The Healing Effect of Yoga on PTSD

RichardMillerThe U.S. Department of Defense has not yet fully embraced Yoga, but the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. is seeing impressive results from it. A recent feasibility study conducted there indicated that a particular approach of Yoga had a positive effect on military personnel suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The study, funded by the Samueli Foundation, a private grant-making institution dedicated to facilitating positive change and enabling individuals to achieve their potential, used a protocol of Yoga Nidra meditation to examine its healing effect on US active-duty soldiers who were experiencing PTSD from their experiences in the Afghanistan and Iraq war zones. Yoga Nidra uses deep relaxation, deep breathing and meditation to systematically reduce physical, emotional, mental and even subconscious tension.

A total of seven men and women were chosen to participate in the nine-week study that included 18 classes and a daily home practice using compact disks provided by the instructor. Changes in health status such as anxiety, depression, insomnia, pain and locus of control were assessed over the course of the study using pre-, post- and follow-up data. The lead consultant for the study was Richard Miller, who developed the protocol of Yoga Nidra used in the study. Richard is a recognized scholar of Eastern spirituality who has 30+ years of practice synthesizing Yoga with Western psychology. He holds a PhD in clinical psychology and was a co-founder of the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT) and the Institute for Spirituality and Psychology.

An additional goal of this study was to gather preliminary data on the anticipated effect, size and feasibility of conducting a larger clinical study on the adjunctive use of Yoga for the treatment of PTSD symptoms in enlisted military personnel. Due to the excellent trends realized through the feasibility study, the Samueli Foundation has now set aside funding for a 200-subject, multi-site, in-depth research study using Yoga Nidra with active-duty soldiers experiencing PTSD. The study is expected to take place at various VA sites around the U.S. and is projected to begin in 2008.

Following are comments from some of the participants about their experience with Yoga Nidra during the feasibility study:

“I feel more accepting of situations in my life that I cannot control.”

“When I come to the practice my thoughts become quiet….It’s empowering knowing I can change the way I feel and my mood.”

“The classes are calming, and I always have a really good day after the sessions.”

“I didn’t want it to end.”

“I now have an inner place that I can go to that calms me down and brings me peace.”

“It’s easier to get to sleep now…and I sleep longer.”

“I’m experiencing life…not just living it.”

After seeing the results from the feasibility study, the Deployment Health Clinical Center (DHCC) at Walter Reed integrated Richard’s Yoga Nidra protocol into its regular treatment program for soldiers rotating through the health clinic. Soldiers receive nine sessions of Yoga Nidra over a three-week period as part of their total program of various healing modalities. Following are some of their stories:

Becky, a 42-year-old woman with chronic pain and multiple diagnoses, including sleep apnea and disordered sleep, reported that after approximately six Yoga Nidra classes she was sleeping better at night and felt more rested during the day. At the “graduation party” from the program, her husband said he noticed a significant improvement in the quality of her sleep, that she was much more still and quiet during sleep, with far fewer waking periods, and that she seemed much more rested in the morning.

After three Yoga Nidra classes, Tom still complained that he had been in terrible pain for so long that he could not remember how it felt not to be in pain. After the third class, he reported that his legs, arms and back felt numb. He seemed concerned and asked if this was normal. He was asked if his experience of numbness felt unpleasant. He replied, “No, it feels fantastic! I am not in pain!” The next day he reported that he had so much energy and felt so good, he could have “run around the building ten times.” He also said he stayed pain free until 3 a.m. (about 11 hours after the Yoga Nidra class). He was ecstatic.

Phillip, a 52-year-old man, suffered from a panic attack on the third day of the DHCC program when he went to get an MRI at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He reported that the machine was unlike “civilian” MRI machines and instead was very small inside—just big enough to slide his body into with about two inches to spare. It terrified him, and he left before completing the procedure because he was too anxious. He went to his Yoga Nidra class literally shaking, but did the practice and appeared to quiet down. When he left, it was suggested that he use his “Inner Resource” (a imaginary place of safety and peace) if memories of the experience began to upset him. The next day at Yoga Nidra he came in beaming like a proud child. He reported, “Your Yoga really works!” He said that at 8 p.m. the night before, he decided he could do the MRI. He walked the 30 minutes back to Walter Reed from his hotel, told the technician on duty what had happened earlier that day and said he was ready to try again. He said he got into the machine and started breathing deeply into his belly. He lay in savasana (relaxation pose), kept breathing and felt fine. He said he left the MRI feeling “victorious.”

Steve came into the fifth class and said, “I hear you in my sleep.” When asked what he meant, he replied, “I hear your voice in my dreams saying, ‘feel your hand, feel your foot…left…right,’ and now I’m sleeping better.”

Integrative Restoration (iREST) Yoga Nidra Training

Richard Miller’s protocol, called Integrative Restoration Training (iREST), is an ancient transformative meditative practice that is derived from the teachings of Yoga Nidra (Yoga is interpreted as embodying what is timeless; nidra means across all states of consciousness) that leads to psychological, physical and spiritual healing. The ultimate design of iREST Yoga Nidra is to help people live contented lives, free of conflict, anxiety, fear and suffering.

iREST accomplishes its goal through two basic steps: (1) the embodiment of pure awareness and (2) the release of negative body sensations, emotions, beliefs and stress that give rise to self-destructive patterns. It is a non-dogmatic, non-religious secular practice that consists of a series of 30-40 minute sessions where participants are guided through a sequence that covers the following areas:

Body sensing training
Breath and energy awareness
Systematic desensitization and disidentification to neutralize negative body sensations and stress; and negative feelings, emotions, beliefs, images and memories
The experience of joy and well-being
The ability to experience equanimity amidst the realization that everything in life is constantly changing
Embodiment of pure awareness during each life circumstance

The goal of iREST is to teach participants skills that enable them to feel an inner joy that pervades their everyday lives and to learn how to deal with difficult situations as they arise.

In coordination with the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS) and the Committee on the Shelterless (COTS), Richard has also developed a four-week program of Yoga Nidra iRest for the homeless at the COTS shelter in Petaluma, California, as part of an ongoing research study funded by IONS to research ways to help the homeless. Additional studies are also currently being set up around North America that will research Richard’s Yoga Nidra protocol with such diverse populations as people experiencing chronic pain, patients with breathing difficultites such as asthma and emphazema, and the health and well-being of college students.

Richard Miller, PhD, is president of the Center for Timeless Being. Richard can be reached by visiting his Web site

Sponsors and Collaborators for the feasibility study: Samueli Institute, and the Deployment Health Clinical Center, Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Information provided by: Samueli Institute, a nonprofit, nonaffiliated research organization that both investigates and provides support for research that explores the biology of healing.

ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT00269490

SOURCE: Written by  Sharon Steffensen. Reprinted from Yoga Chicago magazine, March-April 2007

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