Yoga Alleviates Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

By relieving stress, the practice of yoga aids in recovery from posttraumatic stress disorder, two recent studies showed.In one experiment, conducted by Bessel van der Kolk, a psychiatry professor at Boston University School of Medicine, and published in the annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, women suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were divided into two groups. One was given eight sessions of training in hatha yoga, a common form of yoga focusing on breathing and body postures. The other group was put through eight sessions of standard group therapy.

Women in the yoga group improved in terms of “the frequency of intrusive thoughts and the severity of jangled nerves” compared with the group-therapy women.

Van der Kolk sought to explain yoga’s mitigation of PTSD by noting that it creates greater self-awareness, including awareness of a person’s own body and its metabolic processes. “The memory of the trauma [that produced the PTSD] is imprinted on the human organism,” van der Kolk commented. “I don’t think you can overcome it unless you learn to have a friendly relationship with your body.”
In another study, a number of disabled Australian Vietnam veterans with moderate to severe PTSD were randomly split into two groups. Researchers put one group through a five-day course that taught them “breathing techniques, yoga asanas [positions], education about stress reduction and guided meditation.” The control group did not undertake the course.

After six weeks, the yoga group’s PTSD scores had eased from moderate-to-severe to mild-to-moderate. The control group’s scores, meanwhile, didn’t budge.

As if to underscore the relevance of this research, the U.S. Army recently decided to spend $4 million on research to find ways to help veterans with PTSD. The research is designed to look into such things as “spiritual ministry, transcendental meditation, [and] yoga” as well as “bioenergies such as Qi gong, Reiki, [and] distant healing.”


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