Yoga For Post Traumatic Stress

Updated: Jul 7

Post traumatic stress (“PTS”) is different from PTSD in that it is more common, and often stems from chronic manipulation or neglect that lasts for a longer time than one specific, identifiable moment. Thus, PTS treatment is also different than PTSD treatment.

A US military soldier postured on the floor to practice meditation to help with his PTSD symptoms
Veteran suffering from PTSD | credits: Tracy Quantum

However, both treatments address the same thing: the “fight-or-flight” response to pain, trauma, or stress. As humans, it is normal for us to automatically try to avoid pain, whether it´s physical, emotional, or psychological.[1] This response comes from our sympathetic nervous system.

Yoga is known to calm the body´s natural fight-or-flight response, which is how it helps keep us calm and focused.

Yoga as a treatment for PTS

Yoga offers self-care that is especially effective for PTS treatment. Most modern physicians recommend yoga as a complementary therapy to other remedies, like counseling. However, research studies have shown that yoga may work when other modern remedies fail.

5 Yoga Poses That Promote Good Gut Health

Good Mental Health

Yoga for PTS develops core controls by teaching poses, breathing exercises, and relaxation and meditation techniques.[2] Here is a short list of the ways that yoga works as a treatment for PTS symptoms:[3]

  • · Teaching peaceful reminders to stay present and focused

  • · Building ability to control physical reflexes during traumatic episodes

  • · Reducing fight-or-flight response

  • · Reducing feelings of isolation, disconnectedness, or being out-of-sync

woman meditating near buddhist temple
Studies show how yoga and meditation improve symptoms of PTS & PTSD

Yoga reintegrates the body and mind together to help participants take control of their bodies through practiced exercises; it helps them to be aware and present in the moment.[4]

Can Yoga Eliminate PTSD? Studies Show That It's Possible

Yoga for PTS empowers participants to manage flashbacks, irritability, self-destructive behaviors, anxiety, and emotional distress.[5] It helps people address their traumatic memories in a non-threatening way.[6]

And, yoga has even eliminated PTSD. In a groundbreaking study conducted over 10 weeks in 2014, 16 of 31 participants who attended a weekly 1-hour yoga class eliminated their diagnosis of PTSD.[7] Interestingly, the study also noted that the effects took place only during the second half of the study, the point when other methods failed.[8]

The doctor and lead yoga instructor of this study, Dr. David Emerson, founded the Trauma Center - Trauma Sensitive Yoga in Massachusetts with special classes just for people with PTS or PTSD. Dr. Emerson told Yoga.Health ™

Dr. David Emerson illustrating movements for trauma-sensitive yoga practice
Dr. David Emerson; Trauma Center TSY

that with continuing trauma-sensitive yoga practice, the overwhelming trauma that destroys a person´s life can be reduced and controlled.

“And,” he adds, “The skills that trauma-specific yoga teaches are transferrable to other skills, like art or martial arts.”

Trauma Is The #1 Untreated Public Health Crisis

Not all types of yoga can treat trauma-sensitive circumstances or are beneficial as PTS treatment. In fact, only two are specifically designed and implemented for treating PTS:

Trauma sensitive yoga or trauma yoga

Dr. Emerson tells Yoga.Health™ that trauma is the #1 untreated public health crisis.[9] “For trauma victims, the body is a source of pain,” he tells us. “It´s terrifying, and the threat of pain and neglect is often internalized. Our yoga classes require you to look at it and release it.”

Trauma sensitive yoga utilizes physical poses, deep breathing, and relaxation techniques. In conjunction with specially focused instruction, trauma yoga helps participants re-learn how to self-identify within a group setting, to find safety and connection.


iRest Yoga Nidra Meditation

iRest, or integrative restoration, is a self-care healing approach that connects the self to the present moment. Robin Carnes, the first instructor of iRest to the U.S. Department of Defense in 2005, tells Yoga.Health™, ”iRest is a trauma-sensitive variation of the ancient yoga nidra,” which is a healing construct based on keeping the mind conscious while the body is completely relaxed.

Ms. Carnes told Yoga.Health™, “iRest starts with relating from my wholeness to yours.” The program focuses on respecting physical boundaries, fears, or concerns that may have been ingrained as life as a soldier.

iRest has three main pillars:

1. Military culture-informed: the instructors understand every part of a soldier´s life, from basic training to discharge and beyond. “Even the language that the instructors use is relatable and conscientious of the soldier´s understanding,” Ms. Carnes shared.

iRest was developed by Richard Miller, PhD
iRest founded by Richard Miller, PhD

2. Trauma-sensitive: this recognizes dozens of things, from asking the participants prior to dimming the lights, to opening closet doors, to sensitivity regarding touch and adjustments. “The participants have the decision of how they want to be treated each day.”

3. Evidence based: Ms. Carnes notes that there is a lot of evidence about the incredible value of trauma-sensitive yoga on PTS. “Yoga helps growth. You grow stronger in broken places, your perspectives change, you are resilient.” And the evidence supporting these experiences continues to grow.

While many types of yoga help the general population to relax, people living with PTS may experience the opposite effect. That is why Ms. Carnes suggests that for PTS treatment, it is best to try trauma-specific yoga for PTS. Once there, yoga helps you find the quiet place inside your mind, so you can access it during times of high stress or extreme fear.

In this way, trauma-specific yoga gives you back your life and your personal freedom.


[1] Cohen Veterans Bioscience. (N.D.) “Post-Traumatic Stress.” Retrieved from: https://www.cohenveteransbioscience.org/post-traumatic-stress/.

[2] PTSDUK.org. (N. D.) “The Effects of Yoga on PTSD Symptoms.” Retreived from: https://www.ptsduk.org/yoga-and-ptsd/.

[3] PTSDUK.org. (N. D.) “The Effects of Yoga on PTSD Symptoms.” Retreived from: https://www.ptsduk.org/yoga-and-ptsd/.

[4] D Emerson. (N. D.) “Yoga and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.” Retrieved from: http://www.traumacenter.org/clients/maginside.su09.p12-13.pdf.

[5] Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (N. D.) “Symptoms of PTSD.” Retreived from: https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/posttraumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/symptoms.

[6] National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine. (N. D.) “Could Yoga Hold the Key to Healing a Patient´s Trauma?” Retreived from: https://www.nicabm.com/trauma-could-yoga-hold-the-key-to-healing-a-patients-trauma/.

[7] B. van der Kolk, L. Stone, J. West, A. Rhodes, D. Emerson, M. Suvak, & J. Spinazzola. (June 2014). “Yoga as an Adjunctive Treatment for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: a randomized controlled trial.” Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25004196.

[8] B. van der Kolk, L. Stone, J. West, A. Rhodes, D. Emerson, M. Suvak, & J. Spinazzola. (June 2014). “Yoga as an Adjunctive Treatment for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: a randomized controlled trial.” Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25004196.

[9] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.. (N. D.) “Adverse Childhood Experiences.” Retrieved from: https://www.samhsa.gov/capt/practicing-effective-prevention/prevention-behavioral-health/adverse-childhood-experiences.


36 views0 comments