Iraq war vet uses holistic approach to combat PTSD

After serving in Iraq from 2004-2005 as an infantry soldier, Tom Voss decided to put the war behind him and get his life on track. He enrolled in school, got a civilian job and moved into his own place. However, about a year later the horrors of war started to catch up to him. While overseas he witnessed the deaths of both his platoon sergeant and his squad leader and faced enemy attacks almost daily.

“I was 20 years old when I was there and when you’re in a combat situation, you don’t have a lot of time to process these things,” Voss, now 32, told

The emotions that Voss had bottled up started to manifest themselves in symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Voss stopped attending classes and withdrew himself from society. He also began to self-medicate with alcohol and would become black-out drunk in order to sleep at night. Voss said he knew his life was spiraling out of control and it was time to seek help.

Emma Seppala, a psychologist and author of “The Happiness Track,” told that traditional treatments for PTSD include talk therapy and medicine, but for some it does not resolve the issue. Voss fell into the latter category. He had undergone many hours of talk therapy and was depending on a battery of drugs that were not helping him resolve the underlying issues.

For patients like Voss, Seppala said there is another option which involves a holistic approach.

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“We wanted to look at a new methodology; breathing-based meditation practices called Sudarshan Kriya Yoga,” she told This practice is an active breathing exercise that studies have shown to reduce blood pressure and heart rates in minutes, which is key to reducing the anxiety and stress related to PTSD.

Voss had heard about Seppala and this new approach to treating mental illness but was skeptical. Desperate for relief, Voss began practicing the techniques and noticed some of his symptoms had diminished.

“One of the major things that happened through this workshop was that the relationship that I had with those traumatic events in my past completely shifted,” Voss said.

He suffered from survivor’s guilt and practicing the breathing exercises and yoga began to change his perspective on what happened in Iraq.

Seppala said that Voss’ results are exactly what the therapy is hoping to achieve; to re-associate traumatic memories with a “state of deep restfulness and calm.”

“A new relationship [is] built between the memory and its psychological and physical effects,” she said.

A study conducted by Seppala and the University of Wisconsin Madison and subsequently published by Stanford University showed that long-term normalization of anxiety was maintained one month and one year after the study. Seppala said the results were remarkable considering many of the veterans didn’t continue the breathing exercise after the study period, which meant that just one week of the Sudarshan Kriya yoga and breathing can have long-term effects.

Voss is using his experience with the therapy to help others find relief from symptoms of PTSD. He became the national veteran’s liaison for Project Welcome Home Troops, a non-profit that aims to help soldiers integrate back into society after service in healthy ways.

As part of his advocacy Voss stars in “Almost Sunrise,” a documentary that follows him and another veteran as they walk across the United States to address their depression. The film features Voss’s growing relationship with meditation and yoga.

For more information on Seppala’s study click here.