In the wake of the decade-long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, America's returning veterans face vast challenges as they overcome the impacts of war. Among these are serious mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and brain injury -- which can in turn lead to issues that plague the veteran population at disproportionately high rates, such as domestic abuse, addiction, difficulty maintaining work, homelessness, and suicide.
Therapies and supports exist to help veterans overcome these obstacles; among them are the practices of yoga and meditation, which are yielding promising and measurable benefits. Indeed, yoga is an optimal treatment response to chronic stress and trauma, validated by the latest research in neuroscience, epigenetics and somatic psychology. It has the power and potential to heal our veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Veterans and active duty military personnel who practice yoga regularly report reduced anxiety and depression, improved sleep and concentration, a greater ability to focus on the positive, support in addiction recovery, pain relief, and increased ability to deal with the mental and emotional strain of combat.
Over the past few months, this meditation has helped me realize how closely connected my physical and mental pain are. I told my wife that I feel like I'm untangling a big knot. I didn't know which strand was which when it was all knotted together, but as I do the meditation, I feel myself unwinding. As I undo the knot, I see what was mental and what was physical and how letting go of each helps the other. -- Jon, Vietnam Veteran
When I heard we were going to do yoga, I laughed! I thought that soldiers doing yoga was ridiculous. After two weeks of practice, though, I thought, 'Who would have ever thought you could get so chill?' I want to find a class to do with my wife, something we could share. -- OIF Veteran (three deployments)
While a growing number of veterans, Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals, military families, and others in the military community are seeking yoga out as a means of coping with and overcoming the impacts of war, there is a lack of information about yoga and meditation targeted to assist the special needs of this vulnerable population. To help meet this need, the Give Back Yoga Foundation has supported the creation of a range of high-quality yoga resources and programs for the military community. These include empirically-informed, clinically-tested multimedia resources for veterans. We make these available free to veterans, VA hospitals, and service members preparing for deployment at http://givebackyoga.org, or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Throughout the U.S., dedicated yoga teachers are working with Departments of Veterans Affairs and other organizations that currently offer or are interested in offering yoga as an adjunctive therapy practice for veterans coping with mental health problems. This includes, among others: the Adaptive Sports Foundation, Yoga For Vets, Veterans Yoga Project, Warriors at Ease, Studio Bamboo Institute of Yoga, The Hard & The Soft Yoga Institute, Exalted Warrior Foundation, Mind Body Solutions, Inc., There & Back Again, Connected Warriors, and Yoga Warriors.
However, much work still remains to be done, and a large gap remains between those desiring yoga information and instruction and actual delivery of these services and resources to those who need them most.
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