Yogic Breathing Method Helps Veterans Relieve PTSD Symptoms
An initial research study at the University of Wisconsin-Madison demonstrates that Sudarshan Kriya Yoga, a method of controlled breathing, relieves the distressing hyper-arousal of the autonomic nervous system experienced by PTSD sufferers.
The autonomic nervous system is designed to regulate our body’s reaction to the environment (e.g., respiration, heart rate).
Controlled breathing methods help people relax by balancing the nervous system, making our nerves more effective at coordinating the body’s complex processes. Important signals are quickly relayed from one cell or organ to another via tranquil nerves, benefiting our overall well being.
Sudarshan Kriya yoga was selected for the UWM study because it earlier helped tsunami survivors cope with PTSD symptoms. Combat veterans participated in the Wisconsin research—eleven were placed in an active treatment group, and ten were assigned to a control group that received no instruction.
The active treatment group had seven days of training. Three hours each day they practiced Sudarshan Kriya technique including breathing-based meditation, stretching, and group discussions. They experienced a reduction in anxiety intensity, breathing rates, and in the number of PTSD symptoms.
Symptoms of PTSD include nightmares, personality changes, intense anxiety, flashbacks, and hyper-vigilance. The body’s innate fear response seems unable to switch off, so a person’s reaction to a traumatic event continues though the event is in the past.
It is estimated that 20 percent of returning veterans experience disturbing PTSD symptoms, and that 22 or more veterans take their own life each day. Since today’s psychotherapy and medications bring relief to some PTSD sufferers but not others, effective and safe symptom management tools such as Sudarshan Kriya yoga are a welcome addition to professionals’ list of treatment options.
Anyone can develop PTSD after going through traumatic experience such as accidents, injury, illness, natural calamities, or violent encounters. It is likely that Sudarshan Kriya yoga will help these non-veteran individuals reduce symptoms as well.
“Because some veterans are not interested in talking about their trauma or taking medications, there is a need for new programs that can offer relief from PTSD symptoms,” said researcher Maria Steenkamp, Ph.D. “There are also no negative side effects with this breathing technique, so this type of program could potentially be helpful to all PTSD survivors, not just vets.”
The researchers hope to expand their initial study to include more participants and a wider demographic representation.
Photo credit: USAG - Humphreys / flickr