girl with soldierAbout 20 percent of veterans have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but many are reluctant to seek treatments. A new study from Stanford University finds that breathing-based meditation may be a remedy for PTSD in the long term. After a one-week intervention, veterans reported reduced PTSD symptoms a year after the program. The findings could help veterans access treatments and re-integrate into civilian life.

The researchers worked with 21 American veterans in a randomized controlled study. The veterans participated in three-hour sessions of Sudarshan Kriya yoga over the course of seven days. Sudarshan Kriya yoga is characterized by breathing exercises, stretching, and periods of discussion. This type of yoga has been shown to be effective in treating anxiety and depression.

In assessments conducted before, during, one month after, and one year after the program, the veterans provided descriptions of their PTSD symptoms. The researchers gathered physiological data by measuring respiration and eye-blinks.

The program “resulted in reduced PTSD symptoms, anxiety and respiration rate. Sudarshan Kriya yoga showed the strongest effect on hyperarousal and the re-occurrence of traumatic memories and nightmares,” explained Emma Seppala, study author and director of Stanford’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education.

Some of the veterans reported continuing to practice yoga at home after the program, but many did not continue. However, those who stopped practicing saw the same long-term benefits as those who continued to practice. The researchers found that the benefits of Sudarshan Kriya yoga were maintained a year after the program.

The findings could lead to more effective treatments for veterans with PTSD. Many veterans find a stigma associated with seeking mental health services, but a program that lasts only a week and reduces PTSD symptoms for the long term may help veterans effectively access care.

The next phase of this research will use fMRI scanning to analyze how meditation affects the brains of veterans with PTSD.

This research is published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress.

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