Study: Yoga Helps Erase the Scars of Traumatic Experiences

Most people have heard that yoga can be a great tonic for stress. However, many therapists working with people suffering from the scars of traumatic experiences take that one step further, using yoga as therapy to help heal the scars of traumatic experiences.

 Post-traumatic stress disorder is essentially a stress-related illness, associated with major incidents or traumatic events that exposes a person to high, concentrated levels of stress. Such events include being a witness to or being involved in a physical assault, sexual abuse, a vehicular crash, a natural disaster, or in the case of veterans, combat.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is often associated with war veterans; for many veterans, the deeply stressful experiences of combat leave their mark. However, in actual fact, women are two times more likely than men to suffer post-traumatic stress disorder at some stage, because of domestic violence, sexual assault and similar causes.

People suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder often suffer from depression, and periodically experience nightmares, restless sleep, panic attacks, flashbacks, loss of memory, loss of focus, and extreme tiredness. They tend to become alienated from their own bodies because of the frequent reliving of the stressful events and the pain. The physical self may be in one place but the mind is transported back in time to the traumatic event.

Researchers have found that using yoga for post-traumatic stress disorder helps sufferers calm down and get into a state of deep relaxation. In one study, female patients were divided into two groups with one group undergoing eight sessions of yoga and the other group having eight sessions of conventional group therapy. The group that had yoga showed statistically better improvement in stress depression symptoms, including less frequent flashbacks and less severe moments of jangled nerves. Measurements of parameters like heart-rate variability showed the yoga for stress improved the patient’s ability calm herself.

Yoga for post-traumatic stress disorder is increasingly used in the military to help combat veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder were able to sleep more restfully and showed lower levels of stress depression after 12 weeks of training in how to achieve yogic sleep (which results in deep relaxation).

Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, a trauma expert and pioneer in the use of yoga for post-traumatic stress disorder, believes that yoga can very well complement traditional therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder. Yoga helps a person remain grounded in the present moment and more integrated in body and mind.

Yoga does not remove the trauma or cure the disorder, but using yoga for post-traumatic stress disorder helps sufferers cope with the condition and gain more control over their lives.

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