Life of a Yogi as a Military Veteran
As I sit here on the eve of Veterans Day 2015, I can’t help but notice all these old memories and emotions creeping their way out of the deepest darkest cracks of my mind. They immediately flash me back to the long days suffering though boot camp, long months working with little to no sleep over in Middle East and more than half of the last 10 years away from my family and loved ones.
My memories also flash me back to some of my deepest most beautiful meditations I remember. I was on the roofs of mud huts in eastern Afghanistan, covered in snow in the middle of the night. Under the most beautiful ceiling of stars and galaxies that felt closer to me than anywhere else in the world.
How is it that I found my deepest most beautiful mediations half way across the world, covered in snow, in freezing temperatures, and in the middle of a war-zone?
I remember the days after getting out of the Marine Corps when I was 24 years, what felt like decades ago. I was scared, confused and didn’t know exactly what I was meant to do in this life time. So, I took a job as a communication engineer with guaranteed travel of 50-70% of the year to hazardous duty areas. I was young, excited to continue to serve my country, and filled with anger to help root out the terrorists that did what they did to our country on 9-11.
From 2004 to 2008, I travelled over twenty times to hazardous duty areas, spending 70% of four years in a very high stress job, working 12-20 hour days, seven days a week. I was young and full of drive and energy, but my tank was starting to get empty and the stress had taken its toll on me.
After a few injuries I no longer could find my stress relief through running. After several failed attempts by my roommate I finally took her up on taking a yoga class with her. Being a stubborn Marine, of course I made her take me to the hardest class on the schedule with expectations of it still being easy and full of hippies. It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t full of hippies. It was very hard, very humbling and very full of nice amazing people. It was in savasana during that class where I got my first taste of something I had never experienced. It was that “sweetness”, that I later discovered to be bliss, that sparked an amber of light that would soon grow into a flame of a spiritual practice.
Fast forward six month and roughly 100 plus yoga classes, I found myself having a daily yoga practice and searching for a teacher training that would fit into my crazy work travel schedule. I found that the only vacation time I had that year was in October and it was only for two weeks. I had just returned from another work trip where I would take my “hazardous duty” pay and put it a separate savings account. Searching the internet I found this 10-day immersion 200 hour Life of Yogi Teacher training. I had no idea who Sri Dharma Mittra or what type of yoga he taught but I looked at it anyway. When I looked at the schedule and price it all fit into my vacation days and budget but there was something funny about the cost of the training. I had seen that exact same number very recently. I clicked on webpage I had up with my bank statement open and there staring me in the face was the same exact dollar amount of the teacher training. I remember having a surge of unfamiliar emotions surge through my body and like I had no control of my physical body, I filled out the essay and paid in full right then and there. What did I just do?
That next weekend I traveled NYC to see this person I just spent thousands of dollars on without knowing anything about except a “feeling” deep inside I had no control over. I found myself at the bottom of a long set of stairs to a small yoga studio on 3rd Avenue in New York City. I was about a half hour early for class, as us Marines always are, and I remember walking into this small humble studio, smelling like incense, and seeing a older gentleman on a ladder fixing a light. As I stood there I felt this deep warming in my heart that I’ve never felt before and then this little old man said to me, “I’ve been waiting for you…….now come her and help me with this ladder”. It was at the very moment I knew I had found home.
Since that beautiful fall day back in 2008, I’ve since taken Sri Dharma Mittra’s Life of a Yogi 200, 500 and 800 hour programs and spent countless days in the 3rd Avenue studio and 23rd Street temple. Dharma Yoga Center has become my home and Sri Dharma Mittra’s teachings have changed my life so deeply leading from the dark cloud I was once under into the beautiful world full of light that we live in.
It was these teachings that change my life and put me on a path to spread Sri Dharma Mittra’s teachings to other veterans like myself that were or are in these dark moments in life. We still have 22 veterans a day that committee suicide here in the United States. It has been these teaching of yoga that have prevented me from spiraling down this hole of depression, darkness and worse. It was just this year that I realized why I went through what I did and why I had found myself at door step of the Dharma Yoga Center. I was meant to share this teaching to others that have been or are going through the darkness I had been through.
In May of 2015 I founded VETOGA Incorporated. A Washington D.C. based non-profit organization whose mission is to provide yoga, meditation, and healing arts to military, veterans, their families, and communities. The vision of VETOGA is to build sustainable communities by bringing the healing aspects of yoga to veterans, their families, and communities. VETOGA provide access to a range of healing modalities to facilitate healthy minds, bodies and spirits. VETOGA will also host the first veteran specific 200-Hour Teacher Training in 2016 to equip veterans with the holistic tools and teachings to continue to pass on the healing power of yoga. This 200-Hour Teacher Training will be deeply based on the teaching of Sri Dharma Mittra teachings and will be the cultivation of everything I’ve learned from my beloved guru.
In loving service of Sri Dharma Mittra,
Yogi Hanuman (Justin Blazejewski)
Justin’s introduction to yoga began in 2007 while he was searching for different exercises that would help with a back injury he sustained while serving in the Marine Corps. Soon after his first class he dove into a daily yoga practice, quickly realizing the physical benefits of yoga when his back pain began to disappear after only a couple of weeks.
Since 2008 he has completed his 200, 500, and 800 hour Dharma Mittra Yoga, Amrit Method of Yoga Nidra, and Acro Yoga teacher training's.
His mission is to help others and share the powerful healing benefits of yoga and meditation. He strives to share yoga to those who need it most in life, especially his brothers and sisters of the armed services and veterans who still carry the encumbrance of war with them every day.