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The Effect of Sensory Enhanced Hatha Yoga on Symptoms of Combat Stress in Deployed Military Personnel. Stoller, C.C., Greuel, J.H., Cimini, L.S., Fowler, M.S., & Koomar, J.A.
Seventy U.S. military personnel stationed in Kirkuk, Iraq, participated in the randomized experimental/control group study in October 2009. The study was a formal collaboration between Yoga Warriors/Central Mass Yoga and Wellness, Inc., the US Army Institute of Surgical Research (USAISR), and Jon Greuel, Major, USAF, Principle Investigator.
Air Force instructor pilot, Major Jon Greuel, served as the Principal Investigator. He was deployed to Kirkuk, Iraq, from November 2008 to November 2009 teaching Iraqis primary and instrument flying. Major Greuel is a certified yoga instructor who taught yoga in his off-duty hours while deployed in Iraq.
The study was the brainchild of Major Greuel, after recognizing the need for empirically-based methodologies to ease the transition from "battle-ready" in preparation or response to a threat, back to a normal arousal state once the requirement for vigilance has passed. Major Greuel found that helping tense and often restless military personnel to relax completely was one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of his deployment. The purpose of the study, as Major Greuel so aptly put it, was to help our military troops develop proactive traumatic stress management to avoid developing post-traumatic stress disorder. Major Greuel contacted Lucy Cimini, founder of the Yoga Warriors program to initiate a research collaboration.
Among the study findings:
- The data yielded evidence that the sensory-enhanced hatha yoga program helped to significantly reduce both state and trait anxiety, as determined by comparing the treatment group with controls (p < 0.001). This occurred despite normal pre-test scores.
- Treatment subjects showed significantly greater improvement on 16 of 18 mental health and quality of life factors as compared to controls. Items reaching the .001 level of significance, showing a decrease over the course of the study and thus indicating improvement in functioning, were "having difficulty concentrating" "feeling irritable", "having difficulty performing daily tasks", "avoiding socializing", "not feeling real interested in things" and "experiencing feelings of boredom".
- Items reaching the .01 level of significance, indicating improvement in functioning, were "having difficulty sleeping", "feeling 'down in the dumps'", "not attending to my self-care needs", "having outbursts of anger", "always 'on guard' or 'watching my back", "experiencing feelings of loneliness"; "experiencing intrusive thoughts or images"; and "having bouts of sadness or crying". Items reaching the .05 level of significance, indicating improvement in functioning, were "blaming myself for things" and "experiencing distressing 'mini-dreams'".
- A one-tailed Pearson correlation test yielded evidence of a significant positive correlation between the following five measures: state anxiety, trait anxiety, sensory sensitivity, sensory avoidance and low registration. Sensory seeking was negatively correlated with all measures except low registration, which was insignificant.
- [Note: This correlation pattern matched the pattern of the Yoga Warriors pilot study of 12 older combat veterans who were diagnosed with PTSD (Stoller & Cimini, 2008).]
- The pretest scores of the deployed military personnel showed normal pre-test scores on both the sensory processing and anxiety measurement tools.
- The data from the AASP did not yield evidence to support that a sensory-enhanced hatha yoga program would help to increase normalization of sensory processing. In examining the data, at the pre-test time, the six subjects who had scores indicating high sensory sensitivity were all randomized to the control group, therefore, one would not expect to see significant normalization from the yoga program.
- Regarding the optional written comments by the yoga participants: 54% reported sleep improvements, 37% commented that they felt more calm or relaxed, 26% commented on other physical benefits, and 11% reported reduced frustration/anger or better anger management.