Walter Reed Using Yoga to Fight PTSD

By Noah Shachtman via

army yoga

The Army is looking to spend $4 million researching how yoga and other alternative therapies might help ease the pain of post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. But, at Walter Reed Medical Center, they’re already convinced. 120 soldiers per year are being treated in Walter Reed’s Specialized Care program. “Yoga,” the Washington Post reports, “has become a large part of that effort.”

Yoga was first introduced at Walter Reed in 2006, when “nine active-duty soldiers with PTSD were able to sleep better and felt less depressed after 12 weeks of Yoga Nidra (also known as yogic sleep, a practice that elicits deep relaxation),” Yoga Journal notes. “’They felt more comfortable with situations that they couldn’t control, and as a result, they felt more control over their lives,’ says Richard Miller, who serv[ed] as a consultant to the Walter Reed researchers.”

Now, dozens of soldiers like Sgt. Derrick Farley are going through three-week intensive yoga programs, according to the Post.

On a Thursday afternoon, 11 days into it, he lay on the floor, covered in blankets, head propped up with pillows, along with his wife and five other participants.

A CD of soothing ocean sounds played in the background and, with his eyes closed, Farley listened as [yoga teacher Robin] Carnes led them through a yoga nidra session.

Periodically, she gave specific instructions: “Bring attention to your eyelids. Feel the place where your eyelids touch. Bring attention to your inner resolve. Think about the things you want from yourself. Focus on your breathing.”

Being specific, Carnes said, prevents their minds from re-creating disturbing moments. “The first day, the first week, there was a lot of restlessness,” Carnes said. But during this session Farley and his fellow soldiers fell fast asleep — a sign of progress, Carnes said.

In addition to twice-weekly yoga nidra classes, soldiers in the program participate in yoga sessions that use physical postures to help alleviate pain and encourage concentration. The Specialized Care Program also includes individual and group therapy, physical therapy, classes that teach coping strategies, and daily seminars that cover topics such as the causes of stress, the primary function of sleep and ways to monitor and reduce depression…

However, it’s difficult to document the program’s impact. Participants, who evaluate their own progress, often say they feel better after sessions, Carnes said, but there’s little scientific evidence to back their anecdotal reports.

“Students in class come up to me and say, ‘I haven’t felt this relaxed in a long time,’ ” Carnes said. “They say that they are more patient with their family. They’re not as angry.”

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