Sometimes people ask me how I got into yoga after 8 years of active service in the Marine Corps. After all, the two disciplines – military service and yoga – are seen by some as being separate and distinct, if not entirely opposed to one another. I would say there are also plenty of similarities between the two, but we’ll save that discussion for another time.
I was discharged in 2008, and settled in South Bend, Indiana – the town that was my final duty station in the Marines. South Bend is known for its cold and snowy winters, its pleasant and mild summers, and of course, the University of Notre Dame Football. South Bend is not famous, however, for its yoga scene [yet?], so my first exposure to what has become my medicine, my passion, and my purpose really was a serendipitous stroke of luck.
"my first exposure to what has become my medicine, my passion, and my purpose really was a serendipitous stroke of luck"
The late Yoga Teacher B.K.S. Iyengar once said, "Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured." I see this idea manifested often in my students. All of us come to yoga with various physical and emotional maladies – many of which we may not even be aware of. I was no exception. I was not in the best shape mentally or physically when I took my first conscious yogic breath. Upon military discharge, I was rated disabled for adjustment disorder, multiple knee operations, two hernia repairs, and a thumb reconstruction. Emotionally, I was still a wreck from my then recent divorce and frequent episodes of co-parenting drama. My diet was poor, my bad habits were addictive and emotionally draining, and my new corporate job was stressful to the point of missing a week of work to nurse a painful bout of shingles. Despite all of this, and probably because all of this, my body and mind were ripe for experiencing the many benefits of yoga.
"Despite all of this, and probably because all of this, my body and mind were ripe for experiencing the many benefits of yoga."
Here’s how it happened. My two boys – aged 7 and 5 at the time – were in an after-school program where my eldest, Nick, was repeatedly harassed by a fellow student. When bad went to worse, I decided to intervene by teaching my son ways of defending himself from physical aggression. I didn’t think it best to teach him techniques I had learned in the Marines, as most were designed to kill or incapacitate one’s opponent – the absolute last thing after-school program attendants need. So I did the next best thing, I took him to the library to check out some books and DVD’s on martial arts and self-defense so we could learn some basics. One such DVD had an amazing karate kick on the front so we checked it out. It was Budokon, an unlikely but harmonizing fusion of martial arts and yoga. So we cleared out the living room, popped in the disc, and got pumped to learn some new moves.
However, our excitement soon waned to impatience as the recorded routine started with nothing but what seemed like hours of seated meditation – also a first for me at that time. Talk about BORING and painful on my knees! Baldwin boys aren’t the type to just sit there and do nothing, so the kids got out their Legos, and after fast-forwarding through the meditation, I was reluctant but fascinated enough to give the whole routine a try – and I’m so glad I did.
This first yoga experience was physically challenging. The pace was laborious – as was my breath. I couldn’t keep up with many of the poses and sequences. But I didn’t give up. I stayed with it a few times a week at first and my practice has since grown and branched out to many other styles. No, it hasn’t gotten easier; I’ve just become stronger, more capable, and I still love the tranquility I feel in the hours following a session. Though we sometimes do things in life we may regret down the road, spending a little time on my mat has never been a regret – and I doubt it ever will be.
Though we sometimes do things in life we may regret down the road, spending a little time on my mat has never been a regret – and I doubt it ever will be."
UPDATE: My son Nick - now a healthy and capable teenager - eventually survived, bested, and evaded his afterschool program nemesis. The whole ordeal turned out to be a true win/win for both of us!