Post Traumatic Growth and Yoga
Updated: Feb 12, 2022
Most of us have heard of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the detrimental long-term impact of trauma. However, there is another, much less discussed, prospect following adversity. Specifically, there is potential for higher levels of psychological functioning, which is called post traumatic growth.
I felt compelled to write about post traumatic growth because it seems to be underrepresented in the literature. Instead there appears to be an emphasis on adversity not only in research concerning mental health but also in news in general. After a while this seems to create an inability for people to see the positive trends through the sea of bad news. In the following post I'm going to briefly introduce the therapeutic steps towards post traumatic growth, and the role of trauma sensitive yoga.
"What does not kill me makes me stronger" Nietzshe
"No mud no lotus" Thich Nhat Hanh
Following adversity its normal to experience a trauma response characterised by high levels of depression and anxiety, shattered beliefs about the self, others, and the future. This in itself is not PTSD. To know this is actually an element that contributes to post traumatic growth, to be empowered with the knowledge that this is normal and there is potential for recovery, and growth.
Trauma is often followed by a heightened physiological state, the individual is alert for danger rather than being relaxed. Biological rhythms such as sleep and eating patterns can be altered, emotions and thoughts may feel out of control; people often feel unsafe in their own bodies.
At this stage it is not uncommon for anxiolytics (anxiety reducing drugs) to be prescribed, or for someone to self medicate. The side effects can be substantial. Alternatively, there is an ever increasing body of literature showing the effectiveness of yoga for reducing anxiety. Yoga is not subject to the same side effects as prescription drugs. Furthermore, when yoga is facilitated in a trauma sensitive manner it can promote feelings of control and safety in ones body.
Classic talk therapy often follows; constructive self disclosure... talking about what has happened. Its not uncommon for a trauma narrative to appear disjointed, like a series of snapshots. To work through this, to allow yourself to know what you know, takes a tremendous amount of courage. In her book, Trauma and Recovery, Judith Herman discusses the importance of not undertaking this form of exploratory work prematurely. Exploring traumatic memories can potentially evoke a trauma response, a feeling of safety is paramount. Being empowered with knowledge of yogic techniques can undoubtedly be of benefit.
As the trauma narrative is constructed an individual can recognise and mourn their loses. For example, a person who experience childhood abuse may mourn a lost childhood, the belief of a good parent, or the lost foundation of basic trust.
"In my end is my beginning" - TS Eliot
With time, a positive trauma narrative can now be created, the event can be seen as a fork in the road. When we let something go we have room to let something new in. An individual may begin to appreciate what personal strengths were called upon, what doors opened, and what relationships were improved. With the story told, the trauma event truly begins to belong in the past. At this stage a person may feel renewed hope and engagement with life, can now rebuild in the present, and pursue aspirations for the future.
A core aspect of post traumatic growth is the creation of a new sense of self, a new identity as a trauma survivor. With this empowerment the person may become aware that they can chose their psychological and social responses, they are in control. An individual can appreciate their resilient nature, their strength, their will to fight, and their power to succeeded.
"And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom" - Anais Nin
For those interested most of the information here has come from my TC-TSY training and the book Trauma and Recovery by Judith Herman, M.D.
To finish, I'll leave you with the 4 immeasurable from Buddhism...
May all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness. May all beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering. May all beings rejoice in the well-being of others. May all beings live in peace, free from greed and hatred.
About the Author
Dr Kathie Overeem works one-on-one and in group sessions with people who wish to experience the healing and transformational effect of yoga. She works with clients that have experienced stress, anxiety, complex trauma, PTSD, eating disorders, complex mental illness, and people in alcohol and other drug rehabilitation. Classes are offered online and in person.
To book a private session or attend a group class with Kathie Click Here