Research supporting Yoga for PTSD & Trauma

There is a growing body of literature supporting the use of yoga for people suffering from PTSD and Complex Trauma. As an adjunct to psychotherapy, Yoga extends treatment to include working with feelings and sensations seated within the body. A ten-week practice of yoga helped women with complex trauma reduce their symptoms by 33%. From the fMRIs conducted yoga has an impact on the part of the brain that helps regulate emotion, increase self-awareness, and in the perception of one’s self in time and space.

Additional resources:


1)      Yoga for Adult Women with Chronic PTSD: A Long-Term Follow-Up Study

Alison Rhodes, PhD,1,2 Joseph Spinazzola, PhD,1 and Bessel van der Kolk, MD1

Abstract: Yoga, the integrative practice of physical postures and movement, breath exercises, and mindfulness, may serve as a useful adjunctive component of trauma-focused treatment to build skills in tolerating and modulating physiologic and affective states that have become dysregulated by trauma exposure. A previous randomized controlled study was carried out among 60 women with chronic, treatment-resistant post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and associated mental health problems stemming from prolonged or multiple trauma exposures. After 10 sessions of yoga, participants exhibited statistically significant decreases in PTSD symptom severity and greater likelihood of loss of PTSD diagnosis, significant decreases in engagement in negative tension reduction activities (e.g., self-injury), and greater reductions in dissociative and depressive symptoms when compared with the control (a seminar in women’s health). The current study is a long-term follow-up assessment of participants who completed this randomized controlled trial.

Methods: Participants from the randomized controlled trial were invited to participate in long-term follow-up assessments approximately 1.5 years after study completion to assess whether the initial intervention and/or yoga practice after treatment was associated with additional changes. Forty-nine women completed the long-term follow up interviews. Hierarchical regression analysis was used to examine whether treatment group status in the original study and frequency of yoga practice after the study predicted greater changes in symptoms and PTSD diagnosis.

Results: Group assignment in the original randomized study was not a significant predictor of longer-term outcomes. However, frequency of continuing yoga practice significantly predicted greater decreases in PTSD symptom severity and depression symptom severity, as well as a greater likelihood of a loss of PTSD diagnosis.

Conclusions: Yoga appears to be a useful treatment modality; the greatest long-term benefits are derived from more frequent yoga practice.

2)      Trauma Sensitive Yoga as a Complementary Treatment for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Qualitative Descriptive Analysis

Jennifer West, Belle Liang, and Joseph Spinazzola Online First Publication, July 4, 2016.

ABSTRACT: Research on posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and chronic childhood abuse has revealed that traditional trauma treatments often fail to fully address the complicated symptom presentation, including somatic complaints, loss of awareness of one’s emotional and physical being in the present moment, and overall lack of integration between the self and the body. The mindfulness-based intervention of hatha yoga shows promise as a complementary treatment, and focuses on personal growth in addition to symptom reduction. This qualitative study explored the experiences of 31 adult women with PTSD related to chronic childhood trauma who participated in a 10-week Trauma Sensitive Yoga (TSY) class, specifically examining perceived changes in symptoms and personal growth. Five themes were identified that reflect participants’ feelings of gratitude and compassion, relatedness, acceptance, centeredness, and empowerment. Results and implications for research and clinical work are presented. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2016 APA, all rights reserved) CITATION West, J., Liang, B., & Spinazzola, J. (2016, July 4). International Journal of Stress Management. Advance online publication.

3)      Claiming peaceful embodiment through yoga in the aftermath of trauma

Alison M. Rhodes a, b, * a The Trauma Center at Justice Resource Institute, Inc., 1269 Beacon Street, Brookline, MA 02446, USA b Tufts University Counseling and Mental Health Service, 120 Curtis St., Medford, MA 02155, USA

Abstract: The purpose of this study was to describe the experiences of practicing yoga and its role within processes of healing for adult women with complex trauma histories. Using a hermeneutic phenomenological method, data were analyzed from interviews with 39 women. Results showed that the core meaning of participants’ experience of healing through yoga is claiming peaceful embodiment. This is an ongoing process occurring on a continuum whereby women experienced improved connections with and sense of ownership and control over their bodies, emotions and thoughts, and a greater sense of well-being, calmness, and wholeness in their bodies and minds. A number of interconnected essential themes related to this core meaning were also identified, illuminating processes that supported claiming peaceful embodiment and capabilities that were enabled by being more peacefully embodied. Additional themes were identified highlighting factors that facilitated or impeded participants’ engagement with yoga and their experiences of healing through yoga.

4)      Trauma-sensitive yoga as an adjunct mental health treatment in group therapy for survivors of domestic violence: A feasibility study

Cari Jo Clark, Angela Lewis-D melloc, Deena Anders, Amy Parsons, Viann Nguyen Fenge, Lisa Henn, and David Emerson

Abstract: This study is a feasibility test of whether incorporating trauma-sensitive yoga into group therapy for female victims of partner violence improves symptoms of anxiety, depression, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) beyond that achieved with group therapy alone. Seventeen (9 control, 8 intervention) adult female clients seeking group psychotherapy were enrolled. A 12-week trauma-sensitive yoga protocol was administered once weekly for 30–40 min at the end of each group therapy session. The control group received typical group psychotherapy. Feasibility was assessed through recruitment and retention rates as well as participants’ self-reported perceptions of the safety and utility of the study. The study enrolled 85% (17/20) of those screened eligible. Loss to follow-up was 30% (5/17). No one reported emotional or physical harm.

5)      Yoga as an Adjunctive Treatment for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Randomized Controlled Trial

Bessel A. van der Kolk, MD; Laura Stone, MA; Jennifer West, PhD; Alison Rhodes, MSW Med; David Emerson, MA; Michael Suvak, PhD; and Joseph Spinazzola, PhD

ABSTRACT: Background: More than a third of the approximately 10 million women with histories of interpersonal violence in the United States develop posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Currently available treatments for this population have a high rate of incomplete response, in part because problems in affect and impulse regulation are major obstacles to resolving PTSD. This study explored the efficacy of yoga to increase affect tolerance and to decrease PTSD symptomatology.

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