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Retired Marine Answers: “Why Yoga?”

Why yoga for Veterans?

By Capt. CJ Keller, USMC, Retired

After experiencing the devastating toll the Vietnam conflict took on our nations Warriors, and recently fighting two full military wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we are now tasked with ensuring our active duty, reserve and Veteran populations are not taken for granted, and not forgotten.

 Across every branch of service, we train for and execute missions in austere and high stress conditions, most people would agree that this is our “bread and butter”. We take great pride in the sacrifices we make mentally and physically to be successful in training and defending our nation in combat. We do this all in the name of honor, courage and commitment. There is of course a dark side to this noble cause, and in order to allow an individual to cope with and manage the resulting mental stress or physical impairments, we need something on the other end of the spectrum to balance us out.

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

 So, why would a Veteran try something like yoga…Isn’t it just for soft, pacifist,hippie types that burn incense and chant crazy talk? There are many different forms of yoga, and it is important to understand that the style we utilize is non-denominational and emphasizes simple but physically challenging postures, breathing techniques and relaxation. These proven methods are geared toward balancing your mind and body inorder to cultivate a feeling of strength, confidence and relaxed calm in both the mind and body.

 As Veterans and members of our modern military, we are very good at wearing and polishing our armor. We don our finest dress blues, pin our medals on our chest and stand tall with pride and honor. All too often, we find that underneath that shiny exterior is a sea of turmoil churning and folding. We don’t really talk about what’s below and in many ways, we don’t really know how to. This closed, inner world governs and can dominate our thoughts and actions. Yoga invites us to keep our pride, armor and medals, but to open up and safely address some of the disconnects that keep us stuck in a moment or pattern of behavior. It allows us to put words on feelings and to find happiness from within, creating balance and fulfillment again.

 Whether you take one yoga class a week or five, you can to start somewhere and we suggest that there is no better place than a simple yoga mat. Let 2013 be the year you come to the mat and bring yourself home.

Semper Fi and Namaste. 

 CJ Keller is the Yoga Development Director of Semper Fidelis Health & Wellness

A Military Wife Explains: “I go to yoga because…”

The other night, Charlie Samos –a yoga teacher whose work can be found online at Yogis Anonymous, asked his yoga friends over on Facebook to complete this sentence:

I go to yoga because…..

Most of the responses were about feeling better in a world that is hectic and high pressure. They were heartfelt and true.

But all I could think of was getting in my car, driving to the studio, taking my yoga mat out of the trunk and going to class. In many countries, this wouldn’t be possible for any number of reasons. I’m just grateful to have the freedom to be able to go to yoga when I want.

FSTyogastudioI also thought about the time my husband set up a yoga room at the Forward Surgical Team hooch in Afghanistan. Bare plywood walls and floors, a chair shoved into a corner,  it was a raw, dusty, small space. I’d been able to send one mat, and the team found a few others at the FOB. I’d also sent them a Rodney Yee DVD and the special forces guys were always borrowing it.  The discomforting thoughts crept in too:  mortar attacks, small arms fire, and MASCALS –anyone who has been in the war community will understand. But there were things that gave me hope in humanity –like the special forces guys and the corpsmen going into the hills with pockets full of finger puppets I’d sent to give to children. There was also the memory of Americans I didn’t know, answering my online plea to send my husband balloons, fruit treats, bubbles and vitamins for a ward full of Afghan children who’d been IMG_0085shot or blown up by the Taliban and were under his team’s care.

So many lives were saved by the teams of physicians, nurses, techs and medics. Thoughts of war are often conflicting, and they run through the minds of those who wait at home. We don’t tell civilians because the responses can range from those who might see us as a tragedy-in-the-making or others who give us an anti-war lecture.

Why I go to yoga isn’t really about me at all. I go because many people have made it possible for me to keep doing so. I do it so ultimately, I will be of service to others. And for me, those are the most important reasons.


Covering Conflict: War, Storytelling andThe Impact of Witnessing Violence

Carve out 2 hours, and let this stuff sink in:  The Nieman Foundation shares this conversation between journalist Finbarr O’Reilly and  PTSD researcher and trauma expert Bessel van der Kolk of The Trauma Center at JRI.  Watch: Covering Conflict: War, Storytelling & The Impact of Witnessing Violence on vimeo.  So many good points here that we agree on, especially when it comes to funding treatment. Society as a whole should be treated for PTSD, and no group should go wanting. Yet, mental health cuts are regular features in our culture, and the funding for veterans has a predictable cycle.  Until this stops, seeking help for PTSD will be an uphill battle for everyone.


Former Army Psychologist Commits Suicide


“Pete needed to feel like he still mattered. My God, he was a Bronze Star–winning Army psychologist. But the VA just looked at him as another psychologist who couldn’t get his licensure in two years.” 

Read more:

Those charged with the mental well being of others are often in need of an angel on their soldier as well. Whether witnessing first hand traumatic events, or hearing about them repeatedly, sometimes the world can seem nothing but clouds. It’s important to remember we’re all in this together, and everyone needs an angel on their shoulder.

Peter John Nathaniel Linnerooth ended his life. Please read his obituary in the Free Press, and also an in-depth article on Time US.  His ex-wife Amy Linnerooth has indicated that for his service he received: 

the Bronze Star.
Army Commendation medal.
Iraq Campaign medal with 2 stars.
Global War on Terror Service medal.
Overseas Service medal with Numeral 2.
National Defense Service medal.

In reading through his record, he was one of the soldiers deployed for 18 straight months in Iraq, among other deployments. God speed, Captain Linnerooth. May you find the peace that eluded you in our cluttered world. May his family and loved ones remember him lovingly, and know that he was a hero who saved many lives.


In Phoenix: Proclaim What You Stand For

425970_4758721409160_1504531418_nIt’s good and healthy to see a yoga studio state this so plainly, and boldly. We don’t expect all studios or teachers to do this, but let’s just say that in addition to getting that extra training, signing up for Yoga For Vets, a sign on your window doesn’t hurt.  Not comfortable? Wonder if it will scare your other clients away because it will test their comfort level? Think of this: veterans weren’t comfortable going into combat, and some aren’t very comfortable when they come home.

If you’re in Phoenix visit Yoga Pura, founded and owned by an Army veteran. Hooah!

The Life and More Life of Tim Hetherington

Our friend Warrior Life Coach once wrote: “…we can define the date, rather than letting it define us.”  This brings to mind how friends have responded to the passing of Tim Hetherington back in 2011, and what they’re doing now. 

There’s a flurry of news about Tim now, with not one, but two documentaries about his life . One was recently on television, the other is at Sundance now.   He was dynamic and one couldn’t help but be inspired. HIs death hit everyone hard, and everyone had their own way of dealing with his passing. The men of COP Restrepo had as many ways as there were individuals. But one thing that was noticeable was the support they gave each other over on Facebook, which continues still. They’re a tight knit bunch, and born from the COP Restrepo is a brotherhood that runs deep.

TimLivesWarRetreat was started shortly after Tim’s death. We gathered a handful of combat photographers in Boston for a day of yoga, acupuncture and massage. Hurricane Irene blew in, and cut it short, but we managed to push through an important message about taking care of yourself –especially when continually going in and out of areas where there is violence. Today, WarRetreat exists primarily as a place for people to find out about stress reduction through yoga, related issues, and champion the hard work of organizations that are working with veterans. We’ve partnered with different organizations, and have a fine team at the helm. We’re discussing doing a WarRetreat near Ft. Campbell –the last post Tim visited that would reach out to veterans and families with an emphasis on stress reduction through movement & breath. It’s early still, but we’re hopeful we can get it going later this summer. 

My work on High Ground builds upon the experience gained from working on Restrepo. In fact, surpassing what we did on that film, and doing the outreach to organizations that I know he would have delighted in. His friend Mike Kamber got the Bronx Documentary Center off the ground, and held two shows honoring Tim. He does really important work, bringing together the local community through art, photography, and film. It’s such a dynamic place, you should follow them on Facebook. FYI, In April, High Ground plays at the BDU for veterans in the Bronx & beyond. Idil lives in Africa now, continuing to forge her own path as a filmmaker and storyteller. She’s started a new venture in memory of Tim called TWINE. We’ll talk about this storytelling through film adventure when we have more of the details.

Sebastian Junger started RISC –an  advanced first aid training for journalists who go into conflict and combat zones.  He’s raising awareness of the risks journalists take to get the story in war, and conflicts. This week, he’s also showing his new film at Sundance called:  “Which Way Is The Front Line From Here? The Life & Times of Tim Hetherington.” Making the documentary was his way of working through Tim’s death, of coming to an understanding of what happened, and understanding Tim’s life.  

 I sometimes hear the film mentioned as “the life and death of Tim Hetherington.” While the tendency is to dwell on how his life was cut short,  it’s important for people to know Tim  lives in the hearts and work of many –in ways that run deep, artistic, joyous, and sometimes memories that evoke a smile. Waffle House will never be the same for me.

Sebastian talks about RISC

Whatever Works:

Fight Club in Hayward CA offers 4 free yoga classes for veterans
True Fight Club in Hayward CA offers 4 free yoga classes for veterans

And so we are back. WordPress ate this post twice, publishing only the title.  Let’s try again.

We really like following our partners on Facebook for the insights they present. 

Just recently Yoga For Vets published this status update:

“Every week I am adding 6-12 new locations that offer free yoga to vets. This week I want to highlight in Hayward, California. This is the description of the free class they are offering; Yoga Rock: this class uses alternative music, structural perspective of Iyengar yoga, mixed with the power flow and dynamic of applying the yoga to MMA training.”

And then he wrote this:
“This may make some yoga teachers cringe but I am glad to present classes like this because some combat vets want classes like this. Yoga For Vets goal remains the same: to welcome home our vets and give them the opportunity to take free yoga classes.
We are quickly approaching 700 locations around the United

States that are Yoga For Vets ambassadors. Thank you again for your incredible support.~Paul”

We’ll take a guess that Paul was referring to yoga being used as a vehicle to deliver someone into the rough, tumble but strategic Mixed Martial Arts. It’s not a realm that even most civilians are familiar with, let alone those more familiar with the yoga mat than a ring. MMA is a dynamic form that takes a lot of mental and physical conditioning.

The WarRetreat response:  Whatever brings them sleep blessed relief from the intrusive thoughts and sleeplessness that trauma often produces. Whatever makes them feel useful, connected to others, and gives them a sense of purpose. Whatever gets the out there, enjoying life. Our veterans fought for our freedom, and the least society can do  provide an array of choices that produce a positive outcome. For some it might be yoga, for others mountain climbing, boxing, MMA, the arts or music. Let them choose without anyone’s judgment their way to find relief. It’s the least we can do.

“The Military Mindset & The Yoga Mindset Aren’t That Different.”

In NYC, a group of veterans from different eras meets for a weekly yoga class at the Iyengar Yoga Institute in Chelsea. With their mats, blankets, bolsters, chairs and straps, they go through the physical movements to find their breath and calm the mind. While the veterans might be from different wars, the experience of war is a common thread. Listen as they talk about their experiences, including one veteran who talks about growing up with a father who was in the Korean war who had PTSD.  Watch the video here on vimeo.

“When I teach these veterans, I know that military training is there and I use it to my advantage to teach them,” says the teacher. 


Connected Warriors: A Vietnam Veteran Rides The Edge

Originally posted on the Connected Warriors Let’s Talk Facebook page:

By Randy Hamlin

As I was driving home tonight, I stopped for a red light and 4 guys on Harleys pulled up next to me and one yelled over “Noticed your Purple Heart license plate, Thanks for Serving!”

All 4 were Iraqi Vets down from Chicago heading to the Keys. As they roared off with the sound that only a Harley makes, I flashed back to the days of having the feeling of steel and power between my legs. Ya, the old days… I not only rode for the feeling of pure freedom but it took me to my edge.

552595_3631198373825_81800667_nAfter being discharged from the military and having feelings of dis-association and isolation, the absence of “unit” and “brotherhood” I took refuge with the asphalt and the bike. As the light turned green, I looked over in the passenger seat and saw my rolled up yoga mat. I chuckled knowing I have that “unit”, that “brotherhood”, with CONNECTED WARRIORS.


At the close of 2012, I look back and remember when the inception began and Judy Weaver and Ralph Iovino just started getting vets to come to yoga and seeing now where Connected Warriors is, is amazing… After only a couple of years and a whole lot of dedicated volunteers who believe and know this mission works, we are serving over 600 vets and their families in 9 states every month and have taught 245 Certified Yoga Teachers… How fulfilling for me to travel from location to location documenting this through photos and text, meeting many vets, families, teachers and their assistants.

My Edge?   I’ve found it…