Yoga for PTSD

Yoga is a discipline that focuses on meditation and control of the breath through specific body postures. Originally a Hindu tradition, the practice of yoga for health and relaxation has spread across the globe. People can find yoga classes offered through local gyms, spas, and a variety of community programs. Because yoga has proven beneficial to people with PTSD, the practice has recently been added to a variety of programs for veterans and members of their family.

The calming influence of yoga and its focus on total-body wellness benefits veterans suffering from PTSD and traumatic brain injuries and those in active duty. Symptoms of PTSD include a feeling of disconnection from others, and with an emphasis on wholeness, yoga helps renew a connection with the self and with other people. Challenging yoga poses encourage participants to focus on their body instead of their mind, which takes attention away from troubling or obsessive thoughts that often accompany PTSD. Yoga also gives people with PTSD a sense of control in managing their overall health.

Active-duty service members and veterans engaging in yoga have lauded its relaxing effects and its ability to help them deal with trauma-induced anxiety. The Department of Defense sponsored a study examining Yoga Nidra, an ancient meditative practice, which was renamed Integrative Restoration (or iRest). Researchers looked at the effects of regular practice on soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who were suffering from PTSD. Results showed improvement in dealing with unresolved trauma-related issues in the mind and progress with wounds to the body as well.

It is common knowledge that people with PTSD often engage in high-risk behaviors like substance abuse as a means of coping with trauma-related thoughts and anxiety. A recent study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine looked at the effects of yoga intervention on risks for alcohol and drug abuse in women with PTSD.

Researchers examined both veterans and civilian women from 18 to 65 years of age with PTSD and compared participants who engaged in 12 sessions of yoga with a control group. Identification tests for alcohol use and drug use were given at the start of the study, after the intervention, and one month following the study's completion.

Both test scores decreased in the yoga group, and most of the participants reported reduced symptoms and better management of remaining symptoms. Alcohol use scores in the control group increased, while drug use scores were unchanged. Over time, there were no significant changes in either group.

All subjects showed interest in psychotherapy for PTSD symptoms, however only two subjects (both in the yoga group) followed through. Researchers concluded that specialized yoga intervention might be useful for reducing symptoms of PTSD and lowering risks for related substance abuse.

Most yoga practitioners agree that people who suffer psychological trauma benefit from work with the mind and body. Yoga offers a safe and gentle method that integrates the body and mind to deal with internal thoughts and feelings. People interested in trying yoga should consult with a health care professional before participating in a local class, and because it is a progressive practice they should start with a class suited to beginners.

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