August 31 2017

Healing Trauma and PTSD with Yoga

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a common condition that occurs after surviving one or more traumatic experiences. Yoga has been shown to effective in helping to reduce symptoms of PTSD in Tsunami survivors. In the below study, yoga’s effectiveness in helping to improve PTSD in war veterans, was evaluated.

         

Here are my take home points about this small but very interesting study.

  • The study participants where 21 male U.S. veterans who had been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan and had been diagnosed with PTSD.

  • Of the 21 participants, 11 of them began a daily three hour program of  sudarshan kriya yoga, a type of yoga practice that has a heavy component of breathing/pranayama work.  The program lasted for just one week. The remaining 10 participants did not participate in the yoga program.

  • PTSD symptoms of all the participants were assessed one week BEFORE the start of the program and then one week, one month, and one year AFTER the one week program was done.

  • The results of the study were that the group who participated in the yoga program had significantly less intense PTSD symptoms to the 10 who were not enrolled in the yoga program. Those who had done the yoga program showed a lower respiratory rate and other signs of anxiety. They also performed better in tests that were designed to pick up evidence of PTSD including eye blinks measurements after hearing an expected loud burst of noise.  The yoga participants also self reported less intrusive memories (a common symptom of PTSD) than those who did not do the yoga program.

  • It is important to note that of the 11 who did the program, SEVEN of them decided to continue to practice yoga after the program was done. The importance of this, I believe is that 1) one cannot draw very good conclusions about if PTSD symptoms would remain improved if one stopped one’s yoga practice, and 2) Most people who begin a yoga practice, don’t want to stop it (this last one is stated with a bit of cheek. Just a bit).

Bottom Line

A yoga practice that has a focus on breath work, such as sudarshan kriya, is effective in significantly reducing the very unpleasant symptoms of PTSD and can be a wonderful tool for healing after a traumatic event.

 

Some personal thoughts on the study

Life can have “lowlights,” traumatic events that include illness, loss of a loved one, accidents, divorce, abuse, surviving war, and natural disasters. That is the short list. All of us, if we live long enough, will experience some sort of trauma. 

And it has been my professional  (and personal experience), that often it is our response to the event that determines our level of suffering  much more than the nature of the event itself. 

If you or someone you know and care about is trying to move on from trauma, I would like to share with you two powerful healing practices I have used for myself as well as for patients  in helping to nurture the process of moving forward healthily from trauma.

  1. Before “moving on” from trauma, it is crucial, I believe, to fully acknowledge the trauma. Many of us would like to “power through” the period after surviving a traumatic event, in part I think because we like to believe that it will prevent remembering or “reliving” the event and thus prevent suffering.  However, the opposite is often true. Buried emotions are still in your body and trust, they will find a way to come up to the surface at some point. And it might be in a form of serious dis-ease.  Acknowledgement of trauma can look like talking about the event with someone with whom you feel safe, and letting yourself express emotion about it (whether in the form of tears, shouting, singing, writing, drawing, dancing etc). But I invite you to do it.  Doing the above can be vital for healing both mentally and physically from the trauma and allowing you to engage int the second practice which is…

  1. Take the sh*t that happens and use it as fertilizer for growth. Trauma, for all its apparent awfulness, gives one the opportunity to get even more raw and real about yourself, your perception of life, relationships, and what is truly important to you. It gives us the opportunity to get even more present, to return to the here and now. It can help us to grow in love because when we experience trauma, we can empathize greater with others who are suffering. It offers a way to deepen in emotional resilience. And it offers us the lucky chance to ask ourselves with urgency and renewed passion, “what do I really want out of this precious and fragile life?…” and then to go for it. 

 

Most of us have gone through (at least) one experience in our lives that our body and spirit comprehend as truly traumatic. Yet many of us may not realize that we are still experiencing symptoms of that trauma no matter how far removed from the experience we might be. The quiz below will help you identify if you have symptoms that are consistent with PTSD.

 

Short Quiz

Dance Link

I have found that spending time in Nature is not just grounding but can really expedite healing from trauma. This dance piece explores the Nature’s healing power and is called I Am The Sane. Please enjoy.

Choreography: Tumi Johnson

Dancer: Tumi Johnson

Music: Jack Kamen

Poem: “I Am the Sane” by Tumi Johnson

Videography: Zare Manojlovic

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