Military Yoga. Is it a new yoga style? Does it seem like an unexpected pairing?  Not anymore thanks to the work of Soldier 360, which uses yoga as part of a comprehensive training program to help provide wellness care to recently, and sometimes repeatedly, deployed military personnel.  Soldiers stationed in Grafenwöhr and Vilseck, Germany are reaping the benefits of this unlikely partnership between yoga and the military.

Soldier 360 is a two week program designed to give soldiers tools to deal with the stresses of active duty combat.  It consists of psychological, physical, spiritual and relationship training, and is currently available to noncommissioned officers (NCOs) who have combat experience and will likely be redeployed.  NCOs are often considered the “backbone” of the military, and as such the creators of Soldier 360 believe they play a crucial role in the health of military units as a whole.  After the initial two week training period, participants receive weekly sessions for 6 months to help maintain the lifestyle changes they may have made.

Yoga 360 classes, as they’re called, are done in a Power Vinyasa style, which works with the strength, endurance and flexibility of participants – areas that are important for military personnel.  Vinyasa yoga contrasts with the usual military physical training style (running, marching, gearing up, etc) because it simultaneously gives them a good workout, and also helps soldiers learn to link their breath and movements.  This allows them to slow down their minds and move their focus internally.  For soldiers who have seen combat duty, this can be beneficial for dealing with potential PTSD or other mental health issues.  Physically, building flexibility and range of motion in the joints and spine, and strengthening the muscles that support the joints, can also help prevent injuries that could remove soldiers from combat.

Probably expecting a lot of gentle stretching, some soldiers were surprised to find themselves sweating and exerting a lot of energy during the yoga practice.  Initial skepticism gave way to enthusiasm, especially as some learned how to perform yoga postures such as full backbends, or arm balances like Crow.  Many participants plan to include what they’ve learned in the yoga classes in their mandatory PT sessions.  They hope it will help reduce personnel stress and group tension.  And since yoga doesn’t require a lot of space or equipment, it’s easy to practice during deployment.  One army colonel even asked Sarah Brown to create a yoga DVD that soldiers can bring with them while deployed, and continue their practice.

Initially, the handful of soldiers who went through the Soldier 360 program reported a greater overall sense of well being, better anger management, and an improved ability to work with the soldiers in their units.  While the sample size was small, the results were significant because all of the original participants met the criteria for adjustment disorders or PTSD.  It would be nice to see Soldier 360 expanded to meet the needs of more servicemen and women who would benefit from the tools it provides.

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