Yoga Research and Projects

 General Introduction:

Sari Fried - Special Page Editor
Sari discovered yoga in 2012 following a snowboarding accident that resulted in a concussion. Yoga immediately became the most powerful aspect of her rehabilitation: physically, psychologically and spiritually. This was a revelation that would change the course of her life, as she began to absorb all things yoga. Within the first year, she did an Ashtanga primary series teacher training with KPJAYI authorized teacher David Gellineau. At that time, Sari was studying at the University of Toronto and her interest in yoga led to studying Hinduism and having the opportunity to research and write on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Studying yoga both on her mat and in the library created a rich and multilayered focus. Sari established a Mysore practice and began teaching at the Beach Yoga Centre in Toronto and then privately when she moved to the UK in the Spring of 2015. Sari continued her Mysore practice with Melanie Cooper at the Life Centre, London until leaving for India. In India, Sari completed a 200hour TTC at a Sivananda ashram, did an Ashtanga anatomy course with Melanie Cooper and Stu Girling in Thailand and then returned to India to study with Petri Raisanan at Purple Valley, Goa. Sari’s next step is to participate in the first Earthways teacher training in Boulder, Colorado. It is with this experience that she believes she will bring her personal healing journey together with her passion for yoga to further reveal her authentic teaching voice.

This page explores how yoga is reaching far beyond studios and retreats, into underserved communities to alleviate suffering and give people the tools to turn their lives around. This is a place for you to get a background into what is going on in the world of service and find out how you can get involved to make a difference.

As decades of research accumulate, yoga and meditation continue to gain recognition as the prevailing prescription for transforming mental and physical pain. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is occurring all over the world as a result of personal trauma as well as larger scale events affecting communities and nations. PTSD is inextricably linked to subsequent mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety and panic disorders, which in turn may lead to chronic physical illnesses, addiction, and incarceration, causing further trauma.

These realities affect millions of people worldwide and become a perpetual cycle for many. Yoga has the powerful ability to go against this current and help people to heal. As human beings, we are blessed with powerful minds and tremendously resilient bodies; however, when there is disunion and they are not working in synchronicity, the affects can impede our ability to experience our full potential. Internationally, yoga teachers and healers are working to end this cycle and are providing these communities with the invaluable opportunity to develop the tools to repair wounds, rebuild strength and restore hope.

Yoga means union, or “to yoke,” the practice of which re-establishes and nurtures the connection between the mind, body and spirit. It is the practice of looking inward and diving down, little by little, through our many layers to reach the core essence of our being: boundless and everlasting bliss. It is the discovery that the power for transformation already exists within us.

“Yoga is not about self improvement or making ourselves better. It is a process of deconstructing all the barriers we may have erected that prevent us from having an authentic connection with ourselves and with the world.” –Donna Farhi

PTSD, Depression, Anxiety and Panic Disorders

 

Trauma appears in many forms and affects people in different ways, manifesting both physically and mentally. Whether in veterans of war, civil service units, refugees of acts of terrorism or natural disasters, survivors of mass violence, victims of sexual assault or child abuse, people are suffering from PTSD and accompanying mental illnesses.

Psychology and mental health are slowly becoming less stigmatized in society just as the transformative capacity of yoga is rapidly being recognized. As the shame that was associated with mental illness dissolves, there is a growing understanding and openness to the causes of disorders such as anxiety and depression and the direct connection they have to trauma.

An interview with Dr Bessel Van der Kolk, one of the world’s leading authorities on PTSD and a leader in the use of yoga as therapy, dives into the reasons as to why yoga is so well suited to help sufferers of PTSD. He explains, “Trauma is the residue of imprints left behind in people’s sensory and hormonal system. Traumatized people are often frightened by sensations they experience in their bodies and yoga helps them to regain a sense of safety in their own body. Time stops in people with PTSD, making it very hard to take pleasure in the present because the body keeps replaying the past. This creates a duality between mind and body and that is where yoga comes in. Yoga helps to reintegrate and synchronize the mind-body connection, which is an essential part of healing PTSD.”

 Research on yoga therapy has been a rapidly growing field since the 1970s. Studies consistently proving successful trials, in which yoga has a significant positive affect on those recovering from trauma and suffering from mental illnesses, have finally convinced the world that yoga is not only a legitimate form of therapy but truly preeminent. It is such a ripe and precious time because this current acceptance can connect to the ancient wisdom of yoga, which has been there waiting all along.  Mental health has been kept in the dark but with yoga we are bringing it into the light.

In addition to Van der Kolk’s insight in the above interview, into the storage of trauma in the body, we must bring our focus to the role the mind plays in PTSD, anxiety, depression and associated disorders. Patanjali states in the Yoga Sutras: yogah citta vrtti nirodhah (1:2), which translates to ‘yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind,’ or otherwise translated, ‘yoga is the mastery of the activities of the mind-field.’ Then the seer rests in its true and fundamental Self: tada drastuh svarupe-vasthanam (1:3). This is the central goal of yoga, for the veil of illusion to be lifted and false identity dissolved, to allow the true and perfect Self to shine through.

The ability of yogic practices to treat mental illness is explored in a 2016 article in the International Journal of Yoga, which acknowledges that researchers today are discovering that contemporary interventions in psychology may not actually be modern concepts but in fact have roots in ancient yogic psychological wisdom. “Their rich insights can help deepen our understanding of mental health, and the practical psychological guidelines, described centuries ago, may enhance positive mental health and stabilize us in happiness.”

A 2012 study published by Elsevier, entitled “Effects of Yoga on the Autonomic Nervous System, Gamma-aminobutyric-acid, and Allostasis in Epilepsy, Depression, and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder,” hypothesized that stress induces:

“(1) Imbalance of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) with decreased parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) increased sympathetic nervous system (SNS) activity,

(2) Under-activity of the inhibitory neurotransmitter, gamma ami- no-butyric acid (GABA) and

(3) Increased allostatic load. It is further hypothesized that yoga practices

(4) Correct under activity of the PNS and GABA system in part through stimulation of the vagal nerves and

(5) Reduce allostatic load resulting in symptom relief.”

We know that yoga creates balance and returns the body to homeostasis and as this occurs, function improves in the parts of the brain that process and perceive fear and regulate emotions.

 

Here is a selection of further reading of articles and studies conducted internationally in the field of yoga for PTSD, Anxiety and Depression:

Yoga as an Adjunctive Treatment for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Randomized Controlled Trial May 2, 2013. Dr Bessel Van der Kolk and his team conducted a study on the ability of yoga to decrease PTSD symptoms in women following physical and sexual assault.

Managing Mental Health Disorders Resulting from Trauma Through Yoga June 19 2012. Here we find a comprehensive overview of different types of trauma and the various ways these traumas can manifest following the events. It then breaks down studies conducted, in which yoga was utilized to help survivors to overcome their symptoms of PTSD, depression and anxiety, such as coping with natural disasters, exposure to terrorism and interpersonal violence

Yoga for anxiety and depression This Harvard mental health letter summarizes research on yoga’s therapeutic benefits and how it succeeds in treating PTSD, anxiety and depression.

Trauma-sensitive yoga as an adjunct mental health treatment in group therapy survivors of domestic violence May 9, 2014. 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 beyond that achieved with group therapy alone.

The Effect of a Yoga Intervention on Alcohol and Drug Abuse Risk in Veteran and Civilian Women with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder October 1, 2014. Individuals with PTSD often exhibit high-risk substance use behaviours. This study investigates the role yoga can take in intervening and breaking this cycle.

Breathing-Based Meditation Decreases Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms in U.S. Military Veterans August 26, 2014. This is an investigation of the impact of a breathing-based meditation, Sudarshan Kriya yoga, in Afghanistan or Iraq veterans with PTSD symptoms. It hypothesized there would be reductions in PTSD, anxiety, and physiological startle response.

A Yoga Program for the Symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in Veterans August 8, 2013. This study explores the effectiveness of yoga in improving hyper-arousal symptoms of PTSD, including some elements of sleep quality.

Effects of Sensory-Enhanced Yoga on Symptoms of Combat Stress in Deployed Military Personnel January/February 2012. According to a 2008 research study nearly 20% of combat troops returning from Iraq or Afghanistan met criteria for either posttraumatic stress disorder or depression. In this study, seventy military personnel who were deployed to Iraq participated in a randomized controlled trial over a three-week period of sensory-enhanced hatha yoga.

Here and now: Yoga in Israeli Schools July-December 2010. In the aftermath of the Second Lebanon War, a project was initiated and designed to reduce tension in the children living in the area under bombardment. This study assesses the impact of yoga intervention in a group of Israeli school children affected by the Second Lebanon War.

Treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in Postwar Kosovo Adolescents Using Mind-Body Skills Groups September 2008. This preliminary study examined whether the practice of mind-body techniques decreases symptoms of PTSD in adolescents. 139 high school students participated in a 6-week program that included meditation, breathing, movement techniques, etc.

Feasibility and Preliminary Outcomes of a School-Based Mindfulness Intervention for Urban Youth May 4, 2010. Youth in underserved, urban communities are at risk for a range of negative outcomes related to stress, including social-emotional difficulties, behaviour problems and poor academic performance. This study hypothesized that the 12-week mindfulness and yoga intervention would reduce involuntary stress responses and improve mental health outcomes and social adjustment. Stress responses, depressive symptoms and peer relations were assessed at baseline and post-intervention.

“It helps you relieve stress when you really feel stressed out or you’re really mad and focus on what’s inside of you and just make sure that you stay calm,” -5th grade girl.

Systematic Review of Yoga Interventions for Anxiety Reduction Among Children and Adolescents November 2015. An estimated 21% of children and adolescents in the United States have a diagnosable psychiatric disorder and anxiety disorders are the most prevalent among them. This study examined the evidence base for yoga interventions addressing anxiety affecting children and youths between 3 and 18 years old.

Posttraumatic stress symptoms and heart rate variability in Bihar flood survivors following yoga March 2, 2010. A week of yoga practice was given to the survivors a month after this natural calamity and the effect was assessed.

Effects of a yoga breath intervention alone and in combination with an exposure therapy for posttraumatic stress disorder and depression in survivors of the 2004 South-East Asia Tsunami 2009. The focus in this study is the effectiveness of yoga breath-based interventions in relieving psychological distress following mass disasters.

A Pilot Study of Meditation for Mental Health Workers Following Hurricane Katrina October 5, 2008. This study examined the effects of a meditation intervention for PTSD, depression and anxiety symptoms among 20 African American and Caucasian mental health workers in New Orleans beginning 10 weeks after Hurricane Katrina. They participated in a 4-hour workshop followed by an 8-week home study program.

 

The union that yoga creates between the different levels of our being extends beyond each individual’s process. It teaches oneness and builds unity within communities, bringing people together for healing and rising consciousness. Now let’s find out about trauma experts and trailblazer yogis who are doing phenomenal work in bringing this research to life and into our communities!

 

Yoga and Psyche: The Birth of a Field “In April 2014, a group of 200 yoga teachers, practitioners, psychologists, neuroscientists and trauma researchers representing over a dozen countries, gathered together in San Francisco, California for The Yoga and Psyche Conference – the first academic conference in the Western world on the integration of yoga and Western psychology.”

Dr Mariana Caplan is a psychotherapist, yoga teacher and the author of eight books in the fields of psychology and spirituality. In 2010 she became a certified practitioner of Dr. Peter Levine’s Somatic Experiencing and has since developed the Yoga and Psyche Project.

Here is a full video of Dr Mariana Caplan in conversation with Dr Peter Levine about the intersection of Somatic Healing and Yoga.

The Trauma Center Yoga Program Since 2003, the Trauma Center Yoga Program at the Justice Resource Institute in Brookline Massachusetts has been providing yoga to a diversity of trauma survivors, including war veterans, rape survivors, at-risk youth and survivors of chronic childhood abuse and neglect. The Trauma Center combines David Emerson’s devotion to trauma sensitive yoga with Dr Bessel Van der Kolk’s clinical expertise to create an extraordinary program, the first of it’s kind. The Trauma Center Yoga Program also trains yoga instructors and clinicians in how to offer yoga to trauma survivors.

http://www.traumasensitiveyoga.com/  


Integrative Yoga Therapeutics (IYT) Bo Forbes developed IYT over the last 15 years with her community in Boston. Her approach integrates her background in psychotherapy with her yoga practice, combining emotional and physical healing in both therapeutics groups and as individual sessions. Bo has opened a school, the New England School of Integrative Yoga Therapeutics, which offers teacher trainings and yoga therapy programs and she is also the founder of Embodied Awareness, an online education company whose mission is “wellness through embodied education.” Click here for an interview with Bo to learn more about her approach and the work she is doing.

Art of Living was founded by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar in 1981 and has since been spreading peace through diverse humanitarian projects including conflict resolutions, disaster relief and empowerment for women. The organization operates globally in 155 countries and runs programs using Sudarshan Kriya techniques, meditation, and Sri Sri Yoga. Earlier this year, following the Orlando Massacre, Art of Living rolled out mats for approximately 1100 New Yorkers affected by the tragedy, to help them cope with PTSD and relief from grief.

The International Association for Human Values (IAHV) is a non-profit organization, which since its founding by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar in Geneva in 1997, has been offering trauma relief programs worldwide to reduce stress and develop leaders so that human values can flourish in individuals and communities. Its programs combine Sudarshan Kriya Yoga Breathing Practice, meditation, yoga postures, and education on stress reduction specifically designed to strengthen internal coping mechanisms. IAHV initiated trauma-relief programs just days after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the 2010 Haitian Earthquake, the 2004 South Asian Tsunami in India and Sri Lanka and the 2003 Kosovo Conflict, to name a few.

Since 2006, Project Welcome Home Troops has been operating and running workshops to bring stress and trauma relief to veterans suffering from PTSD. It is a program of the International Association for Human Values. The Power Breath Meditation Workshop is a 20+ hour mind-body resilience-building program, which teaches the techniques of Sudarshan Kriya Yoga to provide veterans with practical breath-based tools that decrease stress, anxiety, anger, insomnia and depression.

Yoga Activist, Inc is a nonprofit organization based in Washington D.C., which partners yoga teachers and social service organizations. It runs programs for trauma survivors with a high sensitivity and awareness of how the aftermath of trauma might show up on the yoga mat and what might trigger reactions. Yoga Activist creates a safe environment in each yoga class and promotes self-empowerment of individuals and communities through yoga and mindfulness.

Anahata International is an international nonprofit based in Washington D.C. whose mission is to share the physical and mental health benefits of yoga and holistic wellness services with individuals in conflict and trauma affected countries. They provide teacher trainings and sustainable wellness programs to vulnerable communities around the world.

The Give Back Yoga Foundation Rob Schware is the Executive Director of this nonprofit organization, which supports and funds certified yoga teachers of all traditions to bring yoga and mindfulness techniques to underserved and under-resourced segments of the community. Programs helping people to recover from trauma include yoga for men and women in homeless shelters, veterans both in active duty and post-duty, UN workers in crisis and post-conflict contexts, survivors of sexual assault and yoga for first responders. Check out their website to find out about the programs happening all over the world, read interviews with the remarkable yogis leading the initiatives, and how to get involved.

Check out this page on The Trauma Therapist Project: The Yoga Series to read about and listen to the remarkable work of leading yoga teachers who are bringing trauma-sensitive therapies to individuals and communities in need.

Our Mala is a UK based charity founded in 2011 to help refugees and asylum-seekers rebuild their lives, by creating a safe space to breathe and find stability through yoga and community. Most are recovering from atrocities such as torture, sexual violence in conflict and human trafficking.

Veterans Yoga Project is an educational and advocacy organization dedicated to improving the health and well being of military veterans. Through programs such as the Mindful Yoga Therapy Program, which teaches self-regulation skills such as breath, meditation and mindful movement, as well as multi-day retreats and advanced training for yoga teachers and healthcare professionals, Veterans Yoga Project supports recovery and promotes resilience among veterans, their families and their communities.

Yoga Hillsboro Brant Rogers is providing Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) to the Hillsboro Police department aimed at long-term officer wellness and more effective service to the community. First responders are in the business of trauma and are under a high level of occupational stress in addition to unpredictable and potentially dangerous situations. These trainings are a shift towards preventative intervention, helping officers to establish and maintain a practice to help them stay balanced and clear in any situation. The programs are also offered to other first responders, such as firefighters, dispatchers, and paramedics.

1 Response

  1. Ali says:

    Great article. Thank you for this information and all of the wonderful resources.

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