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.