Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an all-encompassing disorder that affects a person’s physical and emotional state. Anyone can develop PTSD, and it’s common among veterans, people who have been abused or sexually assaulted, children living in unstable homes, or people who have had another traumatic experience, such as a car accident.
When a person with PTSD experiences a fear trigger, their body goes into fight-or-flight mode. You might go into fight-or-flight to protect yourself, even if the response is damaging. This can cause flashbacks, severe anxiety, fear, and physical responses in the body.
If left unchecked, PTSD can lead to additional mental health issues, increase suicidal thoughts and behaviors, and cause drug or alcohol addiction in veterans and other people who have experienced traumatic events.
Fortunately, PTSD is treatable. One of the proven methods of helping people with PTSD is yoga. Let’s discuss some of the ways yoga can help.
IMPORTANT: Yoga is not a substitute for PTSD treatment by a licensed mental health professional. Please discuss your use of yoga with your doctor or counselor.
1. Yoga Regulates Your Physical and Emotional State
Researchers have found that yoga improves somatic regulation and body awareness. This is key to regulating physiological and emotional issues with PTSD.
Instead of reacting in fear and anxiety — which may include symptoms such as difficulty breathing, panic attacks, or paranoia — you can ground yourself in reality, focusing on the present moment.
Yoga encourages you to reflect rather than react. The physical postures, breathing techniques, meditation, and relaxation methods of yoga all contribute to this balanced physical and emotional state.
2. Yoga Increases Self-Esteem
PTSD can have a major impact on your self-esteem. Low self-esteem can contribute to mental health issues, low self-worth, and a lack of belief in your ability to accomplish goals.
Yoga can increase subjective feelings of energy and self-esteem. In one study looking at yoga’s impact on self-esteem, researchers asked participants to share how they felt in the moment with several statements about their state of mind:
- “I feel in control”
- “I feel powerful”
- “I feel energetic”
- “I feel empowered”
The study found that yoga poses improved the participants’ self-esteem by increasing the subjective sense of energy and empowerment. They felt in control, in power, energetic, and empowered.
3. Yoga Decreases Symptoms of Mental Illness
Yoga can also help people with PTSD by lowering symptoms of depression, anxiety, and anger, all of which typically accompany a PTSD diagnosis.
With a greater sense of self-esteem, the ability to cope with stressful situations, and a calm nervous system, you’re more in control of your thoughts and actions. This helps you to recognize unhelpful thought patterns and incorporate healthier mindsets instead.
What once may have triggered you into a fight-or-flight response may now be manageable. With yoga, you have the power to de-escalate a situation and manage your emotional response.
4. Yoga Improves Sleep
Another consequence of PTSD is insomnia. It’s estimated that nine in 10 people with PTSD deal with insomnia due to hyperarousal. Racing thoughts, nightmares and night terrors, physical manifestations of anxiety, flashbacks, and other factors can all contribute to a lack of quality sleep for people who have been through trauma.
The meditative properties of yoga have been proven to improve sleep. One survey found that 55% of people who do yoga report better sleep.
Practicing calming yoga poses and breathing techniques at bedtime for just five minutes each night can help your brain to create new pathways and learn calming habits to improve your chances of a good night’s rest.
5. Best Yoga Methods for PTSD
Trauma-informed yoga, Kripalu-based yoga, Kundalini yoga, and mindfulness-based stretching and deep breathing exercises are all effective methods of treating PTSD.
Each of these methods is based on hatha yoga, which combines yoga poses with breathing techniques. These techniques help to calm the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for those feelings of panic, anger, and dissociation.
Here’s what to expect from each of the above methods:
- Trauma-informed yoga considers the specific experiences of a person’s background and traumatic experience. It assumes that everyone has experienced some form of trauma and offers a safe space to heal from it.
- Kripalu-based yoga focuses on meditation and breathwork. This type of yoga is ideal for people living with PTSD because it takes a very compassionate approach and encourages spiritual, emotional, and physical healing.
- Kundalini yoga uses a mixture of breath, movement, and sound with aspects like chanting and singing incorporated into the yoga session. This is a great method for increasing self-awareness and relieving stress.
- Mindfulness-based stretching and deep breathing are used to reduce symptoms of PTSD.
Using Yoga to Treat PTSD
PTSD is a complex disorder that requires careful consideration of the person’s traumatic experience, background, coping strategies, and other factors. Yoga is a great tool for relaxation, stress reduction, and mental state regulation. It’s best used when combined with other treatments for PTSD, such as therapy and support groups.
These mind and body practices of yoga and mindfulness open up a whole new realm of possibilities when treating PTSD, offering a holistic approach to treatment that encourages self-reflection and inner healing.