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Yoga Helps Treat Symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

Updated on February 12, 2014
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Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, most commonly referred to as PTSD, is an anxiety disorder that can occur after experiencing a traumatic event. War and combat are probably the most common types of events that bring out symptoms of PTSD, but any event that causes extreme trauma can bring out symptoms of this disorder, such as, bullying, rape, vehicle accidents, terrorism, abuse, and physical assaults.

Symptoms often associated with PTSD include:

  • Re-experiencing the event over and over
  • Nightmares
  • Avoiding thoughts or people associated with the traumatic event
  • Feeling numb emotionally
  • Feeling keyed up
  • Difficulty sleeping or staying asleep
  • Feeling detached
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • An exaggerated startle response
  • Headaches and chronic pain

Health Matters: About PTSD

These symptoms can be so severe that it impairs daily life to the extent where some sufferers commit suicide and others turn to drugs and alcohol making it critical for people experiencing such symptoms to seek medical attention. There are specific criteria developed by the American Psychiatric Association that a doctor will look for when making a diagnosis. According to the National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder this includes "a history of exposure to a traumatic event meeting two criteria and symptoms from each of three symptom clusters: intrusive recollections, avoidant/numbing symptoms, and hyper-arousal symptoms. A fifth criterion concerns duration of symptoms and a sixth assesses functioning."

There are a number of treatment options for PTSD including therapy and medication, but one in particular is emerging to the forefront with astounding success--yoga. In fact, the army is currently spending $4 million to research how yoga and other alternative treatments help to ease the symptoms of PTSD.

Side Lean Yoga Pose

How Yoga Helps

A regular yoga practice helps alleviate symptoms of PTSD including anger, anxiety, depression, guilt and paranoia because it directly addresses anxiety and the fight-or-flight response, which is at the heart of PTSD. Yoga's gentle physical postures promote healthy, flexible bodies and often provide relief from pain and it deals directly with the mind-body connection helping to retrain the fight-or-flight response by implementing self-calming techniques, such as, deep breathing.

Other benefits include:

  • The release of emotional issues
  • Help towards relaxing and strengthening the body
  • Unfreezing bad memories and creating new bodily memories
  • Giving feelings of joy and personal empowerment
  • The mind becomes more clear and open
  • It produces acceptance of the self
  • Life feels better balanced
  • Provides a safe avenue to express stored emotions such as guilt, shame, anger, sadness and grief

All treatment options involve helping you to gain control over feelings associated with the traumatic event that caused the disorder. Psychological treatment or therapy should always the first treatment choice, but anyone who suffers from the debilitating symptoms of PTSD will also benefit from starting a yoga program in addition to other treatment plans. Support groups are also very helpful in allowing you to connect with others who are experiencing the same symptoms. The most important thing is to seek help if you are suffering from PTSD.

An Inspirational Woman Making a Difference

Lucy Cimini, the founding director of Central Mass Yoga Institute, has pioneered and developed a special yoga program specifically for vets with PTSD. She has given so much of herself to make a difference for sufferers of this disorder, and she has received national media coverage for her yoga work with combat veterans diagnosed with PTSD. Lucy also provides training to yoga instructors from around the world, and you can watch her in the enlightening feature documentary "Taking the Hill: A Warrior's Journey Home" (2008) by Appleseed Entertainment.

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    • Pam Roberson profile imageAUTHOR

      Pam Roberson 

      8 years ago from Virginia

      Thank you Sanjay! I appreciate you taking the time to read and also for the kind words.

    • profile image

      sanjay sura 

      8 years ago

      pam,

      wonderful article,

      thank you,

      keep it up

      sanjay sura

    • Pam Roberson profile imageAUTHOR

      Pam Roberson 

      9 years ago from Virginia

      Thank you mayhmong, I'm sorry to hear you have pstd. If you need help in finding an instructor near you who specializes in yoga to help with ptsd, then I highly recommend contacting Lucy Cimini at her website (her site is available in the last paragraph of this hub). She's a very kind woman who has taught this particular method all over the world. I wish you the best.

    • mayhmong profile image

      mayhmong 

      9 years ago from North Carolina

      Thanks for the info! Been looking for alternate treatment for ptsd. Haven't been successful with meds or counseling. :( Hoping to get rid of it before I turn 30?!

    • Pam Roberson profile imageAUTHOR

      Pam Roberson 

      10 years ago from Virginia

      Thank you Amanda. You make a great point about how difficult this is for the family of a person who suffers from PTSD, and I regret not mentioning that fact. Perhaps I'll revise this and include a section about how this disorder affects the family as a whole or maybe that is a topic for a different hub altogether. ;)

      You have me curious about clinical hypnosis! I had never considered how closely yoga and hypnosis were related, but it makes perfect sense. Thank you!

    • Amanda Severn profile image

      Amanda Severn 

      10 years ago from UK

      PTSD is very distressing and debilitating both for those that suffer from it, and often, also, for those that have to live with and offer support to the sufferer. Your hub is really interesting because it supports the notion that we learn (and unlearn) our behaviours in a multi-sensory way. This is why so called 'talking cures' so often miss the mark, and are lengthy, drawn out, and often expensive affairs.

      Yoga teaches the body to relax, and the breathing exercises and visualisations that often accompany yoga classes, are very closely related to those used in clinical hypnosis, and they are equally therapeutic. Thank you for your excellent hub.

    • Pam Roberson profile imageAUTHOR

      Pam Roberson 

      10 years ago from Virginia

      Hi Pam, thank you for your kind words and for sharing your experience. It's always great to hear a success story where someone has overcome something as potentially devastating as this. I'm so sorry to hear that you suffered from PTSD, but I'm happy to know you've managed to overcome it. From reading your hubs, I know you're a very strong woman which I'm sure helped. :) Thanks again!

    • profile image

      pgrundy 

      10 years ago

      Thank you so much for this hub. Yoga is awesome. It took me about 7 years of psychotherapy and medication to be PTSD symptom free. It was hard, but it's been nearly 10 years now since I had symptoms of any kind, and I've been off all drugs for a little over a year now and feel great.

      This condition can be crippling, but the good news is it CAN be reversed with the right help, support, and a committment to self-care and daily practice.

      Fabulous hub, thank you so much.

    • Pam Roberson profile imageAUTHOR

      Pam Roberson 

      10 years ago from Virginia

      Thank you so much for your comment. You make a great point about death bringing out symptoms of PTSD as well. I agree 110%, and I appreciate your input. :)

    • profile image

      dabblingmum 

      10 years ago

      I truly appreciate this article. People who've experienced death in their lives also experience PTSD. This would be very beneficial to them.

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