Healing Through Yoga - Survivors of Complex Trauma And PTSD


Fear is a natural response when we experience a startling or traumatic event. This heightened emotion triggers what is known as the “fight-or-flight” response.  It prepares us to make split-second decisions to defend ourselves against harm.

Each of us responds to stress and trauma differently. After living through a traumatic experience, the goal is to return to a relaxed state known as “rest-and-digest.”  It is in this relaxed state that our bodies recover from initial symptoms of stress. Those who continue to experience upsetting memories, feel stressed or frightened even when they are not in danger, or have trouble sleeping after an unsettling event may have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.

PTSD may develop after someone experiences a shocking, scary, or dangerous event. The National Center for PTSD estimates that 6 of every 10 men (or 60%) and 5 of every 10 women (or 50%) experience at least one major trauma in their lives.  There research suggests that men are more likely to experience accidents, physical assault, combat, disaster, or to witness death or injury; while women are more likely to experience sexual assault or child sexual abuse.


Words, objects, or situations that serve as reminders of trauma, can trigger re-experiencing symptoms of PTSD, such as:

  • Flashbacks—reliving the trauma over and over, including physical symptoms, like a racing heart or sweating, or emotional symptoms like frightening thoughts
  • Bad dreams or having difficulty sleeping
  • Feeling tense, “on edge,” or startling easily
  • Having emotional outbursts

Things that remind a person of the traumatic event can trigger avoidance symptoms of PTSD, such as:

  • Staying away from places, events, or objects that are reminders of the traumatic experience
  • Avoiding thoughts or feelings related to the traumatic event

Cognition and mood symptoms of PTSD may include:

  • Trouble remembering key features of the traumatic event
  • Negative thoughts about oneself or the world
  • Distorted feelings like guilt or blame
  • Loss of interest in enjoyable activities

In a 2014 study published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress(1), researchers found that yoga can be used to bring better mental balance. Additional studies previously found that yoga practices can also help reduce stress amongst university students(2) and can help practitioners combat depression(3), anxiety(4), and substance abuse(5).  

If you have PTSD, your ability to regulate the central nervous system is off. Your body is literally overloaded with stress hormones. Breathing is a regulatory tool and a major part of yoga practices. It is a natural way to self-regulate and calm down without medication. It regulates the central nervous system by quieting the sympathetic nervous system (fight-or-flight) and engaging the parasympathetic nervous system (rest-and-digest).


If you have suffered intense trauma, you may start to disassociate from your body. Yoga can benefit you by  bringing you back to your body. The mindfulness that comes from practicing trauma informed yoga can equip you with the coping skills necessary to know that negative thoughts, habits, and emotions will pass. This type of yoga will also teach you to  be more gentle with yourself as you heal.

The US Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) estimates that 20% of Veterans who served in Operations Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Enduring Freedom (OEF) experience PTSD.  Furthermore, they estimate that 12% of Gulf War Veterans and 30% of Vietnam Veterans experience PTSD. The effects of PTSD can make it difficult for Veterans to return to civilian life, leading to higher risk of substance abuse, suicide, and homelessness. In 2014, the VA reported that an average of 20 veterans died by suicide each day.

Each year, our professional instructors teach more than 3,200 veterans to master their breathing and find healing focus in the connection between mind and body.  Yoga 4 Change’s trauma influenced curriculum includes themes of self-confidence, forgiveness, expectations, gratitude, and vulnerability. Through yoga, we provide the foundation for conflict management, better sleep, and decreased pain that veterans need to overcome the trauma experienced during their military service.

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For military veterans, program benefits include:

  • Lower blood pressure and blood sugar
  • Increased feelings of self-esteem
  • Increased peaceful feelings
  • Improved sleep
  • Decreased pain

I started to care for myself because of yoga. After being shot in Iraq with the 3rd Battalion 12th Marines, I started to become myself again after a long time.” — M. Horne, Veteran

125,000 veterans in Northeast Florida

  • 12% of people living homeless are veterans
  • 41.5% of female veterans experienced military sexual trauma
  • Nearly 40% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans report substance abuse
  • 1 out of 10 veterans was seriously injured while serving in our military

Our Impact in Northeast Florida

  • 1,100+ veterans involved in Yoga 4 Change
  • 3 Facilities
  • 10 Classes per month

Thank you for reading. If you found this information beneficial, please consider making a sustainable donation to Yoga 4 Change.  Your donation is used to support our core programs and helps us fulfill our mission. Please click below to donate online.  You can make a one time or reoccurring tax deductible contribution. 


(1) http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jts.21936/full

(2) https://bmccomplementalternmed.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1472-6882-7-43

(3) https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0165032799000798

(4) http://www.ijoy.org.in/article.asp?issn=0973-6131;year=2012;volume=5;issue=1;spage=57;epage=65;aulast=Katzman

(5) https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0165032706002114

Patrick Fisher