PTSD and Yoga

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that develops after a person has experienced very stressful or distressing events. Symptoms can include intense feelings of distress and extreme physical reactions when reminded of the trauma, nightmares, detachment, feeling emotionally numb etc. 

In a normal person, stress levels usually return to normal after the stimulus is taken away. In people suffering from PTSD, however, the regulatory system that manages the stress hormones are malfunctioned. The smoke detector, the amygdala, is rewired by the trauma to interpret certain situations as life-threatening dangers. It sends signals to the survival brain to fight flee or freeze. Having all three happen the same time causes the person to mentally shut down, or trigger a panic attack.

There is a study recorded in the book “The Body Keeps the Score” by Bassel Van Der Kolk, where people who have experienced trauma had their Heart Rate Variability measured while in Savasana. Instead of picking up a clear signal, they ended up with too much muscle activity. Rather than going into relaxation, their muscles continue to “be on standby mode to fight unseen enemies”. It is shown how difficult it is for traumatised people to feel completely relaxed and physically safe in their bodies. Memory of helplessness is stored as muscle tension in the affected body areas. Many survivors cope by trying to “neutralise unwanted sensory experiences through self-numbing”. 

Yoga, however, can help. 

Learning to stay calm
People who have gone through trauma often find it difficult to stay calm. The body is constantly at a heightened state of anxiety and stress, especially for War Veterens. Through Pranayama, it teaches them to focus on the breath. More oxygen is brought to the head and the rest of the body which is known to help in relaxation. Kapalabathi (also a Kriya) for instance, helps with unlocking mental and emotional blockages. It encourages a tranquil state of mind, and can help relieve stress and depression. The chanting of AUM, which is the vibration of life, can also create a calming effect and help smoothen the mind. With regular practice, the focus on the breath and the internal chanting of AUM becomes habitual and can be a method to turn to whenever they sense a flashback or panic attack coming. 

Rebuilding body awareness
We need to be aware of what our body needs in order to take care of it. In yoga, there is focus on the breath and builds an understanding of how our body moves with it. We notice the connection between body and mind, emotions and physical asanas —  How anxiety about doing a pose ends up tensing the muscles and throwing you off balance. Or the calmness of hearing your own inhalations and exhalations during Ujjayi breathing. Physical practice of asanas can also help rebuild self-confidence and establish a friendly relationship with the body. This is especially so for survivors of sexual assault, many of whom hate their bodies. 

Learning to be in control
Trauma survivors often do not feel in control of their mind and body.  They may be able to logicize and think rationally on a normal basis. But when fear or strong emotions are triggered by association, all logic fails to work as the brain goes into survivor mode or shut down. These triggers are often random and can happen anytime. The fear of panic in itself can also increase the anxiety multifold. Yoga, however, teaches control. Through the lengthening of the breath in Pranayama, or learning to focus while in balancing poses, or holding in a pose for long periods of time, it all trains mental discipline and is reassuring that you still are in control. 

Channeling of energy
In yoga, there is practice of channeling energy towards energy centres such as the heart, throat, forehead etc during Asanas. Similarly, trauma survivors can also learn to channel their fear (negative) towards something more beneficial (positive). For example, determination to hold asanas, or the fight to keep trying and never give up when unable to do a pose. 

It is important for friends and family members to be supportive and help create a safe environment. Trauma survivors need to learn that the stressful situation is now over. They need to know that they are now safe and have no need for fear. This takes time to slowly rewire the brain, to relearn to trust. Patience and encouragement is key. Yoga can be helpful when introduced the practice slowly, but it is also important to understand that it can be very difficult for them to stay in Savasana or in any meditative state due to the sudden quietening of the mind which may bring up traumatic memories that they do not wish to relive. Symptoms for PTSD can last for months or years, or they may come and go in waves. However, with enough time, patience, willpower, and consistent yoga practice, the symptoms can be minimised, or even be eliminated.

What’s in it for me?

Yoga means different things to different people and all these meanings are substantial. If someone considers it a just physical activity – a great way to get into shape – so be it. If it means something deeper to someone else, then that is a welcome definition as well. 

The one thing yoga shouldn’t be, is judgemental.

I started doing yoga in 2009 when I was just out of college and after a few years of working in a corporate environment realised that I wasn’t getting any exercise in my routine. Yoga was an easy choice because it had just begun to get popular and there was easy access to yoga studios at every corner. I got what I was looking for as a good workout alternative. I sat through the boring meditation and instructions to “sit still” and “be one with my mat” – whatever that meant, in order to get to the sweat eventually, that’s all I really cared about. How many calories did I burn and what meal did I earn. This thought process continued to follow me as I meandered through HIIT and pilates and home workouts and the gym as well. It was only when I reached the dreaded ’30yrs old’, that questions about myself and my purpose started to come up in my consciousness and I realised I wasn’t equipped to answer them. 

I, once again, automatically turned to yoga. This time, however, I wasn’t that interested in the physical aspect of it as much as I was seeking answers. Even if I wasn’t seeking answers, I was looking for tools to help me get my answers. It turns out, not many people offer these tools when they teach yoga in studios. There is not a shred of theory in any of these classes, there is hardly even a trace of meditation! So I decided to do this myself – I spoke to a few friends who were yoga teachers and they pointed me towards libraries and book stores with a list of books that were going to enlighten me, hold my hand and guide me as I trudge through the darkness. 

Once again, I faced a sea of information that didn’t make much sense to me. Skepticism took over and I turned my back on yoga and immersed myself into my life, work and hobbies. It was only when I quit my corporate job in a fit of frustration, that I realised that I was ready to roll up my sleeves and get into the meaning of it all, what yoga is all about. 

I signed up for the RYT – 200 hrs course. I can’t say if I’m going to be a yoga teacher in the future or not, but I sure as hell have become a student. I understand the abstract concepts that have been simplified for a beginner’s mind in an attempt to ready them for the vast universe of yoga. Thank god for awesome teachers! I haven’t received the certificate of success yet, but I do consider my decision the right one. I feel ready to absorb and understand what the guru’s of yore were talking about. I can’t wait for my journey to continue as my own unique one – unlike anyone else’s. Allowing me to fail and fall and then rise up in my own time.

Like I said, if yoga is anything – it isn’t judgemental.

YOGA AND POSTPARTUM

After I gave birth my 2 boys , I started to feel very sad about my body. I thought that my belly would be back to normal after the baby came out. But then it was not like what I expected . All the fat is still staying there started from 9 months I been eating non heathy food . it had been build up everyday . I used to be obsessed with my body. I wanted to have the body of a ballet dancer — not an inch of fat, ethereal, and skinny, with lots of bones showing. I starved myself and did everything I could to lose weight. 

Then I started to go back to yoga everyday to help me get back to my body and also helped to bring me out of my worries ,stressful mind and enjoy life with my family.

Yoga taught me to rethink how I approach what healthiness means, by helping me understand what true strength really means. Indeed, there is an intricate and sublime connection between strength and vulnerability .

After practicing yoga for a while , my body did not let me down after all, it had loved me back and supported me in my recovery .But this experience has been beyond physical, because yoga is also such a spiritual practice. I continue to learn to forgive the failure of plans, people, and processes. I learn to loved myself more ,enjoying my life with people around me . And the most important one is accepting myself as who I am .

MY FIRST EXPERIENCE ABOUT YOGA

When I first started yoga at 18 year’s old , I didn’t know anything about yoga, and also my physical body never been doing any work out regularly .

I stepped into a yoga class for intermediate yogis level , and I don’t even knew it was for people been practicing very often or many years. I just chose the class that fitted my time.

Dudes , yoga is totally a work- out . I didn’t really consider the expectations I had for yoga, but falling over because I couldn’t hold a pose as long as everyone else was definitely not one of them. I can certainly see how yoga can tone your body. If you happened to be like me and exercise about one a year, then it might be difficult for you too. 

But please don’t let it stop you ! One of the things I loved most about the class was that it was very focused on the fact that “ you’re exactly where you need to be’’. So , if you can’t hit the pose the teacher teaching you can also do an easier version ,it’s all good.

You’ll make it happen when you’re ready. 

It’s took me a few years later to bring yoga to my daily life. And from that I understand yoga is more than the poses, it’s the state of mind, learning to breathe , learning to be still, learning to be flexibility and strength .i

Yoga has never been just about loving your body. It’s learning to acceptance of body ,mind and soul .We all have issues that we struggle with self- acceptance . when we learn to see others as equal , we learn to love ourselves .

HOW YOGA HELP ME WENT THROUGH PREGNANCY

Hello everyone ,my name is Van . I am a mother of 3 beautiful kids , I had all my kids very cloes to each other , so almost every year I’m was carried a baby inside my belly .

And from being pregnant I get to know yoga and started to love yoga from there. During the first few months of my pregnancy ,I was plagued with morning sickness. I would stay in bed for few hours on end only to get up for a few moment to eat or walk outside . Yoga have been a lifesaver in my life in many ways . I started to took a few yoga classes per week, just to practice my physical body to keep my body strong and heathy . Yoga gives me quiet time to heal my body.in healing my body, I heal my soul, which heal my mind , which helps how I mother, which helps my marriage .

I still remember being in my 3rdhours of contraction , the breathing was helping me so much to went through the pain . And yoga breathing was  key in focusing my pushing as he was being turned . I took a cleaning breath , and then a deep breath , as my baby came right out and was put on my chest .

He was so beautiful ,and those tears were streaming down on my face, I knew I would never forget those deep breath coming from so deep in my body and soul as I pushed with all my strength to bring a new life to my family , to the world .

Tips for practicing yoga on travels

Since I started yoga, I’ve been local studios the place I traveled. I think it is a unique way of enjoying the local yoga scene, place and people as well as releasing tensions from the flights.

Here are my tips to enjoy yoga on a journey.

  1. Travel yoga mat is useful; travel yoga mat is much thinner than the normal yoga mat. It is light and easy to carry around. I prefer travel yoga mat than yoga towel for travel because it could be troublesome washing the yoga towel while travelling.
  2. Research before you are on the road; you can find a local studio once you get to your destination, but enough research helps you to plan your travel and find the yoga place suits you or interesting to you. For example, when I was staying in London, I was able to find a popular meditation studio by researching in advance.
  3. Self-practice in the hotel room with yoga lesson platform; when I go to business trip, it is hard to have a time to go to a studio. In such case I use a yoga lesson platform for self-practice. These days there are great yoga lesson platforms as well as Youtube. One of great self-practice I did was in Paris – my hotel room has a spacious balcony with the view of Paris city.
  4. Have a open mind and be curious; every studio, teachers have their own yoga and teaching style and it could be very new to you. That’s the charm of practicing yoga in different places so be open – you will learn something new from your usual practices.

Fascia and yoga

My interest in fascia started from a myofascial release workshop I happened to join a year ago. Since I’ve enjoyed several physical exercises (weight training, yoga, cycling and climbing), sometimes I had a pain in different parts of body and I wanted to know what ways to ease those pains.

So what is fascia? Fascia is the body’s connective tissue. It’s a head-to-toe, inside-to-out, all-encompassing, and interwoven system of fibrous connective tissue found throughout the body. It provides a framework that helps support and protect individual muscle groups, organs, and the entire body.

Myo refers to muscle; myofascia is the network of fascia involved in musculoskeletal functions and health and it influences how signals of sensation (like pain) travel from your body to your brain. Fascia becomes sticky, clumpy, tight, and flaky and forms restrictions, adhesions, and distortions by bad postures, overusing or injury of muscle or unhealthy diets and it creates pain in the body.

Yoga asanas can help releasing and strengthening fascia and we can design a fascia release yoga class with tennis balls or massage balls. Some of effective asanas releasing fasica are Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose), Vajrasana (Thunderbolt Pose), Ardha Bhekasana (Half Frog Pose), Ardha Matsyendrasana variation.

Aromatherapy and Yoga

I saw some teachers use aroma oils for students and I found that aromatherapy is complementary to yoga; it helped relaxation in Yin yoga and at the end of asana practice as well as boosting energy. From my research, historically and scientifically aromatherapy makes synergy with asana practices and brings mental & physical benefits.

In Ayurveda, the ancient Indian healing system, one way to balance and the body’s chakras is using essential oils and asana. Also, modern science says
using essential oils for asana practice balances the autonomic nervous system and help reach hormonal homeostasis.

For yoga teachers, there are several ways to apply aromatherapy and it’s recommended to be aware of characteristic and benefits of each aroma oil.

  • Ask students if anyone is allergic to the oils. Pass oils around at the beginning of class and have students rub them on their feet, temples, or the backs of their necks.
  • Spritz an essential oil blend throughout the space at the beginning and end of class
  • Diffuse oils in the space throughout class
  • Rub oils on students’ feet or temples during savasana
  • Create a purifying oil blend for students to spray on their mats after classs

<5 types of aroma oils>
1. Stabilizing, meditative, and centering: Sandalwood, frankincense, myrrh, and cedarwood
2. Detoxing and breathing: Peppermint, eucalyptus, and rosemary
3. Calming and relaxing: Lavender, geranium, and chamomile
4. Positivity and joy: Bergamot, lemon, and orange
5. Promoting transcendence, connection to others: Neroli, jasmine, ylang-ylang, and rose

What yoga means to me

In 2015 Autumn, I left Korea and started my life in Singapore. Without my family and friends, everything was new to me and it was not easy to fit myself into a new life. After work, I din’t want to talk to my flatmates because I felt so tired of speaking in English. At that time I went to a gym every day and that’s the way I managed my stress. It helped, but I felt I need more than a physical exercise.

I was lucky to find the teachers that I connected to quickly. They taught me how mind is important in yoga practice, not just physical practices and fancy poses. Also they gave me a constant reminder that the ego to become better than others and excel in physical practice needs to be dropped. It is not aligned with true yoga. I was hooked by the fact that there is no competition in yoga. There is no point to push yourself too hard to get stressed out – If you feel good about yourself and content with the moment, that’s enough. One of the reason I decided to pursue the yoga teacher training is to help others to understand yoga like the way I did.

It’s becoming 3 years since I started yoga practice and I’ve enjoyed understanding different types of yoga and teachers in the world. There is no goal or end point, certain types of people allowed to do yoga – everyone can enjoy their own yoga and its benefits. That’s what yoga means to me.

What have I learnt from Yoga?

In my last 2 posts, I explored the topics of why i started yoga and how yoga fits into my lifestyle. In this post, I hope to reflect a little more on my journey thus far. Specifically, what I have learnt from Yoga.

Firstly, I am blessed to have embarked on this yoga journey. Through yoga, I have built connections with people and more importantly, a stronger body and mind. In part, my personality / character is one that when I am truly interested and passionate about a topic, I drill deep and I drill hard. What this means is, developing a strong understanding through personal experience. Basically, I want to try it all, learn it all and do it well.

In terms of learnings, I have 2 key takeaways – consciousness about the “now” and detachment.

Through Yoga, I have learnt about the importance of being conscious. Specifically, being conscious about the “now”, in the present moment. I don’t know how many categories or types of people there are out there, but I am a thinker. I think and I wonder. But at the same time, my thoughts could float from one topic to another easily. Something can happen during the day and I would reflect on it later at night. I recall in my earlier days of practice, contrary to how yoga should be practiced, I find my thoughts lingering from a mix of important tasks to do after practice to reflecting on a particular moment that had happened recently in my life. By shifting this focus now more onto my practice, I find that it has helped with my focus in my tasks and my thought process. Not to let clutter find its way into my brain and to focus on living in the now.

Through Yoga, I have also learnt about detachment. I find this learning particularly useful when I detach from things that are not within my control. I used to be very hung up on negative experiences. In part, I dislike saying no. When things do not fall in place, I get upset or angry. However, I start to experience a shift in my perspective of things as my Yoga practice deepens. There are always things that will not be in one’s control. I still feel some emotions whenever things do not go according to plans. However, I find myself being able to get out of these situations a lot faster now than before.