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Retreat Team Spotlight – Brian Cooke

Retreat Team Spotlight – Brian Cooke

 

The Universe unfolds in amazing ways.  While on a family vacation in Crystal Beach, Texas, I read a front-page article in “The Local” magazine about the newly opened Lone Survivor Foundation retreat center.  I thought to myself, “Self, I wonder if they have yoga at their retreats?”  I called up the program manager and asked.  “Hey, I know a guy who is a USMC vet, law enforcement officer, trauma-sensitive trained yoga and meditation teacher, and he wants to teach at LSF retreats.”  I got hired for the next retreat.  As LSF’s original yoga teacher, I spent the following few months meeting with the other professional retreat staff and developed the yoga and meditation curriculum at LSF taught to this day.  I used the Veterans Yoga Project methodology, the 5 tools of Breathing, Mindful Movement, Meditation, Guided Rest, and Gratitude, and integrated them into the retreat model in a way that synergized with the other therapeutic modalities.

I’m not your “normal” yoga teacher.  I’m a former Marine and retired Federal Agent.  I drive a big muscle car, not a Prius.  I hate kombucha tea and love great steaks, BBQ and margaritas.  But that also makes me living proof you don’t have to be a tree-hugging hippie to practice yoga and meditation and live a life on a path to wellness.

For 28 years I practiced and taught combative martial arts, primarily Tang Soo Do and Jujitsu.  I spent a career in the military and law enforcement and my body and mind paid the price.  Lots of injuries, surgeries, and traumatic experiences, all taken in stride doing what I loved to do.  I took pills for pain, pills to sleep, and went to a chiropractor often.  In my late 30’s I realized that if I wanted to still walk by the time I was 50 I needed to change something.  I made a difficult personal decision to stop practicing martial arts, something I had done since age 6.  That left a void in my life, a void ultimately filled by yoga.

Yoga?  Isn’t that stretching for girls, something housewives do?  Like most vets, cops and tough guys, that’s what I thought too.  Then I went to my first class.  It kicked my ass and I felt great after.  I didn’t know how or why this yoga stuff worked back then, but I knew I felt better after class, slept better, and had much less chronic pain.  Like many people, I came to the yoga mat for physical reasons, and then stayed and the mental benefits transformed me.  Being a natural teacher, I learned more, got certified, trained in trauma-sensitive yoga, and began a new path.  A wise teacher once told me, “Brian, don’t’ teach yoga, just share your practice.”  That’s what I do now; share my practice, with my fellow warriors.

Vets are not inclined to buy into strange Eastern practices and rituals, and we don’t need to.  I didn’t know the how or why yoga and meditation worked so I learned the science behind it and that is how I teach it.  I teach participants about their brain, their body’s natural responses, and how to use the breath and yoga poses to hack your brain and re-take control of your body and mind.  When vets understand, in a “For Dummies” way, the how and why yoga works, and learn some practices, they have tools they take with them for a lifetime.  What if I asked, “who wants a pill that is guaranteed, over time, to reduce your PTSD symptoms of stress, anxiety, anger, and even chronic pain?  It’s free, you don’t need a prescription, and you don’t have to go to the VA clinic to get it.  Who wants that pill?”  That “pill,” is yoga and meditation.

I am incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to share my practice and give back to my community of warriors.  Sharing the healing power of yoga and meditation with those who suffer the physical and mental scars of protecting our freedom is one of the most fulfilling endeavors of my life.

Brian also serves as the Regional Program Manager, South Central Region, for Veterans Yoga Project.  He teaches classes, workshops, and retreats for other veterans organizations in Texas and regular yoga classes as well.  He is also a writer with over a dozen published articles on the topics of yoga and mindfulness.  Brian has over 300 hours of yoga teaching experience and over 20 years experience teaching martial arts to students of all ages.  He is a Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT) through Yoga Alliance and a graduate of UC Berkeley’s Awareness Training Institute.  He is LSF’s original yoga teacher and has been teaching at the Crystal Beach retreat center since it opened in 2015.  Brian retired in 2018 as a Special Agent with the U.S. Department of State, Diplomatic Security Service.  His service took him to over 45 countries with tours in Peru and El Salvador and service in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.  He served on the protective security details of Secretary’s of State, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and Hillary Clinton. 

For more information about the Lone Survivor Foundation’s therapeutic support services, please visit https://lonesurvivorfoundation.org/service-members/

 

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