Yoga Springs Studio


Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Yoga

Susan Bradford

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is relatively new as a diagnosis in the west, while the symptoms have been recognized for centuries from a yogic point of view. Both points of view agree that PTSD affects both the physiology and emotional state of the person suffering and their families. From the western scientific view there is usually no mention of a spiritual crisis. It is determined that the person may experience “disconnection,” but without reference to an experience of disconnection with Spirit, Source or God. The yogic point of view expands our understanding of PTSD and offers more options for healing.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder affects millions of people in the US in a given year. It is classified as an anxiety disorder that occurs following a traumatic event where physical harm occurred or was threatened and the person’s response involved fear, helplessness or horror. The body’s failure to return to its pre-traumatic state differentiates PTSD from a simple fear response.
Symptoms of PTSD include: re-experiencing the trauma in flashbacks or nightmares; avoidance of people or places associated with the trauma; emotional numbness; and symptoms of increased arousal such as insomnia, irritability, hypervigilance, and difficulty concentrating. PTSD is treated primarily through cognitive behavior therapy and medication.
Looking at PTSD treatment from a yogic point of view offers other possibilities in healing patients. The five layer Kosha model from the Vedanta period offers a complete map of the human that integrates body, mind and spirit. By examining the five layers, physical, energetic, emotional, intuitive and spiritual, the person with PTSD can begin to heal each layer with various yogic practices such as asanas or physical postures, pranayama or breath-work, meditation and chanting.
Beginning with annamaya-kosha, the physical layer, a person with PTSD often displays lack of body awareness, insensitivity to the body’s natural rhythms, and a loss of physical boundaries. Practicing asanas focusing on the hips and belly can help can help reawaken the physical layer.
Pranamaya-kosha is the energetic layer of our being, our breath and our intake and distribution of prana. Many people with PTSD are tight around the breathing muscles and tend to hold their breath. Pranayama and breath awareness is a vital part of yoga that can heal this layer.
Manomaya-kosha is the emotional layer. When we have lack of awareness or lack of balance in our emotions it is difficult to develop intimate contact with others, as is often the case with people with PTSD. Emotions held in the body fixate our energy in holding patterns, making the energy unavailable to us. When practicing asanas, participants can find that traumas and emotions will bubble up to the surface and be released through the physical body. Pranayama techniques such as alternate nostril breathing are also used to balance the emotions.
Vijnyanamaya-kosha is the wisdom or intuitive layer. For people experiencing PTSD much of the available energy is directed towards survival and is fragmented. If we are living unconsciously in our bodies, our intuition or wisdom body is underdeveloped. Intuition requires surrender. Wisdom and intuition come from a relaxed place of observation. The person with PTSD is often on alert or hyper-vigilant, which does not allow room for relaxation or flashes of insight. The yogic practice of meditation helps to develop or strengthen this layer.
The fifth layer, Anandamaya-kosha, is our connection to Spirit and our own deepest Source. People with PTSD often feel betrayed by nature and God, by their body and mind, resulting in disconnection from both Self and Source. The final realization is complete integration or oneness with our Source. As we practice yoga we develop our potential to achieve this condition healing body, mind and spirit.