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Two prominent institutions are currently undertaking scientific studies to measure the effectiveness of yoga on alleviating post traumatic stress disorder in war veterans.

The Kripalu Institute for Extraordinary Living in collaboration with Harvard Medical School faculty and research assistants have developed a comprehensive yoga program specifically designed to relieve symptoms of trauma.

There are pre-, mid-, post-, and long-term follow-up treatment measures that include questionnaires and interviews that measure PTSD symptoms, subjective well-being, and mood; electrocardiogram readings to monitor heart-rate variability; and 24-hour urine samples to assay the presence of stress hormones. Three months following the study, subjects will complete a long-term follow-up.

A second study under the direction of Dr. Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Investigating Healthy Minds will apply the tools of neuroscience – including brain imaging to determine what if any effect such contemplative practices have on veterans with symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder. Researchers hope to develop psychological profiles and a kind of tool kit that help them target contemplative practices in ways that are most effective.

There is, at least, anecdotal evidence that contemplative practices are beneficial for veterans. Both Navy veteran Dennis and Jennifer Kannel, who spent a year in Iraq with the Wisconsin Army National Guard, said the breathing exercises and meditation practices improved their sleep and sense of well-being.

Andrew Hendrickson, who leads a yoga-based relaxation series for returning combat troops asks vets in his program to rate their level of distress, on a scale of zero to 100, before and after participating.

“I frequently get people who drop from 80 to 20 or 10,” said Hendrickson, who used yoga to sleep at night while working at a combat hospital in Afghanistan. “One guy with severe depression went from 60 to zero.”

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