Four Ways Yoga Saved My Sanity During Deployment

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Four Ways Yoga Saved My Sanity During DeploymentIn May 2011, my husband and I moved to Germany.  I’d always wanted to live in Europe so the assignment seemed like a dream come true.  My husband was scheduled to deploy two months later, but imagined I’d be okay.  We’d find a home in a quaint German town close to post where we’d settle in before he left. I’d be able to walk everywhere or take the train.  My new friends would be close enough for impromptu visits. I’d learn the language, find a job, and the deployment would just fly by. 

What actually happened was far from the dream. When we arrived in Schweinfurt, we ended up living in Army lodging for a full month because there was no housing available for us.  We weren’t eligible for on-post housing, and the off-post options got slimmer with every housing office visit. We were so desperate to find a house before my husband deployed that we ended up settling on a home 45 minutes from post down a long two-lane highway.  It was our only real option. We moved in on the 1st, and my husband deployed on the 14th.  Our household goods arrived the week after my husband left. I also quickly realized that while our new village was quaint, it didn’t have everything I imagined it would.  There was no nearby train and no market within walking distance.  The two-lane road to post was a borderline deathtrap, and every trip was a stressful ordeal. With nothing to fill my days, I took up running for the rest of the summer and found a volunteer opportunity on post.

Once the temperatures dropped, my inner southern belle came out and I lost motivation to go out in the bitter German weather.  The drive to post became even more dangerous with the turning seasons, so I volunteered less.  The short, gloomy days, filled with no interaction other than with my dog, Bear, became a breeding ground for depression.

I knew I had to do something to keep my mind off of the sadness and sense of loneliness that were threatening to overtake my mind.  So, I turned to a 10-minute stress-relief yoga podcast my friend had sent me before we moved.  I had never really practiced yoga before and I was far from flexible. But, those first 10 minutes slowly turned into 20 minutes, which turned into 30 minutes.  By the time my husband returned, I was spending over an hour a day practicing.

That simple 10-minute yoga podcast helped me begin a practice that kept me sane during that 11-month deployment.  Four key points emerged that kept me from going crazy during those lonely, cold months.

1. Focus on the moment.

I’m a planner. I like knowing what is around the corner, which completely goes against the nature of military life.  The very essence of yoga encourages clearing the mind and focusing on the here and now.  This focus allowed me to turn off that nagging voice telling me to worry about my spouse being in harm’s way, how much I missed my family, and how lonely I felt.  It was a struggle at first, but it wasn’t long before my yoga practice turned into a time when I could just sit and tune out the stresses of the world.  It was liberating.

2. Make small goals.

I’m not naturally flexible.  I had always defined being strong by being able to run fast and lift weights, not by being able to twist in a certain way. But, I also learned during that deployment that strength could also be defined as being able to hold a challenging or slightly uncomfortable pose and sustain it unassisted. I would watch my podcasts and think, “I can’t do that pose now, but I WILL be able to do that pose.”  It gave me a reason to get out of bed in the morning – I had a goal, and I needed to practice to achieve it. The sense of achievement I felt when I first achieved crow pose, a challenging arm balance, was almost overwhelming.

3. If you work hard enough you’ll get results.

When I greeted my husband at his redeployment ceremony, I remember him commenting, “you look so great.”  This wasn’t an automatic statement, and it wasn’t only said because he hadn’t seen me in six months. He knew how much time I was spending on yoga and how hard I was working to stay active despite the overwhelming desire to hibernate during the 11 months he was gone. I made sure that each day, no matter what, I would get my practice in.  Rolling out my mat for a few minutes every day was a challenge at first, but in the end, I relished the hour or more that I put in.

4. No excuses.

What on earth could I have used as a legitimate excuse to not work out?  I didn’t have any children. I didn’t have a job.  I didn’t have to leave the house.  I didn’t even need to change out of my pajamas.  No matter how hard I tried to create one, there was simply no excuse I could conjure up to not do yoga.

In the 18 months since that deployment, I’ve mixed my routine up a bit, having moved closer to post with daily access to a gym.  But, I still always come back to yoga.  It’s an exercise that works for me no matter how I’m feeling.  It perks me up when I’m depressed, and it brings me needed calm during times of anxiety. In the end, it doesn’t have to be yoga to get you through a tough time.  The key is making the commitment to yourself that you will find a way to keep moving forward, no matter what.

What activity has gotten you through deployments?