Veterans Turn to Yoga Ease Post Traumatic Stress

While there are many excellent male yogis in the US, a large portion of our society still views asana as an activity mostly practiced by women. Thankfully, the imposition of this gender-bias on yoga is breaking down in many sectors of our culture, perhaps most notably in the highly male-dominated armed forces. As the therapeutic use of yoga has slowly gained acceptance from the military over the past several years, it has repeatedly been shown to help both active soldiers and veterans deal with the affects and stresses of their profession.

In 2005, the US Department of Defense (DOD) investigated the effects of yoga nidra practice on soldiers returning from combat with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). After only eight weeks, all of the participants had reduced symptoms—a result so successful that further study was funded and the iRest meditation program was born. “The program provides them body relaxation and breathing exercises that are tools for managing the emotions, the memories, the cognitive thoughts that come with war,” says Richard Miller, a clinical psychologist and advisor to the study. The program is now used at several medical centers across the country to treat veterans with PTSD. This has contributed to the slow integration of meditation and yoga into military culture, which has begun to loosen the stigma surrounding these practices for many soldiers.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, between 11 and 20 percent of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from PTSD. Unfortunately, there is also a stigma associated with the diagnosis of PTSD, and many soldiers never seek treatment. The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates nearly 800,000 vets suffer from its effects, yet only 78,000 cases have been diagnosed. The stigma associated with the “disorder” is so great that the Army’s vice chief of staff has approached the head of the American Psychiatric Association with a request that the diagnosis be given a new name.

However, rebranding the condition won’t make the diagnosis any easier for soldiers who want to continue serving active duty. After 18 months of sleepless, nightmare filled nights, Marines Sgt. Hugo Patrocinio still wasn’t ready to accept the diagnosis, describing it as “career suicide.” Patrocinio also resisted advice to try yoga at first, thinking he “was this tough guy”, and the two were diametrically opposed. When he finally decided he had nothing to lose, it took only one class for him to realize it could help. He didn’t even try any poses in his first class, but as he lay on his mat trying to clear his head, he fell asleep for the first time in a long time without medication. “That was when I knew yoga could help me get better,” he says of the experience.

Regardless of where your stress comes from, it is clear that yoga is an effective coping mechanism for many. One benefit of yoga going mainstream may be the breaking down of barriers so that those who could benefit from it the most take that first step to try it out.

Any ideas on how to successfully encourage a veteran or active duty soldier in your life to try yoga?


Comments 2

  1. My mother whoms account this is sat me down and asked me to read this article with no explantion no for warning , she simply sat me down and said ” Could you read this and tell me what you think?” I sat with some confusion and began to read. Now a little back ground about me I returned home from Afghanistan in july of 2011 from a deployment with an Infanty company on one of the outer Combat operation posts and had to live with some interesting situations. Comeing from that I have had to learn to Cope with the symptoms of PTSD such as the nightmares, flare tempers, Triggered flash backs ( these are flash backs caused by a sight or certain sound or event that pulls you back to a very vivid and truamatic memory) and more. Now after reading this i sat for a moment and thought to my self about why I as a soldier would even think about joining a yoga class. I came to an easy conclusion, most soldiers are concerned with the thoughts of how others veiw them and as its stated Yoga is primarily seen as a female domanitated Practice. That in its own can be an easy way to atttract many single soilders but detracts from the purpose of why they should actually be there. Now Integrateing back into society and building new realtionships is an easy way to begin the healing process and to help you realize your home. Anouther factor that can help soldiers is the physical fitness side of this. As we all know that to be combat ready you need to be in shape. Its a rule as old as time. Now I like to think of my self as a strong, fit person. But some of the poses I tryed to mimic from my mothers Exercises make me think twice. Even better about this is that its completely healthy and fairly inexpensive. There is no need for Supplements, Wieghts, Fancy equipment, all you need is some space and maybe a matt so you dont kill your knees. And last but not least, If you can express the ability to clear the mind and give the Soldier true peace of mind from his doubts, fears, guilt, and huanting memorys you would be suprised just how many would be willing to try this. The most difficult enemy is your self. So show them how to be at peace with them self.

    From a soldier for the soldiers.

  2. Thank you for your response and sharing your experience, mor_sidhe, it was brave and inspiring. If you haven’t yet, I hope you do try a class with a live teacher. Videos are great for sure, but a live class sets a mood and intention that is often very hard for us to set on our own in own space, especially when new to the practice. Finding a sense of peace within oneself is one of the greatest gifts of yoga in my humble opinion.

    It is interesting to note that historically yoga has been a primarily male-dominated practice, and has come to be perceived as a women’s activity only in modern western culture. I believe this has a lot to do with media and marketing, but that is a whole topic unto itself.

    Thank you for speaking to your fellow soldiers and being one of the few who step forward to break down those barriers that inhibit some from taking that leap and giving yoga a chance. I wish you much peace and happiness, namaste.

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