Army Rolls Out Yoga for Combat Readiness

By Jeff Clarke on February 25, 2013

In a famous Clint Eastwood movie, Harry sits in committee and they ask him what he thinks of the new diversity hire.  "That sounds very stylish," Harry scoffs.  "But when your partner is killed, that's a whale of a price to pay for being stylish."

Whether yoga is stylish or not, rumors are flying as to what ideas will be included in new Army training methods.  Some instructors are skeptical of yoga and recovery elements, believing that too much "rest and recovery" will leave soldiers unprepared for hardship.  "What happens when your Soldier is stuck out in the jungle for three days with no water?," one drill instructor asked.  "Did the water breaks in boot camp help him then?"

Instructors can probably relax.  Power yoga is not about sitting lotus position and visualizing a rifle shot at 300 yards.  Boot camp style home fitness programs, such as Insanity and P90X, include extreme yoga.  P90X creator Tony Horton, now in his 50's, routinely walks onto Army bases and challenges any Soldier to a pushup or pullup contest of their choice. He almost always wins.  "I can do the things I can do, at my age, not because I can do a bunch of pullups," Horton says.  "It's because I do yoga.  Yoga is the glue, the magic."

Power yoga is not based merely on static balance positions like "lotus" and "tree."  Power yoga sessions involve deep lunges, pushups, side handstands on one foot and one arm, and so forth.  The workout flows strongly from one bodyweight exercise into the other.  Add a few pushups to your "downward facing dog" pose, and you'll be sweating buckets in no time.

Power yoga isn't about glamor biceps.  It's about strength, balance, and flexibility.  It's about being a better overall athlete, having quick and light steps under you on the battlefield.

Extreme yoga, practiced over time, can also prevent injury.  For example, in the "Triangle Pose" the legs form a triangle against the floor, with hamstrings tight, one hand on the floor and one hand in the air.  The entire pelvis and core are under tension.  When a Soldier stretches this pose and holds it, she is strengthening her ligaments, tendons, and other connective tissues. 

All Soldiers know the value of a strong body and mind.  This includes coolness under pressure, and the ability to "zone in" against distractions.  This strong focus is developed in yoga.

Yoga combines fairly challenging physical activity -- such as deep lunges held with hands high in the air -- with forced acute attention on the present moment.  Lose your focus in the Warrior One pose, and you tumble to the floor.  This moving-while-thinking, to an extent, echoes the experiences that our ancestors had during hunting and gathering.

The benefit to, let's say, combat shooting, is clear.  A Soldier who is very good at extreme yoga is very good at concentrating.  Calm alertness is a combat skill.

Positive state-of-mind increases along with focus.  When exercise keeps the heart rate over 100 but under 125, the brain releases brain chemicals such as dopamine and GABA (gamma-aminobutryic acid).  Increased GABA levels "chill out" the "fight or flight" adrenaline.  This allows clear, calm awareness.  Yoga students report less overall anxiety in their lives.

For the Soldier whose fitness isn't as high as he'd like it to be, extreme yoga promises to improve anxiety, depression, and concentration issues in general. 

And getting a six-pack doesn't hurt your combat readiness, either.