It’s for women in spandex. It’s for pretzel bodies. You have to be a vegetarian. You have to be a hippie.
These were the sorts of responses that Robin Carnes got when—during her six years of work at an acute PTSD treatment program in Walter Reed Army Medical Center—she asked active-duty military service members to say whatever came to mind when they thought about yoga. "There would be a lot of rolling of eyes, like, really? Yoga? You gotta be kidding me."
Despite yoga clashing with the military stereotype, there’s evidence that suggests it may be useful in treating the PTSD that afflicts one in five veterans. One recent study found that after a week of meditation training, veterans with PTSD experienced reduced symptoms one year later, even if they hadn’t continued practicing at home. Another found women with PTSD who participated in yoga classes were more likely to maintain progress achieved in their treatment programs.
Recently Carnes came across something that she thinks could help reverse the stigma against yoga among military communities: Yoga Joes: little green army men toys striking yoga poses.
It’s a Kickstarter project started by Dan Abramson , who is also the founder of a yoga bag and mat company called Brogamats. Like Brogamats (which come printed with burritos, lumberjack plaid, and other apparently manly motifs), he wanted Yoga Joes to help reverse the stereotype that only women do yoga. "Mostly I thought it was funny," he says. He realized only after cutting up and melting G.I. Joes into asana positions, taking a 3-D scanning class, teaching himself 3-D design software, printing prototype figurines, posting the project to Kickstarter, and receiving an outpouring of support from the military community that there might be another ideological level to the project.
One of the military-focused organizations that contacted him was Warriors at Ease, which has trained 500 yoga instructors to teach military members, veterans, and families since Carnes founded it in 2009. "Dan’s little figures will have the capacity to turn one archetype blended into another archetype, and that is that real men who do things like work as service members and protect our country can also do yoga," Carnes says. "Those two things are not opposites, in other words."
Abramson’s Kickstarter project still has a long way to go before Yoga Joes are a reality. So far it’s raised about $10,000 of its $40,000 goal. But he and Warriors at Ease have already started discussing the possibility of starting a program for military kids in which the Joes would be used not only as a reward for donations, but also as a tool for teachers to use in classes.
"I’m not saying it’s going to revolutionize and get rid of all the stigma, get rid of all the stereotypes," Carnes says. "But I think it’s a playful poke at that idea. And it will loosen people up."