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Public Affairs : Resiliency through yoga

Yoga promotes self-awareness, resiliency

By Class of 2014 Cadet John St. Pierre

Among the various clubs and extracurricular activities available to cadets, none has seen a sharper rise in recent months than participation in the Yoga Club.

Originally founded in 2012 by former math instructor Dr. Sheila Miller, the club has evolved from stark beginnings—a handful of cadets meeting ad hoc in the cacophonous, humid combatives rooms—to its current thriving state, where classes are held in Cullum Hall with an array of mats checkerboarding the hardwood floor.

Under the gifted tutelage of Rachel Viselli-Murdock, the club is optimistic about its recent progress and continues to live up to its motto: Inspiring Resilient Warriors. Viselli-Murdock is a 15-year veteran of the San Francisco Ballet and retired having reached the highest rank of principal. She is the wife of Maj. Matthew Cavanaugh, Defense and Strategic Studies instructor and 2002 West Point graduate.

She leads yoga sessions with a genuine enthusiasm for cadets’ personal development into resilient warriors. This enthusiasm has in no small part contributed to the recent upward trend in cadet participation.

In its nascent developmental stage, the program averaged 12 cadets per class. Since the beginning of the second semester, the average has more than tripled to 42 cadets; typically 19 newcomers attend their inaugural session every week.

One of two circumstances must be in play: either cadets have miraculously discovered troves of free time, or increasing numbers of cadets are embracing the physically, mentally and spiritually meaningful activity that is yoga.

Besides these considerations, perhaps another reason for its popularity lies in its applicability to cadet development—a notion that, while seemingly farfetched, is captured in its motto and is demonstrated by cadets regularly.

“Inspiring Resilient Warriors” is more than just a motto, as it serves to capture the link connecting cadets to yoga through the Leadership Development System. Done properly, yoga inspires an individual to improve physical performance, enhance mental function, and develop a deeper sense of self-awareness off the mat.

Resilience is another form of the “toughness” and “spirit to persevere” that are lynchpins of the academy’s Leadership Development System. Lastly, Warrior alludes to the “warrior” asana (pose). With deep roots in Indian culture, the word “yoga” itself (“yug” in Sanskrit) literally means “to harness.” The “warrior spirit” so often talked about in the Leader Development System is the manifestation of harnessing physical, mental and spiritual abilities.

These are abilities that more and more cadets are developing and harnessing through the Yoga Club.

Some cadets, like Class of 2013 Cadet Alex Morrow, see yoga as an opportunity to “train, recover and prevent injury.” Others, like Class of 2013 Cadet Francine Vasquez , a member of the Army Volleyball Team, embrace the opportunity to reflect and unwind in such a remarkably historical and peaceful space—perhaps the only venue on post where the two coalesce.

No matter their personal reasons for attending, all cadets stand to benefit from Viselli-Murdock’s brand of yoga and its overarching goal of inspiring cadets to become resilient warriors.

As the program continues to grow, the hope is to earn the status as a Directorate of Cadet Activities sponsored club and share its positive impact with more cadets to come.
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The purpose of the Yoga Club is to inspire and develop “resilient warriors” in the Corps of Cadets. Photos by Class of 2015 Cadet Rachel Oliver

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Rachel Viselli-Murdock leads a group of cadets through a yoga session at Cullum Hall.

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Under the gifted tutelage of Rachel Viselli-Murdock, the club is optimistic about its recent progress and continues to live up to its motto: Inspiring Resilient Warriors. Viselli-Murdock is a 15-year veteran of the San Francisco Ballet and retired having reached the highest rank of principal. She is the wife of Maj. Matthew Cavanaugh, Defense and Strategic Studies instructor and 2002 West Point graduate.