Yoga session in New Orleans
Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System was looking for something different to help patients, so when Veterans requested yoga, a new program, starting with a research study, was born.
Dr. Madeline Uddo, a SLVHCS psychologist, led a team of mental health professionals in a research study titled, “A Yoga Program for the Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Veterans, ” that was recently published in Military Magazine.
“Becky Deano and two other yoga instructors, who needed to do a research project as part of their yoga teacher training, reached out to us and together we developed a study, ” Uddo explained, “Our study is the first published yoga research study that addresses Veterans with PTSD.”
The study includes a section that addresses the effect yoga has on brain chemistry. “We know that yoga resets the nervous system as a result of breathing rhythmically, ” said Dr. Karen Slaton, a psychologist and registered yoga teacher. “We do Vinyasa flow, we move with the breath and we breathe through three parts of the body — sort of like diaphragmatic breathing, ” she explained. “When we do that type of breathing, it turns on the parasympathetic nervous system and turns off the sympathetic nervous system.”
“There were two things that were most significant that we found in study, ” Uddo said. “A decrease in anger and improved sleep. It goes along with this idea of resetting and relaxing. It appears that yoga may help with decreasing the hyper arousal that is associated with PTSD, she said. Slaton was teaching a class at the Canal Street Clinic when our director visited one of her classes and was impressed with the Veterans’ responses. She encouraged Uddo and Slaton to expand the program.
“We found funding and enlisted Mind-Body Center of Louisiana to coordinate the program. They became VA vendors and have worked with teachers and studios to begin offering the classes, ” said Uddo.
The first ‘Yoga for Veterans’ sessions began in January, and according to Uddo, the contract extends through the end of fiscal year 2014 and a total of 207 classes will be conducted. Based on the size of the room, classes range from eight to 12 patients per session and currently there is a waiting list for every site except Baton Rouge.
The classes are offered to Veterans who have been referred by mental health providers to help them decrease stress and relax. Plus, it is good exercise, said Slaton.
“Yoga is a way of working on the mind through the body, ” said Toni Bankston, executive director of the Mind-Body Center of Louisiana. “Some patients claim the practice helps them achieve instant relief, while others say it strengthens their body, helps build muscle strength and flexibility and helps relieve tension and stress, ” she continued.
“A lot of our Veterans have chronic pain and stiffness that comes from stress and muscle tension so getting them to move their bodies has been amazing for them, ” said Dr. Michelle Hamilton, a SLVHCS psychologist.
“We have seen a big difference.”
“Many Veterans seeking mental health treatment also experience chronic pain, anxiety, depression, and have sleep problems, ” continued Uddo. “Our staff uses a variety of types of therapies to help them recover from posttraumatic stress disorder and other types of mental health symptoms.
“We’re finding that movement is important, especially for PTSD Veterans. Some theories about PTSD suggests that talk therapy alone may not address the far-reaching physical and emotional changes experienced by Veterans who have been traumatized, ” Uddo said.
While some Veterans were initially skeptical about the practice, they found it helps in their recovery said Uddo.