Back to Top Skip to main content

Practicing yoga to stimulate the mind, body, spirit

Dr. Bhagwan Bahroo, staff psychiatrist, demonstrates a deep-breathing posture as he leads a weekly yoga class for Psychiatry Continuity Service Program participants at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. (DoD photo by Leigh Culbert) Dr. Bhagwan Bahroo, staff psychiatrist, demonstrates a deep-breathing posture as he leads a weekly yoga class for Psychiatry Continuity Service Program participants at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. (DoD photo by Leigh Culbert)

Recommended Content:

Mental Wellness | Mental Health Care

Two programs that incorporate yoga at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, demonstrate the ability of the ancient practice to help heal the mind and body.

“The word ‘yoga’ in Sanskrit means to yoke together, and the idea is to bind together our mind, body, and spirit, and not just to bind, but to create a balance among the three aspects,” explained Dr. Bhagwan Bahroo, a psychiatrist in the Psychiatry Continuity Service program at Walter Reed. “Having personally realized the significance of yoga, I wish to share the many benefits with our service members.”

Bahroo grew up practicing yoga in India and re-connected with it 10 years ago when asked to integrate the practice into Walter Reed’s behavioral health program. Today he teaches a one-hour class for up to 12 participants once a week using basic poses and various breathing techniques, finishing each session with Laughter Yoga, an ancient practice now seeing a resurgence worldwide, according to Bahroo. “A good yoga session not only improves muscle tone, adds strength, and improves flexibility of the joints, but also helps bring peace of mind, reduces anxiety, and improves mood,” he explained, noting that laughter is contagious and lightens the heart and mind.

Programs at Walter Reed incorporate the ancient practice of yoga to promote healing. (DoD photo by Sara Morris)
Programs at Walter Reed incorporate the ancient practice of yoga to promote healing. (DoD photo by Sara Morris)

Given the nature of yoga, not all patients are willing participants. “You wouldn’t believe the excuses I get from patients,” Bahroo chuckled. Over the years, he has adapted his approach, now inviting patients to observe and then to join as they feel ready. “Eight out of 10 come to the mat eventually. If they have any type of pain, I’m able to show them how to modify poses for maximum benefit.”

Bahroo described one patient who began adamantly opposed to joining his yoga class, and reluctantly joined after wary observation. “Upon finishing his 5-week program he said, ‘I wish I had known about yoga earlier in my life.’ This is why I teach yoga and why I’d love to bring it to a wider population in our hospital if I could.”

Another patient population benefiting from yoga practice includes service members undergoing treatment for traumatic brain injury at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence, also in Bethesda next to Walter Reed. The center’s integrative approach includes tailored treatment plans that focus on mind, body, and spirit. Allison Winters, wellness coordinator, is a certified yoga instructor and dance/movement therapist who invites patients to participate at their own comfort level. Feedback after completion of the program has been positive.

“‘More yoga’ is what I’ve been hearing, so now we offer yoga as part of the structured intensive-outpatient and outpatient programs,” she said. “We have added three optional classes each week, all of which are always well-attended.”

Winters focuses on gentle and restorative postures. She teaches a maximum of six patients per class and is able to tune in to their individual issues. “I love being able to teach yoga here. With our patients, my teaching is much more individualized and I am able to connect better with them.”

Winters is convinced that yoga provides a critical mind-body connection for her patients. She believes that part of their healing is a discovery process as they experience the rhythmic and repetitive practice of yoga, incorporated with breathing. They gain flexibility as they tune in to their breath.

“I want their yoga practice to be a tool to use post-rehabilitation to manage stress and transitions when they return to work and home, and also to provide a means of working toward performance goals and returning to readiness,” Winters said, adding that she likes to teach a classic sun salutation sequence because it provides a familiar basis for future practice, and includes an adaptable set of poses that anyone can do anywhere.

“With its focus on breath and movement, the sun salutation can be modified for any level of practitioner,” said Winters, who acknowledges that yoga practice isn’t the only means of making a mind-body connection. She teaches her patients how they can incorporate moving intentionally with their breath in any activity they enjoy. While yoga is commonly associated with relaxation, Winters said different types of yoga can offer an array of benefits.

“Yoga has been around for over 5,000 years,” she said. “There is wisdom to the practice of bringing mindful attention to our breath and bodies, and anyone, regardless of age or physical fitness, can do it in its many forms, whether retiring from service or preparing for the next deployment.”

You also may be interested in...

Interagency Task Force on Military and Veterans Mental Health 2017 Annual Report

Report
9/19/2017

The Interagency Task Force on Military and Veterans Mental Health (ITF) coordinates federal activities to improve access to mental health and substance use services and support for Veterans, Service members, and their families. This report summarizes progress on the ITF recommendations being addressed by the Departments since the 2016 Annual Report (through Fall 2017); it is intended as a progress update on the current recommendations rather than a comprehensive review of all inter- and intra-agency accomplishments in the mental health arena.

Recommended Content:

DoD/VA Sharing Initiatives | Mental Health Care

Interagency Task Force on Military and Veterans Mental Health

Report
11/17/2016

This report provides an update on interdepartmental actions during 2015 and 2016 to fulfill the ITF recommendations, and outline continuing efforts to further improve mental health treatment and programs for Veterans, Service members, and their families.

Recommended Content:

Mental Health Care | DoD/VA Sharing Initiatives

DCOE Annual Report 2014

Report
7/16/2015

Annual Report for the Defense Center of Excellence - 2014

Recommended Content:

Cognitive Rehabilitation Therapy | Mental Health Care | Traumatic Brain Injury | Posttraumatic Stress Disorder | Suicide Prevention | DoD/VA Sharing Initiatives | Deployment Health

Interagency Task Force on Military and Veterans Mental Health

Report
10/24/2014

On August 31, 2012, President Obama signed Executive Order 13625 directing the Departments of Defense (DoD), Veterans Affairs (VA), and Health and Human Services (HHS), in coordination with other federal agencies, to take steps to ensure that Veterans, Service members and their Families receive the mental health and substance use services and support they need.

Recommended Content:

DoD/VA Sharing Initiatives | Mental Health Care

Management of Traumatic Brain Injury in Tactical Combat Casualty Care

Report
7/26/2012

Defense Health Board: Management of Traumatic Brain Injury in Tactical Combat Casualty Care

Recommended Content:

Deployment Health | Mental Health Care | Traumatic Brain Injury

DoD Psychotropic Medication Prescription Practices and Complementary Alternative Medicine Use

Report
6/1/2011

Defense Health Board: DoD Psychotropic Medication Prescription Practices and Complementary Alternative Medicine Use

Recommended Content:

Mental Health Care

Metrics for DoD Mental Health Preclinical Program Effectiveness and Clinical Program Outcomes

Report
6/8/2010

Defense Health Board: Metrics for DoD Mental Health Preclinical Program Effectiveness and Clinical Program Outcomes

Recommended Content:

Mental Health Care

Report of the Department of Defense Task Force on Mental Heath

Report
6/1/2007

Defense Health Board: Report of the Department of Defense Task Force on Mental Heath

Recommended Content:

Mental Health Care | Health Readiness | Public Health | Deployment Health
<< < 1 > >> 
Showing results 1 - 8 Page 1 of 1

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing: Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.