18 Inspiring Poses: How Yoga Helps Treat Veterans and PTSD

Photographer Robert Sturman honors and celebrates American veterans of war by featuring several active duty and retired service members practicing yoga.
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Photographer Robert Sturman honors and celebrates American veterans of war by featuring several active duty and retired service members practicing yoga.

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In the United States, up to eight percent of the total population will experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in their lifetime. PTSD can occur after a traumatic event like the loss of a loved one, combat, a terrorist attack, or natural disaster. Someone who has experienced trauma may feel stressed or frightened even when danger is not imminent. For veterans of war, the percentage is greater. About 11 to 20 percent of those who served in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan suffer from PTSD, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

The VA also reports that 27 percent of veterans diagnosed with PTSD under Veterans Affairs hospital care will experience some form of substance abuse. But that is changing. More veterans are opting out of opioids to self-manage their chronic pain, stress, and depression, according to a recent study at the Washington, D.C. Veterans Affairs Medical Center. In the study, Integrative Restoration Yoga Nidra, or “iRest,” a yoga practice that utilizes relaxation techniques and meditative inquiry, was used among a small group of participants to help them manage their musculoskeletal pain levels. Meditation and mindfulness practices will evidently allow a person to respond to their pain with less reactive stress, because the parasympathetic nervous system—the body’s relaxation response— becomes activated. The same mechanisms could be employed to calm symptoms of PTSD.

And the trend is catching on nationally. A Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Denver replaced their bar with free yoga classes for instance, and groups like the Light it Up Foundation and the Give Back Yoga Foundation use the transformational power of yoga to help treat veterans with PTSD.

Here, photographer Robert Sturman honors and celebrates American veterans of war by featuring several active duty and retired service members practicing yoga. “It is my moral obligation to pay attention to those who are crying out for healing,” he said.