My time spent as an active duty soldier was brief but memorable. During the five years I was in the Army, I moved through my days at a rapid pace, spending time at six different locations for training and temporary duty assignments (TDY). I also deployed twice, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (Uzbekistan) as well as Operation Iraqi Freedom (Kuwait/Iraq)
My first duty assignment was with the 86th Combat Support Hospital in Fort Campbell, KY. Their motto was “Rendezvous with Destiny.” Just months after I arrived at Fort Campbell, I left for Uzbekistan to join members of my unit who were already deployed.
Not long after returning from this first deployment, our unit was soon on orders again for our next “Rendezvous with Destiny.” This time we would be deployed to Kuwait and moving forward into Iraq. My moments of “stillness” on the home-front in between combat deployments were filled with intense training and temporary duty assignments.
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment when I realized my body was breaking. Even the ability to process that possibility was difficult, given I was only 24. Looking back, I see that doing so much, so fast and so hard — without proper knowledge or self-awareness of my personal limitations — was part of the problem.
However, there I was, unable to continue doing my job due to a variety of injuries that progressively that worsened with each day. I stayed consistent with several different forms of treatment. Throughout that time I acquired a long list of medical diagnoses that included injuries to my lower back and right shoulder — both of which were a constant source of pain.
I began to see my injuries overpowering me, and I struggled to hold onto my true self as I altered my everyday activities just to accommodate my injuries. In 2004 I was medically released from the Army and began my life as a civilian once again. The next ten years were dictated by my injuries. Moments and movement guided by my limitations. I was turning 35, and my injuries evolved to the point of surgical intervention. I had spent years altering my way of life, in several different medical treatment programs with the VA, and still surgery was my only option.
During my recovery period I was walking with the aide of a walker and trying to get back to some state of normal when I paused and said to myself, “This can not be my next ten years.” I started looking for alternative forms of treatment and soon found there was a better way to heal mind, body and soul.
A friend invited me to an intro yoga special at JTown Hot Yoga in Pennsylvania. It made me happy to discover the Founder, Stephanie Weinstein, was also a veteran. Her studio is based on the hatha style of yoga and it was there I found my practice and way to heal.
From JTown Hot Yoga:
“Yoga as a western practice has mostly been understood by the public as stretching for flexible people. It is now starting to be seen as a therapeutic practice, focusing on balance of mind and body. As we begin to expand range of motion in the body, it is reflected in mental growth, aiding in the healing of physical injury and/or PTSD recovery. As a veteran (National Guard), I am glad to see our military begin to embrace the practice as it was meant to be utilized. The benefits that can be gained by our active duty, veterans and family members are immeasurable. The impact of this methodology has yet to be fully realized.”
– Stephanie Weinstein, JTown Hot Yoga in Pennsylvania
I currently work at Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu, Hawaii. My days are spent alongside active duty members, veterans and civilians. Before leaving Pennsylvania, I asked Stephanie to help me find studios similar to hers. I was happy to discover Bella Kai Yoga in Kailua, Hawaii, a Warriors at Ease affiliate studio owned by a member of the military, Hillary Darby who is active duty Navy. Today I not only practice yoga, but I have become a certified yoga teacher. I attended 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training through VETOGA and also Warriors at Ease Advanced Teacher Training.
Much of my work in the veteran community is through The Mission Continues, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering veterans who are in transition to find a new sense of purpose through community impact. I am the leader for the Honolulu 1st Service Platoon and our focus is to support youth development as well as community cleanup and beautification.
I hope my story serves to inspire anyone traveling down a similar path of injury and pain to try yoga and to connect with veteran service organizations such as Warriors at Ease, VETOGA and The Mission Continues.
Christina Finley, United States Army Veteran
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