Veterans Suffering From PTSD Find Relief Through Yoga

Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, ails many of our Veterans that have put their lives on the line for their country. According to VA’s National Center for PTSD, about 8 million adults in the US are suffering with PTSD, any given year. Though treatments and varying therapies are offered, there is little evidence that shows these Veterans lives are improving.

The US Department of Veterans Affairs and the US Department of Defense employ prolonged exposure therapy and cognitive processing therapy as treatments for PTSD. However, these therapies are often times too emotionally taxing for our Vets, as they require the person suffering from PTSD to recall traumatic events repeatedly. This results in a high number of veterans dropping out of the programs before they are complete, and those that remain are often under-responsive.

Photo: Facebook/Veterans Yoga Project

Dr. Louanne Davis is a VA psychologist who is exploring the potential benefits of yoga for those suffering with PTSD. “There’s just not that much research out there yet about the effect of yoga on PTSD symptoms,” she explains. “But we know that yoga is soothing. Yoga is very meditative and emphasizes being aware or mindful of your breathing and how your body feels moment to moment. This type of practice stimulates the calming branch of the nervous system and helps reduce the hyperarousal that is one of the symptoms of PTSD.”

Christian Allaire is a retired coast guardsmen and the chief operating officer for Veterans Yoga Project. He is a yoga instructor at Yoga Tribe and Purple Yoga, and believes that yoga can be a key tool in addressing PTSD symptoms. “There are huge synergies with the military and yoga,” he told the New York Times. “There is a stereotype that yogis are a bunch of hippie types of people who are not militaristic. But the whole system of yoga is about moral and ethical restraints on behavior and trying to stay calm in challenging conditions. Sometimes in a pose you feel pain and you have to say, ‘Is that pain that is dangerous, or is that discomfort that I need to lean into?'”

Photo: Facebook/Veterans Yoga Project

Allaire frequently teaches hot yoga, which is a more vigorous type of yoga and is often performed in warm, humid studios to encourage a heavier sweat. This form of yoga frequently focuses on more demanding poses, which when combined with the heat of the studio, are designed to increase your heart rate and exercise your muscles. Hot yoga is an especially popular yoga class among Vets due to its athletic nature.

“In order to be skilled at a firearm, you have to be able to control your breathing,” Allaire continued. “Special Forces people train in breathing techniques all the time. That is one little thing that no one would ever connect.” Veterans Yoga Project provides 1,000 veterans and their families with a yoga class each week, as a way to make the alternative method of treating PTSD symptoms more accessible.

Photo: Facebook/Veterans Yoga Project

“We will have four or five people in a conference room at a V.A.,” Allaire said of the Veterans Yoga Project yoga sessions. “There might be an Iraq war vet in his 20s, a Korean War vet in his 80s, some can barely move, some may be missing limbs and the teacher’s job is to create space for a person to do a twist. Maybe all they can do is raise their hands above their heads, but we are creating a ritual.”

Practicing yoga not only strengthens your muscles, but it helps connect your mind and body, while practicing breathing and meditation disciplines. For these reasons, the Department of Veterans Affairs has successfully been able to use yoga to help treat opioid addiction as well as post-traumatic stress. Through the ever-expanding availability of programs such as Veterans Yoga Project, it is hoped that Vets will be able to take their mental health into their own hands and find alternative ways of addressing their PTSD.

Photo: Facebook/Veterans Yoga Project

If you feel that the VA needs to provide a larger variety of programs to help treat combat PTSD, consider signing this petition.

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