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Natural Awakenings Naples and Fort Myers

Wellness Training for Local Veterans

May 29, 2015 10:05AM ● By Linda Sechrist

The batter’s up again and the bases are loaded for a grand slam in the second inning of the Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital Home Base Program, in partnership with Fort Myers’ JetBlue Park and Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU). Veterans developed this free, post-911 veteran’s program, known locally as the Warrior Health and Fitness Challenge.

“Aspects of the eight-month program include mandatory check-ins; supervised fitness training, including yoga, yoga nidra and breathing techniques; nutritional counseling and coaching; stress management; proper sleep requirements; and when necessary, the resources to help with post-traumatic stress services,” says Warrior Health and Fitness Challenge Program Coordinator Armando Hernandez, a Marine Corps veteran, native Floridian and FGCU alumnus.

Initially, Hernandez majored in accounting, until he noticed that his more sedentary career and civilian lifestyle were the sources of his weight gain. “I began exercising and reading about how to effectively lose the extra 45 pounds,” he says.

After connecting the dots between exercise, eating healthier and feeling and looking better, Hernandez switched his major and became a certified strength and conditioning specialist. He also landed an internship with the Boston Red Sox during spring training at JetBlue Park, where the idea for the Warrior Health and Fitness Challenge came up during a discussion among veterans. The challenge was quickly spearheaded by longtime Naples resident Army Four-Star General (Ret.) Frederick M. Franks Jr., who is an honorary board member of the Home Base Program, a Red Sox Foundation community-based initiative that provides services to New England-area Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and their families.

Hernandez notes that veterans’ input into the pilot program was welcomed. “As a result of hearing about their sleep disorders, we added a sleep specialist from Massachusetts General Hospital to the program,” Hernandez explains. “We will continue tweaking to ensure an equal or better outcome for the second group, which already has six registrants. We can accept a maximum of 30 individuals to work with our team five days per week during morning, afternoon and evening sessions.”

About the veterans’ acceptance of yoga and its overall contribution to the success of the fitness training, Hernandez notes that the 18 graduates haven’t yet completed their digital feedback survey. “I felt Rachel Gray, our yoga instructor, was the perfect fit for our program because of her 500-hour yoga certification, as well as her certification in yoga therapy for trauma recovery, which she received as a result of completing her training in Daniel Libby’s Veterans Yoga Project,” shares Hernandez.

Gray, who earned a master’s in clinical social work from FGCU, works at Bay Pines VA Healthcare System. She also teaches restorative yoga at Love Yoga Center, in Naples, where she offers free classes for veterans.

“The veterans were open-minded about practicing yoga once a week,” notes Hernandez. “I think everyone benefited from the yoga nidra that Rachel closed each session with. While everyone wasn’t familiar with the science of yoga nidra and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction which has been studied at Massachusetts General Hospital, they did appreciate two of the benefits—an increased sense of well-being and better sleep.”

For more details, interested post-9/11 veterans can contact Hernandez at [email protected] or visit For information on Gray’s free-to-veterans classes at Love Yoga Center, 4949 Tamiami Tr. N., Ste. 204, Naples, call 239-692-9747 or visit

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