I was first introduced to yoga in a therapy session. I have complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD), and was working through years of childhood sexual abuse memories. The very first time I did yoga with my therapist, my anxiety numbers dropped from a 10 to a 6 on a 1-10 scale. At the time, a four-point difference was huge. Getting my anxiety below an 8 was a really big deal back then. Now, my numbers rarely creep up to a 10, but when they do, I can trust yoga to drop them down below a 5.
I have been practicing yoga for about a year now. I try to go to at least two classes a week, but I also practice at home. I use restorative and yin yoga to help keep me connected with my breath and be present. Because of my CPTSD, it is easy for my mind to get lost in trauma memories, which causes my overall anxiety levels to escalate. When that happens, I know that putting myself in legs up the wall, a restorative twist, or child’s pose will help calm my mind. On days when I am really struggling with flashbacks, any added weight, like sandbags, can make a huge difference. Because of my mental health issues, I sometimes really struggle with finding purpose and meaning in my life. Some days, my anxiety and flashbacks are so bad that it seems like it would be better to kill myself than to continue to live with CPTSD. On those days, I practice doing cool yoga poses like Crow or Headstand. You can’t think about killing yourself when you’re doing cool yoga poses. Really; it’s pretty much impossible. On those days, a challenging flow class can help me feel like my mind and body have a purpose. The concentration required for linking breath to movement makes it difficult for me to also be obsessing over my trauma memories.
I am not sure why yoga has been such an effective coping tool for me, but it has. It is the only thing that effectively decreases my anxiety by a substantial amount. Yoga reminds me to show myself compassion and meet my needs where they are today. When I’m in a yoga class or practicing at home, I am focused on how my body feels and what my body needs to feel better. I am able to meet those needs all on my own. I am able to really work on staying present, instead of being haunted by the past or anxious about the future. Yoga makes me feel ok; yoga makes my body feel safe, even on the days when my PTSD symptoms try to convince me otherwise. Through yoga, I have learned to acknowledge the scary thoughts and just be. Yoga teaches me to use my breath, to direct it to the places that hurt. It teaches me to let go of the things that are not serving me today. Yoga makes it possible for me to function without the razor blades, pills, drugs, and alcohol that I so desperately depended on for the majority of my life. Because of yoga, I am able to live with CPTSD, instead of always fighting to numb it.