Thursday, 11 February 2016

Why I Believe Yoga is a Critical link in the Recovery from PTSD.

 Myself and Ishtadev Niwas patrons have recently launched what we feel is an innovative way that has the yoga community “lift up” and support those challenged by both acute and chronic Post-Traumatic Stresses (in this article, we refer to Post-Traumatic Stress as its formerly and more well-known acronym as PTSD).  The innovation comes by way of a webpage that allows many people to contribute small monthly amounts to supporting the teachings and directed time to assisting those within our communities and networks that desperately need a new lens and path for deep and comprehensive healing.  In direct relation to this new initiative however, I was asked the other day why I believe that Yoga is so critical to the enabling healing from PTSD.  Yoga is a big and complex topic...but here is a start for anyone interested in looking to a Yogic path on your recovery from PTSD.

I truly believe that Yoga is a huge untapped resource in North America for people suffering with PTSD,  
PTSD is a “big picture” experience and Yoga* is a “big picture” modality that can offer a complete and total shift in the health of mind, body, emotions AND soul. 
PTSD is not an isolated symptomatic experience that does well nor even adapts to the western methodology of treating each symptom individually until the disease is cured. It is not like a bacteria that can be wiped out by an antibiotic.  Alleviating a symptom of PTSD does not create the framework for recovering from the trauma.  That perspective is like juggling spinning plates on pin heads.  Eventually things come crashing down.

By the time I meet new clients who with varying levels of PTSD, they have been doing everything they can from a western medical perspective for usually 2 - 3 years.  Their symptomatic dominos usually fall like this:  You can't sleep?  You're prescribed sleeping pills.  You need to wake up early to go to work?  You take a stimulant like coffee.   You are depressed?  Here have some anti depressants.  Oh, you’re experiencing suicidal ideation?  Let’s adjust the dosage or try another anti depressant.  The cascade of medications has no end in sight as it isn't actually fixing the problem.

To be clear here, there is definitely time and place for each of the above mentioned medications,  but they need to be administered as a tool or temporary support,  not long term dependency.   Nor am I blaming western doctors as PTSD from a western perspective is a very new “disorder” that is in its infancy in research and solutions. Western perspectives of mental disease and illness are those that people don’t understand well enough as these perspectives don’t fit in the western “medical paradigm box.”

Prolonged Exposure Treatment seems at this time to be a front runner for helping people, but the treatment is not wildly available and is based on being exposed to similar traumatic stimuli until it doesn’t hold the power or same reaction anymore.

The levels of anxiety, depression, hopelessness,  isolation, and the fear of something triggering a flashback can be truly debilitating. However, Yoga, as mentioned above, is a “big picture system."  It sees the interconnectivity of the symptoms leading to a source.  Yoga doesn't try to mop up the symptoms while the source is still over flowing, it addresses the source directly,  and then offers the tools to mop up the mess.

In Yoga, we have a system called the Koshas (sheaths of perception) which give context to the different layers of perception we have as souls having a human experience.   Anandamaya Kosha, the bliss body, is connected to the souls original and innate form before any karma or experiance is imprinted on it.  The memory of this body, while in human form,  we connect to as the “heart,” or Love.  The experiences we have, from eating ice creme to murder, originate in Vijanamaya Kosha, or the archetypal/karmic sheath.  These experiences need to be digested and transcended for the souls evolution to happen.  The nervous system is an aspect of the mind which is connected to Manomaya Kosha, or the mental sheath. If the soul or heart, is unable to digest the experiance, because the mind is unable to reconcile the traumatic experiance it to its rightful place in memory, then a mental/nervous system fracture occurs, it gets short circuited.  Time and space, from a soul’s perspective, is not linear. When a trauma or traumatic event happens and our nervous system gets fractured we are no longer able to discern the present moment with the past experience.  The head cannot be reconciled with the heart.

If the mental sheath has a fracture in it, undigested or traumatic memories float in the psyche constantly trying to connect it to the present moment.  At any moment a once benign experiance can trigger you into reliving the trauma as though it is happening in present time.  You no longer are able to discern reality in this time and space.  This  has direct implications on the Pranamaya Kosha or emotional body, creating heightened and prolonged emotional responses to the trigger and Annamaya Kosha, physical experiences, which become the actions in which we try to avoid any trigger for the traumatic memory to latch onto in real time - which over time creates a reality of entrapment, perceiving suicide as the only “out”.

The trauma has such an impact on the mind that it refuses to recess into memory and keeps barging through the door of present reality at any time of day. However, I believe that there is a critical step in the process to evolving past PTSD that needs to be addressed before stepping into direct engagement with the traumatic experiance itself.  This is to heal, and strengthen the nervous system.

The trauma, and subsequent inability to file it in an appropriate memory locker puts one’s already fractured nervous system into hyper alert and an over-stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system.  When the sympathetic nervous system is jammed permanently “on,”
 one is in a constant fight or flight mode, resulting in adrenal fatigue.  Furthermore, the parasympathetic nervous system gets worn down and unable to balance itself to compensate for the sympathetic nervous systems short-circuiting.  It is the parasympathetic nervous system that corresponds to our ability to relax.  The nervous system cannot heal, if you cannot relax.  So, the sympathetic nervous system is short circuited and jammed on, and the parasympathetic nervous system is fatigued.  This needs to be addressed and steps made to rebalance this before the memory of the trauma can take its rightful place in the memory bank without, or critically reducing, emotional association - thus digesting and transcending the experiance.

The experience of being unable to digest or reconcile memory is the definition of crisis.

crisis |ˈkrīsis|
noun (pl. crises |-ˌsēz| )
a time of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger: the current economic crisis | a family in crisis | a crisis of semiliteracy among high school graduates.
a time when a difficult or important decision must be made: [ as modifier ] : a crisis point of history.
• the turning point of a disease when an important change takes place, indicating either recovery or death.

ORIGIN late Middle English (denoting the turning point of a disease): medical Latin, from Greek krisis ‘decision,’ from krinein ‘decide.’ The general sense ‘decisive point’ dates from the early 17th cent.

So from a big picture perspective, someone who suffers from PTSD is at a huge cross roads in their human experience.  They are in a crisis, or at a point of decision.  The decision to evolve or cycle out of this human experience. Please note that I don't, or try not to, use the word “recover” when talking about healing from trauma.  You don't recover, or go back to an original state from before the trauma. You don't get past it, or get over it. You use the experiance to evolve.  You integrate the experience to a place where it no longer causes you pain whether mental, emotional or physical.  This, I believe, is the opportunity with PTSD.  I believe, that it is a fundamental opportunity for exponential acceleration within that soul’s evolution. 

So, from a yogic perspective, what do we do?  Firstly, we give the mind a context, or a map of how the symptoms are people on the street trying to direct you to the source.  Then, through yogic techniques, postures, breathing exercises, relaxation techniques, we give you the tools to start to bring the sympathetic nervous system and parasympathetic nervous systems into balance, through simultaneously reducing anxiety (coming back into the body, back into the present moment)  and strengthening the relaxation response.  It is both of these that start to make headway on the symptoms and take you out of the crisis. Human connection, relationships built on positive experiences and trust,  acknowledging moments of joy and actively seeking them out,  conscious time in nature through gardening or animals are also crucial lifestyle aspects to reconnecting and creating a new expansive reality.   But it is not the end of the journey.

As this continues, we start to strengthen the muscle of discernment.  This is the ability to acess a memory without feeling like it is happening in the present moment.  Through the short circuiting of the nervous system, our discernment gets disconnected.  We have techniques and practices that help to recreate that link.  It takes time, as life is not a quick-fix pill.  However, Yogic tools are those one can do anywhere,  and they are tools that empower you to be able to heal, evolve, and ultimately understand and learn why THIS experience is part of your human reality this time around. 

Our symptoms are teachers and PTSD is a university degree, sometimes I even wonder if it is PhD material.  This is a huge undertaking for a soul in one lifetime, but one can graduate!  No one ever goes to university expecting to fail.  You go knowing that with the right professors, the right environment, and considerable effort, you will graduate with a skill set that sets you apart and allows you to feel success.   

But it can be hard to understand what the symptom is teaching if you don't speak its language.  Yoga, though the matrix of philosophy, the chakras, and perspective, decodes the language of belief, emotion, and reality and works as a translator for these different languages.  It can be done. 

For more information, or to contact the Living Yoga Society about our outreach programs for people experiencing PTSD, Anxiety, or Depression please contact email us.

If you are inspired by these teaching, and would like to support our patronage and outreach efforts please click here.

* please note, not all yoga classes are created equal.  For people suffering from PTSD and other related medical illnesses please a)
 contact your doctor and inform them that you are looking to try yoga to support your recovery.  and b) make sure you take a yoga class, or work with a teacher who has experience in supporting people in crisis and trauma related experiences.


  1. This is a very informative piece, and has many great insights! It makes me want to learn more about the yogic method of treating PTSD and integrate it into my own counseling sessions! Thanks Shivani!

  2. I'm very happy we've met. I look forward to working together to help bring this to the world at our doorstep. We've many First Responders needing this very kind of help. Be Well and Thank you for your service.