Health Team

Yoga Could Relieve Battlefield's Mental Scars

Posted April 13, 2007 5:48 p.m. EDT

Proving that war leaves more than physical scars, a recent study found nearly a third of troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan were diagnosed with a form of mental illness, the most common being post-traumatic stress disorder.

One group of battlefield veterans in Massachusetts has started using yoga to find peace from post-traumatic stress.

Vietnam veteran Michael Dziokonski said he suffered symptoms for decades until he discovered yoga and meditation.

"The primary problem I had was quickness of temper, flying of the handle very quickly. I have had periodic bouts of depression," Dziokonski said. "(Yoga) really helps identify what you are really feeling, so you can short-circuit an overly active temper."

In post-traumatic stress disorder, a veteran's mind is still on guard even though his or her body has left the battlefield. That can lead to symptoms like avoidance, anger, depression and nightmares.

Tom Boyle, a Vietnam veteran and counselor, started a yoga class specifically for other veterans. He said he believes yoga can put the mind at ease, relieving stress and tension.

"Overall, we think that the vets have benefited from it. People are sleeping who haven't slept in years," Boyle said.

Instructor Lucy Wagner uses a simple strategy to help her class of veterans.

"We talk about living in the present moment. It's not about talking about what happened, it's about being present," Wagner said.

Among yoga's other possible benefits are decreased blood pressure, improved breathing efficiency and improved flexibility and posture.

Officials said they hope the Department of Veterans Affairs will start offering yoga classes nationwide.