A ground breaking study in 2004 revealed that yoga practice actually changes core physiology related to PTSD. An unpublished study by the centre has shown that 10 weeks of a Hatha yoga class resulted in clinically decreasing the symptoms of PTSD.
Bessel Van der Kolk said that “Yoga became a major cornerstone in our understanding that it is imperative to befriend one`s bodily sensations in order to overcome the imprint of trauma.” Yoga is an excellent way to learn to confront internal sensations and to learn that it is safe to have these feelings and sensations.
In the observation of them, they learn the transient, impermanent nature of them, and learn how to ride the wave of sensation, knowing that it is not static or fixed. Everything is in a state of flux and no matter how intense the sensation is, it too will pass. This way the person becomes open to their present experience and can feel the internal residues of the trauma. Instead of shutting down and resisting it, they become transparent to it, allowing the body to feel what it needs to feel and fully release it.
These frightening feelings and sensations are no longer locked in the body to be triggered constantly and unexpectedly. Yoga teaches how to surrender to the wildness of sensation and fully rest in the bodily experience of the present moment.
They begin to see that they are not their trauma, and that these thoughts, feelings and sensations are just transitory experiences blowing through their much larger, and more powerful, field of consciousness. That there is a backdrop of stillness and strength, that they can access at any time, to help weather any storm.
Traumatic memories are not stored in time, but yoga with its powerful emphasis on present moment awareness re-establishes a sense of time in the individual. They discover that they can remember and deal with the past, without becoming overwhelmed by it.
As they become aware of their own internal rhythms, they also learn how to move in rhythm with a group. This is important as many trauma survivors feel cut off from the rest of the world and disconnected. Moving in sync with a group fosters a sense of connection with others once more that transcends language. A yoga student at the centre said that taking a class with others made her feel not so alone.
A yoga participant at the trauma centre said: I feel like I can use my body again.
Traumatized people have great difficulty in self-regulating, have high levels of sympathetic nervous system activation and low heart rate variability. Yoga teaches individuals how to self-regulate and gain control over their bodies once more. Asana, meditation and relaxation can reduce autonomic sympathetic activation, reduce blood pressure, muscle tension, improve hormonal activity and decrease the physical symptoms and emotional distress.
Individuals learn to reclaim their bodies and awaken their healing potential there, while also developing a new, healthy relationship with their body. A yoga participant at the trauma centre said “I feel like I can use my body again.”
The full article can be read on Yogabhoga.
IMAGE: ‘Yoga in the mountains’ by Tomas Sobek