Yoga provides healing for members of the US military

World Today

Friday is International Yoga Day.

Millions around the world practice yoga as a form of exercise. For some, it also provides a special kind of healing.

CGTN’s Frances Kuo reports.

Corinne Bazarnyj was a proud member of the U.S. military, on active duty for the Army for seven and a half years.

But when she got out of the service, she faced a different battle – with herself.

“There’s a lot of pressure put on soldiers or military personnel,” said Bazarnyj. “There’s not a lot for you to take that pressure back off.”

Far from the front lines, she discovered solace in a yoga studio outside Washington, D.C. The calm and slow movements are a welcome respite.

“Suddenly, you get this clean slate to work from” explained Bazarnyj.  “I always feel lighter, I feel taller, I feel relaxed.  I feel ready to face everything that was too much for me.”

For Air Force and Navy veteran Christian Villalas, “Honest Soul Yoga” is a place where he found peace.

“I used to be that crazy road rage kind of guy, but with the meditation and yoga practice, I’m not that guy anymore.”

Yoga and other forms of meditation have become an increasing presence in U.S. military programs. Some said it’s badly needed.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, nearly 12 percent of veterans have a confirmed diagnosis of PTSD, or Post-traumatic stress disorder.

“In the military, it’s high stress, it’s high performance, if you don’t have an even keel, you could make mistakes,” said Villalas.

Service members aren’t just going for the classes but the camaraderie. The yoga studio was started by someone who really understands what they’re going through.

Suzie Mills comes from a long line of service in her family. She did active duty in Afghanistan. After returning from duty in the Air Force, she found yoga to deal with the after-effects.

“If I hear a loud banging of a water bottle, metal bottle hitting the ground or fireworks or a big rumble, I feel the trauma in my body, I feel my body responding even though my mind’s like ‘I’m safe,’” said Mills. Then she began teaching yoga in her basement.

In 2013, she founded “Honest Soul Yoga.”

It’s morphed into three studios with 10-thousand customers and counting, more than half of them with ties to the military.

They also offer free classes at a local military base.

“What they’ve learned from us has inspired them to take it everywhere in the world, it’s been really amazing,” said Mills.

Teaching those who’ve served requires some special care to avoid triggers that may do more harm than good.

“You come up behind someone who’s not expecting you to come up, and there could be a response that neither one of you wants to happen,” explained Maria Pereira, a teaching development manager.  “So you need to be cognizant of where you are in the room and make sure their eyes are on you at all times.”

There’s also the challenge of winning over skeptics in the service, particularly men who may not see yoga as macho.

“I think men should man up and do yoga, because it is really, really tough,” said Villalas.

But so are these service members, as they take on a new mission for themselves – and each other.

“It’s a great place to be,” said Villalas.  “It’s a family, it really is.”