Bikram Yoga for PTSD


Army Man in Yoga Pose

Photo Source: Yoga Dork

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is characterized by reliving a traumatic situation long after any physical danger has passed. Soldiers, for instance, may suffer from PTSD after returning from military combat. With Remembrance Day coming up on November 11, we wanted to take a look at how veterans can use Bikram Yoga for PTSD and to help alleviate their anxiety.

Yoga for Mental Health

Yoga offers many mental benefits, instilling a sense of inner calm and wellbeing. Bikram Yoga, which provides 90 minutes of “moving meditation,” helps us clear our minds and focus on the present moment, allowing superfluous thoughts and traumatic memories to fall away. The practice – comprised of 26 postures and two breathing exercises – is designed to promote balance, stillness and peace by encouraging us to release our fears and frustrations in the hot room. In other words, Bikram Yoga gives us a an opportunity to let go of past pain, as well as any anger or anxiety we may feel as a result of that pain.

While Bikram Yoga can’t cure PTSD, it does offer tools to deal with some of its symptoms (anxiety, stress, trouble sleeping, etc.). Besides the fact that it traditionally provided warriors (like Prince Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita) with a path to spiritual truth, Canada’s PTSD Association recommends yoga as a coping strategy for PTSD. According to the association’s website, mindful breathing – a key component of yoga – is useful in “calming the mind and emotions, reducing stress and anxiety.”

CFB Halifax

Fitness specialists at the Canadian Forces Base in Halifax have created a program that allows injured and ill military personnel to practise yoga as a way to combat operational stress injuries and other mental health issues. According to Mary Lynass, a yoga instructor who leads the eight-week program, “Yoga has a real calming effect to it, and it’s a whole mind-body approach. Through the movements of your body, you can take your focus away from stuff and just allow yourself to be calm.”

Team Red, White & Blue

A U.S. organization, Team Red, White & Blue (Team RWB), recently organized a Bikram Yoga camp for ex-military personnel in New York City. Over the course of three days, participants attended workshops and classes led by certified instructors, including Rajashree Choudhury who taught the world’s biggest yoga class in NYC this summer solstice.

Katrina Strich, who helped organize the event, blogged that Bikram Yoga “provides a sense of unity with everyone in the room and at the same time allows for an internal focus as you practice. That internal focus can be one of the hardest parts especially for someone who might have PTSD. The camp created an environment that was accommodating to attendees overcoming this type of internal struggle. Veterans could pull from the support of those around them, knowing that they were not alone in dealing with symptoms of PTSD.”

Watch this video to find out what attendees thought of the camp:

This website, Yoga For Vets, which lists teachers and studios throughout the U.S. that offer free yoga classes for veterans, includes testimonials that highlight the usefulness of yoga in dealing with PTSD:

“I started yoga when I was in the marines. It helped calm me down when I was feeling extremely anxious. When I got out, I really needed something to relieve my anxiety, anger, trauma and depression. Eventually I got tired of feeling so negative about everything and so bad about myself. I had a bunch of injuries and, because I had trouble working out the way I once did, I had a lot of pent-up energy in my mind and body. I became a yoga teacher and everything started to change. I learned to meditate, to breathe deeply and to feel like I had some control of my mind when I felt lousy. Yoga saved my life.”

-Anu Bhagwati

“I served in Operation Desert Shield/Storm. After returning from Saudi Arabia I experienced symptoms of PTSD that were debilitating. After nine years of therapy I understood how PTSD affected me: I could see the emotional storm approaching but was unable to stop the destruction [it] caused until I found my yoga mat nine years later. I was overwhelmed by the discovery that, through my yoga practice, I could manage PTSD symptoms. Therapy helped me understand the emotional storm; yoga gave me the tools to manage the storm so that I could integrate my war experience into my life at home. Since that time I got certified as a yoga teacher, own a yoga studio and established a re-integration program for veterans, There & Back Again, which incorporates yoga and meditation. My goal is to share the healing affect yoga can have so that veterans can find immediate relief.”

-Sue Lynch

Remembrance Day Poppy - Lest We Forget

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  36. Mike says:

    Living with PTSD since first tour in Iraq. Wished to die then and since then, but have discovered bikram yoga and have found greater strength. Hope to participate in rwb.

  37. Lisa P. says:

    What a nice standing bow that soldier is doing! It’s cute how the other soldiers don’t seem to notice….. Hearing Lori’s story brought tears to my eyes. Stories like this remind me that the yoga is having a huge effect in peoples lives and that why I’m doing this. Thank you for sharing your story with us Lori.

    • Lori says:

      Lisa, it’s been an honour to train at your studios and I expect to be practicing there as long as I have breath! Thanks for making it possible.


  38. Lori says:

    You are so right, Trevor. Those days when it’s rough and I’m really tempted to skip class are always the ones where I find myself in the room and observing all the ways I try to avoid dealing with pain and the yoga makes me feel so much better!! I think any yogi will say the toughest part is just getting yourself to class, the rest really does take care of itself. 🙂

  39. Lori says:

    As a police officer currently in treatment for PTSD, I was drawn to Birkam Yoga even before I knew the things that were going on with me were the symptoms of PTSD. I’m in my eighth year of practice and it has helped me immeasurably to get my life and my sense of calm back. So much of PTSD for me manifests itself in fear and anger and there’s just no space in the yoga room for either one, it’s such a supportive and non-judgmental place. If you’re suffering, I urge you to come and try it.


    • Trevor says:

      What a wonderful story of healing, Lori. There certainly is no room in the hot room for fear and anger and any time they pop up the sweat makes it that much easier to squash them. Thanks for sharing with us!

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