The Sanskrit word “yoga” means to yoke, or to harness/unite (the self with the supreme being – Collins Canadian English Dictionary). The practice of yoga is an ancient Hindu spiritual discipline that integrates body, mind and spirit through various breathing techniques, postures (asanas), and meditation. Yoga postures provide an excellent means for improving fitness and vitality, while the breathing and meditation provide the overall calming effect on the human organism. Of course there is much more to yoga, but for the purposes of this blog, I will focus on how yoga is being used to treat trauma (including PTSD), and other forms of anxiety, and how the practice itself is a great teaching tool and resource in the field of mental health.
For some time now, Western medicine has mostly treated the mind and body as separate entities in terms of mental and physical illness. We know now, of course, this is not the case. 75-90% of visits to doctors’ offices are for stress -related ailments (Mood Disorder Society of Canada, 2009). The same study found that anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in Canada. Anxiety disorders refer to general anxiety, phobias, PTSD/trauma, OCD, and panic disorder. The most common treatments are a combination of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and medication. However, more and more, the word about the benefits of yoga to treat mental illness is getting out, as indicated by this news report below from January:
How does yoga work to help people with anxiety-related disorders such as PTSD? According to Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk, internationally renowned speaker, author, trauma expert, and founder of The Trauma Center in Brookline, Massachusetts, yoga – specifically the out breaths, facilitates a more balanced heart-rate variablity, thereby calming the mind and body. A calm body and mind promotes self-awareness and mindfulness, a necessary component in the healing process. You can’t heal without awareness, and you can’t have awareness without mindfulness, and focusing on breath facilitates mindfulness (National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine; Webinar Series, 2014). It’s like a really, really good chain reaction. Van der Kolk also reports that in his study published in the Journal if Clinical Psychiatry (2014), “Yoga significantly reduced PTSD symptomatology, with effect sizes comparable to well-researched psychotherapeutic and psychopharmacologic approaches. Yoga may improve the functioning of traumatized individuals by helping them to tolerate physical and sensory experiences associated with fear and helplessness and to increase emotional awareness and affect tolerance.”
In many locations across the country, yoga is also being used to treat Canadian Forces members diagnosed with PTSD (a simple google search will find many references for this), and the Ottawa Anxiety and Trauma Clinic also offers yoga classes specifically created to treat people struggling with the symptoms of traumatic stress.
An article in the Journal of Psychiatric Practice (Uebelacker et al. 2010), reports that “Yoga may be an attractive alternative to or a good way to augment current depression treatment strategies…”
For mental health practitioners, encouraging clients struggling with anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues, yoga may be a way for them to enhance their recovery and better cope with symptoms by facilitating the awareness and mindfulness necessary for healing. Of course, as with any new exercise regimen, it is always a good idea to consult a physician beforehand, especially for those unaccustomed to physical exertion.
I could really go on and on about this, but I’ll sum up by saying whether it’s anxiety or depression, or anything all all that is having a negative impact on your health, say “Yes” to Yoga!
Dianne Birt – Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT) 200
For more information and statistics on mental illness in Canada, see this report called “Quick Facts: Mental Illness & Addiction in Canada” which can be viewed at this link.
To find out more about my private practice and counselling services, please visit my web site at http://www.dbcounsellingpei.ca/