Mental Health Professionals blog

Denise Bunner: Trauma yoga a game changer for veterans

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Every Thursday morning, a group of Veterans arrive at Bloom to take part in a weekly Yoga practice at BLOOM Collaborative.  This is not an ordinary yoga practice.  These veterans are taking part in a yoga practice that is specifically designed to address their symptoms of PTSD, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that can occur following the experience or witnessing of a life-threatening event such as military combat, natural disasters, terrorist incidents, serious accidents, or physical or sexual abuse.   These experiences can cause intense physical and psychological stress reactions.  The trauma can be a single event, multiple events, or a set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically and emotionally harmful or threatening and can have lasting adverse effects on the individual’s physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.
Trauma can happen to anyone at any time. However, Veterans have a higher than normal range of PTSD symptoms.  While PTSD was not officially recognized by the Psychiatric community until 1980, Veterans coming back from serving in various areas of the world have been showing symptoms of this diagnosis for many years.  In the years since the diagnosis has been recognized, the trauma field has gone from obscurity, to become one of the most clinically innovative and scientifically supported specialties in mental health.  Trauma researchers have led the pack in setting off an explosion of knowledge about psychobiology and the interaction of body and mind.  

Since completing a 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training in June of 2015, it has been my desire to focus on the treatment of trauma through Yoga.  I have worked as a therapist for the past 20 years and have recognized the lingering effects of trauma in the lives of many of the clients I have worked with over the years.  I wanted to provide individuals who have experienced trauma with a different type of treatment, one that would help them to make a mind / body healing connection.

I have observed in traditional therapy sessions that there are times when the individual is stuck back in the time and place where the trauma took place, and sometimes, traditional talk therapy is just not helpful in getting a survivor of trauma past that moment. 
According to psychiatrist and noted PTSD expert Bessel Van Der Kolk, “Words can’t integrate the disorganized sensations and action patterns that form the core imprint of the trauma.  If you really want to help a traumatized person, you have to work with core physiological states and, then, the mind will start changing.”  

Van Der Kolk has been gaining the attention of the trauma community due to the approach he has taken in identifying different methods of alleviating the suffering endured by trauma survivors.  He has headed a team of researchers at the Trauma Center in Boston, Mass.  Their research is showing very promising results with Trauma Sensitive Yoga.  There are now published results that this form of yoga can significantly decrease the trauma symptoms that trauma survivors are experiencing in their bodies.

I took part in a 40 hour Trauma Sensitive Yoga Training at Kripalu Yoga Center in Stockbridge, Mass. this past March.  This program, this style of yoga and this training was developed at the Trauma Center and presented by David Emerson at Kripalu.  The class hosted approximately 50 students from all walks of life including yoga teachers, clinicians, social workers, and medical professionals.  These participants came from all over the world to participate in this innovative approach to helping survivors of PTSD.   I am honored and excited about offering Trauma Sensitive Yoga to the Veterans at Bloom on a weekly basis. 

Denise Bunner is the clinical supervisor for Stairways Behavioral Health's Forensic Outpatient Clinic.

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