Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a particular set of reactions that can develop in people who have been through a traumatic event that threatened their life or safety or that of others around them. This could be a car or other serious accident, physical or sexual assault, war or torture, or disasters such as bushfires or floods. People with PTSD often experience panic or extreme fear, similar to their fear during the traumatic event.
Once PTSD develops, it also forms its own set of symptoms, such as vivid flashbacks and persistent memories of the traumatic event(s). Severe anxiety can develop along with intrusive thoughts or images. Physical symptoms may exacerbate as well, leading to trembling, pain, sweating, and nausea. Avoidance behaviors are also common in those with PTSD, which means one will avoid any triggers that bring back memories or avoid thinking about the event altogether.
When trauma symptoms like these persist and do not improve in terms of severity in the weeks or months following a traumatic event, it can interfere with a person’s ability to function optimally.
What About Yoga For PTSD?
Yoga can be an effective treatment for PTSD because it works with both the mind and the body while also creating a sense of safe community from which individuals can receive support.
Alongside medication and psychotherapy, yoga therapy can be a valuable part of a person’s treatment.
Trauma affects individuals physiologically, cognitively, and emotionally. Distress symptoms are experienced in both mind and body. Yoga therapy can help relieve traumatic symptoms when the person turns to this mind-body practice in their journey towards healing.
Someone who has post-traumatic stress disorder can struggle to regulate their physiological survival response. As an automatic and unconscious reaction, a person can rationally know they aren’t in danger while still experiencing hypervigilance and even panic.
Yoga therapy may help people return to a physiological baseline more quickly after a distressing memory is triggered. It’s thought that regular yoga practice trains the ANS (Autonomic Nervous System) to be more adaptive and that mindfulness meditation (a component of yoga) can lead to positive changes in managing intrusive thoughts and memories.
The mind-body connection is a natural part of yoga. It can help people learn skills in tolerating and balancing physiologic and affective states that have become dysregulated by trauma exposure, reducing the symptoms’ impact.
How can I start Practicing Yoga?
As peaceful and accepting of a practice as yoga may be, it can be intimidating for everyone in the beginning. You may have an image in mind about what your first time or class will look like or what you should look like. Thoughts of students bending in all sorts of ways or touching their toes may cause you to question if you even belong there, and the truth is that you do – yoga is a practice for everyone and every level, and there are many ways to start practicing whether in a group class or at home.
How To Prepare
- The only thing you will want to invest in for a yoga practice is a yoga mat. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy or pricey but should have a fair amount of padding for comfort.
- Whenever you decide to start your practice, you may want to look for classes like Yoga for Beginners or Yoga Basics with a slow pace flow; this helps with gaining familiarity with the poses.
- Wear something comfortable – bring a light long-sleeve layer with you or have one next to you. Wear something that moves with your body – think not too loose and not too tight because sometimes clothing can be a distraction.
Shift Your Mindset
Yoga is not about flexibility, nor is flexibility a prerequisite to starting yoga. The purpose of the postures (asanas) in yoga is less about leaving with a flexible body but rather a flexible mind. Yoga teaches us to be more adaptable and resilient in life, promoting contentment, calm, and peace despite our lives’ challenges. All you need to do is show up on your mat ready to try and aim to focus on the mind-body connection.
When it comes to practicing yoga and managing your PTSD, remember there is no need to force anything or move at a pace you’re not comfortable with. The thoughts, feelings, and memories that arise will surely be uncomfortable to deal with as they come but remember that this discomfort is part of the healing process.