Programs offering yoga to veterans are becoming more common as soldiers are succesfully finding relief from symptoms of PTSD and to help integrate back into civilian life upon returning from war. Now a program at Norwich University, a private military college in Vermont, is using yoga with cadets before they enter the armed forces, in the hope of better preparing these future soldiers for the stress of war.
"My hypothesis is that this can also be a very powerful method when one does encounter situations like war—which is more stress than most of us can even image," says yoga teacher Lauren Walker, who's been working with both military and non-military track students at Norwich for the last three years. "My hope is to help these young men and women to be able to maintain their own wholeness and integrity in the face of whatever life brings them."
Norwich, which prepares students to be officers in all four branches of the military in addition to teaching students who don't plan to serve, offers yoga to its students as a complement to other programs that help them handle stress through its Student Affairs Department.
"We see yoga as a tool that's available to someone to help them with their resiliency," said Brigadier General Mike B. Kelley, Vice President for Student Affairs at Norwich. "In a war zone, you have to have something to call upon to help you get through that tough spot and give you something to relieve the stress, calm yourself, and put gas in your gas tank. I see that yoga has that."
The school provides weekly drop-in yoga classes and a more structured program where students commit to practicing for a year. In the program, students are given reading assignments and homework and participate in weekly asana classes. Because of the success and popularity of both programs, funding has been secured to continue them next school year.
"These kids, their stress levels and their ability to function in their high-intensity environment has been eased and calmed down," Walker said. "Now they're practicing outside of class and developing daily meditation practice."
While evidence of the benefits of Norwich's yoga programs are anecdotal at this point, Walker and Kelley are devising a study and looking for funding to test things like the students' cognition, academic performance, and stress resiliance.