Four years have passed since the Army revamped what’s known as the Army’s Physical Readiness Training (PRT) program, and yogic exercises are increasingly incorporated into much of the new training. The twist? The Army doesn’t call it yoga in the Physical Readiness Training online tutorial.
“Included in the new PRT (Physical Readiness Training) are hip mobility drills and active cool-downs, some of which resemble yoga, such as the extend and flex,” said Corporal Evan Cooper, a former infantry squad leader. “This is a combination of downward facing dog and sun salutation, but not referred to as yoga in the military fitness world, while in the civilian world it is.”
Gaining first-hand perspective on how soldiers carry out their exercise on a daily basis and after the shock of boot camp, 1st Lt. Dave McCarthy, a platoon leader with the 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry Regiment in El Paso, Texas, told the Daily Beast: “I’ve often been told to think of the physical readiness program as a way to maintain your current level of fitness and help prevent injuries. I try and vary up the conditioning through swimming, running, sprinting, and such.”
While wounded soldiers and veterans can participate in classes that are unambiguously yogic, as part of post-deployment programming, the Army is unequivocally getting its chataranga flow on with its troops in the pre-deployment phase—exercises seem to be taken directly from the teachings of yoga guru B.K.S. Iyenger.
What the Army calls squat position is essentially a precursor to crow pose in yoga—with benefits to the groin, core, and arms. Think the straddle stance looks an awful lot like mountain pose? They are spitting images of one another. What the Army calls prone position echoes yoga’s chataranga dandasana. And just like in yoga, the Army’s version has the elbows tight along the sides of the body at 90 degrees.
Regardless of the suggested exercises being yogic or not, this is not the main concern for McCarthy.
“In my opinion, the exercises suggested by physical readiness training program just don’t hit the level of intensity that I’d like it to be, even if we don’t yet have a set deployment date,” he said. “I use the suggested exercises as a boilerplate for my soldiers and intensify them all.”
For that reason, in times of pre-deployment, the Army uses a different standard of fitness training called Mission Essential Fitness (MEF) to whip soldiers into combat readiness.
According to Cooper, “It’s more akin to CrossFit than yoga, as the program involves sit-ups, push-ups, bar work, and ruck marching.”
Though no yoga exists in Mission Essential Fitness training, many fitness experts would argue most styles of yoga, when paired with this high intensity strength training, could help soldiers achieve even better what the Army intends from their current fitness training program: helping soldiers continue to fight and win.
How long will it take before we see yoga integrated in the Army’s Physical Readiness Training program?
To that question, McCarthy said, “I think that change is slower in the Army because we have pre-established notions of what works and what doesn’t work. When something new is introduced, it may not catch on right away because people may feel it is too light in a certain area of aerobic fitness or strength training, like yoga. But I’m open to anything that can get my soldiers the healthiest and strongest they can be.”
I may have to introduce McCarthy to our allies, the Brits, and their English National Rugby team, who practice something very much akin to power yoga. But for now, we’ll just have to settle on toy Yoga Joes honoring yoga for what it is, instead of calling it the extend and flex.