Warrior Pose: Breath or Bullets

Sep 27th, 2017

Warrior Pose, of which there are three variations, is an essential feature of many Yoga asana sequences. The warrior pose of soldiers is as varied as the difference between Roman legionnaires and drone operators.

The name of the Yoga pose comes from Virabhandra, a hero in Indian mythology who wore tiger skins. It is a vigorous standing posture often integrated into sun salutations and explained as being an inspiration for the spiritual warrior.

Warrior pose in the US Army is usually a ?oor pose, practised on the stomach, on one knee, or in a crouch. Instead of reaching through the arms with empty hands the military variation keeps the arms close to the body and a strong grip on ones M4A1 carbine.

Although Yoga is now being taught to soldiers, described as “a powerful supplement to combat readiness training, making soldiers better prepared for challenges they’ll face in combat”, in an article titled The US Army Strikes the Warrior Pose, it is debatable whether Yoga and armed con?ict are compatible, or ever will be.

Yoga is a path toward enlightenment and those on the path must practise with that intention, not with the intention of setting their gun sights on the whites of someone’s eyes. “If your practice is moving you away from enlightenment, then you are not practising Yoga,” says Ganesh Das of Jivamukti Yoga in New York City.

But, some in the brave new world of 21st century Bouncy Castle Yoga argue that it can and should be more than it has been, arguing that its energy should be devoted towards competing against one another to be the best in the class, even on the battle?eld.

However, not everyone in the military agrees that even today’s rede?ned Yoga is appropriate for training troops. They contend that it coddles rather than toughens them. “People have said you’re babying them,” said Mark Hertling, Deputy Commanding General for Initial Military Training. “You’ve got to drive them hard, and work them until it hurts.”

While the question of whether Yoga exercise is appropriate training for the rigors of war is debatable, it is clear that the chain of command has not come to grips with some forms of asana. As a means of readiness training for soldiers Yoga may exceed traditional push ups and 2 mile marches, as attested to by a post on the Runner’s World site by a veteran long distance runner.

“If I would have toughed it out the full 90 minutes at my ?rst attempt at Bikram Yoga, I calculate I would have lost 22.5 pounds of body water weight. In other words, I would have died.”

The purpose of military might is to preserve security and provide defense, and to overcome any nations acting to imperil that security. The USA accomplishes this with a defence budget, in the ?scal year 2012, of more than $900 billion. This is almost $300 billion more than spent by the other fourteen countries, including China and Russia, in the top ?fteen for defense spending, combined.

Even setting aside the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, military spending has more than doubled since 2001. Defence takes up around 20 percent of the entire federal budget, roughly the same as Social Security, and far outstripping spending on transportation, education, and science, combined.

Americans spend more than $2,875 per person, man, woman, and child, on defence annually.

The purpose of Yoga is to unite the physical, mental, and spiritual aspects of life. Its goal is to unite with our highest nature, not with Smith & Wesson.

“It is to cultivate awareness, self regulation, and higher consciousness in the individual,” according to David Surrenda, CEO of Kripalu Center. In the USA, approximately $6 billion a year is spent on Yoga, mainly on Hatha practices.

Americans spend less than $19 per person, man, woman, and child, on Yoga annually.

Whether Americans are safer paying nearly $3,000 a year for their military readiness, or $19 a year for their spiritual readiness, is a moot point.

Going toe to toe with the Pentagon the often barefoot practice of Yoga is at a decided disadvantage. The Pentagon is the world’s largest department of defence. The National Capitol could ?t into any one of its ?ve wedge shaped sections. With more than 23,000 employees, it is virtually a city in itself.

Not even Bikram World Headquarters in Los Angeles is remotely close to the size of the Pentagon.

More people practise Yoga in America, approximately 16 million of them, than are in the armed forces, of which there are currently 3 million enlisted and reserve.

But, the pool that the Pentagon can draw on is far larger than Yoga’s mailing list. There are more than 22 million veterans in the United States, as well as 120,000,000 men and women classi?ed as being ?t for service.

Many people come to Yoga for sun salutations and Vinyasa. They ?ll out a waiver at a studio, stretch and sweat for an hour, and if all goes well come back the next day. Some weave it into the fabric of their lives. Increasingly, many internalise the practice and live by its eight fold path as a way of leading a meaningful and purposeful existence.

In the armed forces, all inductees must take the Oath of Enlistment, in which they “solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies … so help me God.” The oath is traditionally performed standing in front of the stars and stripes, not in front of God.

If it came to a ?ght, Yoga would be badly out gunned by the Pentagon, which can muster thousands of ships, planes, and M1A2 Abrams tanks, the best armed, electronically sophisticated, and heavily armored battle tank ever built anywhere in the world. The best Yoga might do is muster a battalion or two of very experienced warrior pose yogis.

Ever since ground was broken for the Pentagon on September 11, 1941, the USA has been at war somewhere every day of every year ever since. But, for all the power the Pentagon can bring to bear, it begs the question of why its record on the battle?eld since WW2 has largely been a patchwork of compromised victories.

Francis Beer, a political scientist at the University of Colorado, has estimated that more than 14,000 wars have taken place between 3500 BC and the late 20th century, resulting in more than 3.5 billion deaths. By his measure there have only been 300 years of relative peace in that 5500 year span.

Killing one man is a capital crime. Killing ten men is mass murder. Killing one hundred men is slaughter, beyond the pale of crime and into the realm of massacre. But, killing a thousand men is called war and extolled as a triumph. Capital crimes are condemned while wars make for medals and parades.

“This the rulers of the earth all recognise,” wrote Mozi, a Chinese philosopher of the 5th century BC. “Yet, when it comes to the greatest crime – waging war on another state – they praise it! It is clear they do not know it is wrong. If they knew they were wrong, why should they wish to record them and have them handed down to posterity?”

All peoples and states justify their wars.

The Roman Empire, the most ruthless in history, fought every one of its wars under the rubric of defence. The North fought the Civil War to preserve the Union while the South fought to preserve its honor and way of life. The Israelis ?ght for their homeland and the Palestinians ?ght for their homeland. The problem is that it is all the same homeland.

“Most Palestinians believe that the intifada [the Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip] succeeded,” said Ami Ayalon, former director of Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security system. “They believe that we understand only the language of force. Most Israelis believe that we won because Palestinians understand only the language of force.”

States make war for many reasons, among them self defense, resource competition, border disputes, and international recognition. Institutions like the Pentagon are the fulcrum on which states depend in order to wield their power to make war.

“The state jealously guards the right to make war because this prerogative is a source of power,“ writes Mark Kurlansky in Nonviolence: The History of a Dangerous Idea.

People practise Yoga for many reasons, among them physical health, mind body unity, and what can be described as connecting to the whole. Practised regularly, it becomes the font of true power, not power at the end of a gun barrel.

“Yoga practice aims to reset our physical, mental, and emotional rhythms to their natural states, “ says Dinbandhu Sarley, former CEO of Kripalu Center. “We experience this resonance as a spiritual experience.”

Yoga boot camps are far different than army boot camps. There are no ?ring ranges or bayonet drills. The reason is that warfare is not a natural state, no matter mankind’s history of endless war. Most men and women are reluctant to kill others. That is why today’s all volunteer US Army is made up of the disadvantaged and unemployed.

In Men Against Fire: The Problem of Battle Command on Future War, the chief US Army combat historian of WW2, Samuel Marshall, revealed that only one in four combat soldiers ever ?red their guns, while at most only 15 percent of available ?repower was ever deployed.

If it came to a ?ght with Yoga, the Pentagon, even with all its ?repower, might not have the advantage it seems if its soldiers won’t ?re their guns.

One reason Yoga might have an advantage is that the discipline develops balance and strength in both body and mind. It is only with those attributes that Ahimsa can be successfully practised.

“Nonviolence must never come from weakness but from strength,” writes Mark Kurlansky. “Only the strongest and most disciplined people can hope to achieve it.”

Ahimsa is a guiding principle of Yoga practice. Although all spiritual practices abjure violence, unlike Christianity, Islam, and even Buddhism, Yoga has never been co opted by the state, its nonviolent pose twisted to serve power politics.

Christians since St Augustine have fought “just” wars, even Jesus was not on the side of war makers, but rather on the side of peace makers. Muslims declare jihad whenever they propose violence, even though the Quran never uses the term jihad for ?ghting in the name of Allah. Zen Buddhism and Japanese militarism were intertwined from the Meiji Restoration of the 19th century through WW2.

In a knock down drag out ?ght between the Pentagon and Yoga, only Yoga would bring the power of its convictions to the fray. When the First Gulf War ended in the 1990s “Stormin’ Norman” Schwartzkopf, ?eld commander of the Coalition Forces, declared: “God must have been on our side!”

What was on his side was a beehive of Cruise missiles, not God. God is not on the side of war makers, no matter what the war makers say. If he were, then it would be every man for himself and God against all.

Whether or not to go to war is a moral argument. Yoga’s pose is that non-violence is a ?rst principle. Yoga renounces warfare. The state’s pose is that force of arms is its prerogative. The state accepts war because it believes without militaries it would be impotent. Yoga proposes that peace cannot be achieved through violence. The state proposes that war is the way peace is won.

“I just want you to know,” said President George W Bush, “that when we talk about war, we’re really talking about peace.”

But, violence does not resolve con?icts between people or their states. “Peace cannot be achieved through violence,” said Ralph Waldo Emerson, one of the ?rst Americans to study Vedic texts. Violence always leads to more violence. Yoga postulates that peace can only be attained through dynamic compassion and understanding, which is why there has never been a single war waged by any Yoga community against another.

“When you start to understand how karma works, you realise how you treat others determines how much suffering you experience,” says Sharron Gannon of Jivamukti Yoga.

If push came to shove between the Pentagon and Yoga, the winning side would be the side that stuck to its guns. The Pentagon would be ?ghting against an idea that like Gandhi’s idea for India in the 1930s and 1940s is almost impossible to defeat, so long as the idea is not provoked into violence.

Yoga’s warrior pose battalions might be the most formidable foe the Pentagon has faced in a long time. Wars are ultimately fought to wins hearts and minds. The hearts and minds of yogis are stronger and more resilient than any weapon the Pentagon can wield.

Yoga makes Samadhi – union with the divine – not war. The Pentagon makes war, which leads to more war, and to the other de?nition of Samadhi, which is a funerary monument.

Yoga opens the heart. The Pentagon puts a bullet into it.

“The more we sweat in peace, the less we bleed in war,” said Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit of the UN Human Rights Commission.

The ultimate problem for the Pentagon is that it does not know the Bhagavad Gita, the most dangerous existing explication of Yoga, which yogis know inside and out. If nothing else, the Bhagavad Gita teaches how to hold one’s ground, which is what warrior pose is all about.

When the war starts, the Pentagon might never know what hit it.

About the Author
Ed Staskus started practising Yoga about 8 years ago, began studying Buddhism about 5 years ago, and became a vegetarian about 3 years ago. He writes features for the Observer and cleveland.com. He has also contributed to Asana the Elephant Journal and Integral Yoga Magazine. He is working on several short stories and 2 novels, but not related to Yoga. Ed and his wife live in Lakewood, Ohio, on the edge of the Rocky River valley.

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