How Practicing Yoga Can Help With PTSD

yoga and ptsd“My past has not defined me, destroyed me, deterred me, or defeated me; it has only strengthened me.” – Steve Maraboli

I have never been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress order or “PTSD,” but at times the symptoms have crept in—at times without notice.

In 1987 a life-changing experience at home unfolded into an unforgettable time of anger, panic and resentment. My inability to sleep for weeks at a time left me unable to focus and concentrate on my studies. The weeks turned into months, and my battle with insomnia ultimately lasted for four years.

My Mother suggested I see a professional for my condition. At the time she and I were estranged and I couldn’t get myself to do anything she asked. I was at war with her, my stepfather and anyone else who posed a threat to my freedom.

I wasn’t aware that these feelings of anxiety were actually after-affects of the severe trauma I experienced years earlier. I was imprisoned by the past and refused to see a positive future. I was suffering from PTSD.

It was only after my survival of the September 11th attacks did I realize the severity of my symptoms. The memories of my experience in 1987 combined with the emotional trauma of 9/11 led to a state of manic depression.

I was unable to leave my Mother’s house for weeks. Desperate, I went to my primary physician and he prescribed anti-depressants to help with my symptoms. I was never fond of taking any kind of medication, but I was in greatly in need to end my ongoing suffering.

Within a few weeks my symptoms subsided, but the flashbacks of the past seemed to be embedded in my consciousness.

“All the suffering, stress, and addiction comes from not realizing you already are what you are looking for.” ~Jon Kabat-Zinn

Nine months prior to 9/11 I began searching on the internet for alternative ways to relieve my anxiety.  Articles on breathing exercises came up immediately, but one caught my attention the most.

In a pilot study conducted at the Walter Reed Medical Center in 1993 it was found that yoga nidra (a form of deep relaxation) resulted in a reduction in symptom severity on the Post-traumatic Stress Disorder Checklist. Among the symptoms reduced were insomnia, depression, anxiety, and fear—all of the symptoms I had been struggling with for over a decade.

My yoga practice began with yoga nidra but quickly evolved into Ashtanga Yoga, which involves the synchronizing the breath with a progressive series of postures that detoxifies muscles and organs. After a few weeks of practice I noticed a drastic change in my sleeping patterns and no longer felt anxious or panicky. I wasn’t reverting back to the person I was before the trauma. One’s full acceptance of the tragic experiences can help to see the present moment with new eyes.

Here are some ways in which yoga can help with symptoms of PTSD:

Practicing helps you breathe. In times of severe stress our breath seems to shorten, which can prevent oxygen from flowing to the brain. The breath is one of the most factors in one’s yoga practice, and focusing on the breath keeps one mindful of the present.

Practicing helps with depression. Oh, those debilitating feelings of loneliness and worthlessness—some find relief with western medicine, but if you are like me then you will search high and low for an alternative. Yoga helps to slow down the rapid mental chatter, which can then create feelings of self-acceptance. As someone who has struggled with perfectionism, yoga became my saving grace from self-destructive behavior.

Practicing brings you back to the power of NOW. Whatever type of yoga you practice, you are in your moment; breathing in such a way as to honor your breath, body temple, your Self and others. The more you practice the more mindful you become, which keeps you safely grounded in the now. The past and future are non-existent in a state of mindfulness.

Of course, these are just a few of the ways in which yoga has helped me with my PTSD. There are many benefits to yoga and countless stories of overall healing with mindful practice.

Now it’s your turn. Have you or someone you know been diagnosed with PTSD? How are you finding healing in the condition? I would love if you shared your comments below.

 

photo credit: Canon in 2D via photopin cc