Call in Your Spe­cial Force

Yoga made Doug Kiesewet­ter of the US Army Spe­cial Forces a bet­ter war­rior, friend and hus­band. See what it can do for you

Men's Health (South Africa) - - HEALTH -

So you think that yoga is for sissies? Tell that to the army, pal

II STARTED DO­ING yoga in 2011, when I was shut­ting down Iraq as part of Op­er­a­tion New Dawn. Eight other Spe­cial Forces guys and I were the last Amer­i­can sol­diers north of Bagh­dad, and our job was to rep­re­sent US sup­port for a sov­er­eign Iraqi state. The area wasn’t par­tic­u­larly dan­ger­ous (for a war zone, any­way), and we had some free time on our hands. So my fel­low SF guys did yoga. I lifted heavy things. Yoga was a sissy work­out, I thought.

But one day af­ter I’d fin­ished a CrossFit WOD, the guys goaded me into join­ing one of their “sissy” ses­sions.

As a sergeant with the Spe­cial Forces, I’ve been on sniper teams and re­con­nais­sance teams and led hun­dreds of men in bat­tle. I dead­lift 230kg, squat 185 and bench 140. But this yoga ses­sion left me in sham­bles. It was held in a cin­der block build­ing in the desert with no AC. Match­ing my breath­ing to in­verted poses was nearly im­pos­si­ble, and I felt like I’d used a whole new set of mus­cles.

Af­ter my de­ploy­ment, I re­turned to Fort Bragg and started do­ing three 90-minute yoga ses­sions a week with Vir­ginia Gal­lagher, an in­struc­tor at Hot Asana, a stu­dio in South­ern Pines, North Carolina, to sup­ple­ment my four or five weekly CrossFit-style work­outs.

I used to pound the iron non­stop. Now I’m ac­tu­ally 30 pounds lighter, but I’m hit­ting the same num­bers in key lifts. Lever­ag­ing the breath­ing tech­niques I learn on the yoga mat al­lows me to ac­cess un­tapped strength and mo­bil­ity – I don’t need to red­line to im­prove.

It’s funny, be­cause those phys­i­cal ben­e­fits are mostly due to yoga’s men­tal ben­e­fits.

As a sol­dier, I be­lieved I could con­trol ev­ery­thing around me com­pletely and thor­oughly. But the prac­tice of yoga – breath­ing, be­ing present, and let­ting go – taught me to al­low things to hap­pen nat­u­rally.

Peo­ple tend to think the Spe­cial Ops gig is all about blow­ing stuff up and kick­ing in doors of ter­ror­ist cells. Okay, we do that, but it’s a small frac­tion of the job. As a Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions sol­dier, I must make good de­ci­sions in high-stress sit­u­a­tions. The frame of mind that yoga puts me in lets me step back and as­sess a sit­u­a­tion through a dif­fer­ent lens and then re­act more calmly. In my line of work, that can be life­sav­ing.

When I re­turned home, my wife and I were hav­ing mar­i­tal prob­lems be­cause I was try­ing to force the re­la­tion­ship to “work.” One af­ter­noon, while in moon pose, I re­alised that I can’t im­pose my will on my mar­riage – I just had to step back and let it run the way it needed to run. Soon, ev­ery­thing started work­ing be­tween us.

I’m bet­ter at my job. I’m bet­ter in the gym. I’m bet­ter at home. Hell, ask my wife – I’m even bet­ter in bed. I’m start­ing to see more and more of my Spe­cial Forces brethren in the Hot Asana stu­dio. Know­ing that the men in my reg­i­ment are also forg­ing a mind-body con­nec­tion makes me feel bet­ter about go­ing into dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tions with them.

Kiesewet­ter (also be­low right) does hot yoga three days a week.

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