Alternative practitioners within the military and VA say they witness positive results from the integration of yoga and meditation with both active-duty servicemembers and veterans who suffer from PTSD and other physical and psychological challenges.
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Try Yoga To Manage Military Stress

By: Robin Carnes, Karen Soltes, and Molly Asebey-Birkholm

An increasing number of studies are confirming what yoga and meditation instructors in the military and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) see every week: serving in battle takes a heavy toll on the bodies and minds of soldiers.

In a study by the Iowa Persian Gulf Study Group, Gulf War veterans who were stationed in a war zone showed significantly higher rates of physical symptoms psychological distress, and health-related physical and psychosocial functional impairment, as well as worse general health status when compared to military personnel stationed outside a combat zone.

In April of 2008, a RAND Corporation study reported that nearly 20 percent of military servicemembers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan-more than 300,000 people-have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or major depression. In addition, the impact of war has a cascading effect on the 8-10 family members directly related to each servicemember and veteran.


The need for mental health practitioners servicing the military community has never been greater. To help address the widening scope of need, a cadre of "alternative" interventions are being increasingly utilized by the military and VA, including yoga, meditation, acupuncture, massage therapy, and other complementary medical practices.

Alternative practitioners within the military and VA say they witness positive results from the integration of yoga and meditation with both active-duty servicemembers and veterans who suffer from PTSD and other physical and psychological challenges.

Despite some initial skepticism and resistance, the positive changes exhibited by military participants, as well as their growing interest in yoga and more, have propelled the growth of these alternative health options in the military.


After just a few yoga sessions, many servicemembers report experiencing more restful sleep, alleviation of physical pain (much of which is combat-related), and an improved ability to modulate strong emotions.

Over time, many military yoga participants have even cut back on their medications. Enrollment in these alternative health military programs is on the rise, and retention rates remain extremely high.

Many servicemembers have developed their own home-based practice of yoga stretching, breathing, or using guided meditation CDs. These are important self-care habits that can be used independently of medical practitioners and shared with their military family and friends.

Why is yoga and meditation working so well within the military population?

While current research within the military and VA is searching for a clinical answer to this question, several preliminary observations can be made.

We know that 70-90 percent of all physical and mental illness is impacted by stress. Very few medical conditions, physical or mental, are not improved by reducing or mitigating stress.

Yoga offers a wide range of tools and principles that can lessen the impact of stress and improve quality of life. The yoga postures, breathing exercises, and meditation practices evoke mental and physical relaxation. They also work directly with cognition and provide a therapeutic arena for healing.

The structure and consistency of the yoga class routine offers a comforting stability after the chaos of battle. The inward focus and the repetitive processes of yoga allow for gradual integration, without forcing.


The mental and physical challenges facing servicemembers and their families are growing by the day. It is imperative for the larger community to shoulder the responsibility of caring for those in the military who risk their lives for us. This means offering as many evidence-based healing options as we can make available. It means helping people with a full range of mental health tools, as well as teaching a healthy lifestyle that includes consistent self-care practices.


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