Home / From Soldier to Yogi: Eric Walrabenstein Reaches Out to Veterans

From Soldier to Yogi: Eric Walrabenstein Reaches Out to Veterans

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Opportunity: If you're in the Phoenix Area, former Army Infantry Officer Eric Walrabenstein would like you to participate in a pilot program being tested to help you with stress related issues. 5 weeks long,  2 meetings a week (Monday and Thursday). Participants are paid a stipend of $150. Swing by Yoga Pura for more details or watch this video.

"He must have discipline and high morale and understand the core values that make our Army great and the Infantry the "Queen of the Battle." He must have heart and he must not quit. He is not inherently superior, he is not born with these things, he must be taught. The education of a man is more than a piece of paper; we teach lessons in life as well as lessons in combat. We demand that Infantrymen be led to a higher standard." – US Army

“Everyone has been made for some particular work, and the desire for that work has been put in every heart.” – Rumi, 13th Century Sufi Poet and Mystic

My life has been greatly enhanced by a daily practice of yoga. And so, the recent addition of my life as a writer to that as an active duty military wife has been Help for Veterans With PTSD made a lot easier because of it.  An early-morning web search of others in the military with like minds led to Army veteran Eric Walrabenstein, who has developed a program that mixes yoga and psychology for veterans. After a few emails, I had the former Amy Infantry Officer on the phone.

When I asked Walrabenstein if he saw any disparity between his life in the military and that of a yogi, his answer was an emphatic no. "I loved the military because it was service to something bigger than myself. It was selfless. Service to humanity through yoga is the same," he says.

From 1985 to 1989, Eric Walrabenstein served as an Infantry Officer at Fort Lewis, and later in the 2nd Battalion Reserves as the Basic Training Commander at the Presidio in San Fransisco. It was during this time that he had a chance meeting with a woman who told him about zen. Ever curious, Walrabenstein followed the leads, which led him to several years of study at the San Fransisco Zen Center, which then led him on the Yogic path. It was as if his life's work had found him. "It was fate," he says.

Walrabenstein's path took him to Phoenix, where he founded a thriving studio named Yoga Pura. There, he and his staff guide others to more balanced lives through yoga. In addition, he also trains people not only in the usual poses (often mistaken solely as exercise), but in the philosophy that is the core of yoga, through a teacher-training program.

As with most veterans though, there was that nagging question of how to connect his old life to his new one. "I wondered, how can I help? How can I take these teachings beyond these four walls and help someone with significant and immediate problems?" 

What he found, after meeting with other veterans, is that other than the DOD and the VA, the resources for them are scant. Many live in areas where they don't have access to these services, and many more are reluctant to step forward to get help because of the stigma of mental health issues. "One veteran who contacted me said that the he'd been taught to fight and kill for three years. But when he left, all he had was a three hour out-processing," says Walrabenstein. So, the question he posed to himself was: how best to reach people on a broad scale?

His answer was the creation of Thrive (note: the name will be changing), which employs modern psychology, yoga, and relaxation techniques. "Thrive is a seven-week program in a box," he says. "It's designed to be done at home with a CD, a DVD and a book. Participants are asked to evaluate their lives, find any unhealthful tendencies or thoughts that make their stress worse. Each week the participant will read a different lesson. It's a self administered program that takes up about an hour a day."

Eric Walrabenstein, Founder, Yoga PuraFor warriors who might be skeptical and associate the practice of yoga with tinkly music and skinny girls in tights, Walrabenstein differentiates between the popular perception and the reality. "Yoga as the phenomenon sometimes creates spiritualized egos. Unfortunately, in some instances, yoga has become people trading one point of view for another. However, yoga is about transcending point-of-views altogether." Walrabenstein puts veterans at ease by making sure they know that yoga isn't only about stretching and bending. Yoga in its totality is to help take people beyond the stress, tension and conflict they experience in their day-to-day lives. "It's a science of the mind," he says.

The pilot program, which will start September 21 in Phoenix, is open to 50 people, and so far they have a combination of Vietnam veterans and those from the more recent wars. "There's still room," he says. Participants will be asked to rate their stress levels by filling out a questionnaire every week. They'll be led through various exercises to help them train the mind in various relaxation techniques. "It's not only what happened to us, but it's how we process the experience and how we relate or respond," he says.

Once the trial is over and adjustments have been made, Walrabenstein has a larger goal in fulfilling his vision to give back. He has a vision, and with the precision one might expect of a former Army officer, he has a plan. "My goal is to put half a million of these out into the hands of those who need them by deploying the kits directly to their home, free of charge. The cost will be covered by a combination of private and corporate donations. In other words, you don't have to ask for help. It's going to come for you," says Walrabenstein.

Just like fate. There's no doubt that Thrive will reach those veterans ready for the yogic path who don't even realize it. But once they do, there's no doubt that one day, like Walrabenstein, they'll work to help others as well.

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  • FYI, I’ll be speaking with Eric in 2 weeks to check on the progress of the program. And then again at the end.

  • Note: This article was picked up by Blackfive.