What is yoga for trauma?

Yoga is a global spiritual practice today. It is a way of living life and a pathway to ensure your well-being. This spiritual practice focuses on various physical activities or poses, combined with mindfulness and breathing exercises. The Indian Prime Minister, Mr. N. Modi, has been at the forefront of advocating the benefits of yoga and spreading it worldwide.[1,2] The number of people practicing yoga has seen a whopping increase of 150 percent in the last four years.[3]

Besides the expected physical and mental benefits, yoga can also have a surprising benefit - helping heal trauma. Trauma yoga can help people, especially if they are going through Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), to come to terms with this trauma and find peace. Trauma yoga, or trauma-sensitive yoga, is used to help people with various forms of trauma and PTSD. Over the years, different yoga instructors with varying experiences have brought about different changes in the development of trauma yoga. Today, trauma yoga is different from other yoga practices, and people all over the world have found peace and come to terms with various traumatic experiences in their lives.[4]

See: Electro-Acupuncture Medicine In The Treatment Of Severe Traumatic Brain Injury Resulting From A Gunshot Wound.

Can yoga help trauma?

Can Yoga Heal Trauma?

The ability of yoga to touch our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual beings has made it into a powerful and effective method for victims of trauma. NIH-funded research on yoga and trauma on women who had treatment-resistant PTSD showed immensely promising results.[5] The study found that participating in gentle trauma yoga can lead to a dramatic reduction in post-traumatic stress symptoms. It brought about a 30 percent decrease in intrusive and negative thoughts, and after ten weeks of regular yoga, the participants no longer met the diagnostic criteria for PTSD.

Several other studies have shown that yoga helps increase heart rate variability (HRV), a measure of how well the brain's arousal system works. It has been found that traumatized people have an unusually low HRV.[6] This is why even minor stresses can make them prone to developing a variety of physical diseases.[7]

Since yoga affects us on every level, regular practice allows traumatized victims to calm their minds, better experience and deal with their emotions, re-inhabit their bodies safely again, and develop a greater sense of strength and control over their lives. It allows trauma victims to reclaim their bodies and mind.[8] 

Evidence suggests that trauma yoga works because trauma victims respond positively to body-based therapies, combined with psychotherapy. This is likely because the more conventional form of 'talk' therapy alone tends only to bring back old memories that reignite the trauma all over again. The mind cannot undo the impact of the trauma, which resulted in rage, helplessness, depression, and terror - all of which tend to manifest in the body of the trauma victims.[9] These unresolved issues tend to be exhibited physically in the form of a heavy heart, migraines, tense muscles in the shoulders, neck, or jaw. If these issues are not resolved, then trauma victims often develop heart disease, panic attacks, diabetes, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, and autoimmune disorders.[10]

Trauma yoga helps victims by first getting to know about their bodies and feeling comfortable in their bodies. Moving from one yoga position to another encourages victims to feel each sensation and notice what is happening with their bodies. The simplest of yoga poses can thus produce highly effective results. Since trauma victims often feel dissociated from their body and numb inside, practicing gentle, but supporting yoga poses help in waking up the body and getting the blood flow going again. Yoga focusses on building a strong and capable body to then develop a healthy and centered mind.[11]

The breathing exercises in yoga help victims gain control of their emotions, calming the sympathetic nervous system, and also triggers several other physiological and biochemical relaxation mechanisms in the body.[12] This relaxation is necessary to combat the effects of stress on the body.[13] For people who have chronic trauma, yoga can help enhance self-control and coping skills. 

See: Ashwagandha benefits for anxiety

Yoga asanas for trauma healing

Yoga Poses to Help Trauma Victims

Here are some trauma yoga poses that can help heal trauma. 

1. Child's Pose

This is a resting yogic pose that nourishes the body. It helps bring back trauma victims to the present moment. Here's how to do the child's pose:

·        Kneel on the floor by keeping your toes together and knees apart. 

·        Rest your palms on top of your thighs. 

·        Lower your body between your knees while exhaling.

·        Extend your arms along your body with the palms facing down. 

·        Maintain this pose for as much time as you need.

The child's pose is highly beneficial for calming down a busy and chaotic mind.[14] 

2. Downward-Facing Dog

This yogic pose helps with an all-over rejuvenation of the body. Here's how to do this yoga pose:[15]

·        Come on the floor with your hands and knees, with your knees directly below your hips. Spread your palms and curl your toes inside.

·        Exhale as you lift your knees away from the floor. Keep your knees slightly bent while lifting your heels off the floor.

·        Lengthen your tailbone and press it towards the pubis lightly. Now lift the sitting bones up, and draw the inners legs up into the groin region. 

·        Now exhale and push your thighs back and stretch your heels down towards the flow. Straighten your knees, but don't lock them. Tighten the outer thighs and roll them slightly inwards. 

·        Tighten your outer arms and press the base of the index fingers into the floor. Lift your from the wrists to the top of your shoulders. Tighten the shoulder blades against your back and then widen them. Drag them towards the tailbone. 

·        Keep your head between the upper arms, but don't let it hang.

3. Eagle Pose

The eagle pose is a standing yogic pose that builds focus, serenity, and strength. Here's how to do the pose:

·        Stand by wrapping your left leg over your right leg and wrap your left foot around the right ankle. 

·        Squeeze your thighs together and draw in your belly button and back towards the spine. 

·        Now wrap your left arm under your right arm and touch your palms together. 

·        Reach towards the ceiling with your fingertips and feel your shoulders blades sliding down the back. 

·        Inhale, squeeze your thighs and arms together. 

·        Now repeat the same with your opposite leg. 

See: Ayurveda herbs & treatment for sleep

Summary

Healing Trauma with Yoga

Trauma yoga can help reduce and manage the symptoms of chronic trauma. When combined with trauma therapy, yoga can help trauma victims gain control over their bodies and emotions, while also providing some spiritual comfort. Regularly practicing trauma yoga can promote a better sense of self-regulation and peace while boosting coping skills.

See: Triangle Pose in Yoga - Trikona Asana for Digestion & Anxiety

References

1. Mazumdar, A., 2018. India's soft power diplomacy under the Modi administration: Buddhism, diaspora, and yoga. Asian Affairs, 49(3), pp.468-491.

2. Gautam, A., and Droogan, J., 2018. Yoga soft power: how flexible is the posture?. The Journal of International Communication, 24(1), pp.18-36.

3. Clarke, T.C., Barnes, P.M., Black, L.I., Stussman, B.J. and Nahin, RL, 2018. Use of yoga, meditation, and chiropractors among US adults aged 18 and over. US Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics.

4. National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health (UK, 2005. Post-traumatic stress disorder: The management of PTSD in adults and children in primary & secondary care. Gaskell.

5. Van der Kolk, B.A., Stone, L., West, J., Rhodes, A., Emerson, D., Suvak, M., and Spinazzola, J., 2014. Original research yoga as an adjunctive treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder: A randomized controlled trial. J Clin Psychiatry, 75(6), pp.e559-e565.

6. Telles, S., Singh, N., Joshi, M., and Balkrishna, A., 2010. Post-traumatic stress symptoms and heart rate variability in Bihar flood survivors following yoga: a randomized controlled study. BMC psychiatry, 10(1), p.18.

7. Sung, C.W., Chen, K.Y., Chiang, Y.H., Chiu, W.T., Ou, J.C., Lee, H.C., Tsai, S.H., Lin, J.W., Yang, C.M., Tsai, Y.R. and Liao, K.H., 2016. Heart rate variability and serum level of insulin-like growth factor-1 are correlated with symptoms of emotional disorders in patients suffering a mild traumatic brain injury: Clinical Neurophysiology, 127(2), pp.1629-1638.

8. Emerson, D., Sharma, R., Chaudhry, S., and Turner, J., 2009. Trauma-sensitive yoga: Principles, practice, and research. International Journal of Yoga Therapy, 19(1), pp.123-128.

9. Büssing, A., Ostermann, T., Lüdtke, R., and Michalsen, A., 2012. Effects of yoga interventions on pain & pain-associated disability: a meta-analysis. The Journal of Pain, 13(1), pp.1-9.

10. Scaer, R., 2014. The body bears the burden: Trauma, dissociation, & disease. Routledge.

11. Gulden, A.W., and Jennings, L., 2016. How yoga helps heal interpersonal trauma: Perspectives and themes from 11 interpersonal trauma survivors. International journal of yoga therapy, 26(1), pp.21-31.

12. Cook-Cottone, C., LaVigne, M., Guyker, W., Travers, L., and Lemish, E., 2017. Trauma-informed yoga: An embodied, cognitive-relational framework, International Journal of Complementary & Alternative Medicine, 9(1).

13. Kapitan, L., 2017. Introduction to art therapy research. Routledge.

14. Wong, K.A.R., 2017. Child's Pose: Children's Yoga and the Complexities of Normalisation.

15. Ni, M., Mooney, K., Harriell, K., Balachandran, A., and Signorile, J., 2014. Core muscle function during specific yoga poses, Complementary therapies in medicine, 22(2), pp.235-243.

See: Pranayama breathing exercises & poses

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