TC 293: Healing PTS through Yoga and Breath Work
This episode continues our discussion of treating veterans that suffer from Post Traumatic Stress (PTS). Many veterans do not want to be treated with drugs or go to therapy, but until now there have been few alternatives to get the help they need.
Presence and PTS
We’ve been studying Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges by Amy Cuddy in our Cafe Book Club. In chapter 7 Amy discusses how Yoga has been very beneficial in the treatment of PTS, when drugs and traditional cognitive therapy were not enough. She discusses Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D. author of The Body Keeps the Score, and his work with healing trauma.
According to Van Der Kolk “the goal of treatment of PTSD is to help people live in the present, without feeling or behaving according to irrelevant demands belonging to the past”.
Another very good book on this subject is Overcoming Trauma Through Yoga: Reclaiming Your Body by David Emerson and Elizabeth Hopper, Ph.D.
Simply stated, yoga helps soldiers deal with their wartime experiences. It can also be applied to the homeless, victims of physical and sexual abuse, people recovering from substance abuse, and people that have experienced other forms of trauma outside of combat.
Helping Veterans and Other Victims of PTS
Robin, Amy, and the rest of us connected with Transformation Cafe have talked about and advocated for yoga, meditation, and the mind-body connection in many of our podcasts and blog posts over the last couple of years. Amy and her husband Ross Bryant, Director of Veterans Services at UNLV in Nevada, work with veterans – many of whom suffer from PTS – to transition from the military to civilian life. They have put tremendous effort into helping them make this transition successfully.
So it’s little wonder we’re excited to learn that numerous scientific studies are demonstrating that yoga and meditation can be very effective in treating PTS and other forms of stress-related illnesses, and we want to share this information in an effort to help as many people here in the US and throughout the rest of the world as we can.
Below you’ll find a selection of resources that describe the benefits of yoga for individuals with PTS, and links to programs specifically developed to help veterans with PTS.
Impact on Breathing Based Meditation Practice for Veterans
The first video features Dr. Emma Seppälä, a research scientist at Stanford University School of Medicine. She discusses a study on the impact of a breathing-based meditation practice for veterans. Participants in Dr. Seppälä’s study reported that they still remembered the experiences that triggered their PTS, but after treatment their nightmares decreased, their flashbacks decreased, and that they’re able to be more present. They are “able to move on”.
Warriors At Ease – Molly Birkholm and the VA
Warriors at Ease trains yoga and meditation instructors to work with soldiers, veterans, and military communities. They also offer resiliency training and outreach programs. As Molly says in the video below, “what yoga and meditation do is give opportunities for the person to get back in their bodies again, to feel safe in their bodies”.
The article Warriors At Peace appeared in Yoga Journal in 2010. In it, veterans describe how PTS was affecting them, and then how they were able to overcome the anxiety, depression, and other symptoms and find relief. Sue Lynch found relief from her symptoms through yoga, and started teaching others. Sue founded There and Back Again, a yoga center dedicated to helping “veterans navigate life after war” through a whole body approach to wellness. She has teamed with a number of participating locations in 12 states to offer services to combat veterans in the US.
iRest Program for Healing PTSD
Richard C. Miller, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist and yogic scholar details the approach in his book The iRest Program for Healing PTSD in which he “offers an innovative and proven-effective ten-step yoga program for treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The deep relaxation meditations in this book will help you overcome the common symptoms of PTSD, such as anxiety, insomnia, and depression, and maintain emotional stability so that you can return to living a full, meaningful life.”
You can learn more about the program at iRest.us.
Miller’s program is a 35-minute guided meditation called Yoga Nindra, initially learned lying down, and then integrated into all body positions. He incorporates breath awareness and body sensing but goes beyond that, asking participants to observer their emotions, thoughts, and memories from an objective distance.
Listen to a 30-minute iRest practice session with Richard Miller.
Returning veterans have many yoga programs from which to choose. Below is just a sampling.
Bliss Divine Yoga
Center for Investigating HealthyMinds, at the Waisman Center
University of Wisconsin
Exalted Warrior Foundation
Integrative Restoration Institute (Richard Miller, Ph.D and the iREST program)
San Rafael, California
Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health
Kula for Karma
Franklin Lakes, New Jersey
There and Back Again
Trauma Center at Justice Resource Institute
Yoga Nidra with Robin Carnes
Silver Spring, Maryland
West Boylston, Massachusetts
If you are involved with providing yoga and/or meditation classes for veterans and others suffering from PTS, let us know by leaving a comment and we’ll add you to our list.