Yoga helps Manatee vets cope with mental, physical pains

MANATEE -- For a few moments each week, the Connected Warrior yoga class pushes back on aches and pains, and memories bringing nothing but anguish.

Some come with post-traumatic stress disorder, diabetic neuropathy, lower back problems, bad knees and more.

Heyward Hawkins, 77, served in the U.S. Air Force from 1956 to 1960 during peacetime.

"I look forward to coming here for what it does for me mentally and physically," Hawkins said. "When I am in yoga class, I am reminded that someone cares about me."

Goodwill Manasota began offering free yoga classes for veterans and their families at 8490 Lockwood Ridge Road in 2014.

Harriet Roberts and Linda Lee of Garden of the Heart Yoga, who present the Connected Warrior class, said they feel honored to lead the local veterans.

They know some veteran problems will be with them all of their days.

"We all have stuff that we're dealing with," Lee said, who at age 17 was struck by a car and thrown 25 feet. Through yoga, she has been able to stay active and keep herself out of a wheelchair for the past 30 years, she said.

Brian Saum, a 39-year-old U.S. Army veteran, showed impressive flexibility during a recent yoga class.

"It helps center you and helps keep your focus," said Saum, who works full time as a peer mentor for Jewish Family and Children's Service of the Suncoast's Operation Military Assistance Program. "Yoga makes you take time to stop and relax. Veterans tend to hold everything in without even realizing it."

Ernie Lohmann, 62, served in the U.S. Army from 1974-86, and watched his weight hit 428 pounds after he was discharged.

"When I was that big I thought I was going to die," Lohmann said.

These days, he weighs a svelte 216 pounds and works on physical conditioning at the Connected Warrior class.

"Yoga has become much more acceptable to the veteran community," Roberts said.

For information about Connected Warrior yoga at Goodwill Manasota, call 941-355-2721, ext. 451.

James A. Jones Jr., Herald reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter@jajones1.