Veterans and Yoga: The Key to Making it Work

While yoga taps into the mental and physical discipline so familiar to many veterans, the actual magic behind the practice isn’t necessarily the practice itself.

I fully understand why yoga is a difficult concept for many veterans. It was difficult for me. My current passion for the practice developed over years, and at the persistent cajoling of my wife, who – maybe not out of the purest motives – wanted to prove that 60 minutes of prolonged stretching could help with my nagging hip pain. 

Prolonged stretching. That’s all I thought it was. Why in the world do I need an instructor and 15 strangers present to stretch my own muscles? But finally, for no other reason than to cross it off my wife’s to-do list once and for all, I went. And there, at noon on a cloudy Tuesday in an unfamiliar upstairs room, atop some borrowed non-descript yoga mat with the words “property of Missoula YMCA” scrawled at the foot, I made it through my first class. 

I wasn’t totally impressed. In fact, I was tired. This prolonged “stretching with strangers” took a bit more out of me than I’d anticipated. I wasn’t sure if I ever intended to go back, but then what else is there to do during a relentlessly gray Montana winter? So, I went back. That Tuesday class became a regular feature in my week. Before long, I’d even learned some of the strangers’ names. 

You already know where the rest of the story leads- I eventually became an instructor myself, not just because I appreciated the changes I felt in my joints and muscles. I also wanted to play a role in bringing yoga to folks who feel, like I once did, that is simply isn’t for them. I try to keep my classes intentionally accessible – nothing too “woo woo” or “out there.” We talk. We laugh. 

In fact, I’ll let you in on a little secret: much of the magic of these veteran-focused yoga classes lies in the simple yet courageous act of being together. Sure, there are physical benefits, too – stretching and strengthening that can help to ease ongoing aches or pains of past injuries. But honestly, the relationships we forge are part of what makes this class so special; the knowledge that we aren’t alone. 

And even though we don’t necessarily share anything personal during class, you’d be surprised what a difference just 60 minutes a week can make in your life. I’ve seen unbelievable changes happen for these people who were once strangers, now years-long friends. I won’t say ALL the credit goes to yoga, but there’s noticeable power in taking just one intentional step toward change. The kind of power that reverberates to other areas of life, building momentum toward bigger, bolder changes. 

You won’t meet anyone in my class who doesn’t feel a tiny bit unsure about the whole yoga thing. But most of us keep coming back for more because we always leave feeling better than when we came in. Less like strangers, more like friends. The new year is a GREAT time to try something different and shake up your routine. Come give it a shot – we’re at Freestone Climbing every Monday from 2-3pm, and it’s totally free for veterans and their partners. 

Feel free to get in touch if you have questions or concerns: YogaWithNickG@gmail.com

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