Yoga is an increasingly common strategy for treating trauma and PTSD. Yoga is designed to help people release tension from their bodies, which people with trauma tend to have a lot of. Trauma-informed yoga classes are taught by specialized instructors, who operate with a special awareness of everyone, or almost everyone, in the room, and specific techniques, poses and flows that are most impactful when it comes to releasing trauma.
When people experience trauma, it is not always one big event in their life, it can build up and it can be hard to pinpoint what exactly is causing the trauma, which can cause muscles to tense up. Yoga is a good outlet in letting go of this tension. Trauma yoga is different because the yoga instructor knows that the people in the group have trauma so if someone seems anxious during a pose or doesn’t feel comfortable doing something, the instructor knows to work around it.
Yoga can be extremely helpful for PTSD because it works with the mind and body while also creating a safe community full of support. Our bodies can go into two different modes when we experience PTSD: “fight or flight” or a freeze/shutdown response. A part of PTSD is not being able to control panic, even if they know they are not in danger, so learning how to stabilize the nervous system can be extremely helpful. Body awareness is a big part of yoga, which is something people tend to lose when they experience PTSD.
Trauma yoga is less focused on the execution of the poses, but rather the sense of embodiment. Trauma yoga gives people tools to turn their awareness into something that makes them feel safe. One of the most important aspects of this practice is that the student has control over their body and their practice.
This 2014 study examined the impact of trauma-informed yoga in decreasing PTSD symptoms in a group of 64 women with histories of interpersonal violence, over a course of three years. It found that in 50% of cases, women who were prescribed a weekly trauma-informed yoga practice completely got rid of their PTSD symptoms, a rate comparable to well-researched psychotherapeutic and psychopharmacologic approaches.The researchers concluded: “Yoga may improve the functioning of traumatized individuals by helping them to tolerate physical and sensory experiences associated with fear and helplessness.”
This New York Times bestseller, authored by Dr Bessel van der Kolk M.D., outlines what science says about the physical effects of trauma on the body, as well as some of the ways we can treat them: including yoga. Dr van der Kolk discusses studies on veterans and road traffic accident survivors, as well as more nuanced and hard to pinpoint trauma that builds up over time, related to adverse childhood experiences such as growing up with an alcoholic parent, growing up in poverty, or even having divorced parents.
Yoga helps people with anxiety by giving them tools to help recognize the thoughts, feelings, and actions that lead to heightened anxiety levels, building unconsciously stress regulation and resilience skills. Breathing techniques that are taught in yoga are extremely important because they help reduce anxiety in the short term. Yoga also allows people to become aware of the link between their mind and body in a way that can help reduce anxiety.
A recent study led by researchers at NYU showed that yoga is significantly more effective for anxiety than standardized education on stress management. Yoga is a safe and widely available practice and is a valuable tool in an overall anxiety treatment plan. In this study, 54% of the group of people who practiced yoga improved anxiety symptoms, while only 33% of the stress education group improved.
Yoga brings together physical and mental disciplines that help people achieve peacefulness of body and mind. Yoga has been scientifically proven to increase people’s overall well-being.
Yoga also help with managing different symptoms of not only anxiety, but depression as well.
Yoga builds focus, clearing your mind of any doubts or negative thoughts. It brings difficulties into perspective, and uses energizing movements to increase feelings of empowerment. Yoga allows you to have a connection with your inner self, building self-awareness – a key ingredient for self confidence.
Yoga gives you time to self-reflect, allowing you to work through obstacles that are holding you back. It allows you to tap into your inner strength, knowledge, and power, which helps get rid of the negative thoughts inside of your head. In yoga, you have to push yourself, allowing you to become stronger, and to see what you are capable of. Yoga builds a safe environment for you to practice self forgiveness.
Yoga teaches that all the answers we need are inside of us and we have to trust our ability to access them. We tend to criticize ourselves in a negative way instead of making positive affirmations. Yoga allows us to change the way we speak to and about ourselves, to build our self esteem. We practice body mindfulness in yoga, which allows us to challenge the way we compare ourselves to others.