Tag Archives: breath

To The Girl On The Bus

We’re starting a new feature:  The letter you always wanted to write.

10706663_392775517537060_212893065_aThere we were, on the Fly Away Bus at the airport, waiting to begin our trip to Union Station. We just started to pull out of LAX, when you turned to face the window. I busied myself, trying not to look at you.  It was only going to be a 25 minute bus ride. This wasn’t a commitment to be a chatter box on an uneventful ride.

As the bus made its way onto the crowded freeway, it was clear you were crying behind those sunglasses. You’d pick up your phone, text, then cry again. I tried my best to not engage in your drama. Scenarios ticked off in my mind, none very original.  Were you breaking up?  Did someone die, and were you arriving too late? I kept  to myself, determined to grant you space, but your tears weren’t letting up. You were wiping them away with the back of your hand. Combined with the worst collection of heartbreak songs being piped over the bus PA system …you were breaking me up.

So I handed you a tissue. It wasn’t a gallant handkerchief, the type that would have been offered by a gentleman. No,  just a kleenex, offered to you by a Mom. I hoped you wouldn’t take offense. You didn’t. A conversation started during rush hour traffic on the freeway, and continued through the backstreets of Los Angeles. You were searching for comfort and reassurance and I, feeling the echo of an empty nest, was willing to provide it.  You’d just dropped your mother off at LAX. A three week vacation of hiking, going to the beach, and many smiles had ended. She was on her way back to Scotland.

You missed her the minute you had to get back on the bus, and now, on the ride back, the future tumbled through your mind. Would you move back? You couldn’t, really. Would she move here? She couldn’t, really. All these poignant questions loomed over you like a sad cloud.

To miss someone is a horrible thing. To miss your mother?  Ah, that’s the stuff of poetry.  So all I could tell you was that things have a way of working out. I hoped I didn’t sound so trite. But the truth is, your mother is always with you.  You’re riding on this incredible wave of love, given to you from her.  She instilled the courage in you to pick up stakes in Scotland, and move across the ocean (and then some) to the west coast. Your Mum is the reason you’ve been able to work through 2 states with one company, riding the opportunities they’ve given to you. Will you go, or will she come?  There’s no way of knowing. The answer will be revealed to you over the years. Keep building bridges, and you’ll have more choices. Eventually, you’ll know. The uncertainty of the future is something that will always be hovering just above our heads. But love hard, be present, live, grow and learn. Things will work out.

Oracle Team USA: Mesmerizingly beautiful

Photo Guilain Grenier, Team Oracle USA. Be sure to check out the Oracle Veterans Leadership Event coming up in Reston VA. (Click on the photo)

Here on WarRetreat, we promote movement and breath —or getting up and out and doing things that give you a momentary escape from the past, and all things  bothering you right now. Once in awhile, something captures our imagination because it’s a combination of sport, engineering, art, skill, and guts. (Disclosure: Kanani works with Oracle).

Oracle Team USA recently won America’s Cup. The 90-foot by 90-foot trimaran was powered by a 223-foot tall wingsail, the largest wing ever built. There are more details about the boat over on the Forbes blog, “Big Wet Data on the OracleTeam USA Boat.”  But let’s just say, we’d expect nothing less than an engineering miracle from Oracle.

For now, we’ll just leave you with this mesmerizingly beautiful video. Enjoy, watch, breath, relax. (And we’ll also remind you about the Oracle Leadership Event for Veterans interested in high tech careers on Reston VA on 11/21. It’s free. The event will inform people about their veterans programs, skills & attributes for success in high technology careers, and the Oracle Injured Veterans Internship & Training program. The afternoon will include a screening of the award-winning documentary HIGH GROUND, and finish with a chance to get connected, with food and beverages. Veterans will be able to meet representatives from Oracle. It’s definitely a do-not-miss).

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Click to be taken to the invitation

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: 


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.”

Breath: Coping in a Cynical World

There is an unmistakable bond created between people who go through war. Veterans can pick out other veterans in street clothes, “just by the way we move,” said one to me not long ago. It’s a well know fact that the bond may be the deepest relationship they will ever form. It surpasses that of girlfriends, and wives (but maybe not their mothers). In an institution where one life relies upon the other without question, crossing over into the outside world can be particularly vexing. Mainly because we live in a nation increasingly rooted in cynicism. The problem is cynicism -even when laced with humor, can quickly turn into a negative view of the world that colors one’s  outlook, and their ability to get things done.


But cynicism will isolate and kill us. In the long run, chronic cynics are tiresome. Negativity as a way of life is a destroyer,  erodes values, and attracts habits (and people) toxic to us.  But we can learn to identify and refuse to let them drag us down. We’re not talking about feet off the ground kind of happiness: the type of person who overlooks and ignores the unpleasantries or challenges of life. I hasten to say, those people might be less reliable than cynics.  But there’s a way to get through the thick bog of cynicism,  emerge with our feet on the ground. Let go of the cynicism by holding onto the values taught: Honor, Courage, Commitment. Living those is a far better navigational compass that leads to better coping. For these things are inclusive, they uphold values, and deflect the negative. It takes a lot of will, and breath will help you get there.

Getting Comfortable To Breathe

-1You’re upset, your mind is churning, and it seems to be a constant state. People are telling you to “Find your breath,” or “Let go of the emotions.” But you’re really not sure what they mean.  But you take their suggestion and try some breathing exercises that range from slow breathes in, with an equally slow exhale. You might even fiddle with your nostrils with your fingers while trying to breathe in one and out the other, even though you have the cold from hell and you think the boogers from Mars are going to fly out in a huge green mass. But worse is when someone suggests you meditate, and all you can think of when you hear an Om is “How long do I have to do this for?”url

Then there’s the physical aspect. You haven’t sat on the floor since you were a kid.  Your thighs feel like they’re on fire, your hip joints are stretching, and your butt is falling sleep. Your neck starts to ache, and what’s with your shoulders?  Up or down?  And what is that loud, annoying ventilator sound that the person next to you is making?  If you’d wanted to listen to a vacuum cleaner, you would have stayed home. Maybe this breathing stuff –this pranayam isn’t for you. You don’t understand why it’s supposed to help,  and you really can’t take one more 1-2-3-4-5 hold 5-4-3-2-1.  Isn’t there a way to keep it simple?

Yoga Props
Use bolsters, pillows, blocks or blankets.

Sure there is! The teacher may be sitting cross-legged, but a  good one knows that everyone’s body does things differently. If your legs don’t cross, by all means, grab 2 blocks, or a blanket and put them under your knees. Sit on blanket or a bolster, lean against the wall, lie down. If there’s a chair nearby, use that. Experiment at home with rolled up towels, a pillow, or yoga blocks.

Then do yourself a favor and get to class 20 minutes early. Set yourself up with whatever you need.  Find a spot near the wall so you can lean back on it. Get comfortable and experience the restorative benefits of breath.

Watch Rodney Yee go over getting comfortable, and telling you the rudiments of breath.

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.

Into The Word Bin: Suck It Up

I’ve been a wordsmith, a player in words, for most of my life. It is as much an obsession as it is a compulsion, to understand how certain words strung together can change meaning with inflection, or juxtapose two unexpected words together (as poets do) and find a strange but unsettling way to describe an emotion. Words are as much about definition as they are about conveying an attitude. I’m picky about words and how they function as a whole. 

But the other day, I decided to toss a phrase into the word bin, relegating its usage to sipping a thick milkshake through a straw. The reason? I understand the sentiment behind the phrase, but I also think it can come off as indifferent, callous, and send entirely the wrong message to someone who is tired and depressed. The other is that it’s inexact, and as a wordsmith, I can’t ignore the recklessness of such a phrase.

Suck it up is therefore tossed into the bin with you’re too weak, it’s your fault, and don’t complain.  It’s a brutal phrase, and while I understand it, and comprehend how one can toss it out offhandedly for a certain machismo effect, it’s also one to be used with care.  And conversely, the wrong thing to say to someone who fights the tendency to self isolate, and go into their world, one where images and thoughts might revisit them time and again, disrupting their lives so they are no longer able to enjoy the events going on around them.

 The only correct way I could use it in the context of WarRetreat is to say: Suck it up and exhale, then do it again. It’s called breathing, and let us help you find a way to find that life force called breath.