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Gainesville Woman Uses Yoga To Help Veterans

Cara Edwards, the owner of My Yoga Connection in Gainesville, poses in her studio. “I feel really cool about it because this is my hometown,” Edwards said. “I feel like I’m doing something to pay homage to the community I grew up in.”
Cara Edwards, the owner of My Yoga Connection in Gainesville, poses in her studio. “I feel really cool about it because this is my hometown,” Edwards said. “I feel like I’m doing something to pay homage to the community I grew up in.”

A sturdy 6-feet-2-inches tall, Bobby Edwards’ lengthy frame overpowered his daughter Cara's small stature. For most of Cara's teenage years, the divorced Vietnam veteran served as both dad and mom in the family. But that morning, Cara Edwards was in charge.

It was their first chair yoga session. Chair yoga is designed for people with limited mobility, like Cara's dad. Edwards, 26, is the founder and owner of My Yoga Connection, located at 117 NW 16th Ave. in Gainesville.

The Army veteran and his daughter faced each other, sitting on chairs dragged in from the dining room. The makeshift studio was Bobby’s living room.

Cara brought him through a typical chair yoga routine. At first, he was skeptical.

“‘Oh, I’ll never be able to do that,’” she remembered him saying. “‘I can barely move.’”

Edwards has taught chair yoga on and off for about three years, a passion inspired by her father. Her soft spot for veterans prompted her to offer free yoga classes to veterans at her studio.

Although her dad had post-traumatic stress disorder and other health ailments, he wasn’t one to pass up an opportunity to spend time with his daughter. He paid close attention during the practice, mimicking her light neck stretches and slow breathing exercises.

As their meetings continued, his anxiety lessened. Their yoga sessions were one of the only times during the week when he wasn’t in pain.

They continued practicing yoga together until he passed away in the summer of 2013.

“My work with him inspires me to do yoga with other veterans,” Edwards said. “And not just veterans, but older people or people that feel like they aren’t mobile enough to do yoga. Knowing I could do stuff with him inspires me to do stuff with them.”

Edwards has practiced yoga for 10 years and taught it for five. She started teaching chair yoga at a local wellness center before opening My Yoga Connection.

Shortly after her dad passed away, she began volunteering at the HONOR Center for veterans in Gainesville, a facility that helps veterans assimilate back into civilian culture. Here, she taught group chair yoga classes. The groups were mostly men, and classes ranged from groups of three to groups of 20. The mix of new and old veterans suffered from PTSD and rigid muscles.

Alee Karpf, the recreation therapist at the HONOR Center, said the veterans’ physical
restrictions limited their yoga capabilities, but Edwards was patient with the students and stayed positive. She never missed a class.

“It can be very challenging,” Karpf said. “She never bat an eyelash. She was just able to go with the flow.”

Karpf saw firsthand results of how yoga helped the veterans. It settled their minds and
increased their flexibility.

Edwards has since stopped volunteering at the HONOR Center, but she has incorporated veterans into her own practice. Her studio is involved with Yoga for Vets, a nonprofit organization that allows veterans to go to at least four free classes a month at the studio. There haven’t been as many participants as she would like — participation is still in single digits — but she is working on increasing involvement.

The building where studio is located is special to Edwards. She grew up visiting the building owner, Dave Hill, with her father and even had her 16th birthday party in the building. Hill has known Edwards since she was in diapers.

“She was daddy’s little girl,” Hill said.

He said Bobby Edwards was surprised when his daughter wanted to open her own studio but was supportive nonetheless.

“He was so proud,” Hill said. “I remember him saying, ‘I don’t know what the hell she’s doing, but I’m so proud of her.’”

Even after his death, Edwards' dad continues to inspire her.

“It feels very full circle to me,” she said. “In a way, it feels like my dad is up there, still fighting for me to get the things I need in my life.”

Christine is a reporter for WUFT News and can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.