Q: What inspired you to start the foundation?
A: The Exalted Warrior Foundation began in response to my yoga student —Admiral Tom W. Steffens, retired U.S. Navy — going to Washington, D.C., to visit an injured Navy SEAL. In a conversation with another military family, the idea came to Tom to incorporate yoga into the incredibly disciplined regime of physical therapy in the amputee center. I began to fly up to the hospital every four to six weeks and offer classes for staff and patients. I worked one-on-one with patients and saw how impactful yoga could be beyond the physical elements, especially with the unseen injuries. In March 2008, the Exalted Warrior Foundation became a nonprofit foundation offering adaptive yoga and meditation to traumatically injured service members and veterans throughout the U.S. We support military and veterans’ hospitals as well as join with community yoga studios to offer instruction to the entire family. I also train qualified adaptive yoga instructors and find veterans’ retreats and trainings throughout the country.
Q: Why was Tampa the best place to start an organization like the Exalted Warrior Foundation?
A: It grew here organically from my yoga studio Yogani. I was born in Tampa, and my family lived here, so it was natural to open my studio here in 1999. The studio was 14 minutes from MacDill Air Force Base’s gate to the studio, so we had a lot of service members coming to classes. In 2010 I began teaching classes to the polytrauma patients at the James A Haley VA in Tampa. It is one of the largest polytrauma VAs in the country, and we continue to teach two classes a week to all patient populations, from people with traumatic brain injury, polytrauma, chronic pain, amputees and the full spectrum of seen and unseen injuries. We are a VA community partner and have community yoga and meditation classes where patients of the hospital and community vets come to practice yoga together. Our online practices support their daily practice when they can’t get to class. We have a veterans yoga and meditation practice guide coming out in the fall with support from Tampa Connection’s class of 2019.
Q: Your life’s work is to help people on their wellness journeys. Where do you go in town to work on your own wellness?
A: I practice at home mostly, on a beautiful outdoor deck on the water. Lisa Jamison’s therapeutic body work is incredible, Cori Puls at Balance & Bliss keeps my skin going, and [acupuncturist] Charla Tempone balances me out after all the travels.
Q: Where do you head around Tampa for a healthy meal or snack?
Q: When you have guests from out of town, where do you take them to show off Tampa?
A: Davis Islands Yacht Club for sunset from the deck and french fries by the pool. My parents were members since the dawn of time, so it’s been the place to watch Downtown Tampa grow.
Q: What are some of your favorite local veteran-owned businesses?
A: Cigar City Crossfit is a great veteran-owned business I support. I value what the Frogman Swim guys are doing and how they impact the Navy SEAL Foundation. Tampa Sports Academy has a wonderful operation, too.
Q: Where do you go around the Tampa Bay area to spend time outdoors?
A: I love walking around South Tampa, through Hyde Park and Davis Islands. I need to get back in a kayak or canoe on the river; I love the manatees!
Q: What is your favorite cultural institution in Tampa?