In Australia, around 12 out of 100 people will experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at some point in their lives. PTSD can affect anyone who has undergone traumatic events such as serious accidents, natural disasters, or assaults. War veterans, however, face a higher risk of PTSD compared to the general population.

PTSD significantly impacts brain function, leading to increased reactivity in the amygdala, the brain's 'fear center.' This heightened reactivity indicates that the nervous system of those with PTSD has become severely dysregulated. As a result, sufferers lose the ability to maintain a functional 'fight or flight' response, often remaining stuck in one mode or the other. This constant state of high alert manifests as perpetual stress and panic, making the world feel unsafe, unpredictable, and uncontrollable. 

Recent studies have highlighted the positive effects of a consistent yoga practice for veterans, particularly in alleviating key PTSD symptoms such as stress, anxiety, and depression.

 

What is Yoga?

Yoga combines philosophy and practice to unite the mind, body, and spirit. This holistic approach addresses the complexity of human existence, using breath, mindfulness, relaxation, and physical exercise to integrate various aspects of one's being.

The practice involves precise and deliberate routines and poses that enhance the range of movement and activate joints, tendons, and muscles. Deep breathing and physical exercises increase oxygen intake, improve circulation, and stimulate a healthy flow of beneficial body chemistry, promoting optimal brain and body function. The mindfulness and relaxation components focus on psychological well-being, helping individuals recognise what they can control and adapt their responses to stimuli—an essential skill for those with PTSD.

 

How Does Yoga Help?

Regular yoga practice has been shown to significantly improve mental health. Key benefits of yoga for PTSD sufferers include:

Increased Oxygenation: Deep, focused breathing enhances oxygen flow to body tissues.

Controlled Reactions: Focused attention and rhythmic breathing help manage fight/flight responses.

Mindfulness and Relaxation: These exercises aid in managing complex and overwhelming thoughts.

Mind-Body Connection: Strengthening this connection helps alleviate residual trauma and build resilience.

Improved Circulation: Enhanced blood flow and oxygenation contribute to a more regulated nervous system.

Yoga as a Community

While professional medical advice should always be the first step, yoga offers a valuable complementary and non-invasive therapy. Attending a local yoga class provides physical and mental benefits and the opportunity to join a supportive community focused on health and well-being. Shared experiences of stress and trauma within the group create a nurturing environment for the therapeutic practice of yoga.

If you experience any of the feelings or symptoms mentioned in this article, please consult your GP. You can also contact us at Carry On at 03 9629 2648 for advice on next steps. Lifeline is available at 13 11 14, and more information about mental health can be found at Beyond Blue.

This International Yoga Day, let’s recognise yoga's transformative power in supporting our veterans' mental health and resilience.