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A Few Good Yogis

A hospital corpsman uses yoga as a refuge from the rigors of military life—and sees his perspective shift.

By Andrea Kowalski

Cows and guns loom large in Guy Duffner's memories of his childhood. The son of a Montana cattle rancher, he recalls the excitement of getting his first hunting rifle when he turned 10. "I hunted with my dad's rifle as a child and had no qualms about killing things because everybody did it," he recalls.

Now a hospital corpsman in the military, Duffner says he wants nothing to do with guns. He credits the change in his attitude to his yoga practice and its emphasis on ahimsa, or nonviolence. "The more I discovered yoga, the more I began to view the world in a peaceful, loving way," he says. "I've come full circle to the ahimsic way of life."

Duffner, 26, joined the Navy four and a half years ago, but was later assigned to a Marine Corps unit. That's when the pressures of military life began to close in on him. To cope, he decided to start a regular yoga practice. It has helped him stay balanced despite having to share a tent or an 8-by-10-foot barracks room while being restricted to a military base overseas.

"In Korea, we were staying in tents, and the insects were awful. Yet somehow I managed to find a DVD player and a David Swenson DVD," says Duffner. When he was deployed in Japan, Duffner discovered Kundalini Yoga with an on-base teacher. "In Japan, I lived to go to yoga—it was my only way of escaping the oppression of military life."

Because of crowded living quarters on a base in California, Duffner had to take his chanting and early-morning meditation to the only place he could think of: the back of his car. "It was cramped, but at least it was private," he says.

While it may seem contradictory to live like a yogi and be in the military, more and more people are doing it, according to yoga teacher Tuyen Le Smith, who has taught military members based in Okinawa for the past four years. "Your life is dedicated to serving your country, so your body does not really belong to you...and you need to be whole—spirit, body, and soul—to stay sane and keep things in perspective," she says.

At Camp Pendleton in San Diego, California, the Marine Corps Community Services Semper Fit program offers six yoga classes a week. "The soldiers are asking for more as they become more familiar with it and realize its benefits," says Barbie Simon, group exercise coordinator. On 18 Marine Corps bases worldwide, an average of 461 Marines and family members attend more than 43 yoga classes per week, according to a spokesperson for the Marine Corps headquarters in Quantico, Virginia.

Yoga teacher Melinda Allen has seen a similar growth on the Marine bases in Japan. The Florida-based vinyasa instructor, who has taught on bases around the world for more than 25 years, predicts the popularity of yoga in the military will continue to grow. "I think [military students] need yoga to detox from the constant go-go-go of training," she says. "It gives them the yin to balance their yang of being in warrior mode all the time."

As for Duffner, he has recently completed a teacher training program in Kundalini Yoga at Golden Bridge, a Kundalini yoga center in Los Angeles, and his decision could have far-reaching consequences. "It is absolutely amazing what this young man is accomplishing so far in his life," says Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa, the director of Golden Bridge and one of Duffner's teachers. "He has the great opportunity, through his presence and example, to influence new thought patterns among his peers."

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Reader Comments

Yogi Veteran

It is a great idea to teach all service members Yoga to help them deal with the stresses of their difficult work. However, elected civilian leaders, not the military, decide whether or not to go to war. Ask your president and congress to practice yoga if your intention is to prevent conflict through yoga practice. While you're at it, ask them to allocate more funding for research related to yoga and meditation for active and veteran service members. Thank you. Jai Bhagwan!

Greg Bradshaw

Hi
Has anyone thought of what would happen if soldiers took Yoga before their tour of Duty? If we could infiltrate the military with heart opening Yoga there could be no wars! Men putting down their guns, feeling their inner voice that they have replaced with brain washing from someone constantly yelling at them. We need to do this!!!!

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