Yoga for Post-Traumatic Stress: Regaining Control, Safety and the ability to take action.
Updated: Dec 17, 2018
Let’s just put it out there. I am no stranger to stress or traumatic life events. It took me a long time to realize that I even suffered from what people call PTSD. I didn’t even know that I lost something, but I did. There was a loss of my true self that was always followed by a desire to feel in control, to know I was safe and to be able to perceive clearly so that could perform the right actions at the right times.
There are always opportunities for healing, choice and support. Being able to understand our own injuries and have the courage to allow others to assist us mend our wounds can be scary and maybe confusing.
But if we want to regain control of our life, feel safe and take the right actions at the right times then we have to dig deep and do the work.
During my Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS) yoga certification I learned to drop the D from PSTD because in the Wellness Profession, we don’t see Post Traumatic Stress as a disorder. It is an injury.
An injury that hits the psyche with such force that it shatters the internal coping mechanism. This injury may occur during one major moment of a traumatic experience, or from multiple experiences of stress or trauma. These events eventually break through one’s ability to cope.
The pre-frontal cortex function is impacted from stress and trauma. This part of our brain is like a muscle that helps us navigate our choices, helps see events clearly and gather information based on our perception. The more often we correctly use and build muscle the stronger it gets, right? The less often it is used correctly the weaker it gets. When the prefrontal cortex is injured or not working at peak performance our natural response it to protect it.
A protective layer is built during the time of the injury. This layer is called the trauma membrane. A special barrier that the body, doing its job, built to defend the psyche against further injury. Our body truly has grand abilities. I mean when we break a bone, it is not the doctor that heals the bone; it is the doctor that resets the bone so that the body can heal. Seems so magical.
The interesting thing about the forming of this protective layer, or trauma membrane is that it perceives all external events as potential “new trauma” or harm. Now, it is not a true physical layer around the psyche, but rather a new way of perception. We begin to internally receive and file away the things that we externally see differently. Our internal filing system sets reminder triggers that advise us if harm is about to happen. Also known as our memory and this tricky memory system can change based on the environment and mood we are in. That’s why sometimes just a change of environment can change the memory and reaction we have to that memory.
Stress and trauma altered the psyches ability to perceive and clearly distinguish good and bad. Even the events that are joyful and are not harmful at all, may become misunderstood and triggered with this new perception of protection built out of necessity to survive.
We are always born as our true self and know that the true self is always there available for us. Once a huge hit to the psyche, or, after a traumatic event (or repeated trauma events) occur the stress rises and a defense is built.
As we experience more and grow we also change.
Change can reflect a life of little to no stress or a life that has experienced much stress. The life lived with high-levels of stress slowly becomes different to themselves and different to those around them. A loss is felt after multiple events of stress, or big events of trauma. This can be confusing to all involved. The loss of control and confusion makes it easy to question many things.
Don’t you worry, there is hope because that true-self is still speaking up. This is where we dig deep and do the work! There is hope to get back to your personal beliefs, faith and wellness. You can control your life through choices, feel safe and perform at your peak abilities again.
This wonderful insight allowed me to deepen my understanding of the anxiety, confusion and all-out-loss that is caused and experienced after significantly impactful traumatic events, or repeated events occur. Not only is the memory of the event trapped inside, but new events trigger feelings, reactions or qualms from the trauma. Life becomes drastically harder to navigate.
A blow that hits with such force that it shatters our natural ability to cope is an injury to the psyche and the loss of the self is disorienting.
Most often a Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS) injury is treated as a disorder using external methods to facilitate healing. There is great work being done using these external methods and these methods of mental wellness have been giving space to support those wounded by PTS.
Many clinical behavioral health professionals and wellness professionals have discovered the immense need for internal healing to happen alongside the external support.
If you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress and you want to regain the control in your life, feel safe in your own space and function at your peak ability again try yoga for Post Traumatic Stress. Physical movement and guided stress reduction classes take an internal approach where the psyche can reconnect with the true self. We don’t talk about or relive the events, we just stop holding onto them. Through movement and relaxation the defenses are down because the defense mechanisms are not protecting the psyche from an external event or trigger. From the inside healing can happen within the terms of the individual.
More about these methods and class structure:
Each class begins with physical movement and ends with stress and trauma releasing techniques that include: breath work for the nervous system and balancing the hemispheres of the brain, guided mindfulness techniques that slow and still the brain waves encouraging relaxation and a safe environment to release; held energy, body tension and mental trauma.
Wellness Staffers can provide classes that address different levels of PTS classes that give a finite behavioral structure (the student knows there is routine with no radical changes), classes are formed as groups of support, classes allow for a space to ventilate emotions, provide a feeling of hope, offer follow-up (classes remain available so they have a place to return and heal in a different way), and lastly offer an outlet for lack of control (building dynamic body control, brings nervous system back into balance, builds control through movement).
This is something different from the gym and is on a different level than your regular yoga class.
Commitment is key – through continued practice we are able to see change.
As a Wellness Practitioner with a degree in Mind- Body transformational psychology and as a certified yoga instructor that specialized in Post-Traumatic Stress, more than ever I see the need for the medical world and the wellness world to work together. Especially when it comes to treating and serving the underserved population of veterans, first responders and at-risk PTS citizens.