Finding balance: U.S. Army Garrison Grafenwoehr creates a community of yoga instructors
VILSECK, Germany -- Ask most Soldiers what they think of yoga and the response usually includes images of incense, chanting and mystical gurus from faraway lands sitting cross-legged on the floor.
During a recent training program, however, Soldiers learned the practice is more than stretching and meditation, it can also be physically demanding.
"I came in thinking it was a joke, but after one session I felt great," said Sgt. Miguel Maldonado, the rear detachment noncommissioned officer for 8th Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment. "And a little sore," he added.
Maldonado was one of more than 50 participants in a recent training program to become a yoga instructor within the Grafenwoehr military footprint. The program, Yoga 360, is part of Soldier 360, a larger comprehensive multidisciplinary military leaders' health and wellness course.
With multiple deployments and post-traumatic stress disorder on the rise, the Army is shifting its focus with these programs to incorporate holistic approaches such as yoga to relieve stress and build physical resiliency for both Soldiers and their families.
The free 40-hour Yoga 360 training course was offered to Soldiers, civilians and family members and was intended to create a community of educators to teach yoga within the Grafenwoehr military community.
While many spouses are now voluntarily instructing within their family readiness groups, Soldiers are changing the look of traditional morning physical training, giving warriors a different perspective while striking a Warrior Pose.
Clinical psychologist Maj. Glen Wurglitz facilitated the program along with yoga instructor Carolyn Butcher. Together they touched on both the mental and physical facets that promote a healthy balance in overall wellness.
"The Army is concerned with the physical in addition to the other aspects of the Soldier's life," said Wurglitz. "We're living faster and faster without taking the time to breathe. Yoga helps a person find balance ... and develop a sense of (themselves) in that particular place and time."
Wurglitz explained yoga can reduce combat stress and other trauma-based disorders through a variety of exercises that go beyond conventional Army physical fitness.
"Rucking and running are not the only two ways we can develop fitness," said Wurglitz. "And what Soldiers found is there's nothing fluff about yoga."
Staff Sgt. Marvin Caban-Acosta, family readiness liaison, 2nd Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment, 172nd Separate Infantry Brigade, agreed.
"It's a great workout. You build strength, develop muscle and flexibility," said Caban-Acosta. "Plus, it brings in that meditation that allows you to encompass mindfulness -- to slow down and look inside yourself. It's a different approach than what we as Soldiers are used to, but it's a welcomed change."
Caban-Acosta plans to teach a yoga course to his Soldiers as part of their physical training, although he admitted he would most likely omit the Sanskrit name of many yoga poses to make it more "Army strong."
However, whether the instructors say "Ut-tan-a-sa-na" or "bend forward, touch your toes," the benefits remain the same.