It was Bhava Ram’s job to interview me recently for a two-minute video about yoga, being a military spouse, InDependent, and why I think his new organization, Warriors for Healing, is so great. Still, I came away from our conversation with one huge takeaway.
After I threw an acronym at him, he talked about how strong the military culture is, right down to our language, and how unsettling it can be to leave it. He worked on the front lines as a war correspondent and knows firsthand how dull everything becomes when you leave a high-adrenaline situation. He knows what it feels like to lose a job you love and the camaraderie that goes with it because of an injury. He knows the torture of drug and alcohol rehabilitation. But he also knows the healing that came from yoga, meditation, a healthy diet, and the love of his son. He explained that we often mistake what we do for who we are. If our identities are all wrapped up in what we do, we become lost when our circumstances change against our will.
Warriors for Healing offers veterans resources to help with PTSD, but my immediate takeaway was for military spouses.
If we are not what we do, then who are we really? What is left if you take away our roles, responsibilities, and relationships? These are really important questions for military spouses because we’re asked to transition frequently and those transitions become really painful when we have to leave people and things we love behind. With my husband potentially retiring in less than five years, I’ve started asking myself, “What happens when I’m not a military spouse anymore?” My role at InDependent entrenches me in a military spouse identity. If my husband actually retires at 20 years, my only child will go off to college shortly thereafter. I’ll have an empty nest to add to whatever post-military life we’re building.
Just as yoga and meditation can help with PTSD for veterans, these practices can also help military spouses with the stress and transition inherent in the military lifestyle. If, through self-reflection, we can get to know our true selves rather than our temporary selves, we can start to identify with something that is always ours to keep.
Gary Kraftsow, a pioneer in the transmission of yoga for health, healing, and personal transformation wrote for Yoga Journal, “When we use the yoga practice of svadhyaya—self-reflection—effectively, our actions become much more than a way to achieve something external; they become a mirror in which we can learn to see ourselves more deeply. If we are willing to look at behaviors, motivations, and strategies we habitually use to maintain our own self-image, we can use svadhyaya to pierce through the veil that this self-image creates and into the nature of our own essential being.”
So wait, what? This is definitely touchy feely, especially if you’re not into yoga philosophy, which most people aren’t. Kraftsow goes on to recommend two practical ways that you can turn off your auto-pilot and practice self-reflection. The first is to read sacred or inspirational texts from the tradition of your choice. The second is to look into the mirror of relationships, and observe how people react to us.
Even if the physical practice of yoga hasn’t become part of your life yet, finding something inspirational to read, and taking a moment to reflect on your relationships can offer you a lot of information about who you are. If you do participate in the physical practice of yoga, learning to mindfully breathe and find balance between effort and rest on the mat can help you create mind and heart space for self-reflection to happen.
If you can routinely tap into your true self, you become better able to face the challenges that will inevitably come your way.
What part of your identity is the hardest to leave behind when you PCS?