Conversations on Yoga: An open letter to the warrior class

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I’m a warfighter, why would I do yoga?

After taking a life in combat, becoming a casualty or seeing casualties taken around you, the brain changes. The reptilian brain awakens to sharpen your instincts for survival. In many ways you become a better operator.

Something has to give though. Although you become sharper, more alert, sensitive to emerging threats and ready to respond instinctively, there is part of your brain that starts to take a back seat.

The pre-frontal cortex, responsible for rationalising and executive function, slows down in order to allow rapid survival instincts to keep you alive in a high-stake environment.

So, what’s wrong with that?

Now, when your brain perceives threats in a permissible environment (barracks, home, shopping centre or in traffic) your body gets all the same signals it would in combat. Heart rate rises, respiratory rate increases, excessive sweating, muscles tense up, digestion stops or you suddenly need to find a toilet. The reptilian brain or amygdala has told the body to ‘STAND TO’.

The pre-frontal cortex is the part of the brain that rationalises a false-positive on the threat and tells the body to ‘stand down’.

How long should that take?

How long do you take to relax after a false-positive? Remember, the rational brain has taken a back seat to allow your reptilian brain to keep you and your mates or your family alive. It’s natural for these changes to have occurred in combat.

What can I do about it?

Yoga, breathing techniques and mindfulness (the art of being in the present) help to strengthen the pre-frontal cortex function. It helps speed up the response time for your brain to assess a potential threat and tell the body to ‘stand down’. By using yoga postures to stress the body in a controlled environment and then employing breathing techniques and mindfulness to reduce arousal levels on command.

But, I don’t want to lose my edge!

Your brain has changed forever, you are now better equipped to deal with real threats. Strengthening the pre-frontal cortex function won’t dull your instincts, but it will improve your ability to discriminate targets and act appropriately under stress. It will reduce the likelihood of you making mistakes. Mistakes that could cost you a career, your family or even your liberty, if you break the law by acting ‘instinctively’. It will also reduce residual stress hormones in the body, help improve sleep quality, increase concentration and promote mental and physical longevity.

The regular practice of Yoga strengthens human performance by enhancing physical fitness, mental health and neurological processes. It can also reduce residual stress hormones in the body, help improve sleep quality, increase concentration and promote overall longevity in practitioners.

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