Yoga’s purpose can be summed as the attempt to connect; the ultimate connection comes from the unification of the mind, body, and spirit, involving the balance of stretches and breathing for low-impact physical exercise and release. Yoga is also one of the most frequently offered mind and body practices at the Department of Veterans Affairs, making it a widely accepted and effective therapy option for those suffering from post-traumatic stress.

In a recent study by Military Medicine, a yoga program for the symptoms of PTSD in veterans indicated that a yoga intervention might improve the hyperarousal symptoms of PTSD and overall sleep quality, as well as daytime dysfunction related to sleep. This study also showed improved mood and decreased anxiety in participants of a 12-week yoga intervention. 

Photo courtesy of Yoga Journal

Denise Olsen, a Yoga Therapist who has worked extensively with service members through the Hope For The Warriors® Family Reintegration Program, has enjoyed the healing experiences veterans undergo when practicing yoga. She described the challenges that yoga helps to overcome:

Disconnection is one of the biggest problems our service members face when returning from combat. They feel disconnected from society, their family and most painfully, themselves. Yoga is a way to re-establish that connection. The science behind it is complex and intriguing. As a complimentary treatment, I personally have seen only positive effects. In our reintegration program, the people who practiced regularly progressed at a faster rate than those who didn’t. There are empirical studies that support the use of yoga as a treatment for many things–one of them being PTSD. The best part of yoga is that anyone can do it. There are no negative side effects and it enhances any other therapy the individual participates in. 

According to the International Journal of Yoga therapy, yoga may provide an effective integrative treatment option for veterans with PTSD. Yoga practices may directly address symptoms of PTSD and may provide coping skills to enhance their quality of life. The breathing practices and concentration used in many yoga traditions may reduce worry and anxiety. In addition, yoga postures may help release trauma that has been physically manifested in the body.

The benefits of yoga have been discussed by Bessel van der Kolk, psychiatrist and author of Traumatic Stress: The Effects of Overwhelming Experience on Mind, Body, and Society. Van der Kolk’s publication discusses how PTSD has changed over the past 20 years. His renowned research explains the regulation of physical movement as a fundamental priority of the nervous system, focusing on and developing an awareness of physical movement can lead to improved synchrony between mind and body. This is beneficial, he says, for those suffering from PTSD because an improved sense of connectedness between mind and body gives rise to enhanced control and understanding of their “inner sensations” and state of being.

More information on yoga practices for service members and military families struggling with PTSD can be found here.