True to her naval training, Kathryn Thomas never backs down from a challenge. After fulfilling her childhood dream of becoming a helicopter pilot, she suffered an injury that would require her to medically separate from the United States Navy. “I went from achieving my dreams and goals to thinking I was nothing. I lost my identity of being a pilot,” explained Thomas.
As part of her recovery, her physician recommended she try yoga to heal her physical and mental well-being. “While I was on my mat for that hour, I focused on what I could still achieve,” she said. This experience inspired Thomas to help others also dealing with life-changing or traumatic experiences. Thus, Yoga 4 Change was born.
Yoga 4 Change is a non-profit organization that helps veterans, incarcerated individuals, vulnerable youth, and those dealing with substance abuse in the Jacksonville/North Florida area. Through her yoga teachings, she encourages people to rediscover their own strength and abilities. What makes Yoga 4 Change so effective is the sense of unity and togetherness that Thomas establishes in her classes.
“Yoga allowed me to believe in myself again, and now my students are able to believe in themselves again too.”
Thomas has found that building a community and a sense of togetherness is especially helpful for veterans making the transition to civilian life.“It’s really hard,” said Thomas. “You don’t know how hard it is until you go through it, and people really downplay that transition.” Along with creating a sense of community, her classes strive to teach veterans to accept themselves on the mat, which then becomes acceptance of themselves off the mat. “I want every veteran transitioning out of the service to know they’re good enough to do whatever it is they want to do,” Thomas said.
So, why did Thomas and her husband choose Florida as the place to call home when they started their civilian lives? According to Thomas, Florida is the best state for veterans because of the number of support networks available. Since Veterans Florida was founded, she has been able to tap into the resources Veterans Florida has to offer, like garnering support and funds to keep her Yoga 4 Change dream alive. “It is imperative that a veteran transitioning out of service check into the different avenues and be able to connect with those communities,” she explained. “When one veteran succeeds, the whole community succeeds.”
Ready to unroll your own yoga mat? Find an event near you!