The Marine Mind: Redefining Mindfulness. ~ Kate Hendricks

Via Kate Hendrickson Sep 13, 2013

army shavasana

“We cannot teach people anything, we can only help them discover it within themselves.” ~ Galileo.

I learned how to lead and teach in the pressure cooker that is the Marine Corps. I thought I knew something about physical leadership, communicating and getting people moving in a direction worth heading.

Now I wonder what it must have been like to sit as my yoga student during my early years as a yoga teacher… Sure, I had great reasons for my intensity and aversion to anything pensive or calm.

Going through introductory level schools was an interesting challenge. Women comprise four percent of the Officer Corps and we are always eyed with suspicion. Our peers constantly measure our abilities to speak intelligently, demonstrate strength and perform on par with male peers physically.

The concept of “carrying one’s weight” came to matter literally during those early training experiences. If I failed to perform a task or meet a challenge, my peers would have to pick up my slack and suffer for it. I saw women fail now and again and they were vilified for it.

Performance-focus carried over into all sorts of interactions—you also had to be fearless when speaking or arguing with someone. In an organization like the USMC, if you demonstrate a weak personality, you won’t need to bother showing up for work the next day.

I not only had to be right (or at least close to it), I had to be smart and forceful in the conveyance of ideas.

We were an intense tribe, and celebrated our imbalances. They came in handy when it mattered. In Iraq, I watched a tiny, tough ex-cheerleader lose her seat in the gun turret as our vehicle was glanced by an Improvised Explosive Device.

She got up, then wiped the charred smoke off her face, cursed at her broken sunshades and swung fearlessly back into the saddle. When my brother was injured in Ramadi, our family rallied to his side. The month we spend at his military hospital changed my life.

I watched the courage with which young men hospitalized in Bethesda with tragic combat injuries fought for mobility, independence and a restored sense of self. The biggest concern many had was getting up and moving to return to their units and friends.

They were heroic and inspiring; some were only 19. I came away from my experiences as a Marine knowing with absolute certainty that leadership is a privilege and requires competence, hard work and unselfish dedication.

I also came away knowing how to be hard on myself and others. I was attached to an ego identity, warrior culture and averse to seeming anything but strong and together. When I came to need it, I didn’t know how to ask anyone for help.

My fledgling yoga practice changed my life slowly. I didn’t see it coming and would have ducked it if I had, but I learned to notice breath. I learned to slow down and to be curious about my body instead of domineering with it.

I met people who listened much more than they spoke and wondered how to emulate them. I learned to value vulnerability instead of revile it. Teaching yoga is as much about being a student as anything else, and it has helped me soften.

My hard exterior was never the whole story about me, and yoga has helped me let go of that chip on my shoulder and be more authentic with people. I will always love the Marine Corps for those early lessons about personal effectiveness and physical leadership, but I no longer think of mindfulness as a pejorative term.

My yoga practice saved my life when days got dark and helped me become OK with falling over in front of others.

 

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Assistant Ed: Bruce Casteel/Ed: Sara Crolick

 

About Kate Hendricks

Kate Hendricks is a former Marine, a yoga teacher, and a Great Dane mom. She volunteers for veterans’ reintegration nonprofits and fiercely believes in the power of movement to heal PTSD. Kate can be reached via her website.

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3 Responses to “The Marine Mind: Redefining Mindfulness. ~ Kate Hendricks”

  1. Thanks for reading! I hope you'll check out amazing nonprofits that work to bring mindful movement to veterans like http://www.teamrwb.org or http://givebackyoga.org

  2. Michael says:

    Very insightful article. As a former 0352 , I wish I could go back in time and focus on breath-work, myofacial, yoga, and many other things that would have been beneficial at the time. Now at 33, I am slowly trying to rehab certain injuries I still carry from when I was in the Corps.

    NOTE: The picture posted is of Airmen (not Marines), most likely doing breath work or meditation (not yoga).

  3. Very well written, insightful and mindful. Former Marine over here, too. At 41 all of my previous (physical and emotional) injuries came back to haunt me in a big way, opening the door for Yoga. Two years later I feel better than ever and teach, also. Look forward to reading more from you.

    I was fortunate in that while a DI I was taught a scant about meditation… wish I'd practiced more then for sure.

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