Yoga helps war veterans get a handle on their PTSD

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In a new study published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress, researchers say that yoga can be used to bring better mental balance.

Yoga has previously been shown as valuable in reducing the stress of university students, and depression, anxiety, alcoholism and PTSD in tsunami survivors, as well as helping cancer patients. The charity Yoga for America runs programs for serving soldiers and war veterans.

Agnieszka Golec de Zavala, senior lecturer in psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London, said the benefits of yoga included moving people away from negative thoughts.

The beneficial effects are due to the increased ability to focus on breathing that, firstly, focuses a person on a present moment and breaks rumination on negative traumatic thoughts, and secondly, increases ability of ‘intraception’ – observing and understanding internal states and the ability to control them, or understanding them as temporal and passing.

But the new study is the first of its kind to provide scientific support for the benefits of yoga’s breathing techniques for PTSD patients in a randomized and controlled (though small) long-term study which monitored effects of yoga over the course of the year.

The study focused on the effects of sudarshan kriya yoga, a practice of breathing-based meditation which has a balancing effect on the autonomic nervous system.

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Twenty-one male veterans who had served in Iraq or Afghanistan, diagnosed with PTSD, were included in the study: 11 undertook a seven-day program involving daily three-hour sessions of sudarshan kriya, including meditation, stretching and group discussion, while 10 others didn’t take part were used as a control group.

The soldiers’ PTSD symptoms were assessed one week before the beginning of the program and then a week, a month and a year after its completion. Seven of the 11 involved in the active group continued practicing yoga after completing the program.

The study found that the group who had done yoga demonstrated fewer or less intense PTSD symptoms in comparison. Those who took part in the yoga sessions showed lower anxiety and lower respiration rates. They performed better in tests measuring eye-blink and breathing frequency in response to stimuli such as noise bursts, which are used to measure hyper-arousal and how an well individuals are regulating emotions. The researchers also found that the sessions helped with intrusive memories: patients reported re-experiencing trauma during the exercises, but felt that the impact of the memories was reduced.

This article originally appeared in The Washington Post

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