Yoga instructor teaches veterans strength, healing through her discipline

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Strength, balance, endurance and meditation are just some of the benefits awarded to veterans you practice yoga, said Deborah Ouderkirk.

Ouderkirk, of everyBODYyoga in Rome, facilitates Connected Warrior Yoga Classes at the Rome VA Clinic on Brookley Road every Wednesday afternoon from 3:30-4:30 p.m. in the lower level Conference Room. 

Classes are free for veterans, active duty members and families.

“Having a consistent yoga practice can be beneficial for those living with anxiety, depression, PTSD” and other illnesses, Ouderkirk said. “Moving through poses and using breathing techniques can bring better health to body and mind.”

Connected Warrior Yoga is suitable for all levels of experience, making exercises suitable for “every body,” the instructor said.

Ouderkirk is a 200-hour registered yoga teacher who has taught for more than eight years while having experience practicing the craft for more than 30 years.

“I have had my share of physical challenges,” Ouderkirk said on her website. “Yoga and meditation practices have been my source of strength, vitality and wellness. A consistent yoga practice makes life sweeter and allows us to take our stress down a notch, and  experience more joy and contentment in the every day. Sharing this with other humans is what I love to do.”

The instructor is specially trained to teach a specific type of yoga, offered through Connected Warriors, that provides evidence-based trauma-conscious yoga therapy training to certified yoga teachers and health care professionals that is Yoga Alliance Certified.

Connected Warriors Trauma-Conscious Yoga Training offers the following:

• An understanding of military culture.

• A working knowledge of the physiology and biology of trauma.

• How yoga is a tool for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

• Proficiency in teaching a Connected Warriors class using evidence-based teaching protocols.

“I started Connected Warriors in July here at the clinic, and we do trauma conscious yoga,” Ouderkirk explained. “In class, if a student has had issues with (trauma) triggers, they’re taught so everyone is comfortable. This class is open to all military personnel, active or inactive duty, and vets’ families.”

As for the classes, they’re “tailored to veterans’ experiences,” the teacher said. “They’re good for any physical level.

We’ve had people with walkers who can’t stand on their own, but are still able to do the poses.”

The oldest veteran to participate in Ouderkirk’s Connected Warriors class was an 86-year-old Vietnam veteran, she said. The youngest is in his late 20s to early 30s. Until recently, a student would even attend with her service dog. Both men and woman may participate, Ouderkirk said.

“Yoga helps people working through things,” the instructor said. “The breathing work is really essential in helping with anxiety. And it’s also the perfect compliment to any other form of exercise. It keeps the muscles subtle.”

Ouderkirk said she has had several students who are runners or participate in cross-fit programs, who have found they’ve gained strength just learning the proper methods of breathing.

“If you train to breath properly, without thinking, then with other disciplines you don’t have to consciously do it,” she said. “Like I’ve noticed if I go into a flight-or-fight response, I no longer breath rapid, short breaths. I go into a deep, meditated breath automatically.”

While the majority of students who attend Ouderkirk’s class are Vietnam vets or family members from that era, the instructor said she wants to encourage all ages to come.

Until suffering an injury recently, she said she had one student who served in Iraq.

“Everybody should come, and this is something we need to encourage our vets to come participate in,” said yoga student Shirley Caldwell.

The 62-year-old said she enjoys Ouderkirk’s Connected Warriors class so much, she ensures she makes time for herself to attend each week.

“People need to move more, and each Wednesday no matter what I have going on – and I work two jobs and do outreach in the community — I make time for me,” Caldwell said. “Yoga is very relaxing. Everyone should try it before you say, ‘Nah, it’s not for me.’”

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