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Yoga: How We Serve Active-Duty Service Members

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This is an interview with Master Sergeant Chris Eder, USAF.

Rob Schware: Is there a standout moment from your work with service members?

Master Sergeant Chris Eder, USAF: I remember teaching yoga in Baghdad in a room where all four walls had everyone's M16s standing upright. That is a standout moment for sure. In the same place, another time, we were attacked during the class and several of the Marines popped up, grabbed their rifles and took off. That was another.

My friend Nate Bowen is a standout. He used to tease me (gentle ribbing kind of stuff) about yoga... now he practices several days a week. He is a soldier's soldier... now he is a Yoga Soldier.

What did you know about the population you are working with, before you began teaching? How important is that to your teaching yoga to those people?

I still am a part of this population... 22 years and counting. So I suppose I knew a whole hell of a lot and find it extremely important and rewarding. I believe I serve as a positive role model for our brave warriors... especially the men. There is a huge stigma in the military about men practicing yoga, an even bigger stigma on getting treatment for PTSD. So you can only imagine how difficult it is to get a guy with PTSD onto a mat!

The reason I'm in the military is because I believe I'm a servant. I enjoy working for the USA! Similarly... I enjoy serving in this role too.

What are two distinct ways that your teaching style differs from the way you might teach in a studio, and what are the reasons for these differences?

All of my classes are fun, but focused. I can really connect and meet the "warriors" where they are because I walk in their shoes. I can tell stories that resonate with them and inspire them. I try to explain things "in other words," which I choose based on who is on the mats in front of me. I spend a lot more time with my "warrior" population working on breathing techniques that engage the parasympathetic nervous system. I also end all of these classes with some kind of Yoga Nidra.

What has been the greatest challenge in your teaching experience, and what tools have you developed for addressing that challenge?

I really don't know! I feel like I've been teaching within this population so long that I have constantly been developing and changing with the times. The more you teach, the more mistakes you make, the better you become.

What advice would you give to anyone who is going to teach the active-duty soldiers that you work with?

You need to at a minimum know how it feels to walk a mile in their shoes. Be real and authentic. Don't patronize them!

What are some of your ideas about or hopes for the future of "service yoga" in America in the next decade?

I hope yoga will become a mainstream option for PTSD treatment. I know there is a time and place for pills, but pills should be used to initially get the "warrior" in the right direction... yoga should be the treatment plan. Pills often mask or dull symptoms... never treat or cure.

Has this changed your definition of service?

Service is a core value for the military. That is what drew me in the first place to be a part of this community. Now that I have been diagnosed with PTSD... I am all in!

What are some of your greatest hopes for the development of a service yoga community?

I hope that yoga becomes a mainstream treatment plan, not an afterthought or an "oh yeah and do yoga too!"

MSgt Chris Eder is the Semper Fidelis Health & Wellness Public Affairs Officer/Staff Yoga Director -- http://www.SemperFidelisHealthandWellness.org.

Editor: Alice Trembour

Are you a yoga instructor giving back to underserved or un-served populations? Email rschware@gmail.com if you're interested in being interviewed for this series. Thank you for all you do in the name of service!

Hot Off The Press

Mindful Yoga Therapy for Veterans Coping with Trauma, a collection of simple but effective yoga practices developed by Suzanne Manafort and Dr. Daniel Libby through practical and clinical experience working with veterans coping with PTSD and other psycho-emotional stress. While benefiting trauma patients safely and comfortably, the practices can be used by anyone dealing with stress.

The Give Back Yoga Foundation is making this manual available free to veterans and VA hospitals. It is also available on the GBYF website, http://givebackyoga.org/shop/mindful-yoga-therapy-for-veterans-coping-with-trauma, if you would like to purchase the book and support free distribution to veterans.

This practice guide includes a supplement (poster-size) of the yoga practices.

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