Trauma has many faces and many masks. There is the face of the young girl assaulted at college who wears the mask of a tentative smile, yet feels alienated from her body. There is the trauma of the young man returning from war who cannot shake the images of destruction and despair. Sometimes trauma hides deep within. A sexually abused child, a bullied teen, or a battered wife will often suffer silently, sometimes for years.
Statistics show that about half the general population of the United States will experience a traumatic event in their lifetime. Many sufferers will become stricken with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Even though men face a higher incidence of trauma, women are more likely to be afflicted with PTSD, with a 10 percent overall rate to the 5 percent of men.
Dr. Bessel van der Kolk has been researching trauma related disorders since the ‘70s. In 2006, he conducted a small pilot study at the Boston Trauma Center, which tested Hatha yoga as a trauma treatment. After just eight weeks, all the participants of the yoga treatment showed remarkable improvement compared to those utilizing traditional therapy.
Traditional trauma therapy has always focused exclusively on the mind. PTSD patients often experience physical distress brought on by the anxiety of remembering the painful event. Their blood pressure may rise and their bodies may begin to tremble. The use of breathing techniques learned in yoga can halt these attacks at the onset.
The idea that something as simple as yoga can reconnect trauma victims with their whole self is an exciting concept. Many people who experience trauma express a feeling of separation between their body and their mind. The term yoga translates from Sanskrit as “to unite.” The action of engaging in postures combined with breath work and meditation is a powerful combination.
The language of yoga has always invited students to listen and respond to their feelings. The physical aspect of yoga builds strength and confidence. The result is that trauma patients who engage in a regular yoga practice are reporting feeling more in control of their emotions and a sense of renewed physical strength.
Results have been so positive that even the government is getting on board using yoga as treatment for suffering veterans. It’s wonderful news that yoga is being recognized as a viable treatment for those suffering from PTSD.
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