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Yoga For Complex PTSD

yoga for complex PTSD

yoga for complex PTSD

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 :

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 to be 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.

yoga for complex PTSD

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 BODY WORK. 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 behaviors and concentrates on breathing techniques, meditation. specific physical postures and gentle movements.

 

CONCLUSION :

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.

 

If you would like to read my related article : ‘TRAUMA RELEASE EXERCISES’, please click here.

 

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David Hosier Bsc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE) Read More →

Childhood Trauma Can Create Brain Wired For Fear

We have seen from other articles I have published on this site that psychological experiences, especially when young, can actually alter the physical structure of the brain, as well as its neural connection (i.e. how the brain cells are interlinked) – this is because of a quality of the brain that psychologists call neuroplasticity (click here to read one of my articles about this phenomenon).

These physical changes in the brain, caused by psychological experience, can profoundly alter how the brain functions and also, therefore, how we think, feel and behave.

If, as a child, we suffered trauma and abuse as we were growing up, particularly in our earliest years, and, because of this, lived in a state of perpetual fear, the brain will have become shaped into constantly being on ‘red-alert’, trapping us into continually feeling fearful and hyper-sensitive in relation to threat, whether this threat be real or imagined. Indeed, if we have been conditioned in this manner by our childhood experiences, we are likely to be prone to imagining threats as well as being likely to severely over-react to mild ones ( e.g. we may be easily angered and more likely than the average person to become violent, rather like, to use a most unoriginal, but, I think, not inappropriate simile, a provoked and cornered animal).

Living in constant fear is psychologically extremely painful and distressing, as I know from my own experiences. Indeed, this pain can become so intolerable that, in the absence of therapy, the individual may be driven to attempt to self-medicate with alcohol or street drugs – this is known as dissociation, and there are many other forms of it, such as compulsive gambling and sex addiction (click here to read my article on this). Whilst not recommended, such behaviour is understandable when the alternative is to live in an agony of agitation, even terror, as if one were, imminently, going to become intimately acquainted with the world’s worst horrors.

Trauma and abuse, resulting in the child feeling unsafe in early life, can, potentially, have such a profound effect because, it this stage of incipient development the brain is highly malleable (i.e. easily shaped by environmental experience). As well as the possible adverse effects already described, when such a traumatised child becomes an adult s/he may also find:

– difficulties with connecting with others on an emotional level / problems forming and maintaining close relationships – an inability to feel pleasure (also known as anhedonia – click here to read my article on this).


Above: Often, the things we fear only ever exist within our own minds. We can waste an inordinate amount of mental energy in this manner, and cause ourselves enormous, needless, mental anguish.


This is because, in effect, the parts of the brain responsible for forming healthy relationships and for feeling pleasure have not been, as it were, sufficiently exercised during childhood; on the other hand, the parts of the brain (especially the amygdala) that give rise to feelings of fear have been over-exercised and are, therefore, overactive.

Children’s brains are much more vulnerable to the effects of stress and trauma than are the brains of adults (assuming the adults in question did not experience significant trauma growing up) because, by the time one’s an adult (to repeat, who has not had a traumatic childhood), the brain has had time to build up some resilience; however, in the case of the child, opportunities to develop such resilience have not, sadly, presented themselves.

RECOVERY

Yoga :

Excitingly, too, recent research has suggested (and this may surprise some) that yoga can actually help sufferers of the kind of difficulties described above more effectively than medication.

Mindfulness Meditation :

There is also strong evidence showing that the practice of ‘mindfulness’ can be very effective.

Neurofeedback :

According to Mobbs, the brain consists of two areas involved in how we experience fear as shown below :

It is becoming increasingly recognized that overactivity in the brain’s fear circuitry may be of fundamental relevance to not only complex-PTSD and PTSD, but to many other psychiatric disorders as well and it clearly follows, therefore, that damping down the over-intensity of neuronal firing in this part of the brain may be key to effective therapy for the treatment of a whole array mental health issues. In relation to this, there is mounting excitement about how NEUROFEEDBACK can benefit many individuals who suffer from acute psychological distress.

  • the reactive-fear circuit
  • the cognitive-fear circuit

Let’s look at each of these in turn :

THE REACTIVE-FEAR CIRCUIT :

This circuit deals with threats that are IMMEDIATE and require an instant reaction (namely, activation of the ‘fight or flight’ response) ; it involves the interconnection between two areas of the brain as shown below :

  • the periaqueductal gray
  • midcingulate cortex

THE COGNITIVE-FEAR CIRCUIT :

This circuit deals with threats that DO NOT require an immediate response, allowing us time to consciously consider the risk they pose to us and how we should respond to them ; this circuit involves connections between the following brain areas :

THE SEE-SAW METAPHOR :

Mobbs asserts that the relationship between these two brain regions can be compared to the two ends of a see-saw ; in other words, as one goes up, the other comes down, which means :

  • The more activated the reactive-fear circuit becomes, the less activated the cognitive-fear circuit becomes.

And the reverse is also true, so :

  • The more activated the cognitive-fear circuit becomes, the less activated the reactive-fear circuit becomes.

Relevance To Those Who Have Suffered Childhood Trauma :

As we have seen from many other articles that I have already published on this site, if we have suffered severe and protracted childhood trauma we are at increased risk of developing various disorders as adults (such as comples PTSD and borderline personality disorder) which are underpinned by having oversensitive and overactive fear-response circuitry and, correspondingly, underactive cognitive-response circuitry.

What Is Neurofeedback ?

Neurofeedback is biofeedback for the brain and neuro-counsellors can provide their patients with such feedback simply by using special, computer software.

The neurofeedback the patients receive allow them to become aware of their brain function frequencies and how these relate to different emotional states.

How Does Neurofeedback Help Adults Suffering From The Effects Of Childhood Trauma?

Armed with this information, and by continuing to learn from the neurofeedback their brains provide them with (via the software mentioned above), the patients can then, gradually, be trained to exercise control over their brain wave activity (for example, by soothing it with visualization techniques, breathing exercises or calming thoughts etc.). With enough training, the patients’ dysregulated brains can be helped to heal and to become less fear-driven.

This results in the reactive-fear circuit become less sensitive and active which, in turn, provides the cognitive-fear circuit, as it were, ‘more room to manoeuvre.’ In this way, irrational feelings of fear that were originally being driven by the (unthinking and automatic) reactive-fear circuit can now be more soberly and rationally considered by the (reflective and thinking) cognitive-fear circuit and, therefore, more easily be dismissed as unwarranted, made impotent and deprived of their power to cause us anguish.

ZEN MEDITATION, ALPHA WAVES AND NEUROFEEDBACK :

Above : Individual undergoing a neurofeedback / EEG biofeedback session using a computer program and brain sensors.

According to Buzsaki, Professor of Neuroscience at Rutgers University, Zen meditation needs to be undertaken for years until the person practising it is able to slow the frequency of the brain’s alpha waves and to spread the alpha oscillations more forward to the front of the brain ; slowing these brain waves have many beneficial effects including :

  • reducing fear
  • reducing ‘mind chatter’
  • increasing feelings of calm
  • reduce anxiety
  • reduce feelings of panic

However, Buzaki states that (as alluded to above) whilst it takes years of Zen meditation to optimally alter alpha wave brain activity, the same results can be obtained after a mere week’s training with neurofeedback.

N.B. Neurofeedback should only be carried out under the supervision of an appropriately qualified and experienced person.

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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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Childhood Trauma Recovery