Yoga for PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)
Trying to maintain composure after a traumatic event is difficult. Yoga asanas can help achieve that inner peace.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) develops in an individual after a traumatic event. It results in chronic anxiety caused by a reliving of the event. Such stressful events may include a natural disaster, war, an accident or physical or sexual assault. Although PTSD is most commonly associated with war veterans, research indicates that the disorder is more common in women. According to statistics, 5 percent of men and 10 percent of women in the United States suffer from PTSD at some time in their lives.
PTSD is usually treated through individual counselling and group therapy along with medications. However this type of treatment is not entirely effective for all sufferers of PTSD.
In one study, a PTSD expert found that women benefitted from a yoga session. They experienced less frequent anxious thoughts. The study also discovered that with regular yoga, an individual’s heart-rate variability improves. This is helpful in calming oneself during moments of stress.
Although yoga may not take the place of conventional treatment for PTSD anytime soon, it can serve as a beneficial complementary tool. Experts recommend trying different yoga techniques until you find one that suits the best. If you decide to take a yoga class, it’s also helpful to explain to your instructor that you prefer not to be touched. But don’t feel it’s necessary to explain your condition. More significant here is how you begin to develop a relationship with your own body and mind.
How yoga helps
Yoga offers a five-layer model, derived from ancient times, which explains the complete human body, mind and spirit. These layers include the physical, energetic, emotional, intuitive and spiritual. Each layer can be healed through yoga practices such as physical postures, breathing exercises and meditation.
- Annamaya koshs (the physical layer) – Those with PTSD may experience a detached awareness of their bodies. Engaging in physical postures that concentrate on the abdomen and hips helps to instil sensitivity towards the natural body rhythms, and the diminished physical boundaries which many with PTSD suffer from, can be gently brought back into awareness.
- Pranamaya kosha (the energetic layer) – This aspect focuses on breathing. PTSD can lead to a tightening of the breathing muscles due to the high levels of anxiety. People with PTSD may be unaware that they have a habit of holding their breath or taking shallow breaths. Breath awareness is significant in healing these issues.
- Manomaya kosha (the emotional layer) – When the emotions are not balanced properly, one finds it difficult to develop healthy relationships with others. This often occurs in PTSD sufferers. Suppressed or obstructed emotional energy can be released through pranayama or breathing techniques such as Anulom vilom (alternate nostril breathing).
- Vijnyanamaya kosha (the intuitive layer) – PTSD leads to constant re-experiencing of trauma and anxious, intrusive thoughts. As a result, much of a person’s energy is focussed on pure survival. The intuitive energy which is sourced from a sense of inner peace and awareness remains suppressed. People with PTSD may find that they are always on guard with hyperactive energy coursing through their bodies. This keeps them from gaining deeper insight into their life experiences. Meditation is beneficial in healing and strengthening the intuitive layer.
- Anandamaya kosha (the spiritual layer) – A person with PTSD may go through deep hurt and a sense of being betrayed by life itself. This can lead to disconnect from daily life, relationships and even from one’s own self. A combination of physical postures, breathing and meditation can lead to an integration of the various aspects of a person, thereby bringing about a sense of deep peace.