By Anita Mitchell, Broward People, for SouthFloridaReporter.com, Oct. 6, 2015 – Fort Lauderdale – “I am one of the three people who created Connected Warriors. I have been a certified yoga teacher for over 15 years.
I grew up with yoga. My grandmother, Augusta Frankel, aka Grandma Gus, did yoga. She lived in Miami Beach on Ocean Drive and firmly believed the salt water, fresh oranges and physical exertion were the cure for everything. She radiated happiness. Yoga was a way of life for her as it became so for me.
“For many, this is the first time in their life they have slept through the night”
Yoga always helped me with my own stresses and I knew that it would have a huge calming effect on military people. When I learned about the post traumatic stress many of them were facing, I wanted to help.
The military teaches how to live in combat but not how to readjust to civilian life. Yoga was a missing link.
I wanted to offer free yoga classes to anyone in the military. That meant I would need to get studios to volunteer space, teachers to volunteer time and supporters to offer money. I got the place where I taught, Red Pearl Yoga at 918 NE 20th Avenue, to donate space.
It was my way to thank those who serve our country by serving them. In 2010, that became the Connected Warriors motto.
Five years later, Connected Warriors classes are in 14 states and Afghanistan. They offer 63 classes per week and are present on four military bases.
My goal is to have our program for military in every state and be included in every basic training.
To get the program going, USMC Vietnam veteran Ralph Iovino and yoga teacher Judy Weaver joined me. We chose the name Connected Warriors and became a non-profit 5013c organization. We got the Veterans Administration on our side and one of their counselors became a certified yoga teacher.
The VA started asking us to do classes. At first the idea of yoga was met with resistance but eventually the students trickled in. We went to speak about Connected Warriors at VFW and American Legion meetings.
Not everyone was enthused. Some veterans thought it was weird, religious, weak.
But once the students’ lives started to improve, they told their friends and Connected Warriors gained momentum. We started holding fundraisers too. After all, the mats, the Connected Warrior t-shirts and the foam blocks all cost money.
Teaching yoga to veterans is different from teaching it to others. Connected Warriors yoga teachers get a special, 4-hour trauma-conscious training. They learn how to avoid startling the students. Singing bowls and sanskrit are eliminated from Connected Warriors classes because they are too similar to life in the war areas. The final relaxation pose is never called the corpse pose.
Although students come from all of the wars, the most receptive students are from the Vietnam era.
Students tell us that this is the first time they have slept through the night. Their medications have been reduced or eliminated.
We have the Elevated Warriors program that has veterans training to become yoga teachers. We are involved with both Nova Southeastern University and University of California San Diego students who are doing studies about the effects of yoga on the military.
Grandma Gus didn’t try to influence me. She was just being who she was. She got to see that I was interested in yoga. She knew that yoga would help me in my life and I know that she smiles down at me for what I am doing with it.