Science continues to find that ancient healing traditions, everything from plant medicines to spiritual practices like meditation, are very effective at treating modern day maladies. The latest breakthrough shows that certain yoga breathing techniques can effectively reduce the symptoms of one of today’s most serious conditions.
Characterized by depression and anxiety plus tense “on edge” feelings, flashbacks and bad dreams, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can be a living nightmare. Caused by extreme stress from traumatic events and often lasting for years, PTSD is also on the rise around the world.
Psychotherapy has been proven effective for alleviating PTSD, but antidepressant medications are also commonly prescribed in moderate to severe cases in order to make life easier.
Just last year however, a first-of-its-kind study conducted at Stanford University found that ancient yoga breathing techniques were able to dramatically reduce PTSD symptoms in a short amount of time.
The researchers recruited a group of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans suffering from PTSD and administered Kriya Yoga breathing exercises to them for a period of seven days. Up to 20 percent of veterans from these conflicts are currently suffering from PTSD, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs. In fact, two-thirds of homeless veterans have been found to be suffering from unresolved PTSD.
Consisting of rhythmic controlled breathing while seated with eyes closed in a meditative state, as well as some gentle stretching before and after, Kriya Yoga is a non-sectarian practice that dates back to before the written word. Unlike more physical forms of yoga that emphasize asanas, or body postures, Kriya Yoga revolves around using the breath to still the mind, a technique known as pranayama.
After the treatment, which included three hours of Kriya Yoga daily, the researchers recorded significantly reduced PTSD symptoms in the group. Psychological problems like anxiety improved and positive physiological indicators like a slower base respiration rate were found.
When subjected to stimuli specifically designed to be annoying and jarring, like noise bursts and light flashes, the group of veterans showed improved “startle response” reactions, as measured by eye blinks and breath patterns.
“Re-experiencing symptoms,” which refer to flashbacks and other stress inducing memories of the traumatic event itself, were also noticeably lower after the week of Kriya Yoga.
According to the Stanford researchers, Kriya Yoga “shows promise as a viable alternative or adjunct intervention in addressing PTSD and suicide in returning veterans.”
But PTSD is not just limited to the veteran population. In fact, around five percent of Americans are suffering from PTSD at any given time, according to the Sidran Institute, a non-profit that provides advocacy and education about traumatic stress. Women are especially vulnerable to the condition; one in ten will suffer from PTSD in their lifetime.
Those that experience a serious traumatic event are even more at risk. Victims of rape have almost a 50 percent chance of developing PTSD while those that are physically assaulted have an over 30 percent likelihood.
Even being injured in a vehicle accident has an estimated 16 percent chance of triggering PTSD, while the sudden death of a family member or friend has nearly a 15 percent likelihood of causing the condition.
Because traumatic stress can happen at any time, which makes us all potentially vulnerable to the development of PTSD, the fact that simple and ancient breathing exercises are effective at reducing the often excruciating and debilitating effects of the condition is cause for celebration and hope.