I used to think strength meant presenting an image of strong silence and always looking like I had everything together. I was a Marine, a leader, and I could never make a mistake.
Today, we lose more military-connected personnel to suicide than to combat. I’m a pretty decisive person with a limited ability to ask for help and zero trouble taking risks. I could have been one of those statistics.
I teach yoga today because it helped me get more authentic, more honest with myself.
I came to yoga as an athlete looking for something fun to try, something new to master, and something to help me bend my unyielding muscles a bit more easily.
What I found on the mat changed my life entirely. I found a practice that was about more than my body, my training, and was something I could practice and study while joyously never “mastering.”
Our bodies were made to move in constant search of unity with our minds and spirits. It’s a natural stillness that those who have felt it love, pursue, and fight to regain if lost. When we discuss the sorts of trauma and injuries our veterans have experienced, we need to bring mindfulness into the conversation around treatment and prevention. Pills and therapy are not enough to return this active, passionate community to full health after trauma. We won’t seek them out and we won’t ask for help.
You can keep your couch.
An honest leader can be real about where they don’t have it all together. What if I had completed training designed to increase self-awareness and promote resilience? What if PTSD was something I knew to look for in myself and others, rather than ridicule as the province of the malingerer?
The answer has to lie outside the contemporary standard of care. Yoga can do that.
While clinical health services exist for soldiers and Marines with existing mental health conditions like post-traumatic stress, they are not stemming the rising tide of service suicides. Framing mindfulness training as a way to “bulletproof your brain” renders the practices palatable within the confines of warrior culture.
Marines and soldiers are competitive people who respond much better to notions of challenge than to victim or patient identities.
I teach yoga because it asks the practitioner to work at creating mental fitness and resilience, and I know no other way to reach my peers with such effect.
Photo by elidr, used with Creative Commons license
Dr. Kate Hendricks Thomas is an Assistant Professor of Health Promotion at Charleston Southern University. She is the author of Brave, Strong, & True: The Modern Warrior’s Battle for Balance and co-authored the Just Roll With It Wellness Journal. Kate is a former Marine, a yoga teacher, and mom to both a fearless baby and the Great Dane who dotes on him. Kate can be reached via her website, www.katehendricksthomas.com or via @precisionwell.
Pre-order Kate’s new book, Brave Strong True: The Modern Warrior’s Battle for Balance, here.