In the fall of 2000 I was in OCS, and of course in OCS fashion, running as fast as I could down a road to get to where I needed to be. I suddenly felt like someone took a knife and stabbed it in the back of my leg. I collapsed in total searing pain. I had done something to my knee, and it was bad. I was able to ice it, hobble around and basically live on ibuprofen for the next day or so, but I was hurt. Visions of having to quit OCS came into my head. I was at the peak of my game, my PT scores had never been higher, I was in OCS, I was at the top of my military game. I found out that I had a slight ITB tear, not bad enough to do surgery, but bad enough to be in physical therapy every week for a year. I totally stopped running and hit the pool for cardio workouts. I wore a knee brace and suffered through as best I could the rest of OCS (which was an entire year). The amount of constant pain I was in was just plain depressing. I was also having knee and hip pain in the compensating leg, and my lower back began radiating pain whenever I had to sit or lie down for long periods of time. Around the winter of that year, looking for ways to keep my strength up without being able to do any major impact exercises, I decided to try yoga for the first time. I didn't really know what yoga was all about, but the yoga teacher that invited me was in great shape, so I figured there must be something to it. It took a few classes to really get into it. For me, learning what the heck Warrior One was, etc. was my main focus. It seemed that I could work so hard on getting the pose just perfect, and the teacher could still correct something. Once I got comfortable with the poses and didn't have my OCD perfectionism kicking in, I actually started to NOTICE. Notice what?! Notice MY body. I started to become aware of my body. My breathing. All the tiny little movements, a muscle contracted, my core being tight or not, my facial tension, it goes on and on. There were, what it felt like, millions of little things to notice when staying in a pose for a long time. I really felt like this was my first step into mindfulness, not only in body but in mind and soul. Being aware of the little tension I carry in my jaw when I am having a stressful day. Or how shallow my breathing is when I am busy. Or how hunched over my posture is when sitting. This mindfulness began to bleed over into all areas of my life. I was using ujjayy breathing when I was feeling overwhelmed or anxious. I was able to listen to the pain in my knees and back and do the correct stretches and adjustments to relieve some of the pain. Still to this day, when I am doing yoga regularly (2 or more days a week), I have very little, or no, knee or back pain. I notice right away when I have been cutting back on yoga, because my pain levels become higher and more frequent. And as someone who had panic attacks starting at the age of 5...I fully believe mindfulness completely rid my life of anxiety attacks and has GREATLY reduced my every day stress levels. Not that my life isn't stressful (I own 3 businesses and a non-profit and teach 8 - 10 fitness classes a week), I just can monitor and reduce the physiological effects much sooner now rather than allowing it to build and escalate into a panic attack. I know most military veterans would never admit to having panic attacks, or emotional breakdowns or bouts of rage. But I am always open about these things that I have experienced in hopes it would encourage a fellow Veteran to talk to someone about these things if they are experiencing them. There is no shame in emotion. Sometimes it is overwhelming, debilitating and destructive. But #1: YOU ARE NOT ALONE and #2: Tools out there (like yoga) can greatly reduce these struggles. It helped me with chronic pain and anxiety. I still try to do yoga at least 2 days a week. And 17 years later, I am still practicing. I look back, gratefully, at that first invite to do yoga because that invite, and my willingness to give it a try, changed my life. I'm still friends with that yoga teacher. We plan to incorporate yoga in the Fire Team Whiskey Military Fitness Protocol Workouts. I hope for those of you who have never tried it, or haven't done yoga in a long while, that you would give it a go and just NOTICE.
***** Photo compliments of ROBERT STURMAN, an AMAZING photographer, friend and supporter of Veterans Yoga practice. His passion for Yoga's healing power for Veterans is so amazingly obvious and bleeds through his photographs. Check out his work at https://robertsturmanstudio.com/ ****
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