Yoga is shown to be a great healer both physically and emotionally. For military service members returning from deployment, it can be a powerful tool during their readjustment to civilian life to treat or prevent post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychological and physical difficulties. More and more yoga programs are being developed especially for veterans and their families — even the military is warming up to the idea.
A 2010 Department of Defense study found that veterans diagnosed with PTSD showed improvement in their symptoms after just 10 weeks of yoga classes. According to an article by Commonhealth.wbur.org, one of the common symptoms of PTSD is dissociation, or feeling disconnected from oneself and one’s surroundings. The brain may portray the traumatic event as though it is live and active in the present even though it may have happened decades ago. Consequently, the practice of yoga — which combines physical exercises, postures and breath regulation with meditation and awareness in the present moment — is an effective way of resolving that dissociative aspect of PTSD.
Watch this short one-minute interview of Joseph Muxie who served in the military from 1977 to 1984. His PTSD was likely caused by an “unbearable assault” he experienced while stationed in England.
There are increasingly more and more resources for veterans and their families seeking an alternative way to treat PTSD and other physical and psychological problems. The Give Back Yoga Foundation’s Yoga for Veterans project offers therapeutic yoga to vets and training and certification for yoga and meditation teachers, as well as supports further research on yoga and combat-related mental health conditions.
Yoga For Vets is an online directory that lists studios, teachers and venues throughout the country that offer four or more free classes to war veterans.
YogaFit recently announced a 100-hour certification program called YogaFit for Warriors that will equip yoga teachers to serve wounded warriors, and those who suffer from PTSD, stress, anxiety and other mental/physical issues developed from military service, as well as family members and other loved ones who have been impacted.
Designed by Air Force veteran Shaye Molendyke, neuroscientist Stephanie Shorter and YogaFit founder Beth Shaw, the program involves five two-day trainings that include:
- Level 1: A foundational yoga teacher training that educates how to safely guide students through yoga poses using transformational language while encouraging letting go of judgments, expectations and competition;
- YogaFit for Mental Health: Highlights the somatic component of anxiety and depression while teaching breathing and meditation practices to help relax the body and mind;
- Healing Emotional and Physical Trauma: Explores how trauma affects the brain and gets stored in the body, making yoga the perfect mind-body modality to release trauma and usher in healing;
- YogaFit for Warriors: Focuses on PTSD, traumatic brain injury and other common issues that develop in military settings and with returning veterans; and
- Restorative Therapeutics: Teaches restorative yoga postures, breathing techniques and knowledge of other complementary techniques to soothe the fight-or-flight response.
“Yoga can help to free troubling emotions, perseverating thought patterns and chronic somatic tension and hyper vigilance,” said Shorter, YogaFit’s yoga therapy program director, who has published research studies on how yoga and meditation can alleviate anxiety. “New research is showing how yoga can reduce cortisol levels and calm the fight-or-flight response while also increasing the relaxation response.”
Military spouses will be eligible to participate in YogaFit for Warriors financial assistance through MyCAA, and a YogaFit scholarship program is being created. Visit Yogafit.com for more information.
Yoga programs are also being taught and used at dozens of military bases and medical centers. If you or a family member are in the military and would like to know more about available yoga programs, contact your local VA Medical Center.