Breathe Free! Yoga on the USS Intrepid

For our 3rd Annual Light a Candle ceremony, a cool evening breeze that swept across the flight deck of the USS Intrepid in New York City as yogis, veterans, families and supporters alike placed VYP printed LED candles atop their mat, bringing a soft glow to the twilight.

On Sunday June 3rd, over 300 attendees came together to practice outside at sunset, and hold space for reverence.  Candles in memory of those who donated on behalf of a lost loved one lined the stage, and sparkled throughout the night of practice.  Sponsored by Northwell Health and lululemon’s Here to Be program, Veterans Yoga Project was able to host families from around the tri-state area with some attendees journeying cross country to join us for this special evening.

Introductions were made by Dr. Dan Libby, founder of Veterans Yoga Project,  Army veteran Juan Serrano, of Northwell Health and Navy veteran Ceasar F. Barajas brought the crowd to stand for the national anthem, directed at the Intrepid’s turret flag waving wildly in the summer wind.  Renowned photographer, Robert Sturman, captured breathtaking moments, including this incredible image; his first of all military branches standing together!

VYP ambassador Ceasar F. Barajas initiated the class, sharing his experiences of hardship and how through this practice came the ability to use tangible tools in order to cope with whatever life throws your way.

Olivia Kvitne, CEO of Yoga for First Responders, warmed up our chilly yogis, instilling a sense of strength and empowerment by consistently promoting positive mantras, or ‘cognitive declarations’. Olivia pointed out that yoga studio scenarios are relatively perfect and life is not. Moving and breathing whilst embracing the elements and remembering to stay present and stay positive IS the real practice, avoiding the negative self-talk that most humans default to.

Amber Paul, lululemon ambassador and BDC instructor  wrapped up the class with some stretching and meditation as the sky began to allow some raindrops to sprinkle down. While some yogis decided they would rather stay dry, others lay in savasana, soaking up the rain and the experience as it came to a close.

The evening provided a launchpad for number of veterans to continue their practice, and enticed yogis to continue exploring trauma-sensitive classes.  After we had concluded, a young couple approached me to express their gratitude. She shared that her husband was active duty, had deployed eleven times, was currently dealing with 180 pieces of shrapnel still in his body, and that this was his first yoga class.  He loved it! For me, this is the reason we do what we do. Keep moving and breathing. All you gotta do is be brave and be kind.