5 March 2019

Warrior Pose : Building Readiness through Resilience—Yoga and Meditation

Ajit Joshi

The rigors of military service create unique stressors on uniformed Service members and their families. Better mental, spiritual, emotional, behavioral, and physical health may reduce violence and aggression, which can be unhealthy outlets for accumulated stress. Harvard Medical School yoga researcher Dr. Sat Bir Singh Khalsa suggests that yoga and meditation change the perception of what is stressful—the indicators for measuring that are improved emotional and stress reactivity as a function of increased resilience.1 Yoga is one tool, among others, for increasing resilience and readiness. United States Army Captain Enrique Incle observes: Yoga has been a tremendous source of strength to me. It has enabled me to obtain inner peace, and control the memories which caused me anxiety for many years. Yoga is a tool for injury prevention, rehabilitation, and health promotion, and it needs to be championed because our Soldiers deserve every chance to continue to serve and stay in the fight. 

I was once a skeptic, but now I’m proof of its effectiveness and restorative properties. In the near future, I hope that yoga is implemented on a broader scale across our military formations.2 Incle’s moving testimonial suggests that yoga, systematic relaxation, meditation, and breathfocused mindfulness programs can improve even a skeptic’s individual resilience and bolster enterprise-level readiness, if such programs are adequately supported. It is time for senior leaders to institutionalize, amplify, and elevate the importance of a set of evidence-based tools (yoga, systematic relaxation, and meditation, which rely on active use of the breath) for improved readiness, resilience, and comprehensive fitness in the joint force. This paper provides analysis through four focus areas: (1) the yogic toolbox, (2) current program structure and policy architecture, (3) the evidence base, and (4) an evaluation of arguments in favor and opposed to programmatic interventions. The final section addresses five common arguments: lack of time, increased cost, unwilling participants, concern about yoga’s “Eastern” origins, and structure. It concludes with recommended organizational cultural changes to improve resiliency programs and implementation guidance for those reforms.

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