Killer Yoga 060623

Killer Yoga

Why yoga is being practiced in the armed forces. By Diane Ashfield

Being a yoga teacher, I'm naturally drawn to any articles featuring yoga in the national press – I cut them out and keep them for future reference (that's just the way I am!). Some of these articles feature cutesy animals in various poses, sometimes they portray yogis as weird woo-woo eco-warriors or mention how King Charles prefers to do yoga with a Scottish teacher wearing a kilt! The majority of articles I cut out and file away describe the benefits of yoga and how a regular practice can help to alleviate certain illnesses as well as keep the body supple and the mind peaceful. Any article which promotes yoga is fantastic, however, the latest newspaper commentary I read had me feeling happy but also angry at the same time.

This particular article was entitled "Who Bends Wins!" and described how British armed forces (including the SAS) were turning to yoga breathing techniques to help them train to become better assassins. Indeed I was elated to hear that yoga is beneficial in coping with the sheer physical and mental exhaustion as well as Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) that soldiers experience during their time in training and combat, but using yoga to become an efficient sniper? I wasn't sure what to think.

Of course, we have to put ourselves in the situation of the soldier – it's either kill or be killed. Working with Pranayama (breath control) helps troops to lower their heart rate and steady their trigger finger – increasing their shooting accuracy. Meditation coupled with breath work also helps to soothe the nervous system when they come off the battlefield, bringing them into a more peaceful state of mind. But this particular newspaper article classified yoga as a "new age" routine and breathing practice. Really?

Certainly, warfare goes against the yogi concept of 'Ahimsa' – meaning non-violence, but practicing yoga on the frontline is definitely not a 21st Century concept. In The Bhagavad Gita (an ancient 2,000-year-old Indian scripture) Prince Arjuna deliberates going into battle to slaughter the cousins he grew up with. His trusted friend and charioteer Krishna guides Arjuna through the wisdom of yoga to engage in detachment of the senses and honour his duties by seeking self-mastery and inner peace. Through yoga and Krishna's teachings, Arjuna discovers what it means to be human as well as the true nature and workings of the universe.

It's great to hear that our armed forces are now open to the idea of meditation in what is deemed a very macho and testosterone-fueled profession. It's also good to know that vegan and plant-based foods are being introduced to military messes across the country – a healthy diet together with mindfulness exercises has proved beneficial in speeding up the recovery process for soldiers dealing with physical injuries as well as mental health issues.

We have to remember that our fighting men and women are there to defend our country and our freedom. I suppose that yoga works in the same way by fending off illnesses and helping us retain our freedom of movement. Who bends wins? Maybe. But with yoga, I'd like to think that we all win.


Diane Ashfield

Diane Ashfield (aka Yoga With Dash) is a British Wheel of Yoga instructor, teaching in the London Borough of Bromley.