By USAF Major Jon Greuel
Dated: Jan 18, 2012
First yoga study conducted with deployed military personnel. Results published in American Journal of Occupational Therapy. Study conducted at Forward Operating Base Warrior in Kirkuk, Iraq, by Air Force Major Jon H. Greuel, MHR, RYT.
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 Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), based on research conducted among U.S. military personnel at Forward Operating Base Warrior in Kirkuk, Iraq, Air Force Major Jon H. Greuel, MHR, RYT (Registered Yoga Teacher) announced today.
“The Kirkuk study is the first yoga-related research ever conducted in a deployed environment,” said 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, while machine guns rattled nearby.”
Yoga significantly reduced study participants’ anxiety created by situations (“state anxiety”) and innate personality (“trait anxiety”). Participants showed significantly greater improvement than a control group on 16 of 18 mental health and quality-of-life factors. For example, 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 big surprise of the study was the sleep improvements. As the reports states, yoga may provide the most practical, non-pharmaceutical option for soldiers with sleep difficulties,” Greuel said.
Results of the study, entitled “Effects of Sensory-Enhanced Yoga on Symptoms of Combat Stress in Deployed Military Personnel”, were published in the January 2012 issue of the American Journal of Occupational Therapy.
The randomized and controlled trial, conducted in October 2009, included 70 U.S. Air Force and U.S. Army personnel, with a median age of 32. Half the volunteers participated in yoga classes three times a week for three weeks, while the other half served as the control group.
Classes strictly followed the Yoga Warrior Method developed by Lucy S. Cimini, RYT (500 hours), founding director, Yoga Warriors International, and Central Mass Yoga & Wellness in West Boylston, Mass. This method is based on years of experience helping veterans suffering from PTSD.
Like most yoga programs, Yoga Warriors combines movement, mindfulness and breath to produce a relaxation response. Unlike other yoga programs, Yoga Warriors is tailored for people dealing with trauma.
Instructors are trained to provide a safe, non-intrusive setting that reduces potential PTSD triggers. Positive affirmations, including “I am safely in the present now” and “I forgive myself,” use the power of the mind to help students safely deal with emotions.
In Kirkuk, to help create a sense of safety, Zen meditation music was played during classes to block out sounds of medical evacuation helicopters and machine-gun fire. Pranayama (breathing) techniques that Page 1/2PR Log - Global Press Release Distribution promote calming and asanas (poses) that balance the autonomic nervous system created a more relaxed and steady state.
“Yoga helps military personnel integrate mind, body and breath to achieve physical and mental benefits. Based on my experience with veterans, the Yoga Warriors method works because the pairing of positive affirmations with the neurophysiological effects of asanas helps reframe negative thinking patterns developed in response to stressors inherent in a deployed location. Also, yoga helps participants focus on the present moment instead of replaying past traumas or anticipating future stressors,” explained Cimini.
“The benefits of relaxation, positive thinking and living in the moment have been preached for decades. This study demonstrates how the combination of the three is a powerful antidote to pre-PTSD anxiety,” Cimini added.
The Kirkuk Combat Stress Study was conceived by Greuel, who also led the research and taught the classes during his deployment as a Combat Air Advisor in Kirkuk. “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.” Greuel is currently teaching Yoga Warrior classes in an undisclosed, overseas location.
The study was ground-breaking in that it was independently sponsored by Greuel and Yoga Warriors International with minimal military involvement. “This study may serve as a model of how to conduct combat stress and PTSD research in difficult military operating areas.” Greuel said. The Deployed Combat Casualty Research Team (DCCRT) assisted with protocol format, and the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research (USAISR) coordinated the security review. Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC) held the Institutional Review Board (IRB).
Study authors were Carolyn C. Stoller, MS, OTR/L, RYT, an occupational therapist and independent consultant; Greuel; Cimini; Mary S. Fowler, PhD, RYT, a statistician and associate professor at Worcester State University; and Jane A. Koomar, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA, president of Occupational Therapy Associates and professor at Tufts University’s Boston School of Occupational Therapy.
Yoga Warriors International was founded by Cimini in 2005 to help combat veterans suffering from PTSD. Yoga Warriors provides training to Registered Yoga Teachers and mental health professionals from around the country and, increasingly, the world, so they can start Yoga Warriors programs or apply its guiding principles during clinical applications. To date, almost 150 teachers have undergone Yoga Warriors training.
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