By Dr. Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500, YACEP
Could Yoga for PTSD really work? There are as many skeptics as there are enthusiasts, when it comes down to practical treatments for post traumatic stress disorder. Yoga has long been practiced for its calming and anxiety-relieving effects. The way that Yoga intersects the physical and emotional needs of the mind and body has made it an increasingly popular practice around the world.
Recently, Yoga has been the subject of various studies that focus on its abilities to help patients struggling with chronic illnesses like cancer or those who deal with anxiety or other major depressive disorders. The research results have proved favorable, while Yoga alone cannot treat all of the symptoms these diseases manifest, it has been proven effective for improving the quality of life in those with terminal illnesses as well as improving the symptoms of anxiety and depression in those who are struggling with psychiatric disorders.
As more information about Yoga’s healthy effect on symptoms of anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD) has been established by science, studies have confirmed that practicing Yoga as a complementary treatment for PTSD is effective in improving a patient’s symptoms of anxiety and stress.
According to a 2011 meta-analysis of the research on Yoga and psychiatric disorders entitled “Effectiveness of Yoga Therapy as a Complementary Treatment for Major Psychiatric Disorders: A Meta-Analysis,” Yoga has been found to be both a cost-effective and an extremely useful co-treatment for major psychiatric disorders like PTSD. Traditional treatment of these disorders typically includes pharmaceuticals combined with individual or group therapy. When these treatments do not work or have side effects that lower quality of life, Yoga has been found as an effective way to fill the treatment gap or to speed up the healing process.
Yoga’s ability to ground the practitioner with a greater awareness of his or her body can help heal the imprint of a traumatic experience on the physical body. Those with PTSD often suffer from flashbacks and other physical manifestations of the traumatic event that make it difficult to stay connected to reality. A consistent Yoga practice has been found to help practitioners become aware of the present and practice deep breathing techniques that can slow the physical symptoms and trigger a relaxation response in the body.
Yoga is also an effective tool for combating anger and guilt that contribute to PTSD. Practitioners of Hatha Yoga, for example, can focus on holding the Yoga poses and releasing the tension their bodies hold. Yoga practitioners who study deep breathing techniques can focus on calming and meditative practices that enable them to get in touch with their bodies in ways previously unavailable to them.
It is clear from the research that both returning soldiers and those who suffer from traumatic life experiences like violence and abuse can practice Yoga as an effective treatment in conjunction with other methods that help a person navigate the pain and trauma of PTSD.
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