Wellness for Warriors
One army veteran and CoxHealth are using yoga to help first responders and veterans return to civilian life. Here’s how.
Written by Ettie Berneking | Illustration by Ryan Saunders
After serving 10 years in the army, Kerry Miller knows how hard it can be to return to civilian life. When he saw other veterans struggle to hold down jobs, sustain family life and even keep their health in line, he decided to lend a helping hand and started a wellness course for veterans and first responders through CoxHealth.
Dubbed Wellness for Warriors, Miller’s new course is not your typical veteran support group. Yes, there is talk of the stress and strains of combat and service, but there is also yoga. “Yoga enhances the body and mind,” Miller says. “But the biggest thing is bringing [veterans and first responders] to a place they can call home and build an atmosphere of support and encouragement.”
After a successful eight-week trial run over the summer of 2016, Wellness for Warriors officially kicked off that September. The class is hosted at the Meyer Center (3545 S. National Ave., Springfield) and has regular participants who meet on Thursday nights at for one hour to go over a series of exercises aimed at calming their minds and spirits while also improving their health. “I know how hard service can be,” Miller says. “I joined the Army in ’92; my son was born in ’94, and three months later, my wife left. I’ve experienced the loss due to military life. It’s hard for a young mom and dad and for a young marriage. We want to reach out to people and say you’re not alone.”
Larrose Bolt, who served in the Army Reserves for six years, attended each class during the summer. “War teaches you to do whatever effort at whatever cost,” she says. “They break you down to train you. They break you down till you’re raw. It’s not about healing.” During the eight-week summer session, Bolt worked on her lingering anxiety issues and learned to better value herself. “It’s simple, but it works,” she says. “The yoga is short, but you’re in the moment and forget about how wobbly you are or how uncomfortable you are and focus on what you can do instead. I think it was really helpful.”
Most of the hour-long session is dedicated to yoga and stretching, but part of the hour is set aside for discussion. Professionally trained staff and veteran volunteers make special appearances to talk about relaxing and shutting off the fight-or-flight response. Discussions include how to improve nightly sleep, manage your weight and reduce stress. “This is really about bringing back that structure veterans have while serving,” Miller says. “You’ve heard, ‘Once a Marine, always a Marine.’ That goes for all branches of the military. We’re going to give them a mission in their life and bring back that structure.”
Miller has seen veterans struggle with a return to civilian life. With no mission to complete, no command to report to, Miller says he sees veterans and first responders struggle to find a path outside of service. “I still struggle with that, and I’m 52,” He says. “I see it every day, and I’m not exaggerating. I see veterans and young veterans who have lost their direction and their mission, and it’s overwhelming. We want to be here for them and walk this journey with them.”
Funded through the Cox Foundation, Wellness for Warriors is free for veterans, first responders and their families, and although the course is only offered at the Meyer Center this year, Miller hopes to expand the class to all CoxHealth locations in Branson, Monett and CoxNorth. So far, the yoga has helped Miller relieve lingering pain in his feet and ankles and helped Bolt manage her anxiety, but Miller’s biggest goal is to turn Springfield into a supportive and welcoming home for veterans and first responders. “For me, the biggest thing is building community here in Springfield,” he says. “We hope the community reaches out to veterans like we’ve never seen before.”
To learn more and to see the full schedule of Wellness for Warriors, visit coxhealth.com/events/wellness-warriors.
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