There’s a reason they call it a discipline. And these people don’t run from discipline.
One of the high points of my week was sitting in on a new class in downtown Naperville. Designed for people who have been in military service and the people who love them, the new Connected Warriors program at the Judd Kendall VFW post is a mighty impressive thing.
“Twists are really good,” said instructor Dana Fish, Connected Warriors’ Illinois regional coordinator. “They sort of wring you out, kind of like a sponge.”
There’s no need for Sanskrit in this free class. Straightforward and descriptive terms — Warrior pose one and two, for example — get the message across.
“When you start talking chakras with the veterans, they’re like, ‘No,’” Fish said. “I’m just calling everything down dog, or Warrior 1.”
I’ve been taking yoga classes for about a decade, which means I remain a beginner. It’s a discipline, and English terms like “practice” are best taken literally when you’re talking discipline. But I’ve spent enough time in Adho Mukha Svanasana to know it brings enormous benefit — whether you call it that, or simply down dog.
Having grown up with an old Army Air Corps pilot, I’ve seen what war sometimes can do to a guy — particularly the stoic, private sort that describes a lot of vets. Along the way, they witnessed the stunning horrors of war.
They came home, and they didn’t talk about it.
When I was a mouthy adolescent, critical of all things violent, my stepbrothers and their brothers in arms went to Southeast Asia and saw much more than their share of war’s horrors.
They came home, and they didn’t talk about it — despite the vitriol and shouts of “baby killers!” that greeted them when their feet at last touched down on home turf.
I can’t begin to know what goes on in the minds of those who have gone far from home, fully prepared to give up their lives in the name of freedom, and come home with awful, indelible images that can never be erased from their consciousness. The rest of us just don’t get it. We can’t.
But I do know that when it comes emotional funk, yoga has purifying benefits. Certainly I go to class plenty often in a crabby frame of mind, only to finish the week’s practice rejuvenated and upbeat, never regretting the decision to drag my sorry butt off the couch to go spend 90 minutes in poses that remind me where my muscles are, and how I don’t use them regularly enough.
It wasn’t a stretch to understand how yoga could do some of these old soldiers some good. Some of them even fought in the same era as that old fighter pilot who was my stepdad.
Fish said when the first class was held Oct. 23, she was surprised to see about a half dozen World War II vets among the two dozen new students. And she was pleasantly surprised by how well all of the new practitioners took to the discipline.
“A bunch of them came up to me afterward and said, ‘You made a believer out of me. I wasn’t sure about this, but I’ll be back,’” Fish said.
Jim Vahle, who served in the Army in Germany from 1967 to 1970, came back. The Naperville resident brought along his new titanium hip, and the ache in his knee that’s been there since a motorcycle wreck last summer.
“I needed to get back and work on the old joints,” said Vahle, a not-so-old 69. “I’m a Type A personality. I need to relax and let go, and I think this will definitely help with that.”
Joan Spevacek, who still lives in the Cress Creek house she moved into 58 years ago with her husband and their five kids, finds yoga a suitable replacement for the water aerobics classes she usually takes at North Central College.
“It helps me a lot,” said Spevacek, 85. “Physically, I’m a lot more stable.”
The emotional piece — well, we don’t talk about that. But the warriors appeared at peace as they left.
As is routine, Fish directed the class to follow up Svanasana — the resting pause that ends the series of poses in each class — by placing their palms together in front of their hearts, or at their foreheads, as their “third eye.”
“The light in me honors the light in all of you,” she said, giving voice to that final pose. “If you like, simply bend forward and say, ‘Namaste.’”
Couldn’t have said it better myself.
You can find out more about Connected Warriors yoga, which meets Wednesday and Saturday mornings, by emailing Fish at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call her at 630-418-0244.