Category Archives: My Yoga Space

How Yoga Helps Vets – A Response from a 23yr Air Force Veteran & Yogi

Dear Mystery Veteran,

My name is MSgt Chris Eder…and I’m just shy of 23 years active duty service to THE United States of America as a Combat Correspondent in the Air Force.  Since 9/11, I have found myself in some interesting places.  Sometimes by myself, sometimes with people I had never met, and sometimes with people who I love(d) as a brother or a sister.  I want to make it perfectly clear that anything I say is not meant to “one-up you,” try to be better than you, or try to compare to you.  Rather, I want to provide perspective and insight as we both wear combat boots and serve as warriors & protectors of the USA!

I know exactly how it feels not to sleep.  For many years, I just told people I was a “morning” person.  That was maybe less than half true…as I really do enjoy being up before anyone else.  Hot showers, fresh coffee, etc.  But the truth was…I couldn’t sleep.  I used to spend as many hours as possible working.  People thought it was because I was a hard worker.  OK…they were right!  However, as I have learned over the years…working hard is also an unhealthy coping mechanism.  Avoidance!  It is hard to tell something is wrong when you continue to out-perform everyone!

Al Rasheed 1In 2003, I found myself traveling throughout Iraq by any means possible.  I was equipped with a 9mm, no ammunition, a flak vest I think my dad wore in Vietnam, and my camera gear. For a short period of time, I called the Al Rasheed Hotel home.  That is until Oct 26, 2003 when insurgents attacked it with 68mm and 88mm rockets.  Under Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz was in the hotel that night. Check the story out, Sec Wolfowitz is wearing my flak vest! Things got worse after my second deployment to Baghdad during the “Surge of Operations.”  Damn…the insurgents had our location dialed in!  20+ attacks a day seemed “normal” for so long.

So…why yoga?  Hell…why not?  What is the worst thing that can happen?  I started yoga back in 1999 because of a pinched sciatic nerve and a diagnosis of Adult Attention Deficit Disorder.  I instantly was hooked! During my 2007 deployment to Iraq, I was actually teaching 5-6 classes a week.  Anyone…and I mean anyone… can do yoga.  I introduce to you Lieutenant Colonel Tom Bryant.

Lieutenant Colonel Bryant, US Army is my friend/mentor and hands down the best person to ever come from Alabama. LTC Bryant is the last person I thought would try yoga.  He is a typical Southern conservative, “Roll Tide!”-preaching, family loving, church going, hunting/fishing military kind of guy.  He would often poke fun of me when we worked together about how I taught and practiced yoga.  Tom recently sent me a Facebook message:

“Are you sitting down? You should.

Last night I did yoga. And since I’m deployed, you know I wasn’t drunk or high. It lasted 20 minutes, was cal

yoga-meme-300x187led relaxation yoga or something like that. Really just seemed like a lot of stretching to me, but this Japanese guy with a ponytail on the video kept talking about “seeing your breathing” and “step mindfully downward on your heels” and a bunch of other platitudinal crap I didn’t understand. But the stretching stuff was cool.”

Even this staunch yoga antagonist found yoga to be at the very least, “cool!”  There is a good chance what you think Yoga is…is not at all what it really is.  Yoga can be whatever you want it to be…killer workout, awesome stretch, or a time to reset and restore your batteries.  For me, I *try* to start every day with 15-30 minutes of meditation and yoga.  I also end each day with some grounding breath work to help clear and prepare my mind for sleep.  Trust me…I know it sounds fruity, crazy, or even esoteric…but IT WORKS!  I’ve been practicing yoga since 1999 and teaching since 2007.  I often wonder where I would be today without yoga.  I see my brothers and sisters-in-arms who share *our* nightmares, panic attacks, alertness, relationship issues, memory problems…the list can go on forever.  I know just how tough my life is…and wonder how much tougher and often debilitating it would be without yoga in my life.

Lastly, I’d like for you to stop breathing for 20 minutes. What…you can’t?  You think you might die.  I agree!  So…public math here…if I can increase both the quality and quantity of your breath…would that not increase the quality and quantity of your life?  Check out this free sample from Suzanne Manafort: 


Buy Yoga Products Made In The USA

bemindful     When those of us from the military family say, “We went to war, while America went to the mall,” we’re not exaggerating. While the tarmacs welcoming home soldiers from war were sparsely attended, the malls remained packed.  It used to be –back in the prehistoric dinosaur days, that we bought less, and what we had lasted for years. At some point, shopping became a past time. People buy things they don’t need to fill a void that used to be filled through family, friends, hobbies, sports, church, and cultural events. We went from buying when we could afford it, to buying on credit. Savings -even the concept of it, disappeared, and in its place were cheaply made goods stacked in closets and piled in rooms as though they were a pirate’s lair.  We didn’t question where the goods were from, as much as whether it was cheap enough to toss into a cart along with the paper towels, treating the goods as though they were another disposable.

Sadly, what also became disposable were American jobs and American workers. Today, when the unemployment rate is high for everyone, the number of post 9/11 veterans without jobs is rising.

In raw numbers, 203,000 post-9/11 veterans were unemployed in February. One year ago that number totaled 154,000. -Bill Briggs, NBC News, March 8, 2013

Unemployment isn’t just a financial crisis -a job helps with one’s self-identity. For veterans, who are out on their own and missing the camaraderie of their peers, employment is part of wellness.

So we’re asking yoga-doers everywhere to be mindful about how much they purchase, and to know the source. Buy less. Be picky about where things are from. Because we know the way to keep communities health and happy is to keep locals employed. That yoga mat? The pants? Block? Search for products made in the USA.

Watch this Vimeo from Verve founder Christian Griffith.

Balance: Fighting Zombies

I was reading Will Gadd’s most excellent blog, where he imparts some wisdom found in his 45 years. He writes about eating right and most of all about moving and breathing. Carving out that time everyday to be physically active. Maybe it’s walking the dogs, running, doing yoga, dancing – it’s up to you. But it’s important to not confuse busyness, or being online with movement and breath.  The very active Gadd uses the example of seeing “a super fat lady” walking the hills early in the morning. She’s his hero because she’s committed to reshape her mornings and walk everyday.

I’m one of those people who annoys my kids because I’ll talk to anyone. It’s my countrified upbringing: I can’t help it. When I see someone super out of shape walking, I’ve been known to roll down my window, shoot a thumbs up out the window and say, “Keep Going! You’re doing great!”  Because what I see is someone who got to a point where they said, “No more. I’ve abused and neglected myself long enough.” And now they walk, breathe, to find a new take on life.

The truth: you just never get those hours back where you blasted someone in Disqus comments for 2  hours. We never have those hours back when we answer emails that could wait, played the latest online game devoted to collecting things that aren’t real. Or the time we went to dinner with our kids and were more interested in the virtual conversation of texting.  Everyone has to get out of this rut and move and breathe. Besides, as we get older, our waistline slips down around our freakin’ hips. At some point people should start seeing that burger and fries, that big bag of salty chips, that extra stuffed and fried burrito as an enemy deserving to be blown to bits with high caliber rounds. Not as something to passively apply to thighs, hips, and arteries, as too many do.

You never have that time back, those lost chances to breathe when you fell pray to instantaneous communications. One of the big downfalls of all of this virtual non-face-to-face chatter is the perception that all of it matters. It doesn’t.

Or that it’s more important that you. It isn’t.

So we have to be ruthless when it comes to taking that 30, 45, or 60 minutes to ourselves, because it’s a struggle for all of us to find balance. Especially if you get yelled out by someone who has had a crappy day, and in turn decides to make yours crappy too. Don’t get involved in their power struggle, their martinet ways because it’s more about them than it is about you. Be a zombie slayer: push them off, and those time snakes away, (do the double tap). Find those precious minutes to suck in fresh air, move and find a rhythm until you’re groovin.’

Whether it’s yoga, bicycling, walking, playing with your dogs, or walking around the backyard at midnight in the heat of the summer watering the garden. Grab that chance to disconnect from the noise and chaos accosting you to move and breathe. Believe it or not, as you do, you’ll find the stillness and peace you’ve been craving.

Watch Will Gadd move and breathe.

My Yoga Space: Dave Emerson, Raw Space in Cambridge

Dave sent us a picture of his yoga studio as he was building it. Black Lotus Yoga is located in Cambridge, MA.

“Imagine a nice yoga studio taking shape here.”

It’s a beautiful space. Very peaceful. What you don’t see is the back of the studio, where there are lots of cubbies for people to store their shoes and bags. What’s funny is he lets everyone keep their mats their too. They don’t do this in California –but maybe because it snows there, carrying a mat to and fro is just one more thing to have to do. So there are about fifty mats just sitting there. Dave says that some appear to have been forgotten! Anyway, here’s some news: they held a fundraiser for the veterans nonprofit There And Back Again, by having a special yoga class on Veterans Day. Thirteen people attended! Good job, Dave!

Here it is, finished.

My Yoga Space is a weekly segment for yoga-doers to show us where they do yoga. It could be your practice space a home or somewhere else. Send us your photo along with a short (300 words) statement about your space.

My Yoga Space: Lean & Spare for this Marine

It’s time for My Yoga Space.  This week it’s Semper Fidelis Health and Wellness co-founder Elijah Sacra.

It didn’t take long for me to figure this out:  the reason everyone loves the U.S. Marines Corps is that the Marines love the Marines more than anyone else. Furthermore, it was explained to me that there isn’t such a thing as a former Marine because a Marine will always be a Marine. Only in conversations about Marines would one use the word Marines more than once in a single sentence. I’m sure they’ve even managed to get it into the Chicago Manual of Style, the AP Guide, and no doubt it’s in the MLA.

 A Marine will do things check into the Dulles Hotel in Washington DC for the Marine Corps marathon and bring super human bionic food. Eat this, yoga community:

Elijah makes a variety of good food choices.

They are team and other-person oriented. Marines will run the Marine Corps Marathon for forty eight Marines who died in combat, not only starting as a platoon, but will carry the flag, and finish as one too:

Carrying the flag for their fallen brothers, the 3/25 carried the flat the entire Marine Corps Marathon Route, ran together, and finished together.
They finished. Elijah Sacra (in sunglasses), Alvaro Matta, Patrick G. Young Jr., Michael Kiniry, Lisa Julian Galford, Joe Miranda, Al Akeroyd and Oscar Aguilera.

And one Marine, Elijah Sacra, had a lean, spare, stripped down yoga space.

“SFHW-FWD: IMPROVISE , ADAPT, OVERCOME-YOGA AT THE DULLES.” -Elijah Sacra, Semper Fidelis Health & Wellness

To me, this is the most beautiful space I will ever share on this blog.

My Yoga Space is a weekly feature on the WarRetreat blog. If you have a home yoga space, and you are actively committed to working with veterans, active duty and the war community, send your picture along with a blurb to WarRetreat at gmail dot com.

My Yoga Space: Down Dog Time…

The good thing about a yoga mat is it isn’t hard to move. My yoga space is on a consistent rotation between the living room, the extra room and the bedroom depending on the day. It also depends on where I feel like I’ll be able to successfully practice without my dog thinking its puppy play time.

I don’t think it really matters where you “space” is, all that matters is that you have one. It doesn’t even need to be a space for yoga essentially, it just needs to be a place you can go where you can take some time for yourself and begin to come back to yourself. Putting everything that is going on around you on hold for a small amount of time and just being present.

My Yoga Space is a weekly feature on the WarRetreat blog. If you have a home yoga space, and you are actively committed to working with veterans, active duty and the war community, send your picture along with a blurb to WarRetreat at gmail dot com.

My Yoga Space: Wedged in between the bed and a window

This week, we’re kicking off a weekly series showcasing individual yoga spaces. Because many people new to yoga start with a home practice, we thought it would be fun. So if you have a photo of where you practice yoga, please send it to warretreat at gmail dot com. Our only requirement is anyone submitting a photo be actively interested in working with or be a veteran, active duty, family member or part of the war community.

This is my yoga space. As you can see, it’s small. This isn’t a glamorous space, nor is there much of it. During the week, I don’t go to the studio, as my shift spans a time where it isn’t possible to catch the scheduled classes. So I have this area next to bed, by the desk, a dresser and the window that’s just big enough for me to stretch out my arms if I’m laying down. I’ve also acquired some blocks, a bolster and blankets. None of these are necessary, but they’re really nice to have. You can use beach blankets, quilts, books, and pillows. I roll up the mat after I use it because both cats and dogs like to claw them!

In the morning, I usually start off with Rodney Yee’s AM Yoga.  I like the 20 minute segments, and I can pick and choose whatever I feel like working on. I love that he doesn’t do a lot of chatter. Later –usually in the evening, I’ll find a free online class or delve into one of my many DVDs. Right now, I’m looking forward to receiving Hala Khouri’s Yoga For Stress Reduction DVD in the mail.

For those of you just starting out –you don’t need a lot of room. Just big enough for your mat.