Conveying Yoga Philosophy In A Yoga Program For Veterans

March 12, 2024
Conveying Yoga Philosophy In A Yoga Program For Veterans

Yoga program communicated broader yoga philosophy to veterans

Research Study At A Glance

The Research Question Asked

Was the yoga philosophy of the eight limbs conveyed in a yoga program focused on veterans?

Type of Study

Qualitative online survey

Study Participants (Sample)

  • Total sample included 67 participants
  • Mean age was 52.4 +/- 12 years (all were at least 18 years old)
  • 70.2% Male; 29.8% Female
  • 62.7% of participants experienced combat-related trauma
  • All participants had a current diagnosis of PTSD

Methods

After study participants completed a 15-week yoga program designed to address symptoms of PTSD, the research team asked them to complete an online survey consisting of six open-ended questions. Researchers then coded participant responses to these questions and grouped them into themes relating to the eight limbs of yoga.

Results

Veterans and other participants described themes in their survey responses relating to all eight limbs of yoga philosophy.

Conclusion

Veterans and other participants may have yoga experiences that relate to all eight limbs even when the yoga philosophy is not explicitly described during yoga sessions.

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Background

Yoga practice has physical and mental health benefits which benefit many different populations. Physical health benefits include diverse effects, from improved balance in older populations, to improved muscle strength, to increased flexibility. Similarly, yoga is associated with many mental health benefits. They range from decreased anxiety and depression to potential benefits as an adjunct treatment for schizophrenia.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a common mental health experience, particularly for veterans who have experienced military conflict. Yoga has been associated with positive effects on PTSD in previous research. However, the authors of the study we summarize here point out that yoga is a broad philosophy. It covers eight limbs of practices and experiences that ultimately are intended to lean toward personal and spiritual growth. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali describes the eight limbs of yoga. They include yama (abstinences), niyama (observances), asana (postures), pranayama (breathing practices), pratyahara (drawing the senses inward), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), and samadhi (absorption).

The research team on this study was interested in how much of the wider yoga philosophy of the eight limbs was conveyed when a yoga program was tailored to address something very specific like PTSD for military veterans.

Research question

Was the yoga philosophy of the eight limbs conveyed in a yoga program focused on veterans?

Research methods

Study sample

  • Total sample included 67 participants
  • Mean age was 52.4 +/- 12 years (all were at least 18 years old)
  • 70.2% Male; 29.8% Female
  • 62.7% of participants experienced combat-related trauma
  • All participants had a current diagnosis of PTSD

Yoga treatment

Study participants completed a 90-minute weekly group yoga class for 15 weeks. The classes were designed to address symptoms of PTSD for veterans and others with this diagnosis. Each class included asana, pranayama, pratyahara practices, and relaxation. (The research team analyzed data related to the effects of the classes on PTSD symptoms in an earlier publication.)

Yoga philosophy evaluation for veterans program

In part two of this study, researchers developed a qualitative survey to learn more about the effects of the yoga classes on participants’ broader understanding of yoga philosophy. The qualitative survey was online and included open-ended questions. It was offered to only study participants who had already completed the 15-week yoga treatment program designed to address veterans’ needs and symptoms of PTSD. The previously completed yoga program did not explicitly discuss the broader yoga philosophy or the concept of the eight limbs of yoga. The research team excluded potential participants from participating in the yoga treatment program if they had any medical condition that made physical yoga practice contraindicated.

Study questions

After completing the 15-week veteran-focused yoga program, the research team asked participants to complete an online survey with the following questions:

  • What did you like most about the classes and why?
  • What did you like least about the classes and why?
  • Name one change in attitude or beliefs that has occurred since beginning the program.
  • Name a change in behavior that occurred since the beginning of the program.
  • Which new skills did you learn that you will likely use after the end of the program?
  • Share any suggestions for future programming.

Four researchers then coded participant responses to these questions using The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. They grouped them into themes related to the eight limbs of yoga. Researchers placed the concepts of dharana, dhyana, and samadhi into a single group due to the short-term nature of the study.

Results

Study respondents described themes in the survey responses that related to all eight limbs of yoga.

Why is this relevant to yoga practitioners?

Yoga is a broad philosophy and a many-layered practice. It is easy to quantify and measure outcomes like increased muscle strength or flexibility. Researchers have even developed instruments that measure mental health changes like levels of anxiety or depression. However, engagement with more qualitative experiences like the yoga philosophy of the eight limbs is harder to measure. This study used a creative design of open-ended questions to gather information about participants’ broader yoga-related experiences. And, it seems that the yoga sessions conveyed many aspects of yoga philosophy even when they were not explicitly mentioned. This suggests that, as yoga teachers, teaching a well-rounded class that includes postures, breathing, concentration, and relaxation and then giving our students space to have their own particular experience may be enough to share the full experience of yoga with students.

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Conclusion

Yoga is a broad philosophy. Practitioners apply yoga techniques for different reasons and situations. We might focus on yoga’s physical or mental benefits in our individual classes or practices. However, the research study we summarize here suggests that some aspects of the wider yoga philosophy are conveyed even if we don’t explicitly incorporate this into a class.

Reference citation

Schmid, A.A., E.A. Sternke, A.L. Do, N.S. Conner, V.R. Starnino, L.W. Davis. 2021. The eight limbs of yoga can be maintained in a veteran friendly yoga program. International Journal of Yoga. 14:127-132.