People with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) experience difficulties in being able to relax within their bodies.
Their bodies continue to live in an internal environment of the trauma. We are all biologically and neurologically programmed to deal with emergencies, but time stops in people who suffer from PTSD. That makes it hard to take pleasure in the present because the body keeps replaying the past. If you practise yoga therapy and can develop a body that is strong and feels comfortable, this can contribute substantially to helping you come into the here and now rather than staying stuck in the past.
Yoga has turned out to be a way to get people to safely feel their physical sensations by increasing their capacity for introspection or sitting with yourself, noticing what’s going on inside – the basic principle of meditation. People with PTSD need to learn how to modulate arousal. Trauma-sensitive people have their sense of time thrown off track and may believe something will last forever.
Western psychotherapy has hardly paid any attention to the experience and interpretation of disturbed physical sensations and action patterns. Yoga is one of the Asian traditions that clearly help reintegrate body and mind. For someone to heal from PTSD, one must learn how to control bodily reflexes. PTSD causes memory to be stored at a sensory level – in the body.
Yoga offers a way to reprogramme automatic physical responses. Mindfulness, learning to become a careful observer of the ebb and flow of internal experience, and noticing whatever thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and impulses emerge are important components in healing PTSD. Another important aspect of yoga is utilising the breath. Yoga teaches us that there are things we can do to change our brainstem arousal system, our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, and to quieten the brain.
The process of being in a safe space, staying with whatever sensations emerge and seeing how they come to an end is a positive imprinting process. Yoga helps people befriend their bodies, which have betrayed them by failing to guarantee safety. When we practise yoga, we open ourselves up and psychological imprints are activated. Yoga therapists need to be aware that material will come up during a class and they need to be prepared at all times to help people calm their bodies down when necessary, by working with the breath and quietening poses.
A yoga therapist should create a safe space in the class, keeping the focus on the breath and the flow of the asanas. It is best to refrain from excessive talking, explaining or preaching during the class – the job of the yoga therapist is to help people feel safe in every aspect of their self-experience.
Breathing Being offers one-to-one consultations according to the client’s needs. Raquel completed her training in Yoga for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder with the world-renowned Boston Trauma Center and her mind-body therapy training with Yoga for the Mind.
Breathing Being ran a class at the NHS Maudsley Hospital, Traumatic Stress Service, with clients referred by the clinicians. Yoga therapy for PTSD was used as part of the work of the multidisciplinary team, including clinical psychologists, psychiatrists and psychotherapists. Breathing Being’s work has also helped people in Northern Ireland to deal with trauma, when Raquel Chinchetru ran a workshop at a yoga studio in Newry.
Please find attached an interview with Bessel van der Kolk about Yoga and Post-traumatic stress disorder
Dr Bessel van der Kolk is considered one of the world’s leading authorities on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)