Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
Last week, I had an experience speaking with an individual who truly made an impression on me. Nicholas Caris is a registered yoga teacher and a Marine veteran who completed three tours of duty in Iraq, South America, and Afghanistan. When the Live Be Yoga Tour first met him, his warm smile seemed so natural, so calm. We spent our time setting up the cameras, lights, and set for our interviews at Yogani Studios in Tampa, Florida, while Nick waited patiently in the lobby. We knew he had experienced some unbelievable events while he was in active service, but it wasn’t until we spoke to him about yoga that everything became clear.
Nick has an energy about him that is inviting and quiet, but his humble attitude is what eventually melted my heart. He was honorably discharged in 2011 and when he returned to the United States, Nick shared that drinking was the only way he could fall asleep at night. He had begun to suffer from intense physical problems that exhibited Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms. Yogani Studios founder Annie Okerlin ran into Nick at Jet City Espresso in Tampa one day, and soon developed a friendship with him that would change his life forever. She was the individual who ushered Nick to his second and third yoga class. He jokes that his first class wasn’t too fun for him, and laughs thinking about how much his impression of yoga has changed since then. Annie shared with me that Nick was in such a difficult place before yoga that he used to sleep with two pistols under his pillow in order to feel secure. These were images that I couldn’t comprehend, given Nick’s soothing energy. Nick is such an amazing man and imagining him serving our country only to come back and suffer made me cringe. Yet soon after Nick began practicing yoga regularly, his physical ability increased, his mind calmed, and his habits changed. Nick said the first time he realized just how significantly yoga was changing his life was when he could simply fall asleep at night.
What affected me the most about this stop on our tour is that veterans like Nick are in more places that we’d think. We never forget their service, but Nick’s story made me ask the question, “What about the rest of them? Where are these veterans and wounded warriors today?” Luckily, inspirational yoga teachers like Annie are creating yoga organizations like the Exalted Warrior Foundation. This non-profit organization facilitates an adaptive yoga program that is designed for wounded warriors in the active military, veteran hospital facilities, and veterans living in communities around the country. She even brought the yoga program to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Nick is now a yoga teacher through the Exalted Warrior Foundation, where he can extend his already selfless heart to others suffering from similar struggles. Now our mission as a country is to share yoga with the rest of those who have served and are serving. It’s our job as yoga practitioners to help anyone we can, so let’s do this.
Want to follow us on the best yoga tour ever? Visit us on Facebook @LIVEBEYOGA, Instagram @LIVEBEYOGA and Twitter @LIVEBEYOGA for the latest stories from the road. Connect with us @YogaJournal and @Gaia + share your photos with #LIVEBEYOGA.