3 Ways Yoga Can Solve The U.S. Military’s Mental Health Crisis

With recent shootings and deaths involving military or former military personnel, as well as the many reports of depression and suicide amongst soldiers,  yoga can help address what appears to be a military mental health crisis.

While effective psychotherapy for soldiers is important and yoga by itself can be very good, having a more integrated understanding of the relationships between body and mind may be a missing piece.  The experiential component that happens in yoga can retrain the brain and nervous system while providing an environment for integrated healing to occur.

A non-clinical practice like yoga can also aid in shifting the perception of PTSD and the need for therapeutic work to being an ordinary part of maintaining mental health for every soldier.

1) Let’s acknowledge that military training and combat are inherently traumatizing, both physiologically and psychologically.

Yoga practice can be used as an ongoing way to calm the nervous system, process overwhelming experiences and spend a little time each day re-balancing body and mind. Having this be an integral part of basic military mental health would make soldiers better able to cope with the high-stress experiences that are part of the job.

2) Understand PTSD (post-traumatic stress syndrome) through the lens of somatic (or body-based) psychology.

It is fantastic for soldiers and their families that the military is seeking to acknowledge and clearly define PTSD, and reduce the stigma.

A next step would be to include a more mind-body research-based understanding of what is going on in the nervous system and brains of soldiers suffering from the condition —as a way to address the problem more comprehensively.

3) Let’s train a group of yoga teachers to serve the military in two specific ways:

a) With an understanding of somatic psychology and the basic neuroanatomy of trauma, and in how to use yoga to support discharge of unresolved nervous system energy, safe integration of traumatic memories and using breath and body awareness to become more self-regulated and “resourced.”

b) With basic knowledge of the warning signs that will assist in identifying soldiers who have been pushed into extreme states of depression, paranoia, or delusions that would indicate the need for psychiatric assistance. It is no the fault of these men that they become a danger to themselves and others, and the sooner this can be recognized the safer it will be for all concerned.

It is essential that we take better care of our soldiers and their communities. The above suggestions could make a significant difference by using a science-informed, psychologically aware model of yoga to resolve, heal, and integrate PTSD more effectively.

The The Awakened Heart, Embodied Mind yoga teacher training provides a good grounding in the relationships between somatic psychology, neuroscience, yoga and healing trauma. For more information, click here

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photo by: dctim1

About Julian Marc Walker

Julian Walker lives in Los Angeles. He is a writer who has been teaching yoga since 1994, maintains a busy bodywork practice, and leads retreats, workshops and teacher trainings. Julian is passionate about mythology, poetry, psychology, music, free-form dance and authentic communication. He calls himself an "activist for reality-based spirituality" and explores the integration of science, spirituality and embodied psychology in a forthcoming book - The Embodied Sacred: Spirituality Beyond Superstition. www.julianwalkeryoga.com

Comments

    1. ah thanks for asking! "resourcing" is a concept from somatic experiencing. it refers to using sensations, imagery, memories, colors, or words to access states of calm and grounding.

      for one person a resource might be picturing the moon reflected in the ocean, for someone else it could be simply becoming aware of feeling their feet on the ground, for a third, perhaps thinking of their dog.

      resources in this sense are anything that creates a positive shift in your brain and nervous system state so as to be less caught in the "trauma vortex" of overwhelming associations.

      in the context of a yoga class using somatic principles, becoming "grounded, oriented and resourced" are key elements that have to do with mind-body self-regulation.

      in more general terms, resources could also be focusing on your breath, asking a friend for support, listening to music that is helpful for you etc…

      becoming "resourced" in this sense makes it easier to process through traumatic memories and feelings without being carried away by them as if they were happening in the present.

      its a process-oriented awareness technique.

  1. These are all important steps to take in helping heal members of the military. Yoga does offer the opportunity for these victims of violence to resolve so much trauma they have built and stored in their bodies.
    Great writing. Thank you for this.

  2. Great article, Julian. I've been really encouraged by the work of both the Veterans Yoga Project and Yoga for Uniforms, non-profits offering yoga to service men and women in Connecticut and Texas. I don't think either offer full 200-hr TT programs for their teachers and could definitely benefit from the perspective you share here. Thanks for posting on Intent!