How a 9/11 survivor used yoga to overcome PTSD

(CNN)John Thurman thought he’d be safe there. After all, he was stationed at the Pentagon, not in a war zone.

After spending time in Germany during the Cold War, and then Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War, a desk job in Washington was surely a safe bet.

    Until it wasn’t.

    “I thought it was a bomb,” Thurman said. Then, “it felt like an earthquake.”

    At 9:37 am on September 11, 2001, American Airlines Flight 77 slammed into the west side of the Pentagon, the same where Thurman worked.

    “We were in this small room, no windows,” Thurman remembered. “We were immediately plunged into pitch darkness. There was a bit of a fire ball that came up and over through the ceiling.”

    Thurman’s survival instincts and years of training in the United States Army kicked in. “I tried to get to some of my colleagues that I knew were in the room,” he said. “We were at that point of having to crawl on the floor and because it was now full of smoke, very hot air. You took your face off the floor and you couldn’t breathe.”

    Survivor’s guilt and PTSD

    Thurman and his colleagues were in the second of the Pentagon’s five rings. The plane went through to the third ring.

    After 20 minutes or so, Thurman said he was able to reach a back door, and get help. He was taken to Arlington hospital, and treated for severe smoke inhalation.


    The Pentagon — the place where this journey began for Thurman — hired him to teach a weekly class at the athletic center there. So every Thursday, you’ll find Thurman and a packed class of 40-50 students. He estimates his class is a mix of active duty military and civilians, as well as retired military.

    “They come every Thursday at noon,” Thurman said, “which I think is a big statement, because when you look at someone who’s working at the Pentagon — to give you an hour of their time … I think that’s a big statement in and of itself.”

    The VA estimates as many as 20 percent of veterans returning from Iraq or Afghanistan are suffering from PTSD. In a move to cut down on prescription pain medicine, the U.S. Veterans Health Administration has started incorporating yoga into alternative therapy programs for PTSD.

    Thurman says it certainly worked for him.

    “I think you know, one of the things out of 9/11, is the fact that I have been able to become resilient and recover, and live my life. I have a responsibility to do that. For the people who lost their lives on that day, you have a responsibility to live and be well.”

    Read more: