RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Tens of thousands of American soldiers whove been wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan are learning alternative ways to stay in shape. Many can't do the traditional push-ups, pull-ups and platoon runs, so the Army has been developing what it calls enhanced physical training.
Member station WPLNs Blake Farmer reports from Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
BLAKE FARMER: The Army is famous, or perhaps infamous, for its high-octane drill instructors.
Unidentified Man: High knees. Kick those knees up, raise high. Kick them up. Get them up. Let's go. Get them up. Get them up.
FARMER: Wounded soldiers who can no longer withstand those grueling routines are now getting a much lower-octane workout.
Ms. HYLAN HAMPTON: Remember that theres no judgment, no competition with yourself or with anyone around you.
FARMER: New age music and black lighting set the scene as yoga instructor Hylan Hampton leads soldiers through childs pose, to cat and cow.
Ms HAMPTON: Moving into our sunflower, hinging from the waist, sweeping the fingertips towards the ground. And inhale lifting back up.
FARMER: These men and women are part of Fort Campbells Warrior Transition Unit. And for them, yoga has replaced the yelling of Army physical training.
Sergeant SHANNON MCCLELLAN (U.S. Army Veteran): In Afghanistan about a year and a half ago, I fell with an artillery round and messed my back up.
FARMER: Sergeant Shannon McClellans injuries are typical of those suffered by other veterans in this yoga class. Their wounds are largely invisible. But still, these men and women are no longer fit for duty.
Specialist Michael Stefan is a combat medic who suffers from post traumatic stress disorder.
Specialist MICHAEL STEFAN (Medic, 101st Airborne Division): Seeing soldiers get killed and working on them, and the memories and the flashbacks that go along with that, this is the outcome. But now Im at my point in life where Im transitioning out of the Army. And I have a wife and three kids and one on the way, so now I need to better take care of myself.
FARMER: Taking care of himself is more complicated than it used to be. Because of his medication, Stefan is not supposed to get very sweaty. But a good sweat is just what Stefan needs, says Lauren Geddis. Shes his occupational therapist and says yoga combines fitness and a stress reliever for her PTSD patients.
Ms. LAUREN GEDDIS (Occupational Therapist): Theyre able to relax in a more appropriate way than some of the means that they may try at home. Thats where we get into drinking. We dont want that.
FARMER: Across the Army, roughly two-thirds of those who enter the Warrior Transition Units end up getting discharged from the service for medical reasons. But those returning to duty maintain a more rigorous regimen. Soldiers getting out try water aerobics, golf and bowling.
Lieutenant Colonel CHRIS JARVIS (Commander, Warrior Transition Unit): During the warmer seasons, well do whats called biathlon, which is archery combined with a kind of a nature walk.
FARMER: Lieutenant Colonel Chris Jarvis, who commands Fort Campbells Warrior Transition Unit, says its not as leisurely as it sounds. He admits, however, some wounded veterans are reluctant to give up on traditional physical training.
But the Pentagon supports these so-called adaptive sports, even for soldiers leaving the Army. It started putting money directly toward these programs last year. Lieutenant Colonel Jarvis said the payoff comes later.
Lt. Col. JARVIS: Were really looking at a lifetime of fitness.
Ms. HAMPTON: Coming into all fours, fingers are spread wide here, starfish hands.
FARMER: As for making yoga a lifelong pastime? Maybe, says Specialist Stefan with the 101st Airborne Division.
Spc. STEFAN: At first, I was skeptical because I liked running, you know, six or 10 miles in a day - just doing it the 101st way. But the positive thing is for me to focus on what I can do to overcome symptoms of PTSD, rather than getting stuck in a rut - the self-centered oh-me mentality, which I used to have.
FARMER: Stefan says he wants to be a proactive veteran, and right now that involves starfish hands. In yogas defense, Stefan says, dont forget the warrior pose.
For NPR News, Im Blake Farmer in Nashville.
MONTAGNE: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Renee Montagne.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:
And Im Mary Louise Kelly.
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