Posts Tagged ‘Post Traumatic Stress syndrome’

Yoga and PTSD

August 13, 2013

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), most often used to describe a condition triggered by combat trauma in returning veterans also includes survivors of rape, kidnapping, child abuse, spouse abuse, natural disasters, accidents, concentration camp experiences, incest, and burns. Current wars, protests, and catastrophes continue to generate more PTSD. Many of us have such past experiences in need of our full attention to move beyond the trauma.

Nightmares are often exact replicas of the traumatic event. People with PTSD sometimes move from stimulus to response without realizing what makes them so upset. They either overreact and threaten others or shut down and freeze.

We live in times of perpetual trauma generated by fires out of control, wars over water and energy, earthquakes, hurricanes, unemployment, disease, drug abuse, and so much more. Depending on the severity of the stressor, genetic predisposition, a person’s social support system, prior traumatic events, pre-existing personality and other variables, long-term adjustment to such trauma varies.

Bessel van der Kolk, a Boston University  psychiatrist, did research to discover how trauma affects the brain. He was interested in discovering a way for people with PTSD to still the cacophony of the mind that is continually reacting to ongoing stimuli.

He found that Yoga could get people to safely feel their physical sensations and develop a quiet practice of stillness. Yoga invites people to move through many postures that are named after the animals, birds, and people they represent. Students are instructed to, as an example, be the cobra, arching the neck, extending the tongue, raising the feet, while giving full attention to being the cobra.

Victims of violence have routinely been trapped, pinned down or unable to move.

Some postures, such as the backward bending camel or the child may trigger traumatic memories. Rather than avoiding such postures, students are advised to include them in their routine and observe that discomfort can be tolerated until they move into the next posture. Gradually, as one is able to hold the posture with full attention for longer periods, the memory is replaced by the ability to safely feel physical sensations and develop a practice of quiet stillness.

Because silence is often terrifying for people with PTSD, beginning emphasis is on first developing and regulating breathing practices, postures and relaxation before attempting meditation. If meditation is attempted too soon, it can become a terrifying rumination.

For more information on treatment of PTSD with Yoga, van der Kolk recommends David Emerson at

Practices such as Tai chi and martial arts serve a similar purpose: to develop the ability to attend closely to the present moment. These ancient practices we are rediscovering today may well lead us to the balance we need to navigate around today’s world.


Reconditioning Humans

August 9, 2012

We are shocked when we see or hear about senseless killing on the news, whether it takes place in a mosque, church, school or Batman movie theatre. How did we get to this stage in history?

 Today, we are being fed a steady diet of violence. Even attending The Lorax, a benign children’s film about saving the trees, the trailers for it, which children must sit through, are a series of violent scenes of people being mercilessly killed, with lots of noise, screams, and looks that kill.

 We are fed constant desensitization to killing, whether we go to a movie, or  watch violent movies at home. Even watching the news with its perpetual reruns of people being gunned down, buildings collapsing, bodies dismembered, anguished mourners, despairing orphaned children, we continue to view the effects of violence. We become passive observers. With this steady stream of violence, what can we expect but more violence, more people wanting to follow the model? 

I found a ray of hope in Dave Grossman’s book, On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society. He detailed research documenting the fact that 98% of humans do not want to kill another human, even when called  to war. The 2% who enjoy killing were psychotic to begin with. Returning service people with the highest rate of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome) are the ground troops, the people who are trained and commanded to shoot people at close range. They actually see, make eye contact, hear screams, see the carnage; 98% are repelled and nauseated by this most inhuman of all acts.

 The ray of hope is that 98% do not want to shoot, and regularly do not fire. This tells me that humans innately abhor killing another human, that war is asking a price it has no right to ask of anyone. Research bears this out for our so called opponents as well.

 We’ll never know what life might be like today had we spent the War Chest for the last 50 years on developing alternative forms of energy, and boosted our educational system with that in mind. Fighting/killing for oil that is not renewable leaves us in the vulnerable position of now having to manage violence at home as we struggle to provide students with increasingly difficult access to higher education.

 The military model is carried over into team sports even in earlier grades as children are taught to chant, “kill, kill, kill” as they do their calisthenics. The kid just wants to play football or some other sport and is confused by this chant unless he or she is watching plenty of violence on TV and is trying to follow the model.

 Even Olympic sports, once the model of pure athleticism, have become tainted with athletes who purposely maim their competitors.

 All of which calls on us to decide what media we will allow ourselves to be massaged by, and what we will allow our children to be massaged by. Grossman notes that re-sensitization may mean that society needs to censure (not censor) those who exploit violence for profit. It may also mean that the more advanced the technology, the greater the need for controls of explosives, machine guns, artillery, assault rifles, and pistols. For the media, it may mean controlling TV, movies and video games.

 The oil wars have lost their momentum. Pressure is now building up for Water Wars. Time to carefully consider what we value most, what kind of life we most want to live, what kind of controls we need to put in place to recondition ourselves.