Army Man in Yoga Pose

Photo Source: Yoga Dork

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is characterized by reliving a traumatic situation long after any physical danger has passed. Soldiers, for instance, may suffer from PTSD after returning from military combat. With Remembrance Day coming up on November 11, we wanted to take a look at how veterans can use Bikram Yoga for PTSD and to help alleviate their anxiety.

Yoga for Mental Health

Yoga offers many mental benefits, instilling a sense of inner calm and wellbeing. Bikram Yoga, which provides 90 minutes of “moving meditation,” helps us clear our minds and focus on the present moment, allowing superfluous thoughts and traumatic memories to fall away. The practice – comprised of 26 postures and two breathing exercises – is designed to promote balance, stillness and peace by encouraging us to release our fears and frustrations in the hot room. In other words, Bikram Yoga gives us a an opportunity to let go of past pain, as well as any anger or anxiety we may feel as a result of that pain.

While Bikram Yoga can’t cure PTSD, it does offer tools to deal with some of its symptoms (anxiety, stress, trouble sleeping, etc.). Besides the fact that it traditionally provided warriors (like Prince Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita) with a path to spiritual truth, Canada’s PTSD Association recommends yoga as a coping strategy for PTSD. According to the association’s website, mindful breathing – a key component of yoga – is useful in “calming the mind and emotions, reducing stress and anxiety.”

CFB Halifax

Fitness specialists at the Canadian Forces Base in Halifax have created a program that allows injured and ill military personnel to practise yoga as a way to combat operational stress injuries and other mental health issues. According to Mary Lynass, a yoga instructor who leads the eight-week program, “Yoga has a real calming effect to it, and it’s a whole mind-body approach. Through the movements of your body, you can take your focus away from stuff and just allow yourself to be calm.”

Team Red, White & Blue

A U.S. organization, Team Red, White & Blue (Team RWB), recently organized a Bikram Yoga camp for ex-military personnel in New York City. Over the course of three days, participants attended workshops and classes led by certified instructors, including Rajashree Choudhury who taught the world’s biggest yoga class in NYC this summer solstice.

Katrina Strich, who helped organize the event, blogged that Bikram Yoga “provides a sense of unity with everyone in the room and at the same time allows for an internal focus as you practice. That internal focus can be one of the hardest parts especially for someone who might have PTSD. The camp created an environment that was accommodating to attendees overcoming this type of internal struggle. Veterans could pull from the support of those around them, knowing that they were not alone in dealing with symptoms of PTSD.”

Watch this video to find out what attendees thought of the camp:

This website, Yoga For Vets, which lists teachers and studios throughout the U.S. that offer free yoga classes for veterans, includes testimonials that highlight the usefulness of yoga in dealing with PTSD:

“I started yoga when I was in the marines. It helped calm me down when I was feeling extremely anxious. When I got out, I really needed something to relieve my anxiety, anger, trauma and depression. Eventually I got tired of feeling so negative about everything and so bad about myself. I had a bunch of injuries and, because I had trouble working out the way I once did, I had a lot of pent-up energy in my mind and body. I became a yoga teacher and everything started to change. I learned to meditate, to breathe deeply and to feel like I had some control of my mind when I felt lousy. Yoga saved my life.”

-Anu Bhagwati

“I served in Operation Desert Shield/Storm. After returning from Saudi Arabia I experienced symptoms of PTSD that were debilitating. After nine years of therapy I understood how PTSD affected me: I could see the emotional storm approaching but was unable to stop the destruction [it] caused until I found my yoga mat nine years later. I was overwhelmed by the discovery that, through my yoga practice, I could manage PTSD symptoms. Therapy helped me understand the emotional storm; yoga gave me the tools to manage the storm so that I could integrate my war experience into my life at home. Since that time I got certified as a yoga teacher, own a yoga studio and established a re-integration program for veterans, There & Back Again, which incorporates yoga and meditation. My goal is to share the healing affect yoga can have so that veterans can find immediate relief.”

-Sue Lynch

Remembrance Day Poppy - Lest We Forget

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