How Yoga Saved My Sanity During Deployment

In May 2011, my husband and I moved to Germany. I had always wanted to live in Europe, so this assignment was a dream come true. My husband was scheduled to deploy that July, but I imagined I’d be OK. We’d find a home in a quaint village where we’d settle in before he left. I’d walk or take the train everywhere. My friends would live close enough for frequent visits. I’d learn German, find a job, and the deployment would fly by.

Reality was far from the dream. Upon arrival, we lived in Army lodging for a month because there was no housing available. Finally, we ended up in a home 45 minutes from post. We moved in on July 1, and my husband deployed two weeks later. I quickly realized that our village was quaint, but it didn’t have a nearby train and there wasn’t a market within walking distance. The road to post was a borderline deathtrap. With nothing to fill my days, I took up running for the rest of the summer and found a volunteer opportunity.

Once winter arrived, my inner southern belle emerged and I lost motivation to go out in the bitter weather. The drive to post became even more dangerous, so I volunteered less. The gloomy days with no human interaction became a breeding ground for depression.

I had to do something to keep my mind off of the nagging loneliness. So I turned to a 10-minute stress-relief yoga podcast my friend had sent me. I had never practiced yoga before and was far from flexible. But, those 10 minutes slowly multiplied. By the time my husband returned, I was spending over an hour a day practicing.

That simple podcast helped me begin a practice that kept me sane during that deployment. Four key points emerged that kept me from going crazy during that lonely winter.

1. I began to focus on the moment.

I’m a planner. I like knowing what’s next, which is impossible in military life. Yoga encourages focusing on the moment. It allowed me to turn off that nagging voice telling me to worry about my spouse, how much I missed my family, and how lonely I felt. I struggled at first, but it wasn’t long before I could tune out during practice. It was liberating.

2. I started making small goals.

I had always defined being strong by being able to run fast and lift weights. I learned during deployment that strength could also be defined as being able to hold a challenging pose. I would watch my podcasts and think, “I can’t do that now, but I WILL someday.” It gave me a reason to get out of bed in the morning. I had a goal, and I needed practice to achieve it. The high I felt when I first achieved crow pose was overwhelming.

3. I learned that if you work hard, you’ll get results.

When I greeted my husband at his redeployment ceremony, I remember him commenting, “You look so great!” That wasn’t a shallow pleasantry. He knew how hard it was for me to practice daily despite the overwhelming desire to hibernate while he was gone.

4. I couldn't make excuses.

What could I have used as a legitimate excuse to not work out? I didn’t have any children. I didn’t have a job. I didn’t have to leave the house. I didn’t even need to change out of my pajamas. No matter how hard I tried to create one, there was simply no excuse I could conjure up to not do yoga.

In the 18 months since that deployment, I’ve mixed my routine up because I now have daily access to a gym and have moved closer to base. But I still always come back to yoga because it works for me. It perks me up when I’m depressed, and it keeps me calm during times of anxiety. In the end, it doesn’t have to be yoga to get you through a tough time. The key is making the commitment to yourself that you will find a way to keep moving forward, no matter what.

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