Using Yoga in Trauma and PTSD Treatment

The importance of the connection between the body and the mind is something that has been understood for many, many years within Eastern traditions, and more recently the Western world has also been taking an interest in some of the wisdom from the east.

Yoga is one of these pieces of eastern wisdom that the west has adopted for a while now. ‘Yoga is defined as a mind/body practice comprised of physical postures (asanas), breath work, meditation, and relaxation.1)Cook-Cottone CP (2015) Mindfulness and yoga for self-regulation: A primer for mental health professionals. Springer, New York, USA as discussed in Cook-Cottone, Catherine & LaVigne, Melissa & Guyker, Wendy & Travers, Lindsay & Lemish, Erga & Elenson, Paige. (2017). Trauma-Informed Yoga: An Embodied, Cognitive-Relational Framework. International Journal of Complementary & Alternative Medicine. 10.15406/ijcam.2017.09.00284.’ Every year more and more people in the west are practicing yoga. Further, it ‘is increasingly used to enhance outcomes for those with mental health challenges including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.2)Cook-Cottone, Catherine & LaVigne, Melissa & Guyker, Wendy & Travers, Lindsay & Lemish, Erga & Elenson, Paige. (2017). Trauma-Informed Yoga: An Embodied, Cognitive-Relational Framework. International Journal of Complementary & Alternative Medicine. 10.15406/ijcam.2017.09.00284.’ 

Yoga has been demonstrated to benefit the treatment of mental health conditions because it promotes mindfulness and awareness through a combination of physical movements, breathing exercises and relaxation. 

There is a body of work building for the use of yoga as part of the PTSD recovery process. Bessel van der Kolk used a randomised control trial to demonstrate the effectiveness of yoga as an adjunctive treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder. The conclusion of his trial was that yoga ‘significantly reduced PTSD symptomatology, with effect sizes comparable to well-researched psychotherapeutic and psychopharmacologic approaches.3)van der Kolk, Bessel & Stone, Laura & West, Jennifer & Rhodes, Alison & Emerson, David & Suvak, Michael & Spinazzola, Joseph. (2014). Yoga as an Adjunctive Treatment for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Randomized Controlled Trial. The Journal of clinical psychiatry. 75. e559-e565. 10.4088/JCP.13m08561.’ He also found that yoga could improve how trauma victims are able to function daily by ‘helping them to tolerate physical and sensory experiences associated with fear and helplessness and to increase emotional awareness and affect tolerance.4)ibid.

When interviewed about the effects of yoga on traumatised people, Bessel said ‘”Yoga was more effective than any medication… medication can be quite nice to sort of dampen some of the symptoms. But in the end, people need to own their bodies, they need to own their physical experiences. And, in order to overcome your trauma, it needs to be safe to go inside and to experience yourself.”5)https://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2015/01/12/treating-trauma-yoga accessed 13/9/2019

Treating Trauma

When an individual experiences a trauma, the body can become dysregulated either because it becomes over activated or because the fight or flight response isn’t properly completed. The trauma could then remain in the body, only to reappear at some innocuous time in the individual’s future. The trauma remains locked within the body and can manifest itself as physical pain in its attempt to get out. 

One symptom of trauma is that it can impair the brain’s cognitive functions, such as the ability to remember, verbalise and/or properly process the experiences. Because of this, therapists may sometimes find that, when working with traumatised individuals, talk therapy can sometimes not be enough. ‘Furthermore, trauma and its effects are so often entrenched and complex that a change in a cognitive frame or behavioral pattern ignores a very basic but critical element: the body.6)Perzichilli, T. The Benefits of Yoga for Trauma Treatment and Mind-Body Wellness. https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/benefits-of-yoga-for-trauma-treatment-mind-body-wellness-0816175 accessed on 13/9/2019

As Bessel van der Kolk says ‘”What there is too much emphasis on is the capacity of the cognitive rational brain to conquer our irrational survival brain. Neuroscience has really helped us understand that you can’t talk yourself out of being in love, or being angry, or hating particular people because these are not rational processes, and reason has only very limited capacities to override these more primitive survival issues. And so, you need to not rely on reason, you need rely on mastery of your body, safety of your body, finding peace in your body.”7)https://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2015/01/12/treating-trauma-yoga accessed on 13/9/2019

This is why techniques that ‘help increase awareness of internal states and physiological responses to both internal and external stimuli have demonstrated promise in addressing trauma in the body.8) Perzichilli, T. The Benefits of Yoga for Trauma Treatment and Mind-Body Wellness. https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/benefits-of-yoga-for-trauma-treatment-mind-body-wellness-0816175 accessed on 13/9/2019’ Being able to bring someone back into their body, where their pain is still stored, is often a key to unlocking it and enabling them to release what was trapped, ultimately building a path towards healing. 

At Khiron Clinics, we use yoga as part of our treatment and find it to be really beneficial for many of our clients. If you or a loved one have been struggling to find the help you need, and are tired of the cycle of merry-go-round treatment, reach out to us at Khiron Clinics. We can help you find the path you need toward health and wellness in recovery. For information, call us today. UK: 020 3811 2575 (24 hours). USA: (866) 801 6184 (24 hours).

References   [ + ]

1. Cook-Cottone CP (2015) Mindfulness and yoga for self-regulation: A primer for mental health professionals. Springer, New York, USA as discussed in Cook-Cottone, Catherine & LaVigne, Melissa & Guyker, Wendy & Travers, Lindsay & Lemish, Erga & Elenson, Paige. (2017). Trauma-Informed Yoga: An Embodied, Cognitive-Relational Framework. International Journal of Complementary & Alternative Medicine. 10.15406/ijcam.2017.09.00284.
2. Cook-Cottone, Catherine & LaVigne, Melissa & Guyker, Wendy & Travers, Lindsay & Lemish, Erga & Elenson, Paige. (2017). Trauma-Informed Yoga: An Embodied, Cognitive-Relational Framework. International Journal of Complementary & Alternative Medicine. 10.15406/ijcam.2017.09.00284.
3. van der Kolk, Bessel & Stone, Laura & West, Jennifer & Rhodes, Alison & Emerson, David & Suvak, Michael & Spinazzola, Joseph. (2014). Yoga as an Adjunctive Treatment for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Randomized Controlled Trial. The Journal of clinical psychiatry. 75. e559-e565. 10.4088/JCP.13m08561.
4. ibid.
5. https://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2015/01/12/treating-trauma-yoga accessed 13/9/2019
6. Perzichilli, T. The Benefits of Yoga for Trauma Treatment and Mind-Body Wellness. https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/benefits-of-yoga-for-trauma-treatment-mind-body-wellness-0816175 accessed on 13/9/2019
7. https://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2015/01/12/treating-trauma-yoga accessed on 13/9/2019
8.  Perzichilli, T. The Benefits of Yoga for Trauma Treatment and Mind-Body Wellness. https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/benefits-of-yoga-for-trauma-treatment-mind-body-wellness-0816175 accessed on 13/9/2019

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