Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder often found in people who have witnessed or experienced some sort of life threatening situation. PTSD symptoms can include reliving the event in the form of flashbacks or nightmares, becoming numb or detached, agitation and anger, and a host of other symptoms. Often, psychological or psychiatric care in conjunction with support groups are utilized to help PTSD patients heal. And increasingly, studies are showing the benefits of yoga for PTSD symptoms. Across America, and around the world, some yoga teachers have trained specifically in providing yoga for PTSD after natural disasters or traumatic events.
September 11, 2001 was a terrifying day for many people. In the aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Centers and Pentagon, survivors were faced with panic attacks, sleep and eating disturbances, and survivor’s guilt. Multiple yogic organizations and individuals volunteered their time to provide breathwork and meditation courses to people affected by 9/11. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast of America. In New Orleans alone, nearly 2000 people lost there lives, and countless thousands more saw their lives washed away in the flood waters. The Art of Living Foundation (AOLF) dispatched volunteers to Baton Rouge, LA and multiple cities in Texas to teach yoga to evacuees. In both cases, yoga classes were shown to improve PTSD symptoms such as sleep and eating disturbances, tension and aggressiveness in participants.
There are many other examples of yoga being used to help PTSD patients manage and heal their symptoms. After the December 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia and the 2008 Sichaun earthquake in China, organizations such as AOLF sent volunteers to teach yoga to survivors. The US military has funded and collaborated in several studies looking at the effectiveness of yoga for military personal with PTSD. Some organizations utilize yoga in conjunction with other forms of therapy for survivors of rape.
The effectiveness of yoga in dealing with PTSD symptoms comes in part from yoga’s work with the mind-body connection. Yogic breathing techniques such as Ujjayi (Victorious breath) and Bhastrika (Bellow’s breath) help to regulate the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, which are either over- or under-active as a result of PTSD. Meditation training can help to calm the mind, which may be experiencing flashbacks or anxiety caused by traumatic experiences. Yoga postures can help to reconnect a person with their body in cases when PTSD causes a person to experience numbness or dissociation with their body and surroundings.
While yoga can be beneficial for those with PTSD, it is important to keep in mind that not all yoga teachers are trained to handle symptoms of trauma. Organizations such as Yoga for Vets and AOLF may be able to direct people to teachers and classes specifically designed for survivors of trauma. Also, yoga should be used in conjunction with other forms of therapy as needed. No two people are exactly alike, and the type and duration of treatment will be different for each individual. That being said, when guided by a caring, trained teacher, yoga can be a valuable tool for healing.