It might seem odd, almost contradictory, to see a solider practicing something so peaceful, but yoga is helping some soldiers in ways traditional exercise can not.
Marine Lieutenant Alan Zarracina spends most of his days training for war, but at night he becomes a different kind of warrior. Three nights a week Zarracina practices yoga, stretching, breathing, chanting his way to a calmer existence, and that’s help’s him in the cockpit. Yoga helps Zarracina stay focused, and it helps his posture, which allows him to sit comfortably in a cramped plane for hours.
"If you come to the plane with lower stress levels, you'll have lower stress levels inside the aircraft as well. So, a lot of times when you have emergencies thrown at you, you can handle it," Zarracina said.
The 23-year-old Marine started practicing yoga more than a year ago, after a Navy Seal told him about the class, which according to Zarracina wasn’t very easy at first.
"We were doing some yoga poses and I remember looking around and everyone seemed to be doing them perfectly and I was struggling, and my first thought was, 'Alan, you're a marine, you can't show that you're having a tough time with yoga."
Now Zarracina can almost do the splits. He’s convinced other marines to try yoga too. Yoga is catching on with the military. “Fit Yoga,” one of the nation’s largest yoga magazines recently featured a photo of two navy pilots doing yoga aboard an aircraft carrier.
Zarracina’s yoga instructor says soldiers and spirituality do mix.
"I think it's great. You know, it's a little bit of a paradox, but these are people that are very committed to creating a peaceful environment and I'm happy to be a part of that," said Nancy Lanasa, yoga instructor.
But a marine?
“Do they ever say, ‘What are you doing?’?”
“Oh, yeah, It’s definitely not considered masculine, but it's all -- all the kidding is in good nature,” Zarracina’s said.
Even though Zarracina knows his commanding officer has heard about the benefits of yoga and still believes it’s not for him. Zarracina knows yoga is not all about feelings, and it’s one of the more challenging workouts where a marine’s mind and body meet creating a Zen like atmosphere in class.