Ending Addiction for Good

Wounded Veterans Turn to Yoga for Strength and Solace

"Yoga is all about getting your mind and your body in a healthy state."

There are many people who do not take yoga seriously as part of a treatment plan for PTSD or addiction recovery. It can be associated with “strange” Eastern philosophies or seen as “stretching” that housewives and people from California do. In actuality, yoga – with or without the connections to its long philosophical history – can do wonders as an adjunctive therapy when part of a full recovery program for those with trauma issues or addiction. One unlikely group using yoga and seeing the benefits are America’s war veterans.

At the Naval Medical Center in San Diego, California, patients are using over 200 classic yoga poses to help them combat pain, regain muscle strength and increase flexibility. Veterans of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, these military personnel battle amputations, burns, post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD) and other physical and emotional wounds.

Increasingly, the military is using alternative therapies to compliment more traditional treatments of counseling, medication, physical therapy and occupational therapy. Preliminary military studies are finding that the calming effects of yoga, as well as Reiki, transcendental meditation and tai chi are making a real difference.

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"There's a natural resonance among our warriors with things with an Eastern ethos, with things that the samurai might have used," said Navy Capt. Robert Koffman, a physician and combat-stress expert at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, MD.

"Yoga is something that our warriors will actively engage in: It's a challenge and it has readily evident results," Koffman said, particularly when patients adopt it as part of their lifestyle.

Yoga can be used to prepare for more rigorous forms of exercise…such as climbing mountains!

"Yoga has been one of the pillars of my recovery," Zambon, 28, said by telephone from Florida. Wearing prosthetics and accompanied by Tim Medvetz of the Heroes Project in Los Angeles, Zambon scaled Kilimanjaro in mid-2012, 18 months after his injury.

When he reached the summit, Zambon put down the dog tags of two buddies killed in combat and did a yoga headstand, a display both of defiance to his injury and thankfulness for the therapy that had helped him.

"Yoga," he said, "is all about getting your mind and your body in a healthy state."

Indeed it is. I applaud our Veteran’s Administration for using less traditional treatment options to augment and enhance the recovery of our veterans.

Constance Scharff, Ph.D. is the Senior Addiction Research Fellow and Director of Addiction Research at Cliffside Malibu Treatment Center.

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