May 21, 2009

The Major, the yoga, and the truth via Deborah Bernstein.

The ABC News crew, lead by Bob Woodruff, descended upon Florian Yoga Retreat in the Virgin Islands to tell the story of six recently disabled troopers.  Mr. Woodruff covered the story of the men’s physical rehabilitation through SCUBA diving.  But there is another story to be told.  It is the story of finding wholeness, even when your body has radically changed.

Three months ago, Rick Kelley’s (not his real name) doctors told him he had a 10% chance of walking again after a parachute jump went awry and left his spine and pelvis shattered.  Rick beat the odds, and today he walks with the assistance of a cane.

Some might label his recovery the product of ground-breaking spinal surgery and meticulously executed physical therapy.  It certainly is.  It is also much more.  Rick’s recovery is also about what yogis refer to as sarvata, experiencing wholeness.  For Rick, this meant realizing a sense of completeness, even in a new body that looks and functions quite differently than it did three months earlier.

Florian Yoga Retreat donated accommodations so that Rick and five other severely wounded troopers could expand their rehabilitation beyond the walls of Walter Reed Army Medical Center.  The official reason for the trip was for the troopers to complete their SCUBA certification.

The owners, Deborah (yours truly)–a corporate executive turned yoga teacher, and Scott–a Fire Captain in Boston and a Marine Corps veteran, raised the funds for the trip as a way to thank the troopers for their service to the country. Scott and I couldn’t help but wonder if the universe brought these six resilient men to St. John for another reason…to remind us of several profound yogic truths.

Throughout the week’s SCUBA activities, I interspersed optional yoga sessions for the troopers. Having worked extensively with beginner yoga students, introducing anyone to yoga is an honor and a responsibility.  Introducing Rick Kelley to yoga was a blessing for me, and the experience with Rick brought me back to truths that can be easily forgotten in our everyday lives:

• Wholeness is a state of mind, not body.
• Our bodies and souls can overcome nearly any trauma.
• Events and circumstances change our path but not our souls.
• No one is immune from extreme positive or negative events.
• All we have is this moment.
• The only constant is change.
• There are better and worse days ahead.
• Perspective is a useful state of mind.

During his yoga practice with me, Major Rick moved his spine ever-so-gently in easy twisting movements; he lay on his back bending and straightening his partially paralyzed legs in the air, moving with his breath; he practiced sphinx; and he took a long deep-relaxation with a lavender eye pillow. His body and his mind went places and came back to places they’d never been, or hadn’t been for a while.

It didn’t matter what brand of mat he was lying on, what “type” of yoga he did, or whether he was wearing the latest men’s shorts style for practicing yoga in the Caribbean.  In fact, it didn’t matter that the weather was 78 and sunny and that there was a beautiful view of St. Thomas and the deep blue water.

What did matter was that Major Kelley, who served our country for 13 years, opened his mind…and that his body and his mind (he later told me) felt complete….for just a few moments during that yoga practice.

Deborah’s recently released the book, Yoga in America: Passion, Diversity and Enlightenment–In the Words of Some of Yoga’s Most Ardent Teachers, tells 46 stories of how yoga empowers our lives, makes us laugh and heals our wounds.  Proceeds from Yoga in America help send wounded troopers and families of fallen firefighters to Florian Yoga Retreat Center, St. John, Virgin Islands.  More of Deborah’s musings at http://florianyoga.blogspot.com and email [email protected].

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