Yoga is More Effective In Treating Trauma than Any Medication

Trauma and its symptoms are more prevalent today than ever and yoga may be one of the best treatments to help

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“Yoga is more effective for treating PTSD than any medication so far.” (Bessel van der Kolk, NScience seminar , London Guys Hospital, 15 May 2005).  Right now we are in the middle of a traumatic situation. If we don't take appropriate action to handle this we might be left with the after effects of undischarged trauma.

Undischarged trauma symptoms 

We are left with the troubling effects of trauma whenever we have an experience that feel overwhelming and that we struggle to process. Without a doubt, this is where we have felt out of control and helpless to take effective action. This can leave us with some strange and confusing symptoms:

  1. Emotional flashbacks - overwhelming emotional reactions that seem to come out of nowhere.
  2. A loss of interest in normal activities that we enjoy
  3. Feeling detached from others.
  4. Feeling as if we don't have a future.
  5. Trouble sleeping,
  6. Outbursts of anger.
  7. Feeling 'on guard', or on edge, and easily startled.

Importantly, we will be more vulnerable to the negative effects of the trauma of COVID-19 if we have undischarged trauma from our earlier history. Without a doubt, if we have suffered emotional neglect, abusive relationships, narcissistic parenting and other relational wounds, we will need to look after ourselves during this time.

How does yoga help?

In trauma, the body itself becomes unsafe. Yet by learning to reconnect with our self through learning to be with our body we can learn to find safety within again. We can also learn skills of self-regulation, which are important in bringing our arousal levels down. And finally we can begin to take effective action. Effective treatment for trauma needs to involve:

  1. Learning to tolerate feelings and sensations by increasing capacity for interoception. This will strengthen hypocampal and precuneal activity in the brain and improve cortical function to help process the trauma. In doing so we reduce dominance of the emotional arousal of the right hemisphere. This will help us to develop a sense of self awareness and tolerate sensations in the body.
  2. Learning to modulate one’s own physiological arousal or to self-regulate.This will strengthen the vagal tone and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) response to increase heart rate variability (HRV) and respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) to improve self-regulation and reduce physiological arousal levels.
  3. Learning to engage in taking effective action – to overcome the feelings of physical powerlessness and helplessness from the traumatic experience, thereby replacing the passive fear response with an active coping strategy. This will help to release the energy of the ‘stuck’ emotional response from the body.

Trauma is our body’s response

Primarily trauma is a physical experience of our body; we have a series of physical responses as our ‘fight or flight’ system kicks in to deal with the situation. We need specific type of help with trauma because of this.

Regaining control

The trauma survivor’s sense of control has been taken away rendering the individual helpless in the face of the event or experience. This is why it is absolutely necessary that throughout the treatment the person is empowered with a sense of choice, control and volition. This requires a trauma-sensitive yoga teacher.

More reading and resources 

In 2015 I completed a project on yoga for trauma. ‘Yoga for Trauma – How Trauma-Sensitive Yoga Can Help in the Trauma Recovery Process’. Click here to see a full copy of the research report.

In addition, Embodied Living is running a free online course to help people with anxiety and depression during COVID-19. This may help with trauma too as it includes simple yoga practices to help manage and deal with symptoms. Watch this space or contact us for more details.

Susan Tupling

I am a UKCP registered clinical psychotherapist, certified yoga and meditation teacher and a qualified therapeutic and executive coach. My specialist areas of expertise includes; Neurolinguistic Psychotherapy Pesso Boydon System of Body-Based psychotherapy Neuro linguistic programming Clinical Hypnotherapy Mindfulness and Meditation.

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