Yoga classes helping to put "Warriors at Ease"

Yoga classes helping to put 'Warriors at Ease' Army veteran Joan Benitez instructs Soldiers during a Warriors at Ease yoga class at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. (Photo provided by Joan Benitez)

By Christopher Fields, Warrior Care and Transition


SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii – Any given morning on Schofield Barracks, you may come across a circle of Soldiers methodically following the yoga movements echoed by their teacher in the middle, Army veteran Joan Benitez. Since April 2017, Benitez has been teaching yoga classes for the Warriors at Ease program to units across the island and the staff at Tripler Army Medical Center. According to its website, Warriors at Ease was founded in 2009 with the mission to bring the healing power of yoga and meditation to military communities around the world. It strives to do this by providing free yoga classes to the military community. The program started at Walter Reed trauma centers with amputees and burn victims and has since expanded to include other wounded, ill and injured Soldiers and able bodied active duty Soldiers as well. It is a way to teach Soldiers how to move and give them skills they can use to relax before they deploy.

"After my deployment experiences, having unknowingly deployed on a broken leg and then sustaining other injuries to include a Traumatic Brain Injury, a military sexual trauma and then Post Traumatic Stress Disease too, I found myself in a real deep depression," Benitez said. "One of my physical therapists told me to go to an afternoon yoga class to just get moving again. I finally went and it started making me feel better and that's what yoga can do."

Warriors at Ease yoga differs from regular yoga in that it encourages emotions and feelings to come out and be dealt with in that moment. "We encourage people to let go and have that moment, that time to let it out if they need to. Regular yoga classes don't do that. Yoga can be very emotional and some movements may cause triggers in an individual and if it happens, they need to have that moment." Another aspect of Warriors at Ease approach to yoga is they adapt movements to an individual based on what they can do and what keeps them feeling safe and secure. If an individual feels too vulnerable in a pose, the teacher will adapt it so they are comfortable.

Benitez got into teaching yoga after feeling that she had a "bigger purpose" than what she was doing with other organizations after she moved to Hawaii. She thought about yoga and how it helped her and that's when she found Warriors at Ease and decided to get involved. Benitez now teaches 12 classes a week to roughly six units across Schofield Barracks and staffs at Tripler Army Medical Center. She has even taught classes via Skype to deployed units.

Benitez continues to attend yoga classes for herself to help with her own well-being. When she teaches large classes she risks triggering her own PTSD and having anxiety attacks because of the pressure of teaching them correctly and being responsible for them feeling safe and secure. However, even with those risks to herself, teaching yoga with Warriors at Ease has helped Benitez find that "bigger purpose" she was looking for.

"I get to see Soldiers find enjoyment. They can move without judgement, heal at their own pace and find the strength within themselves. We're empowering them and we have the patience and the time to make sure they know it's all at their speed."

Benitez's classes are well received and well attended. Commanders of the units she teaches have told her that morale is high and Soldiers are able to return to the unit healthier thanks to her teaching. Benitez loves the positive impact her classes have had not only on herself, but the Soldiers she teaches. She says some of the Soldiers even sneak back into classes or into another unit's class. "If I've got Soldiers trying to sneak into my yoga classes, I must be doing something right."

For more information about Warriors at Ease, visit their website at http://warriorsatease.org.