WOUNDED WARRIORS: AN INTERVIEW WITH CHRIS EDER

We sit down with yoga teacher and military veteran Chris Eder, founder of Mala For Vets, an organization whose mission is to support veterans through the mindfulness of yoga. He talks to us about his journey to becoming a yogi, first as a soldier, then as a journalist, and now, as a teacher with a vision.

Words: Chris Eder and Vanessa Gardner // Images: Woody Nitibhon

WAS THERE A MOMENT WHEN YOU REALIZED YOU WANTED TO SHARE THE YOGA PRACTICE AS SOMETHING BEYOND YOURSELF?

Chris: I think that the wanting to share it with vets initially started with my 2003 deployment to Baghdad, and after everyone would leave work, we would be at the convention center where they would hold the big press conferences. After everyone would leave, we would push things aside in the same room where we announced we just captured Saddam Hussein, and I would watch videos with my fellow service members doing yoga. And so I’m like this is kind of cool, right? And then, my 2007 deployment is when I first started teaching. I wasn’t a teacher--it just so happened that they needed someone to teach a class and my schedule had shifted. I was doing the morning radio show over there, and so I had the afternoon off and there were tons of yoga classes in the afternoon. But then I got switched to the news department, which meant I needed to find a morning yoga class and there was no one teaching it. And so, they asked me if I would teach it, and I was like, "Well, I’m not a teacher". But--long story short--a friend of mine, the same person who got me interested in yoga in the first place, back in 1999, wrote out a word for word, breath by breath class, with stick figures. So I basically laid that out in front of my mat and the first couple of weeks I read it word for word, and then I memorized it as a script and I was teaching 5 classes a week. From there, I moved to Italy where I wanted to continue to teach, so I did a “yoga fit” training to get a certification, started working with some wounded warriors there, and really got into it. So when I moved back to the States in 2009 or 2010, I got my official certification through Frog Lotus Yoga and that’s when I thought, it’d really be cool if I paid attention to this particular population--I’m one of them. When I came back from my training, I linked up to this organization, Semper Fidelis Health and Wellness, who were doing just that. From there, I discovered an organization called Mindful Yoga Therapy, where I'm now the Director of Communications, and it just kind of exploded that way. 

in that process of going through YOUR YOGA TEACHER training, was that the inspiration for malas for vets?

Chris:  One day, my daughter, who always wants to do arts and crafts projects, wanted to work on a project, so I took her to Michaels [an arts and crafts store], and I saw a little Buddha pendant--it was carved and looked cool, so I thought, I’ll make a mala. I found some wood beads and I strung them together and I’m like, "Yeah, this is cool", and I gave that to one of the yoga studios where I teach. And they're like, "Oh this is cool, but did you know that malas are supposed to have 108 beads?" 

I came home that night, and I’m thinking, “huh, this is kind of fun", so I researched it, and I’m wondering if anyone is making mala beads for vets. I Googled “mala for vets”--nothing. I’ve been doing it over 3 years now. And I'm self-taught; it looks like a bead store threw up in my room down here. 

So we [began] Mala For Vets--now what are we going to do with this? So I started making the Warrior Mala; I’m now on the third version of this mala, and I’m pretty happy with it. And I just donate them. So the first year or so it was all out of my pocket, to [various veteran organizations] and to vets around the country.

You can buy one for yourself, you can buy one to give to a vet, you can buy one and I can give it to a vet. So there are all these different little programs that we can do with the Warrior Mala. Very exciting. There is a mala that I make as part of my seva project: a “Mindful Yoga Therapy" Mala, which is similar and supports Mindful Yoga Therapy

was there ever an initial hesitation ABOUT what you were doing, or how you were introducing this to others, particularly vets?

Chris: My largest audience isn’t vets, the majority of people who buy malas are not vets, and that’s where the hardest part is. I’m finding that when it comes to military warriors, female warriors are already in love with everything about yoga--they already knowingly or unknowingly know the benefits of yoga. The men, not so much. However, with all these warriors being diagnosed with PTSD, the trickle is starting to become more of a flow. And so I’m getting these people, who not only did I never think would do yoga, but now they are like, "Hey, I want one of these malas".

I want to use Mala For Vets as a platform to advocate more on the benefits of yoga and meditation, but more specifically the benefits of yoga and meditation within the military community, particularly those with [post-traumatic stress disorder]. 


ABOUT MALA FOR VETS

 

Mala For Vets is Chris Eder's seva project to raise money for veteran organizations such as Mindful Yoga Therapy for Vets (where he is the Communications Director) and the Give Back Yoga Foundation.  Chris is a 200-hour Yoga Alliance-registered Vinyasa and Hatha Interdisciplinary yoga teacher.  He is also a Sivana Ambassador and is currently working on his advanced 500-hour yoga teacher training. A retired Master Sergeant in the U.S. Air Force deployed to the Middle East in the early 2000s, Chris also has PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and ADD (attention deficit disorder). To learn more about supporting yogi veterans, visit the Mala For Vets website, and find them on Instagram.