How A Retired Staff Sergeant Inspired Me to Bring Yoga to Veterans & Their Families
About two and a half years ago I found yoga after my husband had gone through an intense 30-day rehab program to help him overcome PTSD. His experiences serving for 10 years as a Marine lit the match, which threw our young family into a bonfire of emotional torment. However, I never thought in a million years that a veteran stranger with different, but just as painful hardships would be the person to help me figure out what I was called to do with my life.
It all began before my husband entered rehab. Myself, along with our 3-year old daughter, and 6-month old son, watched as their father fought a heartbreaking battle with drug, alcohol and prescription drug addiction. He took anything he could get his hands on to numb his thoughts and feelings and to suppress any memories of his tormented childhood and of his time in the military. After countless attempts at trying to heal on his own, our family decided it was time to seek professional help and checked him into a treatment facility.
Upon his release from rehab, my husband was like his old self again, like the guy I had fallen in love with and married. He told me that he had been using yoga to help him heal and wanted to continue practicing. I was shocked! He was never really into group exercise or sports. I, on the other hand, had enjoyed yoga, but I wasn’t consistent at practicing. It didn’t click for me. However, as a wife who loves her husband, and family, I found out you’ll do just about anything to keep it together, so I agreed to practice with him.
We found Baptiste Affiliate, Evolution Power Yoga about 10 minutes from our home and as we entered the studio for our first time, we were greeted by the studio Founder & Creative Visionary, Lisa Taylor. Lisa’s personality was very warm and her welcome made us feel right at home. She helped us get set up in the studio and made sure we had what we needed.
After our first class, Lisa checked in with us before leaving and asked us about our experience. We shared with her why we were there and the authentic compassion in her eyes I will never forget. She also gave us a sense of her own understanding that life isn’t always easy, but as long as we remained curious, we would survive. We both knew right then and there that we were exactly where we needed to be at that very moment, and moments yet to come.
Two months after starting our journey at Evolution, we both found ourselves in their 200-hour RYT program. After 8 months of an intense commitment to the program, we graduated. I couldn’t be happier, although fear and lack of motivation surrounding teaching, kept me in a fog and I decided to remain a student, and so I did, for the next year and a half.
Up until this time I had signed up to be on the sub list at Evolution and I had been dabbling with subbing classes, but still wasn’t sure if I even wanted to, or liked teaching. I thought, by forcing myself to teach (which was like pulling teeth), I would grow to like it, but that didn’t happen. I just got more frustrated and I just wanted to hide in a corner and be a student.
About this time, Evolution studio owners, Lisa Taylor and Julie Mathers, knew exactly what they were doing when they decided to bring Dan Nevins, a retired Staff Sergeant who was critically injured in 2004 by an explosive in Balad, Iraq, causing him to lose both legs from the knee down and suffering from a traumatic brain injury (now Baptiste Yoga Instructor Extraordinaire) to our yoga community. The studio mission is, and has always been, to encourage curiosity and to inspire others to do great things… they knew that Dan’s story would create curiosity in our community and motivate at least one, two, or maybe even five people to take charge and do something great with their life. Dan’s visit did exactly that for me… not only as a yoga student; as a yoga teacher.
Dan’s visit was two-fold and one of the most powerful and inspiring experiences I have ever heard. His first night, our studio offered a meet and greet with Dan, as well as time spent listening to his account of his time in the military and afterwards. The second day, he brought to us a powerful, 90-minute, Baptiste Power Vinyasa Yoga practice.
Dan’s account of his life after the military was filled with depression and frustration, but ultimately were the two emotions that helped him discover yoga. He grew to love the practice and it helped him heal in ways he never expected. Dan now teaches yoga all over the country and is on his own journey to begin developing a retreat getaway in Jacksonville, FL for veterans and their families to spend time at relaxing and recharging.
As I mentioned earlier, Dan influenced me not only as a yoga student and teacher. As a student he inspired me to be at peace with my practice and to know that it’s not about perfection or being the most flexible person in the room or having the coolest yoga pants. He taught me that yoga is so much more than that, and when we realize the true meaning - that is when we really shine - growth happens. Just like when Dan took his prothstetics off in a yoga class full of students for the first time. He said it was the hardest thing he ever did, but once he did it, he made space - a lot of space. So much space, that he is now able to hold space for others, from all walks of life.
As a teacher, Dan inspired me to not be afraid. Not too worry about saying the right things, using all the cool yogi language or teaching a perfect class. In fact, he taught me that teaching had nothing to do with me, at all. Teaching is about the students. Through teaching, we help others make space and find their own way. Teaching allows us to pass along, and share the toolbox of life, to someone else. He said, “Let your passion to help others be your teaching voice.” I knew then what I must do.
That night, after Dan’s class, my mind and heart were alive. Ideas of how I could help zoomed in and out like racecars, on a speedway. I now had my motivation to teach yoga. I now had the direction of exactly what I must do.
Blog by Kelly Rozick, a student and teacher training graduate at Baptiste Affiliate, Evolution Power Yoga.