Why Special Ops Are Doing Yoga—And Why You Should, Too

I started doing yoga in 2011, when I was shutting down Iraq as part of Operation New Dawn.

Eight other Special Forces guys and I were the last American soldiers north of Baghdad, and our job was to represent U.S. support for a sovereign Iraqi state. The area wasn’t particularly dangerous (for a war zone, anyway), and we had some free time on our hands. So my fellow SF guys did yoga. I lifted heavy things. Yoga was a sissy workout, I thought.

But one day after I’d finished a CrossFit WOD, the guys goaded me into joining one of their “sissy” sessions.

As a sergeant with the Special Forces, I’ve been on sniper teams and reconnaissance teams and led hundreds of men in battle.

I deadlift 515 pounds, squat 405, and bench 315. But this yoga session left me in shambles. It was held in a cinder block building in the desert with no AC.

Matching my breathing to inverted poses was nearly impossible, and I felt like I’d used a whole new set of muscles.

After my deployment, I returned to Fort Bragg and started doing three 90-minute yoga sessions a week with Virginia Gallagher, an instructor at Hot Asana, a studio in Southern Pines, North Carolina, to supplement my four or five weekly CrossFit-style workouts.

I used to pound the iron nonstop. Now I’m actually 30 pounds lighter, but I’m hitting the same numbers in key lifts.

Leveraging the breathing techniques I learn on the yoga mat allows me to access untapped strength and mobility—I don’t need to redline to improve.

As a soldier, I believed I could control everything around me completely and thoroughly. But the practice of yoga—breathing, being present, and letting go—taught me to allow things to happen naturally.

People tend to think the Special Ops gig is all about blowing stuff up and kicking in doors of terrorist cells. Okay, we do that, but it’s a small fraction of the job.

As a Special Operations soldier, I must make good decisions in high-stress situations. The frame of mind that yoga puts me in lets me step back and assess a situation through a different lens and then react more calmly. In my line of work, that can be lifesaving.

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When I returned home, my wife and I were having marital problems because I was trying to force the relationship to “work.”

One afternoon, while in moon pose, I realized that I can’t impose my will on my marriage—I just had to step back and let it run the way it needed to run.

Soon, everything started working between us. I’m better at my job. I’m better in the gym.

I’m better at home. Hell, ask my wife—I’m even better in bed. I’m starting to see more and more of my Special Forces brethren in the Hot Asana studio.

Knowing that the men in my regiment are also forging a mind-body connection makes me feel better about going into dangerous situations with them.

 

This article was originally published on Mens Health, and was redistributed by Rodales Organic Life.