Yoga helps me manage PTSD
Retired Air Force Master Sgt. Chris Eder practices yoga, which he says helps with posttraumatic stress disorder (Courtesy photo by Chris Eder)
As our medical understanding of the brain continues to grow, treatment options for brain-related issues continue to expand. Service members with a psychological condition or traumatic brain injury now have a variety of clinical treatment options as well as supplemental care options. Retired Air Force Master Sgt. Chris Eder describes how yoga helped him with posttraumatic stress disorder. All experiences shared are that of the author. Individual contributor articles are the personal opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Defense Health Agency, the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, or the Defense Department.
THis is the first in a series of posts titled myVoice on the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury website.
WHen I first practiced yoga in 1999, I wasn’t seeking enlightenment or to become a better person. I wasn’t even looking for relief from PTSD. I was in pain from a pinched sciatic nerve, and I discovered that yoga stretches made my pain go away for longer periods than cortisone shots. It wasn’t long before I noticed that yoga also relieved symptoms of my attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. I was hooked!
As I traveled up and down Iraq a few years later, I practiced yoga in the same room where Iraq Ambassador Paul Bremer announced of Saddam Hussein: “Ladies and gentlemen, we got him!” I began teaching yoga during the 2007 surge. My motivation for teaching was the same as for doing it myself: It made me feel good physically.
In 2010, I began to recognize symptoms that I thought might signal early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. It turned out it was PTSD. I took a weekend training class that explained PTSD and how yoga helps. My practice officially changed and so did my life: I began practicing yoga as a means of enlightenment and inner peace.
Healing from the Inside
Yoga is described as a way to heal your body from the outside in and from the inside out in the book “How Yoga Works: Healing Yourself and Others with the Yoga Sutra” by Christie McNally. That’s how it happened for me. Initially, I picked yoga to help me recover from physical pain. My body began to physically change. I was healing “from the outside in.” This is totally acceptable and appropriate – there’s no need to subscribe to any esoteric beliefs about yoga to reap its physical benefits.
However, I also experienced the second aspect of yoga – healing from the inside out. I believe that as much as I picked yoga, yoga picked me. Thanks to PTSD, my sympathetic nervous system was completely out of whack. I was suffering even more than I realized at the time. Yoga, including meditation and nidra (a yoga state between waking and sleeping) allowed me to concentrate on healing from the inside, not just to find peace, but to help tap into my parasympathetic nervous system and slow down my heart rate and breathing. Collectively with talk therapy, it worked!
Climbing out of a Hole
I’ve gone through just about every protocol there is when it comes to managing my PTSD symptoms. I’ve been on meds, off meds, on combinations of pharmaceutical and natural solutions – you name it, I’ve probably have done it. Additionally, I have been through various talk-therapy programs. Each helped me climb out of my dark hole, just a little. Some of the therapies really drained me, to the point where I didn’t want to “be here” any more. Sometimes I would hang out in a park or in my car for up to an hour to collect my thoughts before I could do anything else. I often used one of my meditation practices….ahhhh…relief!
I firmly believe I am still here today – and not a statistic – because of my approach, which includes yoga and meditation along with medication and talk therapy.
I share all of this because I am a firm believer that everybody’s body is different. Yours may respond differently than mine or your friend’s. I also share this because I subscribe to a holistic body-and-mind theory of wellness, not just PTSD symptoms.
Finding a Purpose
There is an old adage that suggests that if something is not broken, we don’t need to fix it. That seemed fair until I read “Anatomy of the Spirit: The Seven Stages of Power and Healing” by Caroline Myss. She says that we can be so used to being unhappy, hurt or in pain – “broken,” or in less than optimal condition – that we don’t realize we have a problem that needs fixing.
Every one of us has a purpose in life. We each have unique talents and gifts that make us, us! The closer we get to this purpose and the more we share our gifts and talents, the happier and, perhaps, the less broken we are.
PTSD can completely blind you to your purpose, talents and gifts. Just as Myss described, PTSD patients begin to recalibrate and to believe that their new situation is OK. In the new normal, they lack cognitive awareness that they are “broken.” Over time that can lead to horrific outcomes such as suicide.
Everyone in the military knows the acronym BLUF, which stands for bottom line up front. If I were to give you my BLUF for yoga it would be this: It doesn’t matter if you pick yoga or yoga picks you. It doesn’t matter if you only want to stretch, or if you want to connect breath and movement. You will reap benefits from a yoga practice.
Disclaimer: It’s important to talk to your health care provider before starting any new exercise program. If you are in treatment for PTSD, work with your provider to figure out the best treatment plan as well as complementary programs that may enhance your recovery.
Re-published content may have been edited for length and clarity. Read original post.