Yoga in combat boots

EVE CONANT is a freelance writer.

YOGA MAGAZINES seldom fail to offer a glossy dive into the sandalwood-scented world of downward-facing dog poses, toned bodies and organic tank tops. But the August edition of Fit Yoga magazine is an exception. Turn to Page 6 and you’ll see a pair of mildly euphoric U.S. naval aviators on the deck of an aircraft carrier doing their yoga practice in full uniform. There are no yoga mats in sight, only combat boots, survival flashlights and helmets. And, yes, you guessed it, they are doing the warrior pose.

Don’t ask, don’t tantra -- but there are yogis sneaking into the military. According to Fit Yoga and the Associated Press, yoga is becoming increasingly popular among soldiers eager to improve their stamina, flexibility and mental focus.

Conventional wisdom has it that war and yoga don’t mix. There’s a reason Hollywood has never bankrolled titles such as “Yoga Is Hell,” “Full Metal Stretch Pants” or “The Bridge Pose on the River Kwai.” But maybe it’s time to reconsider.

Being from the camouflage-free zone known as Berkeley, I witnessed my first yoga poses before I could walk. But my strongest memories are of high school, when my stepmother and I would sun-salute our way through the Raquel Welch yoga video. Raquel, in her skimpy leotard, was encouraging. She seemed to reach through the screen to tell me that my braces, permed hair and shoulder acne would soon be obliterated by my total radiance.


Better skin may not be a lofty aim, and perhaps this is a good time to admit I own a not-very-spiritual video titled “Yoga Butt” (you gotta try it). It’s easy to snicker at the holier-than-thou $20-a-class yoga heads who drive SUVs en route to nirvana. But most people, myself included, leave a yoga session genuinely wanting to be a better person.

So I cannot help but proselytize. I believe large sectors of American society, including soldiers, could benefit from the ancient Hindu tradition and should not be left out in the kundalini-deprived cold. (For the uninitiated, kundalini is the energy that lies dormant at the base of the spine and is said to be activated by yoga.)

Yoga could really help predatory tow-truck drivers; maybe they could start with something familiar, like the locust pose. Or debt collectors, especially that woman on the phone who kept hounding my mom about the Victoria’s Secret bra she had returned. In particular, I’d like to sign up some of the folks at my health insurance company who chirpily insist that a medical procedure that costs $500 anywhere in the modern world is really only worth $75, and that’s all they’re going to pony up. Aggressive drivers and tailgaters might try the wind-relieving pose, which closely resembles an appendicitis attack -- on your back with your arms clutching your knees -- but feels much nicer.

Yoga is hip, and not a moment too soon. Rita Trieger, editor in chief of Fit Yoga, says the days when yoga was just for “crunchy granola types” are long over. Her New York classes even attract Wall Street types, for whom the most challenging pose is savasannah -- lying on the floor, eyes closed, letting all that bad energy just driiiiift away.


“Wall Streeters can’t be still for five minutes; I always catch them with their eyes open,” she sighs. I asked Trieger if she thought yogic salvation awaited the dinner-dialing telemarketers and phone-throwing celebrities in our midst. She was intrigued by the challenge and convinced that yoga might help them “approach their work with more loving kindness.”

Teens should be sentenced to mandatory yoga too, the better to lower the toxic levels of hormones and negative parental energies in their bloodstreams. Director David Lynch has already taken up that cause, albeit in a more tender form. The brain behind “Twin Peaks” and “Mullholland Drive” has created a foundation dedicated to bringing free transcendental meditation instruction to inner-city schools. TM is even supposed to improve SAT scores.

Most people already have a kid, a spouse or other dear pest who has tried, perhaps unsuccessfully, to convert them to yoga practice. And here comes the pitch again, during your quiet moment with the Op-Ed page. If you’re rolling your eyes, consider taking a step further into a lion pose by also sticking out your tongue and exhaling deeply. It’s good for clenched jaws and teeth grinders. And it combats a slew of health problems from cardiovascular disease to depression and even the side effects of chemotherapy. So it isn’t surprising that soldiers are doing yoga. The question is why more people aren’t.