Veterans and Yoga
Over the last several decades, we have learned of devastating effect Post Tramatic Stress Disorder can have on our Veterans. Although there is never a simple treatment for this disorder for most, yoga has become a great option for many in dealing with this serious problem.
Psychologists have learned that medicine is not always enough to help people move on from the trauma of their service. Therapy is important to treat each patient. This does not just involve anti-depressants. Yoga can enhance a recovery because it is a harmonizing system of development for the body, mind, and spirit through breath, strength and flexibility. Experts have found that yoga creates a treatment bridge, increasing a sense of self awareness that helps a person interpret their physiological state. Dr. Terri Kennedy, registered yoga teacher and president of Power Living Enterprises, says “Yoga helps us slow down for a moment and tune into the breath. Simply the focus on one thing — which is the very definition of meditation — allows us to decompress.” Taking time to decompress can minimize or even stop PTSD.
Experts have found that yoga creates a treatment bridge, increasing a sense of self awareness that helps a person interpret their physiological state.
An article from Harvard Health Publications states that evidence suggests yoga can tone down maladaptive nervous system arousal. “One randomized controlled study examined the effects of yoga and a breathing program in disabled Australian Vietnam veterans diagnosed with severe PTSD. The veterans were heavy daily drinkers, and all were taking at least one antidepressant. The five-day course included breathing techniques, yoga postures, education about stress reduction, and guided meditation. Participants were evaluated at the beginning of the study using the Clinician Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS), which ranks symptom severity on an 80-point scale.
Six weeks after the study began, the yoga and breathing group had dropped their CAPS scores from averages of 57 (moderate to severe symptoms) to 42 (mild to moderate). These improvements persisted at a six-month follow-up. The control group, consisting of veterans on a waiting list, showed no improvement.”
The conclusions that is drawn from studies like this include how yoga helps you stay in the moment by concentrating on your breath. A breath practice can change the stress response system and decrease physiological arousal. Paying attention to one’s breath will, in theory, create am awareness in those with PTSD to recognize when the body goes into flight or fight syndrome. You can test this theory the next time that you feel anxiety by simply taking a moment to focus on your breath coming in and your breath going out. Your mind will become clear and you will be able to differentiate between what it is a crisis and what is not. Practicing this simple exercise in times of stress can reduce the heart rate, lower blood pressure and ease respiration. Yoga teaches the body and mind to work together in balance.
Six weeks after the study began, the yoga and breathing group had dropped their CAPS scores from averages of 57 (moderate to severe symptoms) to 42 (mild to moderate).
“While scientists don’t have quite the full picture on how yoga does all that, new research is beginning to shed light on how the practice may influence the brain. In a 2007 study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (Vol. 13, No. 4), researchers at Boston University School of Medicine and McLean Hospital used magnetic resonance imaging to compare levels of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) before and after two types of activities: an hour of yoga and an hour of reading a book. The yoga group showed a 27 percent increase in GABA levels, which evidence suggests may counteract anxiety and other psychiatric disorders. GABA levels of the reading group remained unchanged.”
“When people experience trauma, they may experience not only a sense of emotional dysregulation, but also a feeling of being physically immobilized,” says Ritu Sharma, PhD, project coordinator of the center’s yoga program, who only began practicing yoga when she started leading the program. “Body-oriented techniques such as yoga help them increase awareness of sensations in the body, stay more focused on the present moment and hopefully empower them to take effective actions.”
The yoga group showed a 27 percent increase in GABA levels, which evidence suggests may counteract anxiety and other psychiatric disorders
Beyond the physical benefits of lowering blood pressure and slowing breathing down, there are many less scientific theories on how yoga helps make positive changes.
A series of experiments conducted by organizational behavior researchers at Stanford University and published in January’s Psychological Science (Vol. 20, No. 1) imply that acting in synchrony with others—be it while walking, singing or dancing—can increase cooperation and collectivism among group members.
“In a yoga class, everyone is moving and breathing in at the same time and I think that’s one of the undervalued mechanisms that yoga can really help with: giving people that sense of belonging, of being part of something bigger,” one psychologist said.
In addition, back in 2011 the Huffington Post shared stories of Yoga and PTSD. This particular story focuses on the change a person who serves the country goes from in their everyday life and way of thinking. The article was called One Vet’s story.
After fighting conventional pill treatments, Yoga taught the ex-marine he had to change old habits that had been deeply ingrained by military service. He was aware that being a Marine was all about having physical control, but injuries sustained while in service denied that control. And military training did not tap into softer sides of vulnerability. Refuting this vulnerability was preventing him from healing. His mind could not lay there and be still. He felt like someone was suffocating him. And his back pain was so horrible he could not sit up. He told Huntington Post, “Being forced to let go of the Marine way of doing things was a humbling experience, and one that I fought every step of the way. Before yoga, sitting still or enjoying a quiet moment was my idea of torture. Physical movement was my way of processing stress. As a Marine, if I saw a mountain, I had to run to the top. Objects were meant to be lifted, and open space was meant to be conquered, and fast.”
Yoga teaches us how to calm the mind and the nervous system while faced with stress and physical challenge. Yoga forces a person to be in a state of complete surrender to mental focus, clarity and calmness, something that certainly can help a veteran adjust to civilian life.
Every Friday we offer a free Yoga Donation class at Modern Yoga.
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