October is when the Navy celebrates its birthday! In honor of that, we wanted to share stories from the Navy members in our tribe on their experiences as service members, yogis and teachers. Below Charity Haney shares her story about how yoga transformed her life and why she shares these practices with others today.
I never practiced yoga while growing up in western New York, nor while attending college at James Madison University. In fact, I was raised with the mindset that yoga was for “hippy types,” people with a very chill demeanor and that flexibility was a prerequisite…none of which resonated with me. I was brought up with the “work hard and then work harder” mindset. As a musician, I was told “practice makes perfect” and to get there I needed to lock myself in a room alone in order to learn the great skill of figuring out what was wrong with myself and how to correct it. Although this may seem like a very black and white statement, it became my truth. I always felt like there was something wrong in me that needed correcting and I lived in a state of never good enough. This theme ran my life for many years and at times still does! But yoga has served as my tool to embrace me of the present moment and get me back to accepting my perfectly imperfect self.
After high school I went to James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia to continue my love of music. I received my Bachelor’s in Music Education and was ready to get to work! Unfortunately when I graduated, there weren’t many places hiring so I did whatever I could to pay rent and feed myself. I taught private music lessons four nights a week; I worked as a nanny from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday; I worked at a pizza place on the weekends. One weekend, while working at the pizza shop, one of my music students came in. She was one of my best students and we previously discussed during her lessons about her interest in pursuing music after high school and the opportunities available for professional musicians. But here she saw me — with a degree — having to work in a pizza shop to make ends meet. I realized I wanted to be a better example for my students than that. Very soon thereafter I joined the Navy as a musician in order to live out that example and to pursue my life long love of performing music.
My first experience with yoga was at my second duty station in 2001. It was just under four years since I joined the Navy, had a son that was seven months old and a marriage that nine months old, and failing. A wonderful friend and co-worker of mine, Kelly, kept talking about how I should go to yoga with her. I thought privately to myself, “Oh sure, you’re beautiful and flexible so I’m sure yoga is great for you. Me? I have a flabby baby belly, can’t sit still, and what mom would leave her child in daycare so that she could do yoga?” I believed I was far from the cover of Yoga Journal and flaming my never good enough fire. However, I knew my life needed something. I knew I wanted all of those things she told me about yoga.
So, I went and…it was awful! Haha! I’m sure the class was great but I could not escape my thoughts. It didn’t help that it was so insanely quiet except for my body that was like a drum line giving a full performance! Each twist was snap, crackle, pop. During Savasana, I was so scared about falling asleep and making more noise that I remember going through lists in my head so I could stay awake. Despite this seemingly traumatic yoga experience, I still felt more relaxed at the end than I had ever felt. I remember telling my friend that maybe I needed a cab to get home because I wasn’t sure if I should be driving. I decided that being that relaxed was not worth the horrible experience (that I put myself through) and that was the last time I went to yoga until 2012.
In 2010, I was working at Recruit Training Command — the Navy’s only bootcamp. I absolutely loved my job. The hours were long, I was to hold myself to the highest standards, and the job itself was difficult but rewarding. My “not good enough” lie pushed me to strive for perfection at an all-time high rate. In my personal life, my husband and I were finally filing for divorce, I made bad choices and had trouble at work. Things became extra ugly when my ex-husband surprised me and requested for custody of our children after I received orders to move. He was given custody, due to my being in the military and the possibility of me being deployed. I PCSed to Florida a broken, lonely, and severely depressed human being in 2011. However, as anyone that has served in the senior enlisted military community knows, you’re expected to “suck it up” because there’s always a Sailor in need of your assistance.
It was about this time that Kelly decided to come visit me. I was so excited. Someone to help me ignore my life. “Can you find a yoga class we can go to?” she asked during a planning conversation. “UGH!!! Why this yoga thing again?” I thought to myself. I reluctantly searched and found a studio nearby. The morning of the class we woke up, her in excitement and me in a state of worry about not being good enough to attend this class. But wow, this class kicked my ass! It was a Baptiste Power Yoga practice. The teacher looked “normal,” she was welcoming, and the students had fun and even laughed at times. I loved being put so into my body that I didn’t even realize that I had gotten out of my head and was able to lay in Savasana without moving or running through lists in my mind. Despite this great experience, I still didn’t plan to return to the studio until Kelly purchased me a pass for my birthday for an unlimited three months.
I’d like to say this gift 100 percent changed my perspective on yoga, but it took time to break down the barriers I put up through my life. I consistently started going to yoga but didn’t want to talk to others. I just wanted to be on my mat. The manager, who I met before my first class at the studio, kept hounding me about teacher training; instead I signed up for every workshop I could. I began to notice significant changes off my mat. I began smiling; I wanted to talk to people; I enjoyed Savasana and the slow, quiet parts of the practice more and more. At work, I felt less reactive and began tapping into my breath to calm and ground me prior to discussions with personnel and performances. I began to get quieter inside but the military environment which enveloped me was still extremely stressful and loud. It became my practice to stay “calm in the storm.” Some days I flat out failed, but I kept coming back to this gift of yoga that I knew would bring me back to my peace. I knew then that I couldn’t keep this gift to myself and that I wanted to share the tools of yoga with my military family.
I started teacher training in 2015 and began a class once a week at my command. It was incredibly well-received and what I witnessed were miracles in front of my eyes. Sailors would come in upset and in a reactive state, find stillness, and would communicate slower, quieter and with more authenticity after a class. I saw fear dwindle away as Sailors willingly stepped out of their comfort zones and tried poses. I saw Sailors who didn’t feel like they had choices come into Child’s Pose when they needed to, no matter what others were doing around them. And I began to see changes in these Sailors off their mats as well. When there wasn’t enough time for a full yoga practice, we did meditation. I began to notice that I was not as fearful of making mistakes or being seen as not perfect or not being good enough to others. Instead, I wanted to be vulnerable and let my imperfections lead me to new discoveries about myself in hopes that others would be willing to be vulnerable in their lives too.
I chose to retire from the Navy in 2018 to continue my journey towards bringing yoga to others and staying more in alignment with my life’s passion. It was a scary decision, but each and every day I believe it was the most courageous one I’ve ever made in my life. This fear, I found, was actually the lie of my not being good enough creeping in; “the work hard, then work harder” tape playing out. I had the courage to break the cycle and step into my future because of the tools of yoga and how they have been planted throughout my life. I am so grateful for that first yoga class that I hated and for a true Shipmate and friend that didn’t give up on me! Happy Birthday U.S. Navy! Anchor’s Aweigh!
My family recently relocated back to Jacksonville, Florida where my husband is finishing his time in the Navy as training Master Chief at VP-30. I’m teaching yoga at an inpatient drug and alcohol rehab center for legally blind veterans at the VA clinic, and am in the process of starting to teach classes at the women’s VA clinic and WAE classes. Ironically, life threw me a curve ball last week and I had an emergency low back surgery. If it wasn’t for the breath work and mindfulness practices I know, I would not be recovering as well with such an optimistic outlook! I look forward to sharing and growing in this area!
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