ONTARIO – When Dale Warren came back from combat after the Vietnam War, he needed something that would help him adjust back into civilian life and being in America again. His brother suggested he try yoga, and since then he’s become an avid yoga enthusiast.
After becoming well-versed in the practice, Warren’s brought his passion for yoga into veterans programs here in Mansfield. However, his latest program could help spread his idea to an even wider audience.
Through the help of the Carl and Annamarie Fernyak Fund, Warren helped launch a Yoga for Veterans program at the OhioHealth Ontario Health and Fitness Center.
“I've always been an advocate for yoga and for people with stress and pain and mental relaxation, and they gain all that stuff. To me, it's precious,” Warren said.
The program, which started in mid-July, is designed to increase mindfulness and build resilience. The one-hour class will have participants focus on mindful breathing, gentle movement and posture, deep breathing and gratitude meditation.
The class is free to non-members and open to active military, veterans and family members. Warren said he hopes the program will help veterans become comfortable and content with their family members and develop a connection.
“A lot of veterans, especially combat veterans have a hard time sometimes relating to their families, and this is a good way to get closer to your family,” Warren said.
Warren, a Richland Veterans Mentor Program board member, brought the Yoga for Veterans program to AMVETS Post 26 on Fourth St. five years ago and recruited yoga instructors to teach classes. Eventually, the program moved to the Butterfly House with the help of Annamarie Fernyak, founder and CEO of Mind Body Align. Now they've extended the program to the Ontario Health and Fitness Center.
Warren wanted to attract more veterans to yoga and was prompted by Annamarie to apply for a grant through the Richland County Foundation. Afterward, Fernyak and her husband Carl Fernyak, founder of Richland Source, used their Carl and Annamarie Fund to sponsor the new Yoga for Veterans program.
“Carl and I love this community and feel passionate and purposeful when we are investing in ways that create or support a well-rounded, healthy community,” Annamarie wrote in an emailed response.
The Fernyak’s believe in the transformative power of yoga practice, its ability to connect people to their bodies in a way that allows them to process the experiences of their life and to heal them if needed.
“Members of the military, past and present, are generally offered support which meets their basic needs, and a yoga practice can be an important addition because it helps process their unique military experiences in a new and different way,” Annamarie wrote.
Amy Secrist, an independent yoga and meditation teacher, met Warren five years ago while she was teaching at the Mansfield Art Center during the summer. Warren attended her classes and the two shared a bond over yoga.
Warren invited Secrist to be a yoga instructor at AMVETS where she taught for five years. She was more than ready to accept Warren’s request to become an instructor for the Yoga for Veterans program at the Ontario Health and Fitness Center. She will teach the program alongside fellow yoga instructor Carol Brown.
“I am super excited for this program to now be in the fitness center because of the potential for community building,” Secrist said. “At other locations, the class was isolated, and so you would only go to that location for the class… whereas, at the fitness center, things are going on all the time.”
“[The Ontario Health and Fitness Center] has exposure. More people are going to hear about it,” Secrist said. “And then there's this chance to hang out with other people and maybe create new friendships or have the sense of community, where things can grow out of it.”
Yoga For Veterans occurs every Saturday from 11 a.m. to noon at the Ontario Health and Fitness Center.