Yoga Helps Veterans Cope with Stress, Depression

Veterans of U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq may take heart in the results of several studies showing that regular yoga practice helps ease depression and other symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. While the beneficial effects of yoga for stress are well-known, only recently have studies documented that the physical stretches and strengthening exercises of yoga asanas can also help release the long-held tension in the body, which are the physical mirror of traumatic experiences.

PTSD is a large, underreported issue among war veterans. According to a Rand Corporation study conducted in April of , as much as 20 percent (or one in five) of the 1.6 million U.S. veterans who have served in Afghanistan or Iraq suffer from various symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Worse, veterans from other wars (e.g. the Vietnam War) continue to suffer from PTSD, which may worsen when news from Afghanistan or Iraq makes them relive their own violent experiences.

Perhaps the most extensive program on yoga for depression and PTSD currently underways is being undertaking at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center (which is not part of the VA network). The facility is using yoga for PTSD treatments on veterans. Since 2006, the Walter Reed medical center has run a specialized care program which deploys a team of psychologists and other healthcare professionals to provide care to hundreds of service members. Yoga for post traumatic stress is a huge component of the program, which provides care to at least 120 military personnel per year — a proverbial drop in the bucket of the estimated 320,000 PTSD-affected service members.

Particpants in yoga for post traumatic stress programs report that they become better at handling the remains of the anger and aggression, which was needed for carrying out military missions, but which becomes counterproductive when vets return after service. Yoga also helps them relax more and relieves insomnia.

Interesting, yoga also helps when depression and PTSD mask as other symptoms. A U.S. Veterans Administration study on the effects of yoga for chronic lower back pain ath the VA San Diego Healthcare facility found that after several sessions of practicing yoga for back pain, the patients not only experienced significantly less back pain, but yoga also improved underlying symptoms of depression. The patients often cited “pain [as] their main complaint, but depression is also important,” according to the study’s lead author.

While yoga cannot cure post traumatic stress disorder, yoga for PTSD helps participants deal with its symptoms. There are yoga studios and teachers nationwide that offer yoga classes at no charge to veterans. To find a class, go to the Yoga for Veterans website (

Study Yoga Online with Amy Weintraub, Author of Yoga for Depression: 

Yoga Techniques to Lift Your Mood: Simple Yoga Practices for Depression and Anxiety

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