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Yoga and Meditation Help Soldiers in Iraq

Soldiers with the 320th Engineer Company, 565th Engineer Battalion, 130th Engineer Brigade, have been participating in weekly yoga sessions in Iraq, according to an article from the Army News Service. The classes began when Second Lt. Caprice Vargas, who had practiced yoga personally for about 5 years, began leading morning classes for her platoon members. When others heard about it, she expanded the class to welcome the entire company.

“It’s a little unorthodox,” said Spc. Ben Wheeler to the Army News Service. “But I like it because it’s original and it gives you a break from running and doing push-ups. It’s not often you can do Eastern philosophic stuff in the Army.”

Sgt. Satrina Gibson adds, “I [had] never done yoga prior to coming here, and I never wanted to. But now that I have done it, it is something I will definitely continue to do when I get back home. It’s definitely helping me with flexibility and helps me to get away from everything.”

American soldiers in Iraq are using meditation to help with combat fatigue, among other conditions. Lt. Col. Damon Arnold, an Illinois Army National Guardsman working with the Army’s 118th Medical Brigade, serves as medical director of the first-aid station at Camp Freedom, headquarters for the 7,500 American troops in northern Iraq, according to a report in the Chicago Tribune.

Arnold, known as an unconventional doctor in an unconventional war, uses a holistic medical approach that includes deep-tissue massage therapy, acupressure, acupuncture, Eastern philosophy and meditation. In fact, his alternative treatments have proved so popular that he devotes 2 days a week to them.

Arnold has also launched an hourlong show on the local Army radio station, says the Chicago Tribune. In half the broadcast he discusses the theories and benefits of meditation, while in the other half he guides soldiers through a meditation session to soothing music.

Arnold’s diverse background includes the study of medicine, law, martial arts, Eastern philosophy, Zen Buddhism and meditation, as well as massage training. He holds both a medical degree and a master’s degree in public health from the University of Illinois, Chicago. He signed up for the Illinois National Guard to help pay his medical tuition.

Arnold sought to serve in Iraq, in spite of receiving a radical prostatectomy to eradicate a small tumor in his prostate. “I felt like I should go,” Arnold told the Chicago Tribune. “I didn’t want these young people coming over here with no one here for them.”

Shirley Archer-Eichenberger, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, is an internationally acknowledged integrative health and mindfulness specialist, best-selling author of 16 fitness and wellness books translated into multiple languages and sold worldwide, award-winning health journalist, contributing editor to Fitness Journal, media spokesperson, and IDEA's 2008 Fitness Instructor of the Year. She's a 25-year industry veteran and former health and fitness educator at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, who has served on multiple industry committees and co-authored trade books and manuals for ACE, ACSM and YMCA of the USA. She has appeared on TV worldwide and was a featured trainer on America's Next Top Model.

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