In this week's issue, David Wood writes about a tool increasingly used to help veterans confront the many challenges waiting for them when they return home from war zones: yoga. There's a growing consensus among military doctors, researchers, and veterans themselves, that conventional treatments aren't always enough to help vets navigate the consequences of PTSD -- from unemployment and domestic violence to substance abuse, anxiety, and suicide. As Wood puts it, "Once dismissed as mere acrobatics with incense, yoga has been found to help ease the pain, stiffness, anger, night terrors, memory lapses, anxiety and depression that often afflict wounded warriors."
The embrace of yoga -- especially among onetime skeptics in "hard-core military circles" -- is a step forward in our efforts to give veterans the care they need and deserve. It's also in line with the latest research and thinking about the destructive force of stress in our lives. The adrenaline-fueled hyper-vigilance that's so vital to our soldiers in combat zones becomes, for many, a nightmare of anxiety that makes it difficult to function when they come back home. That was the case for Sgt. Senio Martz, a 27-year-old Marine who was knocked unconscious by a roadside bomb when leading his squad through southern Afghanistan in 2011. Today, yoga relieves him from the need to closely monitor his surroundings during the day -- an obsession that was also keeping him up at night. "Last night after yoga, I had a good sleep," he says. "That's a place I haven't been in a long, long time."
Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs researchers have found that yoga's stretching, breathing techniques and meditation can help calm the part of the brain that the stresses of war kicks into a state of hyper-arousal. And more and more yoga teachers are bringing these practices to the vets who need them. Robin Carnes, who helped develop a program called iRest, found that meditation helps draw patients' attention inward, away from outside stresses. She also founded "Warriors at Ease," which trains and certifies yoga teachers to bring calming yoga practices to even more soldiers in need.
As Wood writes, using yoga to help returning veterans isn't as surprising as it might seem. "After all, yoga -- a Sanskrit word meaning to 'join' or 'unite' -- dates back to 3,000 B.C., and its basic techniques were used in the 12th century when Samurai warriors prepared for battle with Zen meditation." As more and more skeptics are convinced, and as yoga becomes further ingrained in our military hospitals, that means more veterans will be making deep breathing and Downward Dog part of their recovery regimens.
This appears in our weekly iPad magazine, Huffington, in the iTunes App store. This story appears in Issue 30, available Friday, Jan. 11.
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