By 1st Sgt. Paul Meeker, Louisiana National Guard Reintegration Office
NEW ORLEANS – Introductory yoga became an elective course offering at Louisiana National Guard Yellow Ribbon Reintegration events beginning in 2012 and has quickly become a popular choice for Guardsmen and their family members.
To date, more than 2,000 LANG Guardsmen and family members participating in the deployment cycle have learned yoga resiliency skills at 11 consecutive Yellow Ribbon weekend symposiums.
Yoga Across America, the 501c3 not-for-profit company that provides Yoga instruction at Yellow Ribbon events, was recently recognized as a “best practice” for Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Programs by the Office for Reintegration Programs, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs, according to its director of outreach programs, Travis W. Bartholomew.
“Yoga Across America was one of the first non-traditional, ‘out of the box’ classes that we plugged in to the schedule and offered to Yellow Ribbon participants. It was an instant hit with service members and families. Today, it is a common occurrence to see Yellow Ribbon attendees carrying around their yoga mats,” said Lt. Col. Ed Bush, director of the LANG’s Reintegration Program, which oversees the LANG Yellow Ribbon Reintegration program.
Gina Garcia, the founder of YAA and lead instructor, said that at first LANG Guardsmen and family members were hesitant to try her class, but once in “really began to connect with the process.”
1st Lt. Mike D’Aguiar, commander of the 1022nd Engineer Company in West Monroe, La., attended one of Garcia’s yoga classes at a LANG Yellow Ribbon Reintegration event in 2012, following a deployment to Afghanistan.
“The class showed me new methods I could use to relax after being keyed up for such an extended time,” D’Aguiar said, referring to his overseas tour.
D’Aguiar’s wife, Capt. Amy D’Aguiar, attended Garcia’s yoga class at the LANG’s most recent Yellow Ribbon Symposium in early March. She was attending Yellow Ribbon Pre-deployment training in preparation for an upcoming overseas tour with an element of the LANG’s 528th Engineer Battalion.
Speaking for his wife and himself, D’Aguiar shared that the class has helped both of them learn to relieve stress, which is especially important because of the unique challenges they face as a dual-military family.
Garcia, who hails from California, described working with Louisiana Soldiers, Airmen and family members as an “inspiring partnership.”
“Together we are co-creating inspiration, possibility and mental resilience. YAA is truly grateful to serve those who serve our country,” said Garcia.
Capt. Rebekah Andersen, the LANG’s Yellow Ribbon Reintegration program manager, believes that the yoga class, though introductory in nature, helps Guardsmen and their family members deal with the stresses that any stage of the deployment cycle – pre-, during or post-deployment – can trigger.
“Deployments are one of the most stressful times in military life. The interactive yoga classes offer instruction on body and mind self-awareness, stress reduction and calming techniques, plus they offer resources and materials for continued practice at home or overseas,” said Andersen.