Having previously discussed the infinite powers of meditation in “Meditation | Becoming the Quiet Professionals We Were Always Meant To Be” and the life-long focus to live in harmony with our ego, this article attempts to explore the possibilities of introducing yoga practices into our daily or weekly ritual for the purpose to express conductive and static energy through the body with low impact, low-threat positions and holds. If you have never incorporated yoga, Pilates, or even tai chi into your physical exercise routine, consider the benefits below;
- Improves flexibility in the fascial tissue
- Improves range of motion and flexibility of joints
- Relieves stress
- Improves mental health and cognition
- Reduces many types of inflammation
- Builds core and limb strength
- Improves heart rate and control of breath
- Improves balance
- Boost immunity
- Builds a sense of purpose and community
The list above shows unarguable positive attributes of Hatha yoga adopted into a healthy lifestyle and could further lead to one improving diet, length and quality of sleep and overall state of being; being more present and showing up each and every day. Yoga nests perfectly as an alternative for your down or off days.
Here are some interesting facts from the verywellmind.com article titled: Alternative Therapies for Veterans;
“Veterans make up approximately 6% of the US population, or around 20 million people, and that doesn’t even include the nearly 1.3 million people who are active-duty service members. Each and every one of these individuals carries with them an entirely unique set of injuries or traumas—often hindering their ability to lead normal lives. Some of the most prevalent medical conditions affecting this population are post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and chronic pain, but due to the distinct nature of each individual case, the path to recovery is rarely clear cut. Currently, too many veterans struggle with an over-reliance on prescription medication, which can lead to various adverse health consequences in the long term.” (https://www.verywellmind.com/alternative-therapies-for-veterans-5086853)
Here, I continue to stress through these articles that the body is wonderfully designed and resilient. The body has built in functionalities to actually cure or correct anomalies, disease, and injuries. Learning to listen to our bodies is fundamental and goes farther than just taking a day off because we slept wrong. In our line of work, traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress injuries (PTSI) reign supreme. The Veteran’s Administration has conducted research studies on the effectiveness of yoga, tai chi, and meditation to improve mental and physical health of veterans and active Service Members;
“Yoga is one of the evidence-based complementary and integrative health (CIH) approaches within the VHA Whole Health System of care included in the Veteran’s medical benefits package when deemed clinically necessary by their care team per VA Directive 1137 — Provision of Complementary and Integrative Health (recertified December 2022). Based on literature review these approaches were found to be safe and have sufficient evidence of benefit to be recommended as appropriate components of care for the Veteran population.” (https://www.va.gov/WHOLEHEALTH/professional-resources/Yoga.asp)
“An evidence map of yoga for high-impact conditions affecting Veterans was developed by the VA’s Health Services Research & Development office.” The conclusive results state; “We conclude that the evidence from good-quality systematic reviews suggests that yoga can improve functional outcomes in patients with nonspecific chronic low back pain.” and finally “These findings and conclusions are generally consistent with those of a recent (2013) published review of systematic reviews of yoga for acute and chronic health conditions which concluded that yoga appears most effective for reducing symptoms in anxiety, depression, and pain.” (https://www.hsrd.research.va.gov/publications/esp/yoga.cfm)
“Hey Airborne, ask about this stuff at your next VA annual checkup to see if you qualify. The work is already done, and the answers are waiting!”
I have recently adopted all these flow type movement modalities into my weekly routine. You see, I admit I am getting older and I am searching for ways to move energy through and out of my body. The times of destroying the cardio and weight rooms and rucking for miles in the morning are starting to wane and I’m looking for more low-threat forms of movement to prolong the use of an already battered body. I’m the guy in the gym with the “Everything Hurts” t-shirt. And so last month, I showed up to this strange new world, a frontier I had yet ever to explore; a Yoga studio.
The environment met me with the smell of lavender, a million candles lit in dimly lit rooms and hypnotic music one would use to put a baby to sleep. Afraid, but not scared, I allowed the sensory-filled space of relaxed healing and self-care to offer condolences to a body steeped in achy tension. I was ready to shed all the body stress built up over the course of the past week in 60 minutes. It was going to be a practice of letting go and remembering how easy life can be. I say all of this as I conveniently leave out the part about the “Hot Yoga” class I participated in last weekend, but more on the challenging benefits of that later!
One thing I love about the studio I now frequent is the sense of community. Just like a gym or a favorite brewery, the establishment adopts its own personality and reputation from the like-minded members it draws; in this case spiritual folks that do the work on themselves to show up for others. Ego is left at the door, unlike at a gym, and the instructors are always encouraging the students to let go of the day, breathe and be in charge of their own class.
As a guide, the instructor leads the class just as SGT Bagodonuts gets up in front of the platoon in the morning and leads stretching exercises before the 5-mile run. The difference though, is that instead of “to the count of 10,” yoga, Pilates and tai chi puts you into a position and then holds there for up to one to two minutes, pressing into the stretch to develop the flexibility rather than just loosen you up before the run. This is why for most gym rats, using these modalities on their off day would yield amazing benefits to their overall fitness and mental health goals.
Here are a few statistics to reaffirm yoga’s current trends in North America:
- At least 10% of the population regularly practices some form of yoga.
- Yoga grew in popularity by 63% between 2010 and 2021 with 2019 to 2021 as the biggest growth.
- There are currently 48,547 yoga and Pilates studios in the US and over 100,000 teachers registered with the Yoga Alliance.
- Only 28% of yoga practitioners are male, making yoga a female dominated practice.
The last statistic is interesting but not unforeseen. Take a crack at Google Images and type in “yoga.” The search results will bring up an overwhelming number of pictures of females in various poses. Type “yoga” in the Amazon Search box and the majority of products are for women; leggings, socks, yoga workout cards and exercises made for women. And yet, I have already listed above the unisex benefits of yoga to the health of an individual; male, or female. Come on guys, we can do better. So, let’s take a deeper look as to what yoga is, who it’s intended for and how we can all implement it into our lives as a practice for wellbeing and mindfulness.
The very definition of “yoga” varies by who you are asking. Referring to yoga in the Western world, it is very often described as a set of posture-based poses, or asanas, to process stress and allow for relaxation. In traditional terms, yoga simply refers back to our previous discussion about meditation and uses a number of physical and breathing techniques to still the mind and detach from suffering. This latter method is a direct descendent from Hinduist and Buddhist teachings and is a way to involve the body, along with the mind, to enter the “witness (or observer) state consciousness.” If you have followed the previous articles, then this is the continuation of building a sustainable practice to enter a space void of ego, where we can take a break from our own mind to mitigate desire, suffering and hit the rest button.
There is a tendency for newbies or naysayers to get wrapped up in the notion that to practice yoga is to challenge one’s personal religious or spiritual beliefs. But again, are we not trying to transcend judgement on this journey of self-discovery and self-improvement? Practicing yoga, especially in the West, never requires one to become a Hinduist or Buddhist. It never even says you have to wear Birkenstocks, tie-dye sarongs, mala beads or put on patchouli to enter the studio.
All it requires of you is the willingness to follow a teacher to guide you through a set of stretching poses during an hour class surrounded by other souls looking for wholeness as well. We did that every morning before PT and most of the time that was the best part about the PT session! Thinking even farther back, as children, we did this while watching Saturday morning cartoons. Just take a look at your own kids and observe the creative poses they get into while they zone out in front of Wreck It Ralph or Frozen.
To think of yoga as a force multiplier in your quiver of modalities is to think of its practices as the tuning of the body with precision. Just as we can metaphorically agree that a CrossFit work out would be the forging of the iron blade through anvil and fire, alternatively, the practices of yoga are the final stages of sharpening, balancing, and wielding the katana for the samurai.
So where does yoga fit into the duties of a rifleman, a sniper, a combat diver, or a pilot? Well, to train the mind and to the train the body should not be two separate events. In any of the listed jobs or multitude of other jobs we do in training and battle, to understand the body’s limitations is an indicator we have used for centuries to determine physical fitness and combat readiness. The measure of performance should not just evaluate the big movements that an obstacle course or a PT test can yield. The proof of mastering the mind and body also lies in the subtle movements or complete stillness we can endure for extended periods of time.
If we are only training our body for a physical fitness event, then how are we preparing for the in-between and uncomfortable times of life. We can openly admit that we don’t practice for these uncomfortable moments. Life is not completely dynamic. During Selection and Assessment, you are still being evaluated during the downtime when nothing is going on. How are you winning in those moments? Most of the time life is static, stuck in the preparatory WARNO phase. While training Sub-Terranean Missions in cramped tunnels, having the experience of holding a “kimchi squat” or in “yoganese” a “Malasana,” yoga helps condition the mind and body as a unit to be okay with minimal movement, funky positions and to not resist.
To truly showcase yoga as a positive mechanism for physical and spiritual personal growth, I interviewed my instructor at Living Balance Yoga Studio in Fayetteville, NC, Jennifer Warnock. Jennifer is a certified yoga instructor with over 3400 hours yoga instruction and holds numerous yoga practice certifications. She has been teaching classes and practicing other modalities since 2012. She is married to a retired veteran and knows firsthand the rigors of service-related physical and mental challenges we all endure every day through our careers, making her someone I have put my trust in during this journey of my own spiritual expansion.
Q: Jennifer, thank you for taking the time to speak with me today. Can you tell the readers a little about yourself and what drew you to become a certified yoga instructor?
A: I first got into yoga initially trying to heal some of my own physical pain, and once I saw the benefits of yoga in myself, I wanted to share those benefits to help bring pain management to others. As I continued to learn more about the mind/body connection yoga brings, my focus changed to incorporating the entire essence of yoga to heal the mind/body and connect with your inner spirit in my own life and also on my mat when teaching.
Q: Speaking in terms of benefits a Service Member might experience while adopting a practice of daily or weekly yoga; Can you tell us what one could expect to get from incorporating a devoted practice?
A: It really all depends upon your personal need and the level of physical or mental pain if that is present. A key to yoga proving its value to someone for pain or stress relief is finding the right class and style of yoga that allows them to find their mind, body, and breath connection. Each person is going to have their own unique expressive experience as they are guided through a series of yoga poses to help build strength, mobility, and flexibility of not only the body but the mind.
Q: What do you think some of the pushback is for men to seriously incorporate yoga as a cross-functional practice? Is there a level of intimidation of entering a studio and maybe being the only male in the class?
A: Common comments I hear from men after they have tried a class is that yoga is harder than they thought and also some don’t see yoga as a masculine form of exercise. But what is interesting is if you look at the history of yoga all the Gurus from the East were men and women weren’t initially allowed to practice yoga. However, here in the West it has flipped and become the opposite somehow; leaning more towards a practice almost exclusively made of women. However, the bottom line is yoga is truly a practice for anyone.
Q: Are you seeing a more equitable blend in male to female ratios in your classes and if not, why?
A: Over the past 11 years I have been teaching, the classes have been primarily attended by females with a ratio 60/40 or maybe a 70/30 split between women to men depending on the style of yoga class I was instructing. In terms of some of the more challenging classes especially Hot Yoga, it’s typically where you will find more men gravitating toward vs. the more gentle classes which it’s still very heavily female-dominated.
However, I would like to add that I have seen an increasing number of male instructors enter the space, and in some areas, there are classes that are designed just for men. It’s always an all-inclusive practice, but I’ve seen it become geared and designed for the specific sexes in a healthy way. The techniques and the camaraderie are different in those classes just as they would be in an all-female class like prenatal yoga.
Q: What transformations have you seen from your students or yourself personally with yoga practices in spiritual awakenings?
A: I have found an increased sense of peace and awareness, especially with my breath. In gentle yoga classes, I have seen clients enter with tension and stress, and leave transformed with a more relaxed demeanor. They often return to future classes prepared to return to that relaxed state of being with a sense of focus, strength, and clarity from tapping into their mind/body connection.
Q: Yoga is known to cleanse and purify energy. Can you speak about the energies that reside within the human body that attribute to different aspects of our daily lives and spiritual growth?
A: The breath. The biggest key to peace and self-empowerment is to control one’s emotions by bringing awareness of the breath. The breath is the vital life force energy that we have direct control over. We adjust our breathing with the emotions we feel. When we find that connecting with our breath allows us to connect with the deep inner peace that resides within us, we are able to conquer anything we may encounter. Yoga allows us to connect with our breath and what we learn on our mat we can incorporate into our daily lives.
Q: What other modalities do you offer and/or recommend for people during an awakening?
A: I am a certified Reiki Master. Reiki is a form of energy healing that connects with the different energy centers in the body to bring balance and peace back to the body. These energy centers can become unbalanced or blocked leading to physical or mental pain manifesting within the body. The practice of Reiki can assist a person in reducing stress and promoting healing.
Q: Given a public platform, what myths or misnomers about yoga or spirituality would you like to dispel?
A: There is no need to come into either your first or 10th yoga class with an expectation to perform at someone else’s level. I like to give my class options for the different poses or asanas and then let them choose their practice for expression. You don’t have to be flexible to “do” yoga. Flexibility is something we gradually work on through time and a dedicated practice will get you where you want to be. It’s ok if it’s hard, most things you first try in life. Everything in life has its “first time” and devoted practice creates consistency and familiarity to a mind/body/breath connection.
Q: What does yoga offer you that you don’t find in a world full of distractions and darkness?
A: Yoga offers me a chance to disconnect from my natural Type A personality mindset for an hour and allows me to connect with my inner peace, finding in that moment what my mind/body needs. It has allowed me to become a part of a community that I love. For me, I also have the privilege to provide a service to others and help a diverse clientele.
Q: Do you have any inspiring parting words of advice or wisdom that yoga and the other modalities have taught you that you wish everyone to know?
A: Yoga has taught me to always be aware of the breath; I cannot stress that enough! It taught me to stop and see the world in a version of Truth and the connections it has to offer. Connecting with the breath and intuition settles you into a “respond versus react” mode. If practiced enough, this becomes your standard state of being. That is important because if you allow the darkness to infiltrate your consciousness, you inevitably remain in a reactionary state, which usually causes more damage, defensiveness, shame, and guilt. These feed into a person’s egoic state. However, observing and minding the breath allows one to respond in love and light to others in situations. The breath is directly related to the energy of the mind/body connection.
To wrap this article up, I think it is important to capitalize on what Jennifer beautifully points out, which is being mindful of the breath. Going back to the question of “where does yoga fit into my duties as a rifleman, a sniper, a combat diver, or a pilot” the answers reside in the fundamentals of those jobs. As a rifleman or a sniper, the breath is one of a number of factors that can throw a round off downrange.
How often do we challenge ourselves in stress-fire shoots to understand the adverse effects just a 100m sprint can affect the precision of engaging targets? And as a diver or a pilot; controlling and holding one’s breath, sometimes close to blackout conditions, allows for manipulation of mission essential equipment in adverse atmospheric conditions? And it also applies to all the in-between times too, whether waiting your turn to go into the promotion board next, reporting an serious incident to higher or dealing with the anxiety of pitching the OPORD to the Battalion; being aware of how the breath directly affects and impacts ones energy, thoughts, and decision to react or respond is a skill few have mastered.
However, we truly owe it to ourselves, our families, and our teammates to work on ourselves just as much as our essential tasks and battle drills. As already mentioned, ego mastery, mediation as a practice, and not to pile more on your already full plate but if the VA is officially categorizing yoga as an accepted practice for alternative healing for both physical, emotional, and mental injuries, there has got to be some value to it.
For those tied up in the stigma of having a clearance or future career advancement in jeopardy just for seeking out a counselor at Behavioral Health, yoga offers an alternative in pretty much any community filled with like-minded souls looking for the same release, peace and calmness you might be looking for.
Women, keep leading the way in this wholeness practice; I think you get it.
And to the men, you got to pump those numbers up! 30-40% are rookie numbers! We gotta catch up and do better!
Robb is a retired active Army veteran of 21 years, primarily serving as a Cavalry Scout. Having accomplished multiple combat tours, diverse global assignments and leadership roles, Robb retired as a First Sergeant of Shadow Troop, 1-33 CAV (Rakassans). From there, Robb went on to attempt his luck in the civilian sector as a Reliability Engineer at an international paper processing company during the pandemic. Not quite satisfied and feeling the draw to serve once again, Robb made his way back behind the gate working with some of the nation’s tip of spear warfighters on Fort Liberty, NC.
It was during this time that he was drawn into an esoteric spiritual journey of self-discovery and began peeling back the onion of how vanquishing spiritual warfare can serve as a personal force multiplier. Dropping all ties to dogmatic religious principles, Robb solely embarked into studies of the mystical and metaphysical for the answers of life. Now forged with this newfound purpose, Robb blends his current path of spiritual ascension along with his past experience of the rigors of military service in order to uplift the future of his brothers and sisters in arms.
“The answers we all seek lie in potential.”
As the Voice of the Veteran Community, The Havok Journal seeks to publish a variety of perspectives on a number of sensitive subjects. Unless specifically noted otherwise, nothing we publish is an official point of view of The Havok Journal or any part of the U.S. government.