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The promise of yoga-based treatments to help veterans with PTSD

A close friend recently told me about the post-traumatic stress disorder research of Stanford's Emma Seppala, PhD, whom she knows from the yoga community in Madison, Wisc. (Seppela did her postdoctoral work there.) It was amazing stuff, I was told (and what a small world, I thought.)

And so, I was eager to hear yesterday about one of Seppala's studies, which found that yoga-based breathing exercises dramatically decreased PTSD in veterans - and that the effect lasted a full one year after the study period.

As Brooke Donald reports:

Twenty-one male veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars participated. Half took part in the intervention, a seven-day workshop that emphasized a set of breathing techniques from the Sudarshan Kriya Yoga practice. The rhythmic breathing patterns exercised during this practice are meant to relax participants physically and mentally, and reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression and stress.

"Some people think of it as yoga, but it's really more breathing – an active breathing intervention," Seppala explained.

Before and after the workshop, which lasted three hours a day, the veterans completed questionnaires about how they were feeling. They also underwent cognitive and physiological tests to measure how they responded to loud noises and other startling stimuli.

The questionnaires were given and the tests were taken again a month after the workshop, then a year after.

Seppala called the results "extraordinary."

Traditional PTSD is not effective for a large chunk of veterans, Seppala said, and this study provides numbers to back up anecdotal evidence that yogic breathing techniques can be helpful. She hopes that "having the data will help move this kind of treatment forward in a more substantial way" and will garner the attention of policymakers.

Seppala, the associate director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education here, is now preparing the study for publication. Her work and that of University of Wisconsin's Richard Davidson, PhD, was recently featured in the documentary "Free the Mind."

Previously: Using mindfulness therapies to treat veterans’ PTSD, As soldiers return home, demand for psychologists with military experience grows, Stanford and other medical schools to increase training and research for PTSD, combat injuries and Can training soldiers to meditate combat PTSD?
Photo of veteran Adam Burn practicing yogic breathing techniques by Linda Cicero

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