Class leads warriors in way of peace

Vietnam veteran says yoga has changed his life
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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A local workshop offered some peace of mind to participants Saturday, including a Vietnam War veteran. The Peace for Warriors martial arts and yoga workshop was scheduled to take place from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday at Canyon Spirit Yoga Center on Auburn Ravine Road. Gopal Andre Sims, the workshop’s teacher, said the course is about building confidence and camaraderie for everyday people who are experiencing tough times in their lives. “To me it’s just time to help people overcome anxieties,” Sims said. “I’m becoming more and more aware of the thought that really a lot of people don’t know how to achieve peace of mind without it being driven by alcohol or drugs.” Susan Whitaker, who owns Canyon Spirit Yoga Center and is offering the workshop for the first time at her studio, said she likes the mission of the workshop. “I love the idea that he’s working with people who feel overwhelmed by stress or circumstances in their lives,” Whitaker said. “He’s using a combined peaceful approach of yoga and a peaceful approach of martial arts.” Sims said the martial arts used in the workshop is non-violent, because it doesn’t encourage those defending themselves to lash out, but rather use their attacker’s force against them. The workshop offers a calming outlet for veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, which is necessary in today’s world, Whitaker said. “They come home and they have no support, and they are in shock,” she said. “So I’m really excited somebody is stepping up and saying, ‘Hey, this is a community issue, not just a military issue.’” Georgetown resident Rob Edwards is a United States Navy veteran of the Vietnam War who planned to attend the workshop Saturday. Edwards owns his own yoga studio, currently called The Yoga Place, on his property in Georgetown. Edwards was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder more than 20 years after he served in Vietnam from 1967 to 1969. Edwards began therapy and medical treatments for the disorder, but it wasn’t enough, he said. “It didn’t turn the corner for me,” Edwards said. “I was treading water through all those modalities of treatment.” He didn’t begin taking yoga classes as a way to deal with post-traumatic stress, but as a way to strengthen muscles affected by his job as a farrier, or horse-shoer, Edwards said. “I first started doing yoga because my chiropractor told me to,” he said. “By that point my life was a mess. I was physically getting better because of the yoga, but emotionally and a lot of other ways I was falling apart.” Edwards said he started feeling depressed and was essentially non-functional. It was then that he was diagnosed with the disorder, right around the 15th anniversary of the fall of Saigon. Edwards said he soon realized that he had to keep doing yoga, and that it helped him with his addictions and physical pains, and that its principles were comforting to him. He decided to go through the training to become a yoga instructor, and discovered even more how much it was helping him. “I thought, ‘Wow, there is so much more to yoga,’ … but I had to go through the intensity of the teacher’s training to realize that.” Edwards said he thinks yoga is helpful to those with the disorder because it allows you to quiet your mind and think about only what you are doing in the moment. “It puts you in a position to where you have to pay attention to what’s going on,” he said. “You can’t be thinking of too much else, so it is a place to get that union of the body and the mind.” Edwards said he encourages those diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder to try yoga as an outlet for healing. “I was treated for alcohol addiction,” he said. “I was treated for all kinds of things. My life was a mess and I couldn’t figure out why (before I was diagnosed). Yoga to me has been the tool that’s really made a difference in my life.” Reach Bridget Jones at