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.

A Reminder From Yoga For Vets: Some Veterans Are In Great Shape

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By Paul Zipes, US Navy Veteran, Founder, Yoga For Vets

The journey Yoga For Vets has been on is incredible with its many challenges. One of the best new challenges is from yoga teachers who want to help. but don’t understand some vets already are advanced yoga students and don’t want beginner or vet only classes. They just want 4 free “regular” yoga classes. This never happened a few years ago, perhaps because yoga was so much newer to the military.

Another issue arises from vets who want to know what the “catch” is. No catch, we just want to say welcome home and offer free classes if they want them.. I look forward to our FB page going over 1000 likes soon. In the mean time, keep reaching out to our vets and talk up Yoga For Vets. If anyone knows a webmaster or financial donor who wants to help take us to a more visible platform, let me know.
Thanks and again for your support and positive energy.
Paul

SFHW Yoga Warrior T-Shirt

Our friends at Semper Fidelis Health and Wellness have partnered up with Sivana to form a Community Partnership.  Thanks to this community partnership they now have a Warrior-inspired shirt.6005war_earth_moss_1024x1024 This an original designed Tee and a portion of the proceeds will go to support SFHW training and education programs.The Yoga Warrior logo represents the battle we all must fight to gain our liberation and find our true inner strength. SivanaClothing-009_1024x1024The Om at the center represents our victory in this great battle. The Yoga Warrior Organic Tee is part of Sivana’s eco-friendly Alternative Earth Collection.

3501_heather_for_warrior_cropped_1024x1024Click the links to purchase:

Short Sleeve Men’s Shirt

Long Sleeve Men’s Shirt

Flowy Racerback Women’s Tank

Whatever Works: Truefightclub.com

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 Truefightclub.com 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.

In Panama City: Veterans find community on stand up paddleboards

By Paul Zipes, US Navy Veteran, Founder of Yoga For Vets , yoga instructor for Stand Up Paddleboard for Vets

Panama City, FL. Saturday, July 21

Today was a great day. Six vets arrived in Panama City, Florida for Standup Paddleboard for Veterans (SUPV) first official class. The 8 hour course took place on the Panama City campus of Florida State University. Led by retired Navy SEAL Ed Naggiar, a group of men and a woman, all active duty learned what it takes to stand down, regroup and find a “new normal.”

Early on, I got to size them up and found that all seemed to be in great shape despite the fact that a few smoked cigarettes while waiting for the classroom to be unlocked. Ed started with a “lean into it” attitude and didn’t stop the whole day. You couldn’t help but feel motivated to try harder when listening to him. I want to say that the highlight was seeing everyone learn to paddleboard with none or very little experience, however, it was not the case. Two situations in particular stand out.

First was when I taught a yoga class on the paddleboards. If you don’t know already, yoga is more than just stretching, it is physically challenging and mentally tough too. As a yoga teacher I saw them try hard and fail to do certain yoga poses. Their failures resulted in a refreshing fall into the water and a quick smile on their faces! No worries! They knew in advance these yoga poses wouldn’t be easy. The second situation that stands out was when we were in the classroom learning about advancing our self goals. We were tasked with creating our own personal mission statements. After each of us spent time creating our mission statements, we shared them with our neighbors.

This turned out to be so much more than a lame self-improvement course. I am proud to be part of SUPV and look forward to teaching many more combat vets in the future as a part of SUPV.  Watch our video to see veterans in resting pose on paddle boards.

Special thanks to Hovie (http://www.hoviesup.com/) for the paddleboards.

Dear Yogis: We Own This War

“The world belongs to humanity. America belongs to the American people, not the Republican or the Democratic party.” -The Dalai Lama talking to Piers Morgan

This is a true story. The names have been omitted to protect the truly loving and caring.  A group of well-heeled yogis, who have every earthly possession to make their lives comfortable, were given the opportunity to donate a few bucks to support our new community yoga classes for veterans at the VA and a local base. Their response: they didn’t think they should have to donate something that the government should already be providing.

This response isn’t atypical of those who are far removed from the realities of the politics that control the conditions of our veterans and their families. The truth is that funds are stretched, and while one would think that the VA provides yoga teachers at every single hospital, it doesn’t.  We think it should too, and have written about the disparity of funding for yoga and other movement-based therapies in governmental institutions. However, to lounge on principles is akin to driving in a luxury car through a tough neighborhood and pretend to not notice the stress and suffering out the window.

Rob Schware, the Big Poppa of the philanthropic yoga movement and co-founder of the Give Back Yoga Foundation, writes in the Huffington Post, Veterans Trauma and Yoga: Are we moving quickly enough?  He writes: 

Are there enough yoga teachers and therapists to complement the work of other health professionals addressing the growing health crisis those now face who have served our nation in Iraq and Afghanistan, and even Vietnam? 

Rob lists several resources, including our grassroots partner, Yoga For Vets. A civilian, Rob has an interesting professional background, and could easily sit back on the laurels of his career. But thankfully, he doesn’t. 

I think the real issue is whether people are willing to put aside their personal politics, and help those in need.  War is one of the less desirable products of our own humanity, and because we are a part of it, we at WarRetreat accept the consequences (both good and bad) that come from it. We know personally that war brings tragedy and suffering on every level. Driven by our own humanity, we own it. Because of this, we’ve witnessed the fruits of ownership, which is a sense of community, caring, and the creation of ways to address the suffering of others to offer a helping hand.  Without ownership, we might as well lease a big car and drive through life, ignoring our environs.

This isn’t to say that we would dissuade anyone from being politically astute and even active.  However, WarRetreat draws lines when it comes to bringing politics onto the mat –there is a fine line between activism and politics, especially in the U.S. where we live in a highly divided political environment that is both provoking and suffocating.  One thing for sure, talking about politics makes people talk in short, desperate sounding choppy phrases. It tenses people up and closes people off. It seems to be the antithesis of finding stress reduction through yoga. Our goal is to help those who have been through the confusion of war find a bit of peace so that they may live the productive lives they desire.