Current statistics[i] estimate that every one out of five women will be raped at some point in her life. While the causes of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are varied and complex, a traumatic event such as rape can certainly contribute to its onset. Yoga has been shown to help with this psychological disorder precisely because of – rather than despite – the physicality of the practice. Read on to learn more about this healing link between mind and body.
Why Talk Therapy May Not Be Enough
Faced with danger, humans instinctually respond by fighting, fleeing, freezing, or a combination of these. It is this response of freezing, when unable to be psychologically discharged following a traumatic event, which is thought to contribute to the development of PTSD.[ii]
Traditional talk therapy is often insufficient in treating PTSD because of the very nature of the freeze response. Many experts now agree that this psychological state of holding that can last long after the danger subsides – with its concomitant experiences of hopelessness, fear, and stagnation – needs physical movement to release. Moreover, trauma lives in the realm of the nonverbal, and therefore calls for a nonverbal component to the approach used to fully address and heal it. This is supported by neurological imaging: studies have shown that traumatic triggers can deactivate a major language center of the brain, giving a truly substantiated backing to the term “at a loss for words” experienced by so many patients trying to discuss their trauma.[iii]
In other words, the mind cannot think or logic itself out of the traumatized state; it must follow the guidance of the body to get out of it. In order for the mind to find emotional release, the body needs to physically release. And mounting research[iv] finds that yoga, especially when paired with breathing and mediation exercises, can be a successful treatment modality for just this.
How Yoga Can Restore Trust
PTSD, especially following a physical and emotional invasion such a rape, creates a consequential physical and emotional environment of fear-fueled immobility. When a traumatic event so completely robs one of a sense of safety that one does not even feel safe in one’s very own body – let alone one’s surroundings – one becomes trapped. This is often both literally (over actively avoiding perceived potential danger by not leaving the house, for example) and figuratively (through damaging thought patterns and emotional responses).[v]
The movement and sensations of yoga can create the positive physical experiences necessary to reclaim a sense of safety in one’s body and comfort with unanticipated events normal to safe, everyday life.[vi] The practice of yoga, in part, teaches practitioners to reconnect with their bodies: listening for its signals, exploring its abilities, and honoring its limitations. It shows how to find steadiness through calm breathing, even amidst unexpected and challenging postures. It encourages and demonstrates how to break old habits, and establish new, healthier ones. Through these teachings, the physical practice has the potential to reverberate psychologically.[vii]
Yoga is not a replacement for therapy or medication. However, by additionally garnering these positive experiences and restoring this bodily relationship, it can help patients break through the frozen pain of PTSD and begin the healing process. It can help reestablish trust in one’s self and environment. And perhaps most importantly, it can help regrow a sense of safety in the most intimate home of all – one’s own body – which is a right everyone is entitled to.