There are over 1.5 million people in the U.S. military and millions of spouses, children, and families that support them. As a military spouse myself, I’ve put together these 10 tips to help yoga teachers understand the basics for teaching a yoga class to active duty military and their families.
- Have a Goal
Much of the military life revolves around setting and achieving goals. You don't have to verbally
state your goal(s) of class but having one will keep the military members engaged and
interested in yoga. The goal can be mental—such as keeping focused or
letting go—or It can be a physical goal like a peak pose or a deep stretch.
- Timing is Everything
The military runs on a 24-hour clock and wakes up early. Don’t be surprised if you’re asked to teach a class starting at 0545 (5:45 a.m.). Since timing is so crucial, be extra careful with how you schedule yourself and keep track of time. Don’t mistake a 1400 class for 4:00 p.m.—it’s actually 2:00 p.m. Moreover, if you’re on time, you’re late! Be early (by at least 10 minutes or more depending on the situation) and always end your class on time.
- Know Their Strengths
Members of the military are often required to complete physical fitness tests (PFTs) that involve running, sit-ups, and push ups. They practice these activities regularly, which leads to tight hamstrings, quadriceps, hip abductors, abdominals, chest muscles, and triceps. Poses that open these muscles can help lead to better day-to-day comfort for the active duty military member.
- Challenge Them
Members of the military is always looking to improve, so be sure to challenge them in your class. You’re not their drill instructor, so you don’t have to try to break them, but give them something to work towards within their reach. Something as simple as touching their toes might be a good place to start.
- Props? What Props?!
If you find yourself teaching on a military facility, whether you're teaching in a gym or out on a field, you might have limited access to props (and sometimes mats). Some military facilities have blocks and straps, while others only have a small number of mats. Be prepared and plan a class
that requires few or no props.
- Ask Permission
Past trauma is one reason why a person may not be open to hands on assists. Military members are broken down and built up during their basic training. Every military member has basic training under their belt, others have special trainings, and many have real life trauma from deployments. It’s common practice to ask for permission in some way before performing any hands on assisting in a regular yoga class, but it’s even more important to be extra cautious (or possibly refrain from) performing hands on adjustments when working with the military.
- Keep it Light
Just like many civilians, the military member might be going to yoga to get away from something. They could be running away from their traumas, tight muscles, or maybe just their chairs. You don’t know what they're trying to leave, and with all the mental heaviness of the job, try to keep the focus of the class on the lighter side. Give them the tools of yoga to help them navigate any murky waters they may run into on or off the mat.
- Help Them Find an Escape
The active duty military member is on-call 24/7. Sometimes they have normal work days, other times they find themselves working overtime (without extra pay) until the job is done. Those who go to yoga get to escape the intensity they find at work, and sometimes they walk away with tools to help them deal with the extreme stresses that come with their job.
- Don't Forget About Family
As much as the active duty member needs yoga, so does the family. Military families often move around every 2 to 3 years, uprooting the spouses and children from their communities, forcing them to start all over again in a new location. Yoga can give families of military members tools to help them cope with their “norm” in life and find resiliency.
- Get Involved
If a military base is fortunate enough to have a yoga instructor, it’s more than likely a spouse of a military member. As the military member moves every 2-3 years so does the spouse that teaches yoga. Many bases are without yoga classes (free or paid).
If you would like to help out, contact your local military base gym, USO, Morale, Welfare, and Recreation facility director (MWR), or Recreation Center. Let them know what you would like to do, and they will get you in contact with the correct person. If you’re friends with someone in the armed services, ask them if you can lead their squadron through yoga during group physical training (PT). They are more than likely looking to switch it up and give the regular PT leaders a little break. Lastly, you can get involved through the few nonprofits trying to get military members and their families access to free yoga.
This deserving group of men and women need your help. Get involved! No matter how you choose to help military members and their families, your work will not go unnoticed.
Jennifer Bell, E-RYT 200, is a former military spouse with over 8 years of teaching to active duty military and family members. She is one of the recipients of Yoga Alliance Foundation’s Advanced Training Scholarship in 2016. Currently, Jennifer is teaching yoga in the Raleigh/Durham/Triangle area.