About Kanani Fong

Founder, WarRetreat.Org, devoted to helping with the aftermath of war through movement, breathe, and yoga. Army wife, long time mental health advocate, writer, specializing in military and veteran outreach for film and books. Projects include Restrepo, and High Ground.

“What’s Love?” U.S. Army Veteran Eric Walrabenstein Responds

For Valentine’s Day, we asked movers and shakers in veterans’ service organizations: What’s LOVE?

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“Love is, at its essence, a kind of capacity…

to be present for others.

to allow for our differences.

to endure difficulty.

to go beyond our self interest.

Love is the capacity to do all of this with an effortless grace that allows us fully and spontaneously embrace all that is.” -Eric Walrabenstein, Veteran, U.S. Army, Bootstrap Stress Management System

Eric Walrabenstein

Eric Walrabenstein, U.S. Army Veteran

Eric Walrabenstein is a nationally-recognized expert in the fields of yoga and mind/body health and the founder of Yoga Pura, one of Arizona’s largest yoga centers. As a former infantry officer in the U.S. Army, he knows first-hand of the sacrifice and dedication the members of our armed forces make every day. 
 
His wide-ranging experience in the military and civilian sectors, combine with his profound understanding of yoga technology and mind/body health to make him uniquely equipped to help our troops and veterans end their struggle with chronic military-related stress conditions. 
 
In addition to his work with BOOTSTRAP and teaching at his Arizona center, he regularly travels the nation training yoga, meditation, and mind-body health teachers from around the world. 

Developed by veterans for veterans. Get your free kit!

THE BOOTSTRAP KIT:  Developed by veterans for veterans. CLICK HERE TO GET YOUR FREE KIT!

 

“What’s Love?” Stacy Bare, US Army Vet Responds

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Stacy (far right) stands with the Sierra Club and Veterans Expeditions atop Blackfoot Mountain in Glacier NP.

In anticipation of Valentine’s day,  we’ve asked the people from organizations that offer outdoor experiences, sports, and arts activities for veterans.  US Army Veteran Stacy Bare responds to our query:

What’s Love?

“Love is learning to believe in yourself and believing in others that there are no limits to what can be accomplished when we’re together. Love is forgiving yourself so you can forgive others. Love is what should drive us, not fear. Fear has driven me for the seven years since I came home. Fear of being homeless, fear of being an addict, fear of people learning I am weak. Fear of losing a job. Fear of not living up to the life I should live because I get to live it, not like those who I loved and lost. 

Love is the transition of fear to hope, nightmare to dream, and dream to action.
Love is the random connections of people who all believe in a better world working together.
Love is the feeling of skiing in deep powder, topping out on a big pitch, or seeing the sunset or rise on a summit.”
Stacy Bare

Stacy Bare

Stacy Bare is a dynamic leader. A U.S. Army veteran, Stacy found his way back to firm ground through outdoor sports. Stacy Bare is the director of Sierra Club Mission Outdoors, the 2014 National Geographic Adventurer of the Year with Nick Watson and is the Winner of the 2013 OIA Inspiration Award and President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition Community Leadership Award.

 

Documentary Director Michael Brown & The Power of Story

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“Everything that matters is a story. Those who can tell stories will thrive. Story is the way to express the huge feelings that we hold in our hearts, the feelings that we desperately need to understand. The most extreme example I can think of is that twenty or more veterans decide to kill themselves every day – almost one every hour.  If someone listened to them, if they could tell their stories and if they thought someone was paying attention this would not be the case. “  -Director Michael Brown writing in  Cultural Weekly

Director Michael Brown is a five-time Everest climber, three-time Emmy winner, award-winning cinematographer and the founder of Serac Adventure Films. He also devotes time to teaching veterans how to tell their story through film. An advocate for veterans, Brown is the Director of the award-winning veteran’s documentary High Ground. Recently, he wrote an article about the power of story telling for veterans on the way to healing. Brown teaches a course for veterans through the Outside Adventure Film School, and recently taught a Patton Veteran’s Project “I Was There” workshop that combined storytelling with filmmaking to help find new ways to cope with military trauma.

Meet Chris Eder (USAF, Retired)

In the spring of 2013,  MSgt Chris Eder joined us as a contributor.

429636_322901001100075_1846827629_nChris-Crop-1Chris Eder is a certified Vinyasa/Hatha Interdisciplinary Yoga Instructor. His yoga journey began in 1999 after he encountered the joys of a pinched sciatic nerve, and a diagnosis of Adult ADD. A friend introduced him to yoga as an alternative to pain pills and other meds. He was hooked instantly as a student.

During a 2007 deployment to Baghdad Iraq with the Air Force, Chris began teaching a morning sunrise yoga class five days a week. Upon returning to Italy for his follow-on assignment, Chris attended Yoga Fit training and began teaching Vinyasa & Hatha inspired classes. He also taught yoga to Wounded Warriors returning from combat action as part of the Warrior Resiliency Program.

Chris is a graduate of Frog Lotus Yoga’s 200 hour teacher training, specializing in Vinyasa and Hatha Interdisciplinary classes. His classes are fun but focused. Chris has an infectious energy and mixes traditional yoga music with mainstream music. His intelligent sequencing and motivation make for an inspiring yoga experience. Chris is a 22-year Air Force veteran, still serving since August 1990. Chris retired from the Air Force in the summer of 2013, and is the founder of Mala For Vets and works actively to help veterans with stress reduction through yoga. He teaches in the Baltimore area.

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From his blog:  “Yes…there are many things in my life that cause pain, but they do not define me.  This is not to say that we should not be sad, grieve, or reflect on that which pains us.  Rather, we should use these ‘things’ as a point of growth.  It is important to make honest self-assessments of who we are and where we are emotionally, spiritual, and physically.”

Chicago: Parks Program Offers Classes To Veterans

Screen Shot 2014-02-06 at 5.30.38 PMThe Chicago Parks Program is offering a variety of classes for veterans to help regain a sense of camaraderie, accomplishment through adaptive sports and arts classes. Most popular, is the archery class led by SGT Donna Pratt, US Army, Retired Archery Instructor. She can adapt the sport to all levels, and claims that with “Archery, I can teach anyone to make a bullseye!”

For more information, watch this video! 

Cleveland: Veteran Artists Exhibit Their Work

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Veterans art therapy featured in exhibition at Tri-C gallery

By Brian Albrecht, The Plain Dealer

“CLEVELAND, Ohio – You or a loved one went through the wringer of war and got hung out to dry. You try to explain what happened but the words aren’t there. People just don’t get it. And it hurts.”

To read more, and to see some incredible photos of the artists and their art, go to The Plain Dealer

Study Links Traumatic Brain Injury to PTSD

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From Stars and Stripes:

“Traumatic brain injuries during deployments appear to increase the risk of troops experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder after returning home, according to Department of Veterans Affairs-sponsored research published Wednesday.

In some cases, a servicemembers’ chance of acquiring PTSD was doubled by serious head or brain injuries suffered while deployed, the study in the Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry found.

The findings add to a growing body of research on the long-term psychological and physical consequences of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan where improvised explosive devices have often been the enemy’s weapon of choice, and head trauma — as well as psychological struggles afterdeployment — has proliferated. Past studies have shown the symptoms of TBI and PTSD overlap, and the research by the VA-funded Marine Resiliency Study made public this week adds evidence of a causal connection.”

To read more, go to Stars and Stripes

Get Hot, While Climbing Ice with Paradox Sports!

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Paradox Sports, a leader in adaptive sports, sponsors to ice climbing events. The first is this weekend in North Conway NH.  The second is in Ouray, CO on Feb 28 to March 2.  They’re having an online fundraiser to help support these two clinics, or “Paradox Ice,” as they call it.

Each year, many veterans show up to test their skills climbing the ice. Armed with axes, cleats, helmets, gloves, and ropes, men and women of all skill levels are guided by world class mountaineers, who guide them up. It’s fun, and this year they’re encouraging veterans and active duty military to come.  And many of those who will be guiding and teaching are veterans themselves.  Click the photo to be taken to the page.  Find more information if you want to go, or tip a couple of bucks into the jar.

Or:  Go here to the Paradox Ice Fundraising Page.

Sexual Predators in the Yoga World

trustJanuary is the time when everyone promises to start a new routine. Some join a gym, or a yoga studio. By sharing that there are yoga predators in the world of yoga isn’t being done to scare you off. However. we can’t sugar coat yoga, by telling you only the good stuff. You should also know the problems that arise when teachers abuse their power.

It is a fact that a few male yoga teachers, who have gained the trust of women, have sexually harassed and abused them. A few years ago, one of the first sexual scandal stories to break was about John Friend, founder of Anusara yoga. Last summer, three women came forth in a civil suit, with allegations of sexual harassment, assault, and racism against Bikram Choudhry, the founder of Bikram yoga. The suit has yet to reach the courts. They were abused were betrayed not only by men, but by the women who worked with them and knew.

While most people might come to the conclusion that these heinous acts are relegated to the “corporate” style yoga teachers, it happens in small towns as well. Recently, I heard unfortunate news of a local yoga teacher/licensed massage therapist.  He was a popular teacher, whose classes were full. A following of women who would follow him from studio to studio. He was their sun and moon. One of his students trusted him enough to get a massage. What started off as a relationship of safety and trust turned into a nightmare. His hands wandered, and he used force.  At one point, he pushed down on her carotid artery. While she wasn’t raped, she felt violated, humiliated, and scared. She reported it to the police. However, after much consideration, she did not press charges. Under the suggestion of the police, she got a restraining order. He turned in multiple weapons. His massage license has been taken away, and he’s been kicked out of all but one yoga studio. Since then, more women have said they experienced similar treatment, but were too embarrassed to come forth. (Because charges haven’t been filed, and to protect the anonymity of the person to whom this happened, no one is being named on this blog).

Inevitably, he has his defenders. There’s one studio, along with a crop of sycophants, who can’t bring themselves to face the truth.  What they don’t realize is this: their support marginalizes all victims of sexual abuse.

We feel obliged to mention this problem to veterans. Especially men and women who have suffered sexual trauma while in the military. We wonder if rape and sexual harassment go underreported in the yoga world. We wish someone in the yoga world would start keeping track of the flock. Given the “celestial fog” many yoga teachers bask in, reporting a popular person for inappropriate and abusive acts is beyond difficult. According to Lucas Rockwood, a teacher in NYC and founder of “Stop Sexual Abuse in Yoga: I Am My Own Guru,” it goes unreported and nothing changes. We can’t ignore the issue, and send anyone blindly into a studio. We’re obligated to send a warning shot over the bow and reassure you that you are your own guru. 

The majority of yoga teachers are caring, compassionate individuals. A small minority are the predators as described above. So, what do we tell you?  Especially as individuals who have experienced profound stress reduction, and even a bit of magic through yoga?  We tell you to be careful, and that no one has a right to touch, oggle, or make comments about you. If you have trauma, and you don’t want the teacher to touch you, just go up to him or her before class –and tell them in no uncertain terms. You do not have to apologize, you do not have to explain why. “Please don’t touch me,” should suffice. If they have an issue with it, walk out the door. If they forget, don’t go back. It’s your mat, your space, your practice. We agree with the great Judy Weaver, founder of Connected Warriors, “If a teacher can’t direct you into a stance without using their hands, they have no business teaching yoga.” 

And if it happens to you –go to the police and press charges. Take along your friend when you do –it’ll help a lot. And remember, you are not alone.

Watch this terrific you tube video by a really great yoga teacher who wanted to raise awareness about the problem of sexual assault and abuse in the yoga community. This is Lucas Rockwood, who founded the the movement: “Stop Sexual Abuse in Yoga: I Am My Own Guru.”

Update:   Since getting kicked out of the studios, and losing his license he has taken a trip overseas, but plans to return. And yeah, I know who he is. And dude, if you’re reading this: get treatment for your predatory nature. Psychiatric help, not just chanting on a pillow. I would say that if I see you again, I’ll kick your ass, but that would be bad karma. But since I’ve never been perfect, let’s just let that statement sit.