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Monday, January 27, 2014

Yoga Poses to Relieve PTSD

Yoga was instrumental in helping me to reduce and ultimately eliminate the trauma trapped in my body because of the PTSD I had experienced and accumulated over many, many years - decades of exposure to some form of trauma.  I encourage all of you who read this blog to take the time to locate a yoga studio nearby and inquire about what kinds of yoga they offer.  Having participated and done many different styles of yoga (and they are all good), I prefer the ones I'm about to list because of my particular personality, and not for any other reason.  I recommend trying them all, and then connecting with the style or styles that most resonate with you and stick with that one.  How do you know which one to choose?  It's an individual choice; you just have to go out and try them and find the one or ones you like the best.  Yoga means union, and its underlying intent is to quiet the "whirlpools of the mind"; the style or styles you choose ought to be geared towards meeting this goal.  Some people may require a vigorous, physical style with poses being held for long periods of time, others might like the heat of hot yoga, while others may prefer a more gentler approach, whatever it may be, choose them because it gives you the maximum benefit you are seeking, which is to relieve the effects of PTSD in the mind and body.

I have been doing yoga now for almost 10 years, and I have been practicing yoga at U Studio Yoga in Los Angeles with Andrea Marcum for most of that time (you can find her and her studio at this website: www.ustudioyoga.com).  She is an amazing yoga instructor, who teaches a core intensive vinyasa (which means 'breath-synchronized movement') flow class that is both rigorous and challenging, and at the same time, balanced and playful. I asked Andrea for some of her insights into how trauma affects our bodies, and if she could suggest a couple of yoga poses for those of you reading this blog.  This is what she said:

"We hold a lot of emotional stuff in our bodies.  Releasing that is part of letting go.  We tend to be stuck in the stress response, and certainly those with PTSD know that more than anyone.  Allowing the tension to leave our body allows us to move closer to who we really are instead of who we are under the grip of reactive behavior, elevated stress hormones and the anger and drama that they feed.  When we start to find our way to the relaxation response we actually reboot our nervous system. 
Forward folds help to turn our attention inward, allowing some of the outside chaos to subside.  Seated forward folds like baddha konasana (http://www.yogajournal.com/poses/486) are calming and can be done anywhere anytime.  Additionally a gentle inversion like viparita karani (http://www.yogajournal.com/poses/690) send additional blood flow to our heart that allows our heart rate to slow down and bring the relaxation response forward."  

One of the many values of a intensive flow class is it really grounds you in the now, you feel firm and solid.  A wonderful complement to this is what is offered through Kundalini yoga.  Kundalini (the yoga of awareness), is relatively new to the West, and it's focus is to open your heart, build strength, and release the energy located at the base of the spine.  I recently stepped into the Golden Bridge Studio located in Hollywood (www.goldenbridgeyoga.com) to inquire if there were any poses they would recommend for someone who is suffering from PTSD.  Elsa, the wonderful person who so kindly answered my questions, recommended the Breath of Fire pose.  Some of the benefits of the Breath of Fire pose are:


  • releases all of the built-up anxiety and nervousness; the Breath of Fire forces the diaphragm in and out and this has a direct impact on the naval center, which helps in the releasing of emotions as well.
  • readjusts and boosts your nervous system
  • it helps you to regain control over stressful mental states
  • it flushes toxins out of the blood stream
  • it massages the internal organs
  • expands your lung capacity for deeper breathing

Basically, you want to breath in and out of the nose (or mouth).  Pull the abdomen in towards the diaphragm during the exhalation and out during the inhalation.  The breath is very fast, as fast as 2 or 3 times per second, and is very loud.  You will probably get a little light-headed when you begin doing this (I know I did), and so I recommend starting with 30 second intervals followed by long deep breaths, and performing this for a few minutes.  Eventually you'll will be able to move up to 45 second intervals for 2 to 3 minutes.  And before you know it, with enough practice, you'll be able to do it for even longer without feeling any discomfort.  A great resource for understanding in even more detail about the Breath of Fire pose and its benefits can be found here: http://kundaliniyogabootcamp.com/breath-of-fire/.

Golden Bridge Yoga also informed me they offer free classes for veterans!  All you have to do is go to the studio and show them proof you served, your ID or DD214, and they will set you up.  So any veterans in the Los Angeles area, take a look at what Golden Bridge has to offer, they're wonderful people over there who want to help you, or come and visit me over at U Studio Yoga with Andrea Marcum, and start actively taking the steps to relieve your PTSD for good.

Hope to see you on the mat!