The Army Starts to Om

As part of an overhaul to Army physical fitness training, yoga is being incorporated into new training protocols intended to minimize injury and optimize physical performance, endurance, and recovery time among trainees and soldiers.  This is partially in response to research indicating the limited utility and detrimental health effects of pushing soldiers to the max in training and the field without affording adequate recovery or conditioning.

While the reasons cited for incorporating yoga into the military appear largely physical, research increasingly suggests yoga’s potential for other health concerns relevant to those in the armed services.

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Given yoga’s promise as a therapeutic intervention, The DoD has awarded a grant to explore its efficacy in treating PTSD among returning veterans, and the Walter Reed Medical Center currently offers Richard Miller’s iRest Yoga Nidra protocol to veterans suffering from PTSD.

Beyond the undisputed utility of yoga to the military, however, are potential ethical concerns.  Optimistically we can argue that yoga may foster compassion, resilience, and stress management, which could hypothetically result in less sexual harassment and assault within the military, less PTSD (and improved ability to cope with the symptoms of PTSD), and fewer reports of torture, crime and abuse.

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On the other hand, giving yoga to soldiers to turn them into more effective agents of unjust wars may be problematic.

The Bhagavad Gita, the seminal yogic scripture, speaks to this.  In the orthodox view, battle is a necessary evil, and so long as one is battling in integrity with a just cause and does so in an honorable way, for those whose dharma is the warrior caste, it’s a noble—if also irrevocably tragic–endeavor.  In the mystical view, the battle depicted in the Gita in no way condones literal battle, but refers to the conflict between one’s higher and lower self.

Many in the armed forces feel they are serving for a cause that is personally meaningful.  Rather than fall into the trap of dualistic thinking and condemn yoga in the military in the fear that it implicitly endorses war, a more inclusive perspective may be in order.

Aside from its injustice and requisite suffering, war is a reality of our world today. Yoga empowers individuals to make choices that are in integrity and alignment with their core values, rather than perpetuating the status quo.  Awakening some to the awareness that they have a choice to make a difference in the challenging circumstances of war would seem reason enough to champion its inclusion in military settings.

Do you think it is a good idea to incorporate yoga into the Army’s physical fitness training?

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