By moving and changing so quickly, our modern world is creating challenges and stressors on the human mind and body that are having detrimental effects on an individual’s overall health and well-being.
The rise in mental health issues that go along with a modern lifestyle have become alarming. According to research, the top mental health concerns in the general population are anxiety and depression, although there has been a rise in the number of individuals who are being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Anxiety, depression and PTSD have a debilitating negative impact on the overall quality of life of an individual; they can have long-lasting effects on mental and physical health. An essential aspect of recovering from anxiety, depression and PTSD is learning ways to calm down or self-regulate.
For thousands of years, yoga, which includes meditation, relaxation and physical postures, has been shown to reduce muscle tension, lower blood pressure, reduce nervous system activation, improve neuroendocrine and hormonal activity, decrease physical symptoms and emotional distress and increase quality of life. Mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression and PTSD have physiological and psychological negative effects, which undermine health and well-being.
A two-pronged approach to treatment of these disorders includes psychotherapy and working with the body. Yoga helps reintegrate body and mind because it helps regulate emotional and physiological states. Yoga incorporates a series of body movements and postures that teach us to master our own physiology, and we learn that we can make positive changes to our nervous system and quiet the mind.
Harvard Medical School’s department of psychiatry conducted a study with individuals suffering from anxiety and/or PTSD in which one group received dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) and the other group was placed in a therapeutically informed yoga program. After eight weeks, participants in the yoga program showed greater improvement in all dimensions of their PTSD symptoms, an increase in positive effect and a decrease in negative effect. Compared to DBT participants, yoga participants reported greater reduction in frequency of PTSD symptoms, as well as greater gains in vitality and body attunement.
The outcome of this study revealed that yoga appears to positively affect self-regulation and decrease hyper-arousal.
I was privileged to take a trauma-informed yoga training course in Powell River last year, which was attended by a variety of health professionals in the community: nurses, yoga instructors, psychotherapists and community support workers. All who participated in the course were excited about the possibility of having these programs offered on an ongoing basis.
I am pleased to say that a therapeutically informed yoga instructor and myself designed and ran a six-week therapeutically informed yoga class for individuals struggling with PTSD and anxiety. Participant feedback at the end of these sessions was very positive.
The classes consisted of an educational component, which provided information about the human nervous system, along with practising yoga postures (somatic movements) that address stress, tension and tightness in the body created by anxiety, depression and/or PTSD. Classes are now also being offered around the community and will be taught by clinically trained yoga instructors.
Currently, the best treatment approach for anxiety, depression and PTSD includes psychotherapy that addresses the psychological underpinnings of anxiety, depression and/or PTSD, along with bodywork, such as therapeutically informed yoga, which addresses the somatic/physiological symptoms of these mental health conditions.
Individuals struggling with anxiety, depression or PTSD can benefit from accessing therapeutic support from either a registered clinical counsellor or a psychologist who practises psychotherapy within this community. People will also benefit by participating in a therapeutically informed yoga class offered at some yoga studios.