ALEXANDRIA, Va. — In a quiet room in Old Town Alexandria the students sit quietly on mats, facing an altar with mala beads and a meditation singing bowl. For the next eleven days they will spend most of their waking hours together, bonding as they go through rigorous training to become yoga teachers.
It might be any teacher training program in this yoga-obsessed metropolitan area, but look at the students snap to when the teacher says, “Eyes front.” See how the guest lecturer’s “Morning, everyone,” elicits a reflexive, synchronized “Morning, sir!” And who are those dogs sitting along the periphery, one starting to whine as she senses elevated cortisol levels in her owner.
Welcome to VETOGA, a program that instructs military veterans from around the country on how to become yoga teachers and, in turn, teach other veterans how to salute the sun.
The program was developed by Justin Blazejewski, 38, who has spent most of his adult life in combat zones, first as a Marine and then as a civilian government contractor. After more than 40 trips to Afghanistan and Iraq, he was hobbled by injuries and living in perpetual fight or flight mode.
“My parasympathetic nervous system, the one that allows you to rest and relax, wasn’t in action since 1998,” he recalled.
Then, in 2008, he took a yoga class.
“I physically felt my body let go for the first time. I didn’t realize I was holding that tension until I did yoga. My brain turned off and the rest of my body started letting go.” Afterward, he walked out and said, “I want more of this.”
As he continued to go overseas, where…
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