PTSD and Yoga: A Path to Healing

December 4, 2018

As a mind-body wellness practitioner and yoga teacher, I was bound by joy when I discovered yoga is classified as “sensorimotor psychotherapy” in a PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) workshop. This was incredibly refreshing and in lieu of this I could really sense the medical and scientific backing of yogic healing. The classification implies direct inquiry into the science of yoga and its therapeutic and physiological benefits by the medical field. A way to bring the body to its natural, and optimal state and in a biologically friendly way? It’s hard to contest that! Especially when anyone can do it.

In yoga, or restorative yoga, we aim to treat the somatic symptoms of unresolved trauma through an organized system. This begins with an awareness of our trauma, wounds and triggers. In a world continually desensitized by technology, culture, and politics it can be increasingly difficult to identify these ailments. It goes without saying that there is likely a good number of people who’ve never been able to recognize that they indeed have PTS. Yoga, in its many uses, aims to connect you with yourself and in a sacred space so as to treat PTS ailments and provide liberation.

One of the benefits of a practice or discipline such as yoga is the good health of bodily systems such as the endocrine, nervous, and digestive systems. Asana, or posture, is usually aimed at engaging with and stimulating these bodily systems and their respective organs. The list actually extends beyond those systems mentioned. The reason why you’d want a healthy endocrine system, for example, would be to regulate hormones such as cortisol which handles stress.

After being instructed by Duane Armitage in a weekend long intensive around PTSD, I learned more than a few things. Firstly, I learned that the reason for practicing yoga is always personal. We can’t expect to lift the veil and see precisely why a person is there and henceforth there could be a multitude of reasons why they’re there. But when they’re there, the space is meant for acceptance. The practice of yoga comes in many forms, and humans who practice restorative yoga come from all backgrounds: first responders, veterans, and victims of traumatic events, athletes, etc. Those who have suffered traumatic events is broad and include those who’ve endured sexual abuse, postpartum depression, physical injury, and negative encounters with authorities to name just a few. You won’t have to have experienced one of these conditions to practice restorative yoga either, as you could just be interested in sweating and detoxifying your body from all the Holiday eating.

Yoga is akin to a symbolic practice. The mat invites a safe place, the mind invites positive visualization, and the movement of body into postures invites somatic feeling in order to heal. More to this, props represent physical tangibles to touch. When we as wellness practitioners provide this kind of structure, we metaphysically stop bleeding with postures (asana), clean and dress wounds with breathe (pranayama), and create a healing environment with the last three branches of yoga: Dhyana (focus/concentration), Dharana (meditation), and Samadhi (spirit).

It’s not all pomp and show as culture often depicts. Yoga, or “to yoke the soul”, has been around for thousands of years. What culture and social media is doing to yoga, we ought to be careful of (avidya). That’s far from what the core of yoga is. It is not about worldly possession and desire. It’s about transcending the lower, animal mind and becoming the higher-functioning humans that we can all be.

More to the point: we all have a “blind spot”. A spot that just can’t be reached without help. Yoga and meditation assist in addressing those blinds spots, repressed feelings, triggers and traumas. Additionally, yoga provides a way to reframe your approach to day-to-day life. It creates a space for self-reflection and a place to return to “source” (ishvara pranidhana). As we now know, there are some deep and hidden traumas that are hiding within our families, communities, institutions, workplaces , etc. Facing these shadows, familial generational wounds, traumas, triggers and emotions is huge in overcoming obstacles in life and the more this is done, the easier we’re able to see our own subconscious and unconscious drives. We’re then enabled as practitioners to see problems more clearly and then consciously act, or not, on individual problems.

My personal appeal to yoga has progressed in a variety of ways. All my life I’ve been an athlete and enjoyed physical challenges, so initially it was asana that captured my attention (specifically handstands). About five years ago, I was preaching health but not practicing it (party lifestyle, smoking cigarettes, drinking every weekend, etc.) and hanging around with a crowd that wasn’t good for my addictive personality. I knew it was contradictory and not sustainable to my overall health, and I needed a “vehicle” to check in with myself physiologically. I needed to get quiet with my soul. Yoga provided an outlet for my raw physical energy, a way to restructure my belief system, a quiet space from the social noise, ethical and philosophical views, and I also learned how to become less reactive in situations outside of my control. It also helped me to become more active in community settings. In a way, it helped to clean me up and refine me.

“There is no coming to consciousness without pain. People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own soul. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.” (Carl G. Jung)

There are six steps to working with PTSD in yoga: establishment of ventilation of emotions, finite behavioral structure (feng shui), group support and caring, generation of feelings of hope, esteem building upon follow-up, and an outlet for anger, hostility, and irritability. After the very first session, 72 hours later there is a 56% reduction of PTSD symptoms. That is the power of yoga. It’s so personal, so intimate, and the environment with which it is done in can be so healing.

If you’re interested in learning about the eight limbs of yoga, please provide commentary below and I’ll consider writing a blog for it. If you’re guided or feel the need to message me, please don’t hesitate to do so. As always, thanks for reading and take care.


One comment:

  1. Sarah

    December 20, 2018 at 5:31 pm

    Awesome post. Love to read about the eight limbs of yoga. X

    Reply

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