Veteran & Teacher Spotlight: Romy Cuppernell
Written By: Abby Rosmarin
Yoga can be a very unsuspecting activity. People can start yoga for all sorts of reasons, only to find that they have tapped into a wellspring of emotional and spiritual wellness. The same can be said for yoga teacher training. People can train to become a yoga teachers for all sorts of reasons, only to find that the training taps into so much more than the qualifications needed to teach.
This was the case for Romy Cuppernell, one of Veterans Yoga Project’s first graduates from the Mindful Resilience 200-Hour Yoga Teacher Training.
“I was drawn to yoga because I was very flexible in my youth and wanted to continue keeping myself limber as I entered adulthood,” says Cuppernell. “However, I had never considered the spiritual and emotional aspects of yoga until after I left the military.”
Cuppernell was born and raised in Austin, Texas, and had been a competitive gymnast growing up. She earned a degree in Environmental Science with a concentration in Wildlife Conservation from American Military University. She served in the Marine Corps from 2004-2013.
“I had many jobs/titles in the military such as Traffic Management Specialist, Parachute Rigger, Marksmanship Instructor, Helicopter Rope and Suspension Instructor, Drill Instructor, Jump Master, and the list goes on,” says Cuppernell. “I was stationed in Hawaii, Okinawa, and South Carolina.”
However, active duty took its toll. Cuppernell would be medically discharged in 2013 due to a spinal injury. Life after the military also took its toll, too.
“For a few years, after I left the military, I was quite sedentary as a civilian. Depression was taking its toll and I needed to get moving again,” says Cuppernell. Cuppernell would attempt workout videos like PiYo, which is a mix of pilates and yoga, and Insanity, which is a type of high-intensity interval training. She enjoyed these workout programs so much that she became an instructor. However, her battle with depression would prove to be a roadblock.
“I sank back into my depressive mood again, quit teaching, and stopped working out altogether,” says Cuppernell.
A year or two later, Cuppernell would join a triathlon club. This is where she met John Mory, who is a regional director for Veterans Yoga Project.
“He had just gotten his yoga instructor certification and offered the triathlon club a practice session,” says Cuppernell. “Through that we sparked a friendship and he introduced me to Veterans Yoga Project.”
It would be John Mory who would alert Cuppernell to the Mindful Resilience Yoga Teacher Training and encourage her to apply.
“It sounded like an amazing opportunity, but I never ever thought I would be picked out of all the applicants,” says Cuppernell.
As anyone who has done teacher training can attest, the trainings themselves are never just about learning how to become a yoga teacher. One aspect that Cuppernell cherished was the camaraderie she found with fellow veterans.
“There is a sense of family when I am surrounded by people with similar experiences in the military,” says Cuppernell. “Additionally, having a bunch of veterans to interact with that love yoga as well is icing on the cake.”
The training itself had to navigate around the complexities of a global pandemic, which meant the training could not be in person as originally planned. However, even without the ability to meet in person, and the challenges that doing something entirely online can bring, Cuppernell appreciates the connections that the training created.
“Even though the entire course was on Zoom, I felt connected to the other students. I got to know them and feel I have found true friends,” says Cuppernell.
Cuppernell hopes to someday provide free or donation-based yoga classes for veterans and military families in her community. Her husband is still on active duty and, as a result, are routinely moving. She wants to create online instructional videos that everyone, regardless of location, can utilize.
But, as Cuppernell notes, the beauty of yoga is that there are no perquisites, including location, to do it – an aspect that is crucial, especially during a pandemic.
“You can do it anywhere,” says Cuppernell. “You can be yourself. You do not have to be some super skinny, flexible, athletic, enlightened superstar. You do not have to leave your home or even your bed to do yoga. Yoga is where you decide it will be.”
Yoga teacher training is a profound experience for many people, that transcends just learning about postures, breathing, and yoga philosophy. Its trainees walk away with more than teaching aspirations and plans; they walk away with a renewed sense of self.
“My entire experience with the VYP 200-hour has been profoundly life changing,” says Cuppernell. “I thought I was simply becoming a yoga instructor for veterans. Little did I know, the whole thing would cause me to see more hope and purpose in my life than I ever thought possible.”
If you would like to learn more about scholarships for veterans, active duty, or their family members, please click here.