Yoga and Meditation For PTSD – an alternative pathway for our veterans

Like many people in Ohio & the U.S., James & Joyce (founders & owners at Modern Yoga) came from veteran families. James is a US Army veteran himself, his father served 32 years in the US Navy & his grandfather was a US Marine in WWII. Joyce’s family also has a long history of service. Andy, Joyce’s father, was a US Marine who served in Vietnam. Andy served at the same time as all 5 of his brothers! So to say we appreciate our veterans at Modern Yoga is an understatement. We love our vets!

With this in mind, we’ve put together some information on Meditation, Yoga & PTSD. We know that these practices could offer relief from the suffering many of our service veterans experience.

We hope everyone has a great Veterans day!  As always,  Free yoga for veterans on Veterans day! Just let us know when you come in for a class!

Happy Veterans Day

PTSD (Post Traumatic stress disorder) is an anxiety disorder developed following and in response to a traumatic event. It can be significantly debilitating, resulting in severe social, emotional, and occupational impairments. 

There is no straightforward path for our veterans to heal because every person reacts to trauma and therapy differently. Pharmacotherapy, individual and group psychotherapy are standard approaches to manage PTSD clinically.  However, research shows that complete remission is hard to achieve with either pharmacotherapy or psychotherapy (Carter J, Gerbarg PL, Brown RP, Ware RS, D’Ambrosio C, et al. (2013)).

Yoga and meditation can create a treatment bridge for these therapies and assist veterans in making those radical changes necessary to feel more at ease in their civilian clothes while dealing with their PTSD. Both meditation and yoga practice increase self-awareness, allowing a person to interpret and accept their physiological state better. Dr. Terri Kennedy, yoga teacher and president of Power Living Enterprises, says: “Yoga helps us slow down for a moment and tune into the breath. Simply the focus on one thing — which is the very definition of meditation — allows us to decompress.” 

The Journal of Traumatic Stress Disorders & Treatment published research exploring the effects of attending a yoga and breathing program for disabled Australian Vietnam veterans diagnosed with severe PTSD. The intervention group attended a yoga and meditation program over five days, followed by weekly sessions for the following five months. The group showed a significant reduction in their PTSD symptoms, while nothing changed for the control group within the same period. After the control group went through the same program, it also improved significantly. The results strongly suggested that yoga and breath techniques can offer a valuable complementary therapy for veterans with PTSD.

Other studies have suggested that meditation can reduce the symptoms of PTSD in veterans. These studies show that meditation reduces stress hormones by activating the “tend-and-befriend” or “rest-and-digest” functions of the parasympathetic nervous system, while calming the sympathetic nervous system, which stimulates the “fight-or-flight” response. (psychology today | Christopher Bergland)

However, many people with PTSD found that meditation can bring back painful flashbacks of their trauma, turning their sessions into nightmares. The most painful thoughts we bury inside surface as soon as we try to calm down the mind. The person might not have the tools yet to live repeatedly through their trauma without experiencing panic attacks. 

It’s possible to gain the benefits of mindfulness while avoiding the difficulties of meditation and trauma. Conscious distractions are essential in healing from trauma. 

Yoga encourages you to stay in the present by concentrating on your breath while moving through guided poses. 

“When people experience trauma, they may experience not only a sense of emotional dysregulation but also a feeling of being physically immobilized,” says Ritu Sharma, PhD, project coordinator of the center’s yoga program. “Body-oriented techniques such as yoga help them increase awareness of sensations in the body, stay more focused on the present moment and hopefully empower them to take effective actions.”

Back in 2011, the Huffington Post shared stories of Yoga and PTSD. One Vet’s story focused on a Marine Corps veteran who began teaching yoga to other veterans after healing his PTSD with yoga. 

“I remember sitting bolt upright and storming out of a class while doing a guided relaxation in savasana, the restful pose that normally ends a traditional yoga class. My mind simply could not tolerate lying down and being still. It felt like someone was suffocating me, while anxiety, fear and chaos swirled around in my head.” says the ex-marine. 

“Learning yoga as a trauma survivor is oftentimes especially grueling. Yoga can cause those emotions and memories we bury and control in order to survive to resurface.(…)For veterans who simply long for a moment’s peace of mind, the less physical aspects of yoga can be a saving grace. In class, we combine physical poses with a combination of breathing techniques and meditation. This way, veterans can begin to get some relief from the practice of quieting their thoughts and deepening their breath, even if they can’t yet find their way comfortably around some of the physical poses.”

If something triggers PTSD or anxiety during yoga practice, vets find it easier to shift their thoughts back to the pose. Part of the reason this works is that they’re not just trying to meditate to quiet their mind, but to carry out an assignment. Yoga allows them to train the mind to recognize when the body goes into “flight or fight” mode through breath awareness and bringing ease back by shifting the attention back to the pose. At first, this will be possible only on the mat, under particular circumstances, but with practice and perseverance, veterans will be able to transfer this skill into their civilian life. 

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