About Yoga Chief

Who is the Yoga Chief?

I am a lot of things. I am a father, an entrepreneur, a Navy Sailor, a man in his 50’s starting life anew, a technologist, an aspiring Yogi, a Chief Petty Officer, a trail runner, a Veteran, a 2-time Marathoner, a self-proclaimed tree-hugger. And I am the Yoga Chief. The Yoga Chief is a student of life and a lover of life.

I am writing this blog because for the past couple of years I’ve been on a journey. Of course, life is a journey but this piece of my life’s journey has been particularly growth-inspiring. I feel this journey will go on for at least a few more years (oh hell, if I’m lucky the journey will never become routine, never end). Recently the journey has taken some turns and twists and I want to share with people who can relate to what it is like to be newly single in their 50’s. If you can connect with that, then let’s connect! Share your comments to my posts, and we can all grow a little richer.

Why Yoga Chief?

Yoga Chief is the name I chose for this blog because it embodies two different elements that are very important to me in my life: Yoga, and my Navy service.


fouled anchorI am a retired US Navy Chief Petty Officer – a senior NCO to landlubbers. Becoming a Navy Chief was a milestone in my life and had a great impact on me. I feel that I am the person I am today due in large part to my Navy service. After I graduated high school I entered the Navy. I spent 5-1/2 years on active duty, most of that aboard the USS Mars (AFS-1). After a 12 year break in service, I decided to reaffiliate with the Navy and joined the Navy Reserve in 1998. While in the Reserve I served in several commands in the United States and Europe and had two Post 9/11 deployments.

Chief McDonnell in MRAP

Chief McDonnell in MRAP in Afghanistan, 2010

My second deployment had the greatest impact on me. I was chosen to be part of a Provincial Reconstruction Team in eastern Afghanistan. I spent most of 2010 in Paktika Province, a province bordering Pakistan. Our mission was to work with the local civilians to help them rebuild their country by teaching sustainable practices such as farming and construction. We also worked with local government entities, mostly at the provincial level, to teach them sound practices of governance and security. On any given day we had missions outside the wire to inspect construction projects like aqueducts, dams, roads, schools, and libraries. Or we may have been delivering drip irrigation systems, teaching them to build solar dehydrators, or repairing generators. The locals did most of the work; for all intents and purposes, we were the mentors, teachers, and inspectors. We also performed various forms of counterinsurgency operations. It was at the same time both a fulfilling and a frustrating mission. Change comes very slowly to a culture that has been doing things the same way for over 3,000 years.

After my return from Afghanistan, I just wasn’t myself. I got moody, depressed, angry, and hypervigilant. I would also lose focus and get distracted very easily, though some of the women in my life would say that’s just because I’m a man 🙂 . It didn’t happen right away, it took some time for the symptoms to develop. These are classic symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, though by no means the only ones. By the way, I really wish the powers that be would change the name to PTS. It’s not a disorder; Post Traumatic Stress is the human mind’s perfectly normal way of coping with abnormal stressors. War is abnormal. PTSD affects everyone differently.

Fortunately for me, I found Yoga – or maybe Yoga found me. Whatever the case, Yoga has been crucial to keeping me level. When I have a week where I don’t get any practices in my friends tell me they can tell the difference in me. Can I get a prescription for Yoga?

I retired from the Navy in August 2014 after 21 years of service.


YogaAnother thing that has had a great impact on me is Yoga. I had my first practice in 2005 while training for the Chicago Marathon. My friend and fellow marathoner Heidi Fricke invited me to a practice she taught. It was the toughest workout I had ever done! I was the only man in the room and I was embarrassed by how much I sweated that day. I was completely unprepared for the intensity of the “workout”. I didn’t really explore the full potential of Yoga and to me at that time I believed it was just another physical exercise. I had my next practice some years later after I returned from Afghanistan. In 2012 I started practicing with Kathy Garritano at Creekside Fitness, a large gym I belonged to at the time. I practiced there until I left the gym in early 2013.

The Yoga Chief began practicing Yoga seriously in October 2014 when the CrossFit gym where I work out began to offer Yoga classes. Yoga helped to clear the fog in my head and lessen the effects of PTSD, and I became hooked. Jenn Zetts taught the Baptiste-style Power Yoga at the Speed Shop, and I practiced two-to-three times a week . I really enjoy practicing at the Speed Shop! For one, the practices are unheated (not heated?). Many Yoga studios like to heat the room up to around 105° F for a power practice. I occasionally will take a heated practice but it’s really not my cup of Green Tea.

Our space at the Speed Shop is very unpretentious; we share the warehouse-like space with free weights, large kick bags for Krav Maga, and a motorcycle or two. To me, the practice at the Speed Shop embodies the accessibility and adaptability of practicing yoga in that you can have your practice anywhere. Yoga is not just limited to a studio! Jay Cohen has recently taken over as the house instructor and he’s doing a fantastic job with the class.

The Yoga Chief has recently begun traveling to studios near and far to explore different types of Yoga with different instructors including Yin, Hatha, Astanga, and other variants. You can learn so much when you practice with other Yogis! I’ve come to really enjoy and appreciate the variety, and I look forward to dropping in on practices whenever and wherever I travel.

The Future

My goal is to become a 200 hour certified Yoga instructor. I want to do this to for several reasons. One is that as I continue to practice I can grow a deeper understanding of the tenets of Yoga. But more importantly, I have the desire to bring Yoga to other Veterans. Yoga works for me and if I can share the gift with others maybe they too will find some comfort in a regular practice. Keep checking my posts and I’ll fill you in on my progress.


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