Enjoying the Exercise, Part 2: Chaplain puts meditation in motion with yoga

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Carolyn Viss
  • Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam Public Affairs
Joining the active-duty military at age 41 wasn't intimidating to Dr. Christine Blice-Baum, a pastor, wife and mother.

In 1997, when she decided to accept a direct commission to the Air Force as a military chaplain, she had already been a pastor for more than 12 years after completing her Ph.D and becoming ordained. She could run a mile and do the push-ups and sit-ups she needed to do, thanks to the help of her son's football coach, and was excited to make the drastic change in her life.

After her first year of active duty, Chaplain Blice-Baum was in great shape, especially after losing 20 pounds on Weight Watchers and starting a Body for Life regimen. But by the time she reached the rank of major, the fit, petite chaplain was looking for even more. The cardio, weight training and calorie-counting kept the O-4 where she needed to be by military standards, but she was looking for the missing piece to her fitness puzzle.

"Two years ago, I decided to go to yoga here at Hickam," Chaplain Blice-Baum said. "I went to my first yoga class and said, 'Ah! This is the missing piece!' This felt like it completed the fitness triad for me. It was spiritual, but it was challenging. I was intrigued."

She attended twice a week until she got orders to deploy to Iraq in the early part of 2010. Wanting to keep up what had become a habit for her, she brought her mat and some videos with her on deployment. But doing yoga by herself wasn't as fulfilling as the group sessions she was used to, so she offered to lead a yoga practice through the installation's force support office.

"We averaged, on each session, from nine to 19 people," she said. I had (explosive ordnance disposal) guys, firefighters, Army guys, Airmen and civilians. Folks came religiously -- folks who didn't normally come to chapel."

Chaplain Blice-Baum informally led 36 yoga sessions in Iraq. During that time, she decided she wanted to become certified to formally teach yoga, and upon her redeployment, she found a yoga studio.

Beginning in the middle of August, she began an intense, 17-hours-per-week advanced teacher training course, completing 200 hours of work in three months at Open Space Yoga, Honolulu.

"Now I'm a (registered yoga teacher) 200," she said. She now carries the titles of doctor, chaplain, major, misses, and RYT200, depending on what role she fills at any given time.

Having joined the Air Force at an age when many people are retiring from it, she said she is faced with issues of keeping up with a younger force. Chaplain Blice-Baum said yoga helps her tremendously.

"It keeps me active and focusing on the things that are important in the aging process, but also to encourage younger folks to continue with moderation so that you're able to use your body for health," she said.

It goes hand in hand with nutrition and a balance of exercises, and the result is being able to use our bodies as a gift to serve others, she said. It creates a mindfulness of what produces tension in the body and an understanding of alignment, which Chaplain Blice-Baum said is great for physical, spiritual and emotional well-being.

"I'm more aware of my body, and I'm aware of my limitations," she said. "The good thing about yoga is, when you come to the mat and you start the sequences, it becomes a very centering thing. It's not competitive -- it's about the breathing and preparing yourself for meditation, she said.

"It's a meditation in motion," she said as she described the sun salutations and other sequences she leads during class. She often uses the meditative process of yoga to remember people in prayer, which is part of her daily life as you "learn to center the mind and move to a new spiritual place."

"If I find myself getting stressed in a given day, I can instantly stop and breathe, and it calms me," she said. This greatly helped her while she was deployed to Iraq. She made it her intention to remain calm in difficult situations.

"When you're there and you're hearing the .50-cals, and the helicopters, and it's 120 degrees outside, you can just stop and breathe," she said. "It's completely calming."

Now, she uses yoga to not only continue the practice she finds the most fulfilling in her "trinity" of exercises, she also offers free classes to bring others into the calming, balancing, centering act of meditation in motion.

She does it for the health of it.

Chaplain Blice-Baum's free yoga classes, "Finding Your Spiritual Center," are offered at the Chapel Center at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam Mondays and Thursdays from 5 to 6:15 p.m. For more information, call 449-1754.