By Alicia Dill
Starting in 2013, I’ve been practicing regularly at the same hot yoga studio two to three times per week. Hot yoga gives me intensity, focus, mindfulness, and dripping heat you feel in your bones even in the dead of winter. While holding a complicated pose well past your comfort zone, you start to comprehend all those buzzwords you’ve heard tossed around. The point where you are working mind, body, and soul. Where you forget your own name and everything else that led you to the class because if you waver, you might fall down in a puddle of sweat. It’s a glorious way to exercise the warrior that needs to push to the edge and just flow. So my confession of the pandemic…I haven’t stepped foot inside a yoga studio since March 2020. That’s crazy talk!
Just writing about it, I’m aching to be back. But the other part of me says, I’m not ready. And I’m giving myself the space to be ready. To be clear, I’m all about the yoga, and the heat, but I’m not ready to practice with other people again. Because throughout the past year and some months, I’ve been in my room, exploring different yoga routines remotely, sometimes cold, never breaking a sweat or remembering to breathe deeply. A very different sort of yoga than my group sessions. And as a former soldier, it reminded me of another time in my life, transitioning out of the military into the civilian world. Here are a few ways I used my military experience to keep me motivated on my mat:
It’s a Group Thing Until It’s Not
Group exercise is common in the military. It’s part of the success as our drill sergeants build us up into the fine specimens we all are. From the very beginning of our basic training, we learn to do things together and follow instructions. Running with a cadence helped me shave five whole minutes off my two-mile run, as I was filled with the baritone of the “Hard work, work,” echoed by a band of high-speed, low-drag trainees. In yoga, that energy builds throughout the class and even when I wanted to give up, I feel the collective will of others helping me through. “Lion’s breath,” anyone? I observe others manipulate their bodies into impossible beauty, and I find a way.
When it’s just me, I’m using a pre-recorded class to try and build that energy. It’s harder to go it alone, whether running or practicing yoga. Once I started, I could keep going and I could increase the intensity if that was the right thing for me. This was the Starbucks of Yoga, where I could customize exactly what I had in me to do that day. And I did. To be clear, I had to use every ounce of what I learned with technique from my other teachers to avoid injuries at home and overdoing it. But overdoing it wasn’t usually my issue―it was half-hearted under-doing it.
I remember my instructors from my studio classes saying “Leave it all on the floor.” I was used to a puddle. Now without it, on those cold winter days, I had to remind myself of what exactly I left on the mat and I didn’t have to pick it up. In the height of the pandemic, a lot of nervous anxiety and not knowing what was next. Thank you, yoga! Just like in the transition from the Army, we may be going it alone at times, but the lessons we learned together can still carry us through. Just showing up was the hardest step for me.
Adapt to New Surroundings
Swearing in to the Army, I learned the mantra “hurry up and wait.” Closely followed by, “embrace the suck.” I did both during this past year. I specifically used the ability to adjust to my work-from-home job and maintain a daily activity schedule. This wasn’t my first rodeo working out solo with apps. Before the pandemic, I traveled a lot for work and used various apps for whatever workout I was going to do. Yoga is the perfect post-flight activity in a hotel room. I already paid for a subscription to multiple platforms because I get bored easily. But in quarantine, working out remotely every day made this much harder. I signed into studios I attended in multiple states. I did guided meditations. I worked out outside a lot.
Yoga HIIT/ Sculpt meant tiring out quickly then laying down with 15-minute savasana staring up at blue skies and the puffiest of clouds. My favorite location was the abandoned Gaga ball pit I dubbed the “Octagon” at a nearby school with a softer pad for my knees.
Yin yoga became a way to relieve the pressure on joints from my stand-up desk and the new arrangement working from home. I bought a cushion to ensure it was a studio-like experience and I could fully relax into the dull pain.
Yoga Nidra was me finding that safe place I can go to in my mind at any time with guided meditation. For those who need the mental health benefits more than anything else, this was pure rejuvenation—and I do not write that word lightly. It was beautiful restoration.
Community is Real – Virtual or Not
I wrote about how difficult it was going solo in my practice, but I wasn’t completely alone. Part of the way through the pandemic, I realized that I could start to follow some of my favorite yoga instructors on Instagram the same way I connected to my favorite veteran authors or creators. My community of yogis just opened up in the exact same way as my veteran community. As I started connecting with all their projects and free classes and meditations, I asked myself, Why hadn’t I thought of this before? My isolation in practice was an important step in understanding my own strength. But so was hearing how others were dealing with something similar when I finally connected to other yogis.
My yoga practice is a sacred thing where I connect to a very deep part of myself. Connecting to remote instructors outside of my local yoga community wasn’t something I thought of doing every day before the pandemic. With the success of connecting to other veterans, I needed this boost to grow with other virtual yoga community members―and why not with my veteran yoga community all at once? Now that’s synergy (the last buzzword, I promise!).
Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Alicia Dill, an award-winning author, Army veteran, journalist, and yoga enthusiast. Originally from Missouri, Dill joined the Iowa Army National Guard at the age of 17, right before 9/11, and flew her first mission inside a Chinook helicopter as a journalist to Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, the weekend after the Twin Towers fell. Dill then received a degree in journalism and international studies at the University of Iowa and a masters from the University of Dubuque, and served as a public affairs specialist for the Iowa Army National Guard and then a journalist for multiple Iowa newspapers. As an author, she writes thrillers that draw from her military experience and speak to the strong bonds between sisters in uniform. Her first book, Squared Away, was a 2020 International Next Generation Indie Book Award winner and a finalist for the National Indie Excellence Award, and her second, Beyond Sacrifice, will be published September 7, 2021 from Circuit Breaker Books. For more, see www.aliciadill.com.