The Beginning Chapter of my Peaceful Warrior Life
Pull up a chair, grab a cup of coffee, tea, or your favorite essential oil infused water and prepare for the somewhat random ramblings of a forty four year old that has finally figured out what I want to do when I grow up.
The reality is I have needed to sit down and knock-out a guest blog post for YogaFit for quite a while. Because the thing is… I owe them. And when you have good information to share, you need to share it! Knowledge is not a thing to keep bottled up only for yourself. You share that magic and sprinkle it everywhere you can.
YogaFit recently posted a question on their Facebook page “How did you find yoga or did yoga find you?” For me it was a little of both.
In 2009 I began working for a counseling program on a military installation near my home. I had been serving as a deputy sheriff in a local jurisdiction for twelve years balancing work and family life with a husband, two young sons, two dogs, a cat and a guinea pig. Yes, I know a lot of you can relate. It’s a life where if you have the laundry done and dinner on the table it feels like victory. I was also an Army veteran married to an Army veteran I met while serving in Korea. We had settled in to life in suburbia with 2.5 kids and a wooden privacy fence. Although I had many life experiences while serving in law enforcement that strengthened me and allowed me to serve my community there was a missing piece. So when we received a phone call from an old Army friend telling us of a position in a counseling program they thought I was the perfect fit for I scrambled to freshen up my dusty resume, sit down at the computer and knocked out the application for a position my husband somewhat dared me to apply for. Two weeks later after my first job interview in over a decade I was sitting down to share the news with our sheriff. What I found was that coming back to work on a military installation was like “coming home”. I had missed the military connection, of being surrounded by people in uniform with a likeminded mission, I had missed the rogue sense of humor found only in service members. I had found my new professional home.
Shortly after I began my work there I started to notice article after article indicating yoga could help service members with Post Traumatic Stress (PTS), stress, anger, and other trauma. Our country was really just starting to realize the impact the years of war generated by 9/11 was having on this generation and we were desperately searching for solutions to help. I reached out to a local yoga instructor on base (Lisa Vice) and she began to partner with our counseling program to offer yoga in class settings such as anger management and other groups. It was well received by our clients and although I didn’t realize it at the time, her use of transformational language and total inclusion set her classes apart. I knew it felt special but I didn’t know why. Turns out Lisa was a YogaFit trained instructor, although I did not know this at the time.
Fast forward to Lisa relocating, this happens a lot in our military communities. She has since returned and we are good friends but her departure was one of the pieces that led to me begin yoga teacher training.
With Lisa’s absence there was a gap in our program. It was discussed by management of sending someone to yoga teacher training and I suggested one of my co-workers who I thought was in better physical shape than me. I was like most who have not yet been enlightened, I had yoga stereotypes. But in a life changing moment, my boss said “No, it’s going to be you. I think you should go.” What? Me? No. I run, I workout, I eat mostly healthy, but no – I’m not a yoga teacher. Yoga teachers are tall and thin and eat vegan foods. Yoga teachers don’t eat bacon. She can’t be serious. She was serious. I was going. We did an internet search for yoga schools and decided on YogaFit. So in January 2013 I began my yoga teacher training journey at Body Grace Yoga in Vienna, VA. I was pleasantly surprised to find men and women of all ages and backgrounds. They did not kick me out for my non-vegan lunch (although I don’t object to a vegan lunch, they’re quite tasty) and I found they were even a lot like me. As new yoga teacher students we probably had no idea what we were really getting into. There were students who worked in counseling programs like me, those who were looking for personal growth, and some who led fitness classes at gyms. What we had in common? We were open to learning and growth.
After that weekend things began to really click for me. It was the start of better ways of thinking, better eating habits, and simply living life more mindfully. I came to help others but in the end helped myself. As I started to learn more about the poses I warmly recalled moments of yoga practice in my childhood – of sitting in lotus pose or standing on my head against the front door of our home in the tiny living room. Looking back although I had never had formal instruction in yoga, at such a young age we can only reason that our bodies know what we need. Those movements simply made me feel good. Why I stopped doing them I will never know. However, the weekend of my Level 1 YogaFit training, the barrier was broken for good and yoga slowly but surely became an everyday part of my life.
I began offering classes in group settings and also to individuals in our program – service members struggling with anger, stress, PTS and other life challenges. Yoga is now built in to my regular work and it’s not uncommon for me to offer a group class to those struggling with substance abuse on Monday and then work with someone struggling with grief and loss on Tuesday individually. Each client is different and we work to make sure we meet their individual need.
Although each person has a unique story there is one service member that truly stands out as my reason for offering yoga in our community. He is a combat veteran and struggles with PTS, stress, anger, sleep and a long list of symptoms common to someone who has been through war and made it out to the other side. When I met him he was taking classes with our substance abuse program. He attended one of my group classes, sit in a dark corner and didn’t have much to say. But after class he stayed. And he was excited and even a little confused… because he actually felt “good”. He didn’t know what had happened in the yoga class but he knew that he felt “happy” and secure. He wanted to learn more. I worked with him for a few individual classes where I shared techniques I had learned with Shaye Molendyke and Kristy Manuel in the YogaFit for Warriors program. He was open to using essential oils and began carrying them in his pocket for moments of anxiety and panic. During a home workout he injured his hand and ended up in the emergency room. When they were not able to offer pain medication, he practiced yoga in his hospital bed to calm his stress reaction. He has since relocated but gave me a meditation stone before his departure that said “HOPE”. And that is what YogaFit offers. Hope. Sure, yoga can strengthen and lengthen our physical bodies. But now I know those are only additional side benefits. The true goal is the mind-body connection we all crave.
Over the last few years I’ve also began working in our community with Team Red White and Blue (RWB) (www.teamrwb.org). You have may have noticed them in your community wearing the red athletic shirts with the white eagle. There are chapters all across the country and I strongly encourage you to find the one closest to you and get involved. No local chapter? Start one. Team RWB’s mission is to enrich the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity. In partnership with a local yoga studio in Fredericksburg, Virginia, Dragonfly Yoga Studio (www.dragonflyyogafred.com), we offer a free weekly yoga class to local veterans, active duty, retirees and their family members. Our weekly yoga class has truly become a community of support where we share goals, dreams and even sometimes moments of frustration. Each person that comes to the studio has a story and some of those stories include struggles with anxiety, substance abuse, overcoming childhood trauma, or just simply trying to do more than just get through this thing called life but to live life with purpose and meaning.
What do I want to be when I grow up? Maybe a YogaFit Master Trainer – to be in a position to share what YogaFit has given me to others or teaching more at the local studio. Whatever the future brings I know yoga will be a big part of it. Things happen for a reason. And I’m so glad YogaFit “happened to me”.
So – back to YogaFit’s question – “Did I find yoga or did yoga find me?” Yoga found me. And I hope it finds you right when you need it to.
I’ll see you in Arlington in October for Level 5, #YogaFitFamily.
Signed – The Now Peaceful Warrior, Becca
Interested in learning more about our YogaFit for Warriors program? Click here.