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Studies into the effectiveness of yoga already suggest that it can help to ameliorate both physical and psychological problems including diabetes, arthritis, fibromyalgia, depression and anxiety.
There also now exists evidence (e.g. van der Kolk, 2014, see below)) that it can help to reduce symptoms of Complex posttraumatic stress disorder (Complex PTSD).
Complex PTSD Gives Rise To Both Psychological And Physical Symptoms :
We have already seen how the cumulative effects of exposure to ongoing and repetitive trauma can result in the development of Complex PTSD and that the condition adversely affects the body’s physiology leading to impaired functioning of the autonomic nervous system and associated physical problems that can manifest in various ways including :
- dissociation / psychic numbing
- accelerated heart/pulse rate
- elevated blood pressure
- restless, physical agitation
Furthermore, such symptoms are, in individuals with Complex PTSD, if not ongoing (though they can be: my own hyperventilation and physical agitation went on for years and the former continues to be set off by what most others would consider being trivial anxieties, whilst my resting heart rate is still, worryingly, running at over one hundred beats per minute), very easily triggered by even relatively minor stressors; this is because the individual’s capacity to tolerate stress is dramatically compromised, especially in relation to stressors that are linked (on either a conscious or unconscious level) to memories of the original traumatic experiences.
Severe Physical Symptoms Of Complex PTSD May Prevent Or Impair Talk-Based Psychotherapy :
If such physical symptoms of Complex PTSD are severe and remain unaddressed there is potential for them to prevent or impair talk-based psychotherapy. For example, in my own case my physical symptoms were so bad that I frequently either could not attend therapy sessions (as I was unable to leave my flat) or, if I did manage to attend, was unable to focus or concentrate properly.
How Can Yoga Help Those Suffering From Complex PTSD?
Yoga that incorporates physical exercises, breathing exercises and mindfulness can be a more effective treatment of the physiological symptoms of Complex PTSD that talk-based psychotherapy because of the fact that it DIRECTLY ADDRESSES SUCH SYMPTOMS THROUGH BREATHING TECHNIQUES AND BODYWORK. Indeed, recent research supports the effectiveness of yoga in this regard – for example, van der Kolk’s study (2014), which I briefly outline below :
The Study :
- The participants in the study were adult females with Complex PTSD who had not responded to the intervention of traditional psychotherapy
- These same females were then randomly allocated to one of two groups as shown below :
GROUP ONE: The females who were randomly allocated to GROUP ONE underwent a TEN WEEK COURSE IN TRAUMA SENSITIVE YOGA (a special form of yoga that was developed at the Boston Trauma Center in the U.S.)
GROUP TWO: The females who were randomly allocated to GROUP TWO did NOT undergo this course.
The Results Of The Study :
The main findings of the study were as follows :
At the end of the ten-week period :
- Those in the treatment group (GROUP ONE) were significantly less likely still to meet the diagnostic criteria for Complex PTSD than those in the non-treatment group (GROUP TWO).
- Furthermore, those in the treatment group (GROUP ONE) showed a significant reduction in depression and self-harm
Longer-term studies have found similar results (e.g. Rhodes, 2014).
TRAUMA-SENSITIVE YOGA (TSY) :
TSY was developed as an adjunct therapy by David Emerson (who founded the Trauma Center in Brookline, Massachusetts) in 2003 and its main goal is to help traumatized individuals control their emotions and associated, dysfunctional behaviours and concentrates on breathing techniques, meditation. specific physical postures and gentle movements.
Yoga may be an effective complementary treatment option to be used in conjunction with talk-based psychotherapies particularly when physical symptoms of Complex PTSD are so severe that they interfere with talk-based psychotherapies, as in my own case (see above).
A major benefit of yoga for the treatment of the physical symptoms of Complex PTSD is that it addresses such problems directly.
Rhodes, A. et al.Yoga for Adult Women with Chronic PTSD: A Long-Term Follow-Up Study. J Altern Complement Med. 2016 Mar;22(3):189-96. doi: 10.1089/acm.2014.0407. Epub 2016 Feb 10.
van der Kolk, B.. et al. Yoga as an Adjunctive Treatment for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Randomized Controlled Trial. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 75(6):e559-e565 · June 2014
David Hosier Bsc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)
Holder of MSc and post graduate teaching diploma in psychology. Highly experienced in education. Founder of childhoodtraumarecovery.com. Survivor of severe childhood trauma.