All posts by Jillian Hunsanger

The Power of One

September is Suicide Prevention Month and we wanted to take a moment and let you know about one of the resources available. The Veterans Crisis Line is available to Veterans (and their loved ones!) via phone call, text message or online chat. The Folks at the Veterans Crisis Line are specially trained and experienced in helping Veterans of all ages and circumstances.

a2NXEze_700bIn support of Suicide Prevention Month, the Veterans Crisis Line has dedicated a section of their website to “The Power of One” and other resources and information available.

If you or someone you love displays the “signs of crisis”, please reach out to the Veterans Crisis Line, where confidential support is just one call, text, or chat away.

Kula for Karma: Free Video Series

Kula for Karma is a non-profit organization that has developed a free, 6-part guided yoga and meditation practice designed specifically for veterans. The videos are posted online, making them easy to access if you are trying out yoga for the first time (or even if you are a seasoned practitioner). 699ebb_664c6e5c327c8aaa1e96933fe2fecac2.png_srz_p_265_169_75_22_0.50_1.20_0

With the goal of creating a safe space for transformation and healing, these 30-minute videos guide viewers through asana, adaptive yoga, restorative practice, easy flow, power yoga levels I & II, and meditation.

You can find the videos on YouTube or on the Kula for Karma website!



Off the Mat: Team Red, White & Blue

We just love sharing the work that non-profits do in support of Veterans and the military community, even more so when the mission of the organization resonates with our mission here at War Retreat. Back in January I had the pleasure of attending the University of Michigan Student Veterans of America (SVA) Benefit Dinner, which served as a fundraiser for Team RWB. Prior to the dinner I had been interacting with the Athletic Director of my local Team RWB and I had fallen in love with their mission. team-rwb

If Team RWB is new to you, their mission is “to enrich the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity”…how great is that?! Veterans AND physical activity, how perfect!

One of the best things about Team RWB is the size of the organization. MANY areas have a Team RWB chapter and they are continuing to grow, some chapters are even linked with VA Centers.

Each chapter hosts weekly meet ups providing members with a chance to get out and get active by hosting running groups (if running isn’t your thing, walking or cycling is an option!), fitness classes or just meetups out in the community, allowing Veterans the chance to meet with other Veterans! Team RWB also offers events outside of the weekly meetups, such as camps and training events. For folks looking to participate in races, many local chapters also offer a chance to sign up and participate with other members.

TeamRWBSlogansIf you haven’t looked into Team RWB please do so, the organization is a great group of folks and it is a great opportunity to try something new while meeting other Veterans.



Moving Forward: OAF Nation

The other night, while struggling to fall asleep I came across the OAF Nation website. After browsing around for a little bit I came across a posting that I knew I had to share.

Everyone has “those days”. Where so many things have gone wrong that it can feel impossible to move forward. Where all you can focus on is the negative. This is usually the point where giving up seems like a great option. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been there. Sometimes things improve quickly, sometimes you need a good old kick in the ass (I mean that as lovingly as possible!). And sometimes, as a Veteran or service member, I’m sure that “kick in the ass” advice is better received when it comes from a fellow Veteran or service member. So this post it for you…anyone who feels “stuck” or is struggling with moving forward.


“All my life I’ve been chasing something, I feel fate breathing down my neck. If the road I’m on somehow leads me nowhere, no retreats men, no regrets.”-The Parlor Mob

Over the last 12 years, I’ve been asked on multiple occasions for advice. From relationships to medicine, my friends and even complete strangers come to me seeking guidance.This astounds me in that, not even counting my extensive list of character flaws, I rarely feel like I’m one to give my two cents on much without being an incredibly massive hypocrite.

Upon concluding both of my enlistments, I was fortunate enough to be approached by my junior Marines as I ran out the door before it hit me in the ass. They were hungry for one more morsel of wit and wisdom from yours truly. They wanted to know, if I could tell them ONE THING that could help them in their careers, combat, or life in general, what would I tell them? My reply is and always has been, “Always put one foot in front of the other.”

If the above has you scratching your head, allow me to expatiate on this:

In all facets of life, be it work, relationships, or combat, there will be obstacles that stand between us and our goals. Life is full of those events that just seem to slow us down. Sometimes, they just trip us up a little. Other times, they level us. Yes, there’s even times when something comes along, knocks us down, and then proceeds to curb stomp our teeth in. Breakups, makeups, empty bank accounts, unemployment, health (or lack thereof), family, booze, pills, sex, bills, the list goes on and on. These are all part of the process recently. Blame who you want or what you want, fault is irrelevant. What IS imperative is that you put one foot in front of the other and carry on. As long as you are moving forward in your life, no matter at what pace, you are winning like Charlie Sheen on Tigers’ Blood.

Our time in the military has prepared us for these events, perhaps not directly, but nonetheless we are gifted with the mindset to persevere. There have definitely been times in my life when I certainly couldn’t see the finish line. I sat at my kitchen table dumping out and counting change from a jar to get groceries. This was a sad time in my life when I was barely scraping by. But, that’s where I decided that BARELY scraping by was better than NOT scraping by. Not because I accept mediocrity or the bare minimum in my life but, I was still working and going to school and thusly, still moving FORWARD.

That job you applied for didn’t call you back? Call them. You didn’t get the job? Apply for another. Tired of deployment? Does it all seem pointless and repetitive? Just focus on putting one foot in front the to the other. No matter how slow and awkward your steps, forward is always the correct direction. As long as you keep trying, you’re doing the right thing. You don’t have to get there today, you just have to get there eventually. 

I know this all sounds like trite, cliche motivational speak but, I believe this mental fortitude is lost on our society these days. We live in a “microwave culture” where everything has to be as fast and efficient as possible. People want gratification, and they want it yesterday, with as little effort as possible. This is an enticing notion, sure. But, it breeds weakness and laziness. When the going gets tough for most, the most go to bed and stay there. No matter how many T-shirts and bumper stickers they read, failure is the end for most. Giving up when things get difficult is acceptable to people these days. It’s not the time of our grandparents and great-grandparents, if something was broke or didn’t work, you laced up your boots and tried to find a way to fix it. The thing I try to portray to those around me is that failure is just an opportunity to ask “what’s next?” Failure to me, should be the chance to try something different.

The next time you’re obsessing about that bottle of pills or your ex-girlfriend, remember, that isn’t the way forward. Put one foot in front of the other and never give up.

Dedicated to Clay and E.B.


Hellertown, PA: Veteran says “I’m a Marine and I’m not doing yoga”

Got you to click on the post, didn’t it? 14784300-mmmain

USMC Veteran Liz Thompson shared that statement in her story with The Express-Times, where she described her struggle the transition home after a 9-month deployment to Iraq in 2005. Liz eventually found her way to yoga after it was suggested to her by a friend and she has since become an instructor herself and teaches a class for Veterans at the American Legion Post 397 in Hellertown, PA.

Check out the rest of Liz’s story in The Express-Times!


A Tale of Getting Back Up

Time for a good ol’ inspirational story to get you motivated! We often try to share stories that you can relate to, in hopes that you will find your own “take aways” to apply to your own life. Today, we have a guest blogger, who is an amazing individual. Ella has been physically and psychologically tested in life, but continues to grow and prosper. I think we can all find at least one “take away” from her story.  -Jillian

This is Ella Anne Kociuba and this is her story.

ella2First off, I am nothing special. I have not made history nor have I discovered something outstanding, invented something useful, or saved the world. My name will soon be forgotten, it will most likely not be written down in history books for future generations to learn about. To the world I am nothing but a grain of sand in your shoe. That annoying little specimen that you can’t seem to find, no matter how hard you look but still you know something is in there, somewhere. That’s me. I’m there, I’m somewhere in this world trying to get you to look around at what’s to become of you. 

And for two years now I have been competing in endurance and obstacle events across America. I first got signed at the age of eighteen and shit sort of took off from there. I am currently twenty years old and my story of how I got to where I am today.. ha, well.. let’s just say, it wasn’t and isn’t easy. But you all should know this by now, that anything you want in life and if it’s worth it, it will not be easy. I like to joke and say that, ‘I am THE accident prone athlete’ and you’ll find out why here in a bit.

In case you are unaware of my story, enjoy a summary of my destruction:

At the young age of twelve, I was highly dedicated and competitive in Endurance Riding. Endurance riding is an equestrian sport, held usually on private ranches or national parks, where horse and rider must complete mandatory vet checks and ride the marked course through the land as fast as one can while making all the vet check standards. Races vary from twenty-five to hundred miles long but I mainly compete in twenty-five and fifty mile courses.

When one late evening, I took my horse, Socks, out for a training ride. A beautiful evening turned into a beautiful disaster (oh how cliche, I know!). Socks was spooked so suddenly by a deer jumping out in front of us and Iwas thrown off.

The initial fall broke the L4 and L5 in my spine, but somehow, I went an entire year without finding out. Yes, a whole year, 365 days(+-) of shit. I went to five different doctors, had numerous amount of x-rays, MRI’s, hard plastic back braces that went from my neck to my pelvic bone, laser therapy, chiropractor work, physical therapy, and heavy, heavy medications to cure me. But nothing was working and nothing was showing anything really wrong with me. I was no longer walking, sleeping, eating, smiling, I was no longer aware of my surroundings because the pain and sadness I felt consumed me. One chiropractor suggested I try decompression (decompression is a method where a strap is secured tightly around both ribcage and hips, then a machine slowly pulls from opposite ends). Because looking at my MRI, I had slipping disc’s and this would help me or so they said. We started the treatment and sure enough after a couple visits, something terrible happened.

Imagine what a guitar string looks like when it is pulled too tightly, it splits from it’s ends in a very chaotic way, well, this was my back.. This was how the tendons and muscles in my lower back felt like, they were splitting. The machine was literally pulling me apart. Darkness. Turns out the chiropractor who was working on me was not licensed to look at an MRI, so we had a decision of suing her for almost paralyzing me and lying to us but we resulted in not doing so and demanded our money and to stop their practice. A couple weeks later after the incident and I am still disabled. We found a back specialist, who said: “You need to go in for exploratory surgery soon, or you will be crippled.” On February 19th, 2007, they went in for an expected five hour surgery which turned out to be nine and a half hours long.

And what they discovered, was the reason behind my chronic pain and every single spinal misdiagnoses from past doctors. My doctor found a huge block of bone that was hiding a birth defect! It turns out my spine was never connected to my sacrum since birth! In addition, I was also was suffering from spondylolisthesis (a condition where a vertebra in the spine slips out of the proper position and falls onto the vertebra below it) with four vertebras. Of course, I had an insane amount of nerve damage, including nerve damage up into my neck from past back braces and the sciatic nerve which caused my left leg to be numb and tingly. Let’s not forgot to mention, I was battling depression due to missing out on my childhood activities, being with friends, walking around, sleeping, riding my horse, getting out of the bathtub without crying for my mother, having doctors give me ‘you’re just a baby’ diagnose for all my suffering, and just simply being pain free.

Ella and Jillian
Ella and Jillian

So, there I was, thirteen years old with four brand new metal rods, six screws drilled into my spine and sacrum just so I could walk and run around again. But I was informed that, “I may never play sports or ride my horse again.” Digesting these words burned more than heartburn can ever burn. And for two years, I went to physical therapy, two times a week and patiently worked towards my grim future.

Despite the struggle, my sophomore year of high school I began to run again and ride my horse, I cannot tell you how happy this made me. While my career in high school wasn’t so picture perfect, I wasn’t the best athlete on the team, I didn’t make newspapers, colleges didn’t know who I was, but I never once stopped pushing forward and giving my absolute best. Sure enough, after graduating, I started to excel rapidly in my fitness pursuits. I shut out everything that threw me off track and focused, I wanted to become something great so badly that it was my only thought. After a couple months of serious training and I found myself winning just about everything I entered into. I was contacted by a few sponsors and finally signed my first one, Flag Nor Fail, which turned out to change my life in the best way ever. After signing, I started competing out of Texas and found my name spreading, my story everywhere, and my smile becoming brighter than ever.

While my past battle quickly challenged me with the worst but slowly changed me into my best, I am still being tested with adversity to this day and battle after battle, punch after punch, I continue to fight. I have collected all the excuses in the world to use but shoved them down a drain, cause I cannot and will not ever give up on myself.

Not only is Ella’s story inspiring, I think she makes an amazing point in her story. Throughout life you are going to go through many different trials and tribulations, but regardless of that it is important to keep focused and keep your mind set on the bigger picture. That you CANNOT give up. You have come this far, why stop now?

It you would like to follow Ella on her journey check her out on her blog or her facebook!

Off the Mat: Ride 2 Recovery

One thing we have often said here at War Retreat is that yoga is not for everyone. Some people find themselves on their bicycle, in the gym, or on the top of a mountain rather than on a mat. That being said, we would like to introduce you all to an organization- Ride 2 Recovery.

ph-7706146575A few weeks back I had the pleasure of seeing R2R come through Michigan. I had known of the organization and their mission, but had never witnessed it in person. It was amazing. Seeing some of these individuals who had lived through the physical and psychological challenges of war, pushing themselves physically and mentally through this enduring ride from Chicago, IL to Detroit, MI, was absolutely amazing.

On their website R2R explains their mission as: To improve the health and wellness of injured veterans by providing a life changing experience that can impact their lives forever. 

banner5-7220741179R2R offers four main programs- Challenges, Honor Ride, Project HERO and special events.

Challenges are multi-day events that cover 350-450 miles. A Challenge will push the participant to their limit, both physically and mentally. Paid participation in a full Challenge ride helps support the free participation of our injured veterans and healing heroes and includes meals, lodging and a jersey. You may also participate in any single day of a Challenge event.

Honor Rides are one-day events held around the country to raise money and promote awareness for the Ride 2 Recovery program.

Project HERO was created to enhance, inspire, and challenge Healing Heroes’ rehabilitation by introducing them to Ride 2 Recovery which allows each person to set individual goals while working in a group. R2R will partner with the local facility staff and cadre to create a personalized and progressive cycling program that fits the needs of the patient population and will promote a fuller and quicker rehabilitation.

Special Events are meant to provide a rehabilitative experience for Healing Heroes that is similar to Ride 2 Recovery’s Challenge Series but in a unique location with different and distinctive activities.  Generally, these events require advanced fitness and abilities compared to the Challenge Series.

Check out their website if you would like more info! Maybe yoga isn’t for you, but cycling sure may be.

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.


Spartan Races and Tough Mudders? Yoga Isn’t For Everyone…

…and we understand that.

Although I’m a yoga teacher and I wholeheartedly believe in its benefits, I realize it isn’t for everyone. Even in my own life, there are days when yoga just doesn’t cut it for me and I need something more, which for me is when weightlifting comes in. Here at WarRetreat we are well aware of the many different avenues available to Veterans to help them regain balance after war and Team X-T.R.E.M.E. does just that.

10-mile tough mudder obstacle course
10-mile tough mudder obstacle course

Spartan Races, Weightlifting, and Tough Mudder races are all other options available to individuals looking to re-gain control, re-connect with their breath, and develop a new understanding of personal and mental strength.

Recently Team X-T.R.E.M.E participated in a Spartan Race Demo in New York City and some of their participation was recorded by Rob Bailey, who runs the lifestyle brand Flag nor Fail. Rob compiled some of the footage of his wife, IFBB Pro Dana Linn Bailey, and Team X-T.R.E.M.E. during this event and released a video with some of the highlights. If this video doesn’t motivate you, I don’t know what will.

After watching that, you don’t have any excuses on why you can’t do something. So just keep that in mind. Even if yoga isn’t for you, there is still something out there that is, so go find it.

Coming Up in San Diego: Semper Sarah Bootcamp

Recently we introduced you to Semper Sarah and the work she does with Veterans. On Saturday December 1st, 2012 in San Diego, CA Sarah is holding a bootcamp workshop for individuals who have experienced the effects of stress, trauma, and grief on the mind, body, and spirit.

This one-day event will “equip participants with the tools to start living a happier, healthier, and more successful life that very day”. The idea for the bootcamp came to Sarah after returning from Iraq and battling the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and sexual trauma. She realized she could help others by sharing her road back to health. Participants will gain a greater understanding of how to make realistic yet unique changes that will reduce the stress, suffering, or unhappiness in their lives.

Click here to find out more information on the event or to sign up! The cost for the event is currently $97, until tomorrow when it goes up to $297. Event participants will have first access to Sarah’s new book, Just Roll with It: Stop Comparing, Competing, and Self-Defeating which will be released at the event.