Allison Chamberlin, Yoga Medicine teacher and member of the US Military, discusses her experience in the U.S. Air Force while simultaneously practicing and teaching yoga.
As a yoga teacher and member of the U.S. Air Force, I’ve received varied reactions as to how I can live by the principles of these two very different parts of my life. I’ve sometimes felt the need to not overtly advertise that I am in the armed forces during yoga trainings based on some negative opinions shared by other yogis. However, I am extremely honored to have served my country for over 10 years and I’m proud to share with anyone that I am a yoga teacher and in the military. From my own experience and the experience of teaching others, I’ve come to realize that yoga can, and should, coexist within the military.
I’ve been in the U.S. Air Force for 10 years and I’ve been teaching yoga to military members for almost half that time. Early on in my Air Force career, I realized I needed an outlet for dealing with the stressors that came with the job and being away from family. Having been athletic all my life, I turned to yoga for its ability to focus on the body, mind, and soul. Once I found how life changing yoga was becoming for me, I realized I wanted to share that with other military members.
After completing my 200-hour yoga teacher training in the U.K., where I was stationed at the time, I began training with Yoga Medicine. I was drawn to the combination of Eastern and Western modalities, with the strong emphasis on understanding an individual’s anatomy and physiology using modern and traditional yoga practices to best create a yoga program that can be therapeutic. I found that, similar to myself, most military members get physical fitness from other sources of exercise and were looking to yoga for more of a mental release and stress reliever. However, they were still interested in the physicality of the practice. Yoga Medicine provided me with the tools to provide a physically challenging practice, but one that was therapeutically focused on relieving stress and releasing tension from the body.
I began teaching yoga and meditation to both active duty Air Force members and military spouses. I used a combination of trauma sensitive vinyasa yoga, myofascial release (MFR) techniques, meditation, mindfulness techniques (predominantly Integrative Restoration, or iRest), simple breathing practices, and restorative yoga. As I began incorporating these therapeutic techniques into my classes, I started getting a lot of positive feedback. Of course, I still incorporated challenging physical asanas and strength building postures, but I found more of my students enjoying the breathing meditations, MFR with yoga props, and savasana. I had seasoned military men telling me they “haven’t felt that relaxed in 10 years” or folks with shoulder or back problems mention that their physical issues felt better after these classes.
Other students said they performed better on their military physical fitness tests after my classes and many began practicing some of the MFR techniques at home and including their kids. This feedback was very encouraging and rewarding to hear that my yoga classes were making a widespread difference for both active duty members and families within the military community.
In addition to my personal experience with seeing the benefits of yoga and meditation to military members, research shows that these therapeutic techniques can help not only improve resilience for this population, but improve their readiness as well (Joshi, 2019). Yoga has been shown to improve sleep among military members, reduce feelings associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), such as rage, anxiety, and emotional reactivity, and treat depression and chronic pain (Joshi, 2019). In addition, to building resiliency among active duty members, yoga, mindfulness, and meditation can improve not only physical readiness but mental readiness. A form of Mindfulness-based Mind Fitness Training, which includes aspects of relaxation, meditation, and breathing, has been shown to improve military members’ ability to manage stress, regulate emotions, and be “calm and focused in chaotic moments”, critical skills needed for military members whether at homestation or deployed overseas (Joshi, 2019).
I believe yoga should be provided to military members and their families. In the chaotic world we live in today, the need for reconnect to our breath and relax both our bodies and minds is so important. Yoga and meditation can provide these vital skills to the military communities who may need it most. And while there is still some stigma regarding yoga in the military (or vice versa), I will proudly shout from the rooftops I am a yogi and a member of military any day!
Joshi, A.V. (2019, February). Warrior Pose: Building Readiness through Resilience – Yoga and Meditation. Joint Special Operations University: College of Special Operations. JSOU Press.