Combat Yoga?

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So the title “Combat Yoga” leaves much to the imagination…

and given that the YogaSlackers are usually associated with pushing the physical boundaries of human potential, especially balance, I thought I would do our team proud and accept the challenge to teach “Combat Yoga” to the US Marines and NAVY stationed at Yokosuka while I was in Japan…here’s the story and hopefully it brings the tune of “Done Stop Believing” into your ears although it would be pretty cool if we could sink songs with blogs…perhaps next time!
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One of my greatest pleasures as a traveling yoga teacher is the opportunity to teach people who may not often get exposure to a yoga practice. While in Japan my amazing student and dear friend Karri arranged for me to come out to the Yokosuka U.S. Naval base to teach an intense, 6am yoga class for the US Marines and Navy stationed there. Allegedly this had been tried before when a teacher taught a class called “warrior yoga” and it was not intense enough so there were rumors that yoga was lame.

Karri suggested that I “show them what it can be like” and she promoted the class as “combat yoga” and told people that it would make them more prepared to fight…I wasn’t exactly sure how to teach “combat yoga” but thought that I could always scream “drop and give me 20” if things got out of hand.

Not wanting to shame them or make them feel week or inflexible I presented a vigorous vinyasa flow sequence with lots of core work all prefaced with the disclaimer “in Yoga you don’t have to do anything but you will not get anywhere if you are lazy”. And although the class started off with a lot of joking about the legitimacy of this “work out” and laughs on their part as we “warmed up” the students were soon sweating and even shaking as they commited to holding poses and breathing deep to get through it. Over the course of the hour long class nobody in the room gave up. I could see the gears in their heads turning as their commitment to the practice kept them going even as we moved faster and deeper, the temperature in the room rising a good 10 degrees. They sweat, moved, breathed and even danced a bit to a playlist made just for the occasion and featuring “Eye of the Tiger”, “Sweet Child of Mine”, “Don’t Stop Believing”, “Harder, Faster, Better, Stronger” and finally “Tolerance” by Michael Franti. The mood was great and the morale high- I couldn’t have asked for more, especially from students who initially doubted the practice.

At the end they were wiped and collapsed with a thud into shavasana followed by a brief meditation. As they wearily stood up after class there were smiles on their faces like little kids as they commented on how great they felt and started to ask questions about where they could find more “combat yoga”. After we said good-byes a very tall and young looking boy came up to me and asked if he could talk to me outside. We walked out of the room and sat down out of hearing range from his colleagues at which point he said:

“There is something to this yoga. I have never felt so relaxed as I did in that pose shavasana. For the past 3 years I have had so much trouble sleeping and I don’t like what I see in my head. How does this yoga work and how can I find that relaxation again?”

He followed by telling me about the nightmares that keep him up every night and his fears of war and fighting. I started to cry but choked it back and held space for him knowing that I had no idea what sort of training he had been through or what he would face. My response was this:

“Just remember that every acomplishment you made today and whenever you practice is your own work. You can practice as often as you need to and take it with you wherever you go…but you must practice and set an intention and you will find what you seek”

He listened and thanked me as he ran off to a second round of PT or Physical Training, something they do every morning in the Marines to stay in shape and prepare for combat. I wondered where he would go and what he would have to do, praying that going to war was not in his future and hoping that he had found a practice to help him cope if it was.

Yogaslackers – Slacklining for a better world
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