ARLINGTON, Va. – According to some, the practice of yoga just appears to be a mere fancy alternative to stretching. However, to the recovering Soldiers at Fort Campbell in Kentucky, the weekly yoga classes provide a wholesome experience that alleviates them from life’s many stressors.
Like a two-edged sword, yoga doubles down on the most important aspects of recovery - the mind and the body. This ancient practice offers recovering Soldiers the potential to address the physical and nonphysical facets of an injury. As a result, it helps lengthen muscle tissue, strengthens muscle and enhances the range of motion of the skeleton.
Erika Wolfe, holistic life coach, leads the yoga sessions every week for the Soldiers of the SRU at her studio in Clarksville, Tennessee. She found her passion for the traditional routine a few years ago after a family incident. As a result of this life-changing event, yoga became a way for her to successfully manage life challenges and this consequently helped raise her self-esteem.
“Yoga became my outlet of choice because there was a sense of control,” she said. “Yoga is a practice that is not just physical…it’s mental, it’s emotional, it’s also spiritual…so there’s a lot that happens on the mat.”
After two years of diligent training, Wolfe’s yoga studio owner at the time closed down. With a strong desire to continue her routine and share it, she and a few others created a new place for everyone interested to join. “I just knew that I needed to continue holding a safe place [to practice yoga],” she added.
Subsequently, Wolfe would find an opening to contribute her teachings to the Military - an aspect that runs deep in her family.
“Very early on, I was connected with training programs that were geared toward the Military,” she recounted. “Since that was my background, I wanted to focus on that demographic as well…it’s also a part of my family, and I live next to Fort Campbell, which has a large population of people.”
Wolfe made it her goal to understand how trauma and PTSD rewire the brain, and how she could help heal the Soldiers through the use of a tranquil environment. She also emphasized the variety that yoga provides because every version looks different.
“It’s not about the labels that we carry,” she explained. “It’s about meeting every person where they are and supporting them…the biggest thing for me is to make yoga accessible to everybody.”
“Accessible” is exactly what Wolfe accomplished with her weekly classes. Ever since its beginning in January 2015, the Fort Campbell community has reaped the benefits, but none more than the recovering Soldiers of the SRU.
Maj. Ethel Denise Carter joined the SRU a few months ago and described her experience in the yoga class as “very welcoming and relaxing.”
“The instructor is very knowledgeable about the poses and alternative poses for those who need them,” she explained. “One of my biggest worries about wanting to be active in sporting activities was not being able to be normal again. Thankfully, she puts all those worries to rest.
“It also helps to share the class with others in the SRU who understand the struggles that come with being injured and wanting to get back to where you once were.”
She continued, “I never realized how going to multiple doctors’ appointments, physical therapy and other daily SRU events not only tires you out but stresses you out! Topped with concerns about your health and family waiting for you to come home.
“Although it doesn’t show, it’s present in your body. So why not do a little yoga to help relax. It’s exactly what the doctor ordered.”
Cmd. Sgt. Maj. Chris Fields served as a professional infantryman for over 30 years in the Army. Over this period of time, he sustained a couple of injuries, played rugby for 23 years, participated in over 20 years of martial arts and competed in long-range shooting.
Fields found serenity away from all the past commotion on the yoga mat.
“To think that I would step onto a Yoga mat would be unthinkable,” he stated. “I would not be the man I am today if I had refused my wife’s recommendation. I would have also missed an opportunity to have a fantastic friendship with my Yogi Erika.”
He explained, “[There are] no cell phones, no computers, no news...just time to feel my body relaxing sufficiently to feel, if only for a short duration. I also have peace. The kind of peace that surpasses my bouts with my PTSI and the complications with TBI.”
“What I have experienced in my yoga practice is that when I take the time to be still, I process and navigate through the stressor of my everyday life with a clear perspective. You can live a life of resentment or a life of contentment - we all have a choice.
“Now, I look forward to my weekly restorative yoga practice, riding my Harley, shooting long guns and eating red meat.”
The Army Warrior Care and Transition Program is now the Army Recovery Care Program. Although the name has changed, the mission remains the same: to provide quality complex case management to the Army's wounded, ill and injured Soldiers. Visit our website at https://arcp.army.mil