Simone M Groezinger is a yoga instructor and Veterans Yoga Project Ambassador in Germany. We spent time with her recently to learn about her passion for yoga and working with veterans. Learn more about her work here.
1. Why do I do yoga?– I am a very physical person and I like to kick my own butt when I am out running, skiing, climbing and skating all over the place. On the other side, as a scientist with two graduate degrees, I can be a real brain nerd. Both personality features can be very exhausting, especially on the mental side. On top of this, I have chronic pain, at least partly as a consequence of non-military trauma.
Yoga brings a stillness and balance to my life unlike any other activity. Every time I get onto my mat, I experience strength without struggle, endurance without exhaustion and reflection without rumination. I can actually allow my tendency to be so very driven, perfectionist and sometimes even hard on myself to subside and I can sense that I have access to something profoundly soothing and healing. Yoga and meditation also taught me how to transfer this kind of awareness into my daily life as a mother, licensed pharmacist and holistic medicine practitioner.
2. How did I learn about VYP?- I started my yoga teacher training back in 2011 when I was still on active duty as an officer in the German Army Medical Corps. After a while I started teaching a few comrades and colleagues at the Army lab and they really liked it. In 2015, I had already transitioned into the reserves when it was time to prepare for the yoga instructor exam. I decided to dedicate this final class I was going to teach in front of my fellow teacher trainees to military service members. During the following discussion with the astonished examiners, I realized how novel this must have appeared tot hem - teaching yoga to people who bear and use firearms, people who sometimes have to see and do things the ordinary citizen cannot imagine. All those Arjunas fulfilling their svadharma as warriors but at the same time, humans who are subject to everyday stressors like pain, depresssion, cranky bosses, financial issues…but but often have a hard time admitting it.About at the same time, I accidentally found out about VYP (a long story!) and I clearly remember thinking "oh man, those Americans are so way ahead of us here! They are researching and implementing yoga and mindfulness for veterans and even have special teacher trainings for this!" I was immensely inspired and wanted to learn more so I contacted Brianna, got a spot at the MRT in Charlotte in 2016 and boom - I found my tribe.
3. What can yoga students expect in my classes? - Trained in the Krishnamacharya/Desikachar tradition and Svastha yoga therapy, I usually teach slower vinyasas with a good focus on alignment, stability, embodiment, breath awareness and meditation. The trauma sensitive training I did with Dan Libby in the US and the training I did through TSY Ingradual® here in Germany have become a kind of solid foundation for all of my classes. Intensity can vary and I love being creative and adaptive in finding modifications and variations so every student gets the most out of the class. As a scientist and licensed holistic medicine practitioner, I weave modern neuroscience, mind body medicine and stress research into my teaching, bringing old and new together in a unique way.
4.What about veterans?- Germany is quite different from the US in many aspects, one major aspect being its military culture and military history. Just like most, if not all male relatives of that generation, both my grandfathers served in the Wehrmacht. As a child, I heard that many men did not come back from the war, and I sensed that those who did had developed some strange habits or kept telling gruesome, disturbing stories from "back then in Russia".What I did not know then was that all of them had invisible wounds of unspeakable depth. Much later, a long time into having chosen to wear the uniform and having sworn the oath to defend the freedom of my country myself, I learned the hard way that I too am bearing the scars of this transgenerational trauma. I subsequently decided to confront the "German Angst" which is still present in modern-day Germany and often shows in the form of anti-military and anti-police resentments within society and frustration among members of those professions - a vicious circle.
I want to offer yoga and meditation as an efficient tool, or rather an entire mind-body tool box, to those who choose to serve this country and its people today. This is my way to honor and express gratitude for their service for our freedom. As we do not have a VA system like in the US, I don't teach "vets only" classes, I am however working towards starting yoga classes in local active duty units.
So far, military service members, veterans, police etc. are invited to attend my regular classes for free or for a very small fee. My network "Mindful Warriors" www.mindfulwarriors.deconnects servicemember-friendly yoga teachers in Europe and one of my visions for the future is to be a resource for all those military and police units who are looking for competent instructors.
Today, almost 85 years after my grandfathers had fought some of my VYP friends' fathers or grandfathers as enemies, isn't it the greatest thing that we work hand in hand for both our nations' service members? I have Israeli and British veterans in my network, plus a French yoga teacher – who would have thought of this not even a century ago? Now we are allies on a different, a higher level.
I am very excited to give a presentation on Mindful Resilience during a State Police conference on psycho-social care for police officers this April. As I am writing those lines, I was invited to teach yoga, meditation and a workshop on stress and resilience to female active duty soldiers during a retreat weekend in September - facilitated through one of my yoga students who is a PhD theologist and protestant Army minister. It makes my heart infinitely happy to see that things are starting to fall into place.
Or, as Aristotle once said: "if love ruled the world, all law (and armies and police) would be dispensable." Until that day, I will do my best to be in service to those who serve and motivate others to do the same.