- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 16, 2006

PENSACOLA, Fla. — When Marine Lt. Alan Zarracina did the splits after months of struggling with the difficult pose in yoga class, the limber women around him applauded.

Lt. Zarracina, a 24-year-old Naval Academy graduate and flight student, said he would have a hard time explaining the scene to other Marines.

Each class ends with a chant for peace. Then, instructor Nancy La Nasa hands students incense sticks as a gift for their 90 minutes of backbends, shoulder stands and other challenging positions.

Lt. Zarracina has tried to drag some of his military friends to class, but they make fun of him. “It’s not necessarily considered masculine,” he said.

Still, the popular classes, based on ancient Hindu practices of meditation through controlled breathing, balancing and stretching, are catching on in military circles as a way to improve flexibility, balance and concentration. A former Navy SEAL told Lt. Zarracina about the class.

The August edition of Fit Yoga, the nation’s second-largest yoga magazine with a circulation of 100,000, features a photo of two Naval aviators doing yoga poses in full combat gear aboard an aircraft carrier.

“At first, it seemed a little shocking — soldiers practicing such a peaceful art,” wrote Rita Trieger, magazine editor.

Upon closer inspection, she said, she noticed “a sense of inner calm” on the aviators’ faces.

“War is hell, and if yoga can help them find a little solace, that’s good,” said Miss Trieger, a longtime New York yoga instructor.

Retired Adm. Tom Steffens, who spent 34 years as a Navy SEAL and served as the director of the elite corps’ training, regularly practices yoga at his home in Norfolk.

“Once in a while, I’ll sit in class and everyone is a 20-something young lady with a 10-inch waist, and here I am this old guy,” he said.

Adm. Steffens, who said the stretching helped him eliminate the stiffness of a biceps injury after surgery, said the benefits of regular practice can be enormous.

“The yoga cured all kinds of back pains,” he said. “Being a SEAL, you beat up your body.”

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