities.  I think that the world of yoga is inside a person, in their congested chest and burning heart and aching mind and that’s where the focus needs to be.

My most solid teachers in the Mind Body scene have been practicing quietly and in earnest since the eighties at least, before there was so much of a scene and simply work to be done to remain aware, strong and self-possessed.  These are the people I want to emulate, whether I’m running a class full of mantra work and flying crab crow pose or I’m practicing quietly and in earnest in the back of the room on my own mat.

This week in yoga culture was a great example of reasons to unplug and tune in.  There is nothing new under the sun, only discoveries to me made.  For the love of God, get thee to a mat my friend, or your local studio.


The Cost Of War and The Need To Uphold Strength and Promises

Usually, WarRetreat writes about the costs of war, and the toll it takes on humanity.  What it costs us emotionally, physically and spiritually is immeasurable,  both now, and what affects will be passed from generation to generation. However, the fiscal costs of war deserve mention too.  war-costsCraigslist founder Craig Newmark shared this study from Harvard that put the costs of war at $4-6 Trillion dollars.  This paper by Harvard Kennedy School’s Senior Lecturer in Public Policy Linda Bilmes, includes the long term care owed to veterans, military families and dependents.

“Bilmes examines the growing costs of the VA health care system, VA disability benefits, and the TRICARE system at the Department of Defense. Her study reveals that 886,161 veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan have been treated by VA for medical conditions, and 783,623 of them have filed disability claims with the VA.

The largest portion of that bill is yet to be paid,” Bilmes writes. “Since 2001, the US has expanded the quality, quantity, availability and eligibility of benefits for military personnel and veterans. This has led to unprecedented growth in the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense budgets. These benefits will increase further over the next 40 years.”  -Harvard Kennedy School, 2013

In an earlier paper in 2005, Bilmes tabulated the costs at $2 Trillion. But eight additional years have doubled the expense of war, and also claimed victims –many who died, others who live with wounds both seen and unseen. Included in this comprehensive paper is a landscape that includes everything from bullets, transportation, recruitment costs, to taking care of brain injured patients through the V.A. 

Those in power have always been evasive about the costs of war:

Before the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and then-director of the Office of Management and Budget Mitchell Daniels (now governor of Indiana) put the likely costs at between $50 billion and $60 billion. Former undersecretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz (now president of the World Bank Group) claimed that increased Iraqi oil revenues would pay for the war. When President Bush’s economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey suggested that the actual costs might be closer to $100 billion or even $200 billion, the White House called those figures grossly exaggerated and swiftly fired him.  -Harvard Magazine, 2005

The Iraq and Afghanistan wars were the most expensive in our history. Whether or not the debt will ever be paid off is a question that I don’t think any politician will ever be able to answer with complete assurance.

While war is an uncomfortable topic, until Americans can talk to one another from opposite sides of the table to discuss our role in global politics, what our obligation is to answer another nation’s call to stabilize it or beat back bad guys, along with how we use our forces –polemics will reign.  All too often, many times talk about war with civilians often puts our veterans in the position of defending their role in the war. The conversation becomes closed off. We maintain the strength of our military (regardless of size) needs to remain constant, and support for veterans and their families must remain a priority, and a promise honored. 

Gregory Victor Reviews Tim Hetherington Book, “Here I Am”


Over on Parc Bench, Gregory Victor reviews the new book on Tim Hetherington by Alan Huffman. He was also a great admirer of the film Restrepo, was also deeply appreciative of Tim and how he lived his life. Do read the review, over at Parc Bench. 

Here I Am is a fitting tribute to the life’s work of a man who constantly risked his life to give voice to people devastated by war.  -Gregory Victor, Parc Bench

Vietnam Veteran Reflects On Changing His Life

By Randy Hamlin, of Connected Warriors

So I’ve always been a rebel at heart. Getting into trouble as a kid, just out of being rebellious, nothing serious enough to bring in the law but sometimes borderline. Coming from a strict upbringing, I decided to step out on my own after high school and joined up with the Marine Corps. All that did was create an adrenaline junkie and when I returned from 2 tours in the Nam and I needed something to replace the high levels I was used to running on.

I did quite a bit of partying –rode Harleys with an outlaw group, did my share of smuggling down here in southern Florida. Don’t know if just getting older or smarter, but I changed my outlook on life. I realized I wasn’t invincible and needed to make a change, so my path changed dramatically. First, I started on a more healthy lifestyle: quit living the fast life and slowed down enough to listen. Lots of changes. Most for the good. Still, I have a lot of work to do. I think after all I’ve been through, the day came to do something outside of my box.

Ralph Iovino and Randy Hamlin, Vietnam veterans
Ralph Iovino and Randy Hamlin, Vietnam veterans

Enter Connected Warriors, a yoga group that was formed to work with military vets with issues, ie: PTSD & TBI. It was another step I needed to take. It provides the brotherhood that I was lacking, a carry over from leaving the Corps, feelings of isolation were always present and always watching my back. It provides a physical side which can be as challenging as you make it and the breathing part is the real kicker! It calms you enough to hear what my body has been trying to tell me. It’s working for me and has changed my life. Some of the baggage I’ve been carrying for the last thirty or forty years is melting away…. All because someone cared. I am very thankful for all those who selflessly give continuously to help guys like me.