Yoga for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)




Feelings of overwhelm, stress, depression, and intense anxiety are just a few of the common symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Brought on through the experience of a traumatic life event, PTSD can last for months or years, and can profoundly affect a person’s life and relationships.

Research about PTSD and techniques for managing it are still being discovered, but a recent scientific study about PTSD in women found that yoga could alleviate some of the symptoms associated with the disorder. Through regular yoga sessions that focused on compassionate self-observation and connections between the mind and body, the participants of the study experienced a reduction in psychological distress.

What does this tell us? The innate, building blocks of yoga centered around mindfulness and body awareness can help patients with PTSD improve their quality of life. For those who are managing this disorder over the long term, yoga can be used as an effective tool to regulate the nervous system and bring about calm in moments of stress.

Tips and Precautions when treating PTSD

Yoga alone cannot completely cure the disorder, and may not accelerate the process to overcome the effects PTSD can have on the mind and body. Yoga should be used in conjunction with other therapies, such as talk therapy, somatic therapy, and support groups. For some patients, medication can provide some help with the guidance of a specialized physician. Studies are also underway to explore the use of psychedelics in treating PTSD, providing positive outcomes for patients who are struggling.

If you are looking to try yoga for treatment of PTSD, it’s important to practice in an environment where you feel comfortable and at ease. MyYogaTeacher offers online courses where you can practice in the familiar environment of your own home. You can also take a private, 1-on-1 class with an instructor who can help you build connections with your mind and body safely. 

While practicing yoga, if you feel uncomfortable or overwhelmed at any point, feel free to take a break. Yoga can release emotions in your body, and these emotions can be difficult at times. Be easy on yourself, and give yourself the space you need to process these emotions.

5 Best Yoga Poses to ease PTSD Symptoms

To get started with your own yoga journey to help heal PTSD, you can begin with some of the following poses and techniques. Below you’ll find various yoga asanas to help you cope with feelings of stress and overwhelm, along with meditation and breathing techniques designed to calm your body and regulate your nervous system. 

You can practice the following poses wherever you feel comfortable — in your home, your backyard, a yoga studio, or anywhere you can take a break and experience stillness.

1. Child’s pose

Child's pose

This primary yoga pose is a great option anytime you need to de-stress, relax, and feel safe.

Start on your hands and knees and then lower yourself down so that your backside is resting on your heels, and your big toes are touching each other. Move your hands forward, palms down, so that your forehead is resting on the floor. Allow your spine to lengthen and your neck muscles to fully relax. Breathe deeply and mindfully while staying in this pose for 5-6 minutes.

Child’s pose lowers your blood pressure, relieves stress, and relaxes your body. This pose also helps you feel more calm and centered.

2. Cat Cow Pose

Cat Cow Pose

You can practice this pose anytime you feel the need to reconnect with your body. By focusing on the movement, you can help regulate your parasympathetic nervous system and restore calm.

Start with your hands and knees on the floor. Inhale and look up, lifting your chin and gently arching your back. As you exhale, drop your chin and look down toward your naval as you curl your spine forward. Continue this movement 5-10 times.

Cat-cow increases flexibility in your back and spine, massages your digestive organs, and provides gentle, easy movement that you can perform anywhere.

3. Chair Pose

Chair Pose

When experiencing overwhelming emotions, it can be helpful to practice a pose that grounds and strengthens your mind and body.

Stand in Mountain pose at the top of your mat, with your hands at your sides and feet hip distance apart. As you inhale, raise your hands over your head, with your arms parallel with your ears. As you exhale, hinge slightly at your waist, bend your knees and lower your torso forward as if you were about to sit down in a chair. Keep your core engaged and your spine straight while you hold this posture for several breaths.

Chair pose strengthens your glutes, quads and core muscles, while physically grounding you for greater strength and fortitude.

4. Legs Up The Wall

legs up the wall Pose

Legs Up The Wall is a pose that can help you quickly unwind by supporting your legs with the wall and letting your upper body fully relax.

Place a folded blanket parallel against a wall. Sit sideways in the middle of the blanket, and turn yourself toward the wall, lifting your legs up and propping them against the wall. Lay back comfortably, rest your head and neck on the floor, and fully straighten your legs. Spread your arms out to your sides with your palms facing up. Allow your chest, abdomen, and pelvis to completely relax. Breathe evenly and mindfully while holding this pose for 5-8 minutes.

This pose is effective in relieving stress and anxiety, as well as improving circulation, relaxing the body, and lowering blood pressure.

5. Corpse pose

Corpse pose

Typically practiced at the end of a sequence of yoga postures, Corpse pose can help you reach a state of full relaxation.

Sit on your yoga mat and lower your body to the floor, relaxing your legs and letting your arms rest on the floor at your sides, palms up. Keep your eyes closed and focus on your breathing. Relax the muscles in your face and neck, and visualize every part of your body letting go of all tension. Hold this pose for 5-7 minutes.

Corpse pose soothes the nervous system, bringing you peace of mind, relaxing your body, and alleviating physical symptoms of stress.

Yoga Breathing Techniques for PTSD

Yogic breathing, or pranayama, can also help regulate your nervous system and ease feelings of anxiety, stress, depression and overwhelm. You can use the following techniques anytime you need to reconnect with your body and calm your mind. Pranayama can be practiced while sitting comfortably in a chair, in Easy pose, or while lying down.

1. Nadi Sodhana or Alternate Nostril Breathing

This breathing technique can quickly calm the mind and body, and reduce anxiety and stress.

Exhale completely, and then place your right index finger onto your right nostril, and breathe deeply in through the left. Alternate and place your thumb over your left nostril, and exhale through your right. Continue alternating, repeating at least 10 times.

2. Brahmari or Humming Bee Breath

Humming Bee Breath is effective at releasing built-up tension in the body. 

Practicing this technique is really very easy. Simply inhale and make an audible humming sound as you exhale — mimicking the sound of a bumble bee.

3. Ujjayi or Ocean’s Breath

This yogic breathing exercise is helpful when you are feeling depressed and need to lift your spirits.

Start by breathing in through your mouth. As you exhale, pull in your chin in toward your body and so that your throat is partly constricted. Then, breathe in and out through your nose, making a slight sound that is similar to the ocean.

Yoga Meditation for PTSD

One of the best yogic tools for relaxation, Yoga Nidra is a meditation designed to help your body unwind and calm down. Since this meditation is also known as the “Yoga of Sleep,” you should practice this technique in a reclined position in your home or somewhere you can allow yourself to deeply relax. 

Yoga Nidra for PTSD

Yoga Nidra is typically practiced as a guided meditation. You can find a multitude of audio Yoga Nidra meditations online to choose from, or you can take yourself through the process if a guided meditation is not available to you.

Start by lying down or reclining in a comfortable chair. Relax and focus on the rise and fall of your own breath. Once you’ve tuned into your breath, begin a scan of your entire body. Notice each finger, toe, limb — go through every body part and focus on relaxing each one. Make sure as you continue your scan, that you release any feelings of negativity or judgment. If an area of your body feels tense or resistant to relaxation, gently accept those feelings and continue to move through the rest of your body. Allow any thoughts to float past your awareness and disintegrate as you continue your scan. When you are finished, express gratitude for your body, your nervous system, and your mind for keeping you safe.

FAQs about Yoga for PTSD

What type of yoga is good for PTSD?

There isn't one specific type of yoga that's best for PTSD, as every individual is unique and may respond differently to different styles of yoga. However, many people with PTSD find that gentle and restorative forms of yoga, such as Hatha or Yin yoga, can be particularly helpful in reducing symptoms of anxiety and stress. These styles of yoga focus on relaxation, mindfulness, and breathing, which can help to calm the nervous system and reduce feelings of hyperarousal.

Can yoga help with PTSD?

Yes, yoga has been shown to be an effective tool for managing symptoms of PTSD. Regular yoga practice can help to reduce stress and anxiety, improve mood, and increase self-awareness, which are all important for individuals with PTSD. In addition, many yoga poses have a grounding and calming effect on the nervous system, which can be especially beneficial for those who have experienced trauma.

What type of exercise is good for PTSD?

Exercise in general can be beneficial for individuals with PTSD, as it helps to reduce stress, improve mood, and increase physical strength and endurance. In addition to yoga, other forms of exercise that may be helpful include low-impact activities such as walking, cycling, and swimming, as well as mindfulness-based practices such as tai chi and qigong. The key is to find an activity that you enjoy and that helps you to feel more relaxed and centered.

How does yoga heal trauma?

Yoga can help to heal trauma by addressing both the physical and emotional symptoms of PTSD. Physically, yoga can help to reduce muscle tension, improve circulation, and increase flexibility, all of which can help to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. Emotionally, yoga can help to increase mindfulness and self-awareness, which can make it easier to identify and process traumatic experiences. Additionally, the focus on breathing and relaxation in many styles of yoga can help to calm the nervous system and reduce feelings of hyperarousal, which are common symptoms of PTSD.

Does yoga release trapped trauma?

While there is no evidence that yoga can literally "release" trapped trauma, many people who have experienced trauma find that yoga can help to reduce symptoms such as anxiety and stress and make it easier to process and cope with traumatic experiences. The physical and mental benefits of yoga can help to create a sense of grounding and stability, which can make it easier to work through and integrate traumatic memories.

What yoga poses release trauma?

There isn't a specific set of yoga poses that are considered to "release" trauma, as every individual is unique and may respond differently to different poses. However, some yoga poses that can be helpful for reducing symptoms of PTSD include Child's Pose (Balasana), Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana), Corpse Pose (Shavasana), Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II), and Cat-Cow Stretch (Chakravakasana).

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