Iraq Study Shows Yoga Warriors Method Reduces Symptoms of Combat Stress & Potentially PTSD
First Yoga Study Conducted with Deployed Military Personnel; Results to be Published in American Journal of Occupational Therapy
Jan. 15, 2012—Occupational therapy with a focus on yoga could hold the key to reducing the occurrence of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). A study to be published this month in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy provides evidence that using sensory-enhanced hatha yoga as a means of occupational therapy is a proactive way of managing combat stress for active duty military personnel.
Yoga significantly reduced study participants’ anxiety created by situations (“state anxiety”) and innate personality (“trait anxiety”). Study participants showed significantly greater improvement than a control group on 16 of 18 mental health and quality-of-life factors. Among these factors were concentration, irritability, performing daily tasks, sleep habits, anger management, hypervigilance, intrusive thoughts or images, loneliness, self-blame, and bouts of sadness or crying. In addition, of the optional written comments, 54 percent reported sleep improvements, 37 percent reported feeling more calm, and 11 percent reported reduced frustration and anger. These improvements contributed to an increased ability to perform daily tasks.
The “Yoga Warriors Method” of Hatha yoga is an effective, low-risk means of managing combat stress, and potentially preventing combat stress from developing into PTSD, based on research conducted among U.S. active duty military personnel in Kirkuk, Iraq, said Air Force Major Jon H. Greuel, MHR, RYT (Registered Yoga Teacher). “The big surprise of the study was the sleep improvements. As the report states, yoga may provide the most practical, non-pharmaceutical option for soldiers with sleep difficulties.”
The study, conducted in October 2009, was a randomized, controlled trial. Research participants were 70 U.S. Air Force and U.S. Army personnel, male and female, with a mean age of 32. Results were measured using several standardized tests.
Soldiers participated in a minimum of nine yoga classes over three weeks. Classes strictly followed the Yoga Warrior Method developed by Lucy S. Cimini, RYT (500 hours), founding director of Yoga Warriors International and Central Mass Yoga & Wellness in West Boylston, Mass., and by Carolyn C. Stoller, MS, OTR/L, RYT, an occupational therapist, faculty member at Warriors at Ease who added sensory-based occupational therapy techniques into the protocol. This method is based on years of experience helping veterans suffering from PTSD.
“The Kirkuk Combat Stress Study is the first yoga-related research ever conducted in a deployed environment,” added Greuel. “Teaching yoga in Kirkuk was a real eye-opener. I had a very clear ‘ah-ha’ moment a few days into the protocol. At the end of class, these keyed-up, sleep-deprived, EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) guys were breathing deeply and some were asleep, and I could hear machine gun fire. I felt a profound sense of gratitude for Yoga Warriors and the opportunity to test and document my anecdotal observations. It was just so evident that we could be proactive, managing combat stress and anxiety before they spiral into PTSD.”
The findings support this type of program for reducing symptoms of combat stress and improved performance in daily activities and occupations. The study is limited by the lack of data on participants’ length of deployment and exposure to combat, including exposure during the study. In addition, because of the short length of the study, researchers were unable to collect detailed information about symptoms and the duration of the effects of the yoga program.
Results of the study—titled “Effects of Sensory-Enhanced Yoga on Symptoms of Combat Stress in Deployed Military Personnel”—will be published in the January/February 2012 issue of the American Journal of Occupational Therapy.
Study authors were Stoller; Greuel; Cimini; Mary S. Fowler, PhD, RYT, a statistician and associate professor at Worcester State University; and Jane Koomar, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA, president of Occupational Therapy Associates-Watertown, P.C. and a professor of practice at the Boston School of Occupational Therapy at Tufts University.
For more information about this research or to interview the study’s authors, contact AOTA Media Relations Manager Katie Riley at 301-652-6611, ext. 2963 or email email@example.com.
The American Journal of Occupational Therapy is the official journal of the American Occupational Therapy Association which represents the professional interests and concerns of more than 140,000 occupational therapists, assistants, and students nationwide. It is a peer-reviewed publication focusing on research examining the effectiveness and efﬁciency of occupational therapy practice so that occupational therapy and other health care professionals can make informed, evidence-based decisions in their practice. AJOT publishes six times each year in print and online and has an additional online supplement at the end of each calendar year. Articles cover topics such as children and youth; mental health; rehabilitation, disability, and participation; productive aging; health and wellness; work and industry; education; and professional issues. Recent special issues include sensory processing and sensory integration, older drivers and community mobility, and traumatic brain injury and stroke. For more information, visit http://ajot.aotapress.net or www.aota.org.