Published in Senior Living Magazine, March 2017. p.16
Yoga For PTSD
The breath work, mindful movement, and meditation involved in a Yoga practice have proven successful in bringing the immune and nervous systems into balance. As a result of this success, Yoga is now offered to patients at Hospitals, Cancer Centers, and Rehabilitation Clinics. More recently, VA Centers have offered the practice of Yoga to benefit Veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
For those with PTSD, traumatic events become encoded in the nervous system, and hyper‑arousal (fight or flight) can be triggered by sounds or objects that may seem innocuous to the casual observer. The focus on body and mind awareness through Yoga facilitates “paying attention,” to notice the auto responses to triggers, and change habits.
Breathing practices in Yoga bring the nervous system into balance between the extremes of hyper-arousal and a depressive state. This balance allows us to find an optimal arousal zone where we function best to solve problems, think creatively, and be reasonable and rational.
Scientific research has shown how the physiological and psychological balance is achieved through the practice of Yoga. Findings specific to PTSD include:
* Amygdala [structure of brain responsible for emotional processing, acquisition of fear and anger responses]. Studies reveal the amygdala is larger in those with PTSD, resulting in any stimulation of the amygdala lasting longer. After an 8-week practice of mindfulness and meditation, the amygdala was reduced in size.
* Heart Rate Variability (HRV) [measure of health in the mind-body connection as it relates to stress; sometimes referred to as Vagal Tone, as the vagus nerve affects the heart rate]. Prolonged hyper-arousal of PTSD causes a low HRV. Yoga breathing practices increase HRV because of mechanical receptors in the diaphragm.
* Hippocampus [part brain involved in emotions, learning and memory]. Research found the hippocampus to be smaller in those with PTSD because of excessive cortisol (stress hormone). Mindfulness/mediation resulted in an increase In size of the hippocampus.
This information is shared from my recent training with the Veterans Yoga Project. In addition to learning the science of trauma and PTSD, I was struck by how it related to people in general. Although not at the level of first responders and military, many of us have experienced a traumatic event, whether a victim of crime, serious auto accident, or devastating loss. Stress is also part of being human, whether from jobs, relationships, or financial and social setbacks. Moderate stress of daily life is said to be healthy because it increases alertness and brain function, but the stress must be handled properly. The measure of properly handling stress is a healthy HRV to quickly recover from the stressful event. The practice of Yoga can help each of us quickly return to our optimal zone for physical and mental wellbeing.
Julie Hunt-Juneau, RYT 200
Yoga By Water