Yoga and Re-experiencing Symptoms

Written by Caroleena Hammock

Post Traumatic Stress (Disorder) (PTS(D)) is a mental disorder characterized by the DSM-5 to include an exposure to a traumatic event followed by intrusive symptoms. These symptoms may include re-experiencing the event, avoidance of reminders of the event, negative changes in thought or mood, and hyperarousal symptoms. Re-experiencing the event can include recollections of the event, recurrent dreams, flashbacks, physiological reactions when exposed to cues about the event, and psychological distress when exposed to reminders of the event.  PTS(D) affects the biological, psychological, and social aspects of a person.

The US Department of Veterans Affairs and the US Department of Defense employ treatments for PTS(D) routinely including prolonged exposure therapy and cognitive processing therapy. Both of these therapies are emotionally demanding to ask the individual to recall the traumatic event. This can be troublesome for veterans and has shown to lead to higher dropout and under-responsive participation rates (CH 6 article citing). A recent article published by the American Medical Association has investigated the effectiveness of these 2 therapies for veterans. The findings suggest that they are not sufficiently treating veterans’ PTS(D) symptoms, and reported: “prolonged exposure therapy and cognitive processing therapy are not effective for between one-half and two-thirds of patients”(JAMA article). The results suggest that an option for effective treatment may be an approach that includes several forms of therapies, including less emotionally exhausting sessions. A modern and less demanding approach that is becoming popularized for addressing PTS(D) symptoms is practicing yoga. 

The practice of yoga is focusing on the unification of the mind, body, and spirit through the practice of physical postures (asana), breathing techniques, and meditation. Yoga has many positive effects on psychological health and helps arrest the symptoms of PTS(D). Yoga practice allows a person to experience the present moment in a calm and supportive environment, encouraging practitioners to connect their mind and body by focusing on breathing. This re-frames the mind from dwelling on the past, starting the process of associating personal experience in a state of calm openness. Somatic regulation allows the practitioner to acknowledge the tension being retained, releasing the holding pattern. By increasing body awareness practitioners can begin to find emotional regulation, or said differently they can learn to reflect rather than react. Yoga is relatively low-impact making it accessible to many different groups of people with higher rates of participation. Yoga offers mental and physical benefits by connecting the mind and body.    

PTS(D) symptoms affect people in many different ways including any combination of re-experiencing the event, avoidance of reminders of the event, negative changes in thought or mood, and hyperarousal symptoms. These symptoms affect the everyday lives of a person, and the main forms of treatment have been shown to only be effective for between one-half and two-thirds of patients. These low results, as well as a high dropout rate, has created a more holistic approach to treatment. The practice of yoga reframes the mind and allows the practitioner to move their bodies and release tension. Yoga is accessible and welcoming to all. 

I based this article on Chapter 6 of “Yoga for Mental Health” while referring to new information from the quoted JAMA article supporting our data and belief that yoga is an excellent complement to established treatment protocols. 

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