Brad Whiteman, an U.S. Army special forces officer, has experienced firsthand the physical benefits of yoga.
Serving 10 years on active duty, continuing to serve in the Army National Guard, and his continued participation in the sport of rugby began to catch up with him and take a toll on his body.
He discovered yoga through his wife Eliza Whiteman and began practicing yoga three to four times a week. He felt the physical benefits of yoga almost immediately. As he continued to practice, he found his general demeanor and temperament were affected in a positive way as well.
When the Whiteman’s opened their studio, Fly Dog Yoga, located in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2015, Brad saw an opportunity. There was a lack of mind/body classes in the area for veterans. Brad set out to become a yoga teacher so he could teach fellow veterans and first responders.
In 2016 he was a member of the first VETOGA 200-hour yoga teacher training, specifically designed to certify current and former military service members as yoga teachers.
“Brad is committed to sharing the positive physical and mental benefits of a regular yoga practice with service members, veterans and first responders in the local community with complementary classes,” said Eliza.
Fly Dog Yoga has five free weekly classes that are led by Brad. He has also built-up their Honor Our Heroes program where they provide scholarships to veterans and first responders who want to complete yoga teacher training.
The veterans classes not only give them an opportunity to help recover from trauma, they also give veterans the opportunity to become part of a community again.
“Many times, veterans feel like they are outsiders. Being among other veterans speaking/understanding the same lingo and jokes allows them to let down their guard a bit more,” said Eliza. “The yoga practice, meditation and pranayama give a veteran the opportunity to be in the present moment with little time to over analyze or worry.”
Yoga classes that are specifically for veterans can look different from typical instructed classes.
In a studio setting, you may have veterans who have served recently that may need modifications or ways to build awareness, explained Eliza. “If you are in a veteran setting, then you may be dealing with older veterans with various injuries, illnesses and trauma that you may need specialized training for,” she continued.
Overall, veterans do better with clear, concise cues. The majority of military training is visual, so they do better with demo’s for newer poses or transitions.
Eliza also said consistency is huge in building these programs up. “You have to show you are dedicated and trustworthy,” she elaborated.
If your studio is considering having a veterans-only program, Eliza gave some things to keep in mind while teaching veterans.
“Every person is whole and complete,” she said. “Sometimes we look at anyone that has experienced trauma and feel badly for them and want to help them. Sometimes our help feels like coddling to some. We treat our veterans the same as others; they may need more explanation or need modifications, but they are warriors and are ready to work if you allow them to rise.”