I chose to write this not as an individual, but for a community. To show what in my own words yoga has done for me and my journey since then. People tell me that I’m very intense in my need to want to help my fellow Marines with this wonderful practice that is yoga. One thing about me is that I have always been intense, but at one point I had accepted that if someone in my squad had to go I wanted it to be me. Sad thing about life is that we don’t always get the hand we expect. I came “home”, but many of my brothers didn’t, some did but they had lost limbs or had been seriously injured. It was the weirdest thing coming home it was like I was on patrol then I was home, like no time had passed yet an eternity of innocence was gone. I sat for what seems now like an eternity just staring, reliving scenarios in my head while my loved ones learned to just operate around me. I slept on the couch because I scared my ex wife with how I would wake up screaming, if I even slept at all. I was sent to train Marines, but all I could see in the faces of the young men I was teaching was the glimpse of my fallen brothers moving amongst the crowd of formations. I would scream at these young guys but I would have tears in my eyes not really knowing if I was angry or sad. I became dependent on self medicating like so many of us did. I often wanted to die, but I didn’t want to kill myself. I would never hesitate to place myself in a dangerous situation though. My ex wife said to me one day that I had never come home, that the man she knew never came back. I would wake up screaming, the bed sheets soaked, I would cry for no reason, be angry, and have illusions of seeing hurt and wounded friends and enemies. I drank and drank a lot, I could not get over the survivors guilt, what could I have done differently. What could I have done to have saved my friend, why him, why not me? I was too broken for war; to crazy for society, I was lost.
Until one day I met a Man, a fellow Marine who introduced me to Yoga. Not because I wanted to be calmer, but because I was to physically incapable of doing much due to injuries. It took him two months to move me past what I know now as child’s pose. We worked by skype because of distance, and I hated leaving home. Slowly we worked building my physical and mental capacity until I could get past my fear of leaving my home to sign up for a studio on my own.
My first ever hot yoga class was with a teacher in a town I didn’t know. It was after my failed marriage I had started dating a girl who wanted to take me to yoga where she lived. The whole class I over worked, was hot, and at the end of class we laid down in the dark. The teacher led us through a guided meditation, until a point I relaxed my mind. That was a mistake; I had a very bad panic attack hit the wall and was out the door. I was hyperventilating, and crying but I couldn’t figure out why. I called my teacher and told him. My teacher explained the process of unlocking emotions as we go through our journey in yoga.
I eventually went to a different studio, and talked to one of the teachers. I told her I was a veteran of both of Iraq and Afghanistan, and would not be laying down. She smiled and said ok. I sat at the end of class for a few weeks with my eyes open and my back to the wall. Eventually I was able to lay down with my eyes open.
During this time I was self medicating, and still dealing with lots of issues from my PTS, but I kept going. I met a teacher, 1 of 5 who has so far changed my life, she saw me one night at the end of class with tears in my eyes trying really hard to keep it together. She asked if we could stay and talk awhile.
She and I started talking, and she basically came right out and said it that she could see the pain and hurt in my eyes that it radiated when I walked in the room. I asked her for help, we sat we worked on breathing. I started to feel the flash back coming, the smell of the sand, the hot air, the sweat on the back of my neck the anger, the fear, my chest was caving I was screaming on the inside. Yet on the outside I could only force a single tear, she said to me “As this pain comes let it feel like water, feel the breath the cold beautiful air enter your nose as a white light, and the heat exit as all that is not needed” something along those lines. More tears came I began to sob, but I kept working on my breathing focusing on my breath, slowly the air didn’t smell like the middle east, my neck began to become cool and I started to come back from the middle east. I wasn’t in combat I was in yoga studio breathing.
Since that time my anger, self medication, PTS, and everything has had its ups and downs, some days have been better than others but I have tried to remain on the Mat. I have blown up on people, made amends, had breakdowns, and break-troughs’. Just for today I haven’t had a drink. I have slept almost entire night, I meditate, and I try to share the gift of yoga with fellow veterans. I live by the motto that we learned as Marines, never leave a Man behind so when people say I’m intense, I try to understand as I have been taught to see where they are coming from, but it’s hard when I have lost more friends to suicide and drugs or alcohol than I have lost to combat. I don’t know if I would still be here had I not been introduced to yoga. For me this is a mission to help the people I love and served with make it back from hell. Having PTS doesn’t mean you are broken, it means you have seen the worst the world has to offer and you are still here, still holding on and that you are strong. I practice regularly, and now when the class ends this Marine can actually lay in a room full of people, in the dark, close his eyes and let his relaxation happen (sometimes), but I have learned PTS or not we all face those days. Yoga is a gift and a tool I feel is more valuable to any veteran than any bottle or pill. The people who shared the practice of yoga with me really did save my life. Thank you all. I always wear my bracelet, and on it our 3 Names, every day I feel like quitting or giving up it’s a reminder as to why I need to live my life, and try to help others. More than that those 3 Names are a reminder that no matter what anyone says my mission is my mission and I must follow that like another veteran’s life depends on it. Please don’t ever stop sharing this gift, 22 veterans a month commit suicide, and I can honestly say because of Yoga, this Marine will not be one.