The Power Within
By Brianna Renner
“This is recruit Power.”
“Cookie? I love you!”
“ I have arrived safely at Parris Island.”
“We love you so much!”
“Please do not send any food or bulky items to me in the mail.”
“Ok. I will write to you every day!”
“I will contact you in 3 to 5 days by postcard with my new address.”
“Ok. We will look for it. We love you!”
“Thank you for your support. Good bye for now.”
“We love you and will see you…”
I grew up like most kids of the 80’s. We lived in a great neighborhood, with great friends, parents who supported us and loved us no matter what crazy things we did. We weren’t perfect; we had our bad times, but we were a solid, mostly happy family.
So when I left home at 18 to join the Marine Corps, it was a big shock to the system. I had never been away from my family more than a week, and even then I talked to them almost every day. There is a long bus ride to Parris Island from the airport that includes driving over a long bridge. It is the only way on and off the island. In the distance are the lights from base but all around you is empty darkness. On the bus is silence you can feel. Around you are 50 other people wondering the same thing: what the hell have I done?
That first phone call was the worst. Hearing my mom telling me how much she loved me in one ear, in the other a drill instructor counting us down, and me in the middle, trying to hold it together. I did, mostly.
During our early morning PT sessions, I would lie on the dewy grass, the air already hot, fire ants already biting, underneath a setting moon and rising sun and think to myself, “My family is seeing the same sun. The same moon.” In my mind, I wasn’t that far away if I could remember that my family was underneath the same sky. I could handle the yelling, the running, the shooting and the tests. The absolute hardest part about boot camp was being so far away from my family. But there was something in those early mornings that brought me a sense of peace, a connection that no drill instructor could sever.
Over the three months of boot camp, the recruits in my platoon became my family, my sisters. We struggled, held each other up, overcame fears and shortcomings, and somehow managed to become Marines. The last cadence we sing together as we march onto the parade deck includes the line, “We are women Marines and we march with pride, shoulder to shoulder and side by side.”
For 5 years, the Marines by my side became my family. Brothers and sisters, they pushed me, supported me, some were cruel, and some less than stellar, but they all helped shape who I am today. When I left the Corps, I thought I was done with it all. I thought, I’m out now. I can have a normal life.
Even though my husband was still in, I very quickly realized how much I missed my Marine family. Very little compares to the sense of brotherhood you get from being in the Marines. I transitioned fine into civilian life, but always felt as though something was missing.
Enter yoga. I actually went to my first class with my mom when I was home on leave. It was fine enough, but I completely missed the point. I can remember looking around the room, comparing myself to everyone else, making sure I was going “deeper” into each pose. (I guess I can be pretty competitive.) It wasn’t until a few years later that I started practicing yoga regularly, and even then it was because I was pregnant and wanted to be awesome at childbirth. I didn’t want to be that woman cursing my husband and throwing things. (Spoiler: I didn’t curse or throw anything. In fact I cheered and laughed as the New England Patriots were beating the pants off of Tampa Bay, in between pushes of course.)
As I started going to regular classes, I felt this sense of community. Not exactly what I was looking for, but it was close. I learned that yoga means unity; that we are all connected; body, breath, and spirit. As time passed and my practice evolved, I began teaching. I went to teacher trainings, attended workshops, and went to as many classes as I could. At one such workshop, I happened to meet a young Marine with a service dog. He was at this retreat center and had a Wounded Warrior Project shirt on. Then it clicked. I knew in that moment that I wanted to somehow work with veterans and yoga, but I had no idea how.
Through a series of, at the time, seemingly random events (as in, subbing a class last minute only to meet a woman who wanted to start teaching yoga at the local VA, another student wanting me to go to a workshop on yoga for veterans only for my husband to flip his truck on ice so I couldn’t go) I ended up attending yet another training, this time with the Veterans Yoga Project. It was a training on how to teach yoga to veterans who are managing signs and symptoms of post-traumatic stress. The entire 15 hour training (it’s an all weekend investment), is learning about what PTS is, why the military is so affected, but most importantly, how yoga can be a beautiful alternative to drugs or other forms of therapies. This was it. I built up the courage to talk to the instructor, patiently waited my turn, thanked him for everything he had done, and told him I wanted to help. Driving the nearly 8 hours home, with lights of the cities in the distance, darkness and silence around me, I no longer questioned what the hell I had done. I knew in my heart I made the right decision.
At the end of each yoga class, we finish by saying Namaste: the light, the divine, the energy within me, sees and honors the light, the divine, and the energy within you. Each time my veterans say it, each time they hold their hands to their hearts, I am reminded of that day nearly 18 years ago when I sang that cadence alongside my sister Marines. I am reminded that no matter our story, no matter what has brought us to this moment, we are here together. Under the same moon, under the same sun
MARK YOUR CALENDARS and GET INVOLVED!