I have served in the Navy for over 30 years. I initially enlisted as a Hospital Corpsman in the Naval Reserves and served as a drilling reservist during my senior year of high school. After graduation from the United States Naval Academy in 1991, the Navy sent me to flight school in Pensacola, Florida where I earned my Wings of Gold as a helicopter pilot and then trained to fly the Navy’s premiere Seahawk helicopter. I was sent to my first fleet squadron, HSL-45, in San Diego, California. I completed two deployments to the Arabian Gulf on small warships, with helicopter and crew serving as an extended airborne projection of the Navy weapon systems. I then served with HSL-40’s Airwolves as an instructor pilot, training newly minted helicopter pilots to fly the Seahawk. Upon completion of my instructor tour, I reported to staff duty aboard USS NIMITZ (CVN 68) and then on to the EasyRiders of HSL-37 and supported Counter Drug Interdiction Operations off the coast of Central and South America. I am currently stationed at Pearl Harbor and serve as the Commander, Navy Region Hawaii’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Officer.
Almost five years ago, I took my first hot yoga class as a reluctant beginner. Soon, I was fully committed to my hot yoga practice. The intense workout appealed to my “type A” personality, and the physical benefits were immediate and quantifiable. Plagued by chronic neck and back pain from over 2000 hours of helicopter flying, the symptoms became manageable and controllable. But those weren’t the only benefits.
Although efficient and effective from a physical perspective, yoga also created space for mindfulness, reflection and gratitude. It was such a powerful experience, I began sharing the benefits with anyone that would listen, Sailors, Marines, friends and family. When our local studio came up for sale in 2015, our family jumped at the opportunity to buy the business and have a platform for sharing on an even greater level. I became certified to teach last year, and I am now able to witness firsthand the healing that comes from the inside out as a person develops a committed yoga practice. Not only is yoga a great complement to any athletic discipline, it is energizing, empowering and calms the mind. It is, for me, a moving meditation that gives me a calm oasis in the midst of life’s challenges, and a way to constructively integrate and process difficult experiences.
I had the good fortune to meet Susan Alden, a fellow service Academy graduate, and the Executive Director of Warriors at Ease (WAE). When I fully understood the organization’s mission, I knew immediately that I wanted to get trained as a WAE teacher and provide a studio home for WAE classes and teachers to serve the Military and Veteran Community of Hawaii. I have found the purpose of Bella Kai Yoga.
As I continue to grow in my role as the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Officer, I am able to incorporate the skills and resources I am learning as a yoga teacher and advocate for Warriors at Ease. I KNOW that I am better equipped to help Survivors heal from PTSD and Military Sexual Trauma, and even more equipped to provide support and self-care to the professionals that support Survivors on a daily basis.
I’m never going to be on the cover of a yoga magazine holding a perfect pose, but when I’m practicing regularly I feel better. I know I’m a better wife, mother and leader. It’s not about being perfect, it’s about being the best I can be. That’s what I want to share.
Hillary Darby is a member of the United States Navy. Use of her military rank, position, and job title does not imply endorsement by the Department of the Navy or the Department of Defense.