The benefits of yoga for trauma and mental health
- Credit: Archant
Trauma-informed yoga teacher Helen Cooper specialises in helping those who have suffered difficult life experiences to reconnect with their mind and body.
Here she discusses the benefits of her approach:
Q: How did you come to be a yoga instructor?
A: Having practiced many different styles of yoga for quite a few years, I soon began to realise that my experience had evolved into something of a passion; so much so that I wanted to start sharing the benefits of it to others, as a teacher. I completed my training in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and have never looked back. Becoming a teacher is a journey in itself. I am continually learning new ways to manage mental health and wellbeing and it is something I can relate to very well.
Q: How did yoga benefit you and what difference has it made to your life?
A: My first experience of yoga came about through doing a brief trial offer at my local studio, while my gym was closed. I was impressed with the stereotypical benefits, such as strengthening, toning, suppleness and balance but soon realised that, for me at least, the mental and emotional benefits far outweighed the physical ones. I had struggled with a difficult upbringing and had been dealt a few bad cards in life, for which I had made progress to heal through traditional counselling, but the peace that yoga brought me was quite overwhelming and taught me how to take control of managing my own emotional peace and stability.
Q: Which yoga do you practice and teach?
A: I specialise in trauma-informed yoga, which can allow those who have suffered very difficult life experiences to reconnect with their mind and body in an environment of safety and trust. It is a gentler practice than most other types of yoga, with options that allow clients to make decisions, take actions and assess the experience of those actions: things that can initially feel quite unfamiliar to trauma victims. It demonstrates that symptoms of trauma do not have to be relived or engrained again and again – there are ways to circumvent the loop. I have worked with those in the emergency services, army veterans, adults with a history of abuse or neglect, or those simply wanting to better manage feelings such as anxiety or depression. Trauma can either be brought about during a one-off experience, or through years of extremely difficult circumstances. Everyone’s experience is different and the yoga I offer carefully considers the best way to alleviate the symptoms they may be suffering.
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Q: What benefits does yoga bring those with PTSD or similar issues?
A: Yoga has many proven, positive effects on the brain. It increases spatial navigation and learning, as well as releasing feel-good hormones such as dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin and endorphins. It decreases activity in the amygdala, the ‘fear centre’ of the brain, discharging accumulated stress, and helps to find emotional stability. These are only a handful of examples, all of which assist in developing self-regulation, dissipating tension within muscles, lowering blood pressure, and reducing both physical and emotional effects that trauma is known to bring. The rationale is that yoga can be an extremely effective practice to aid self-acceptance and compassion; flipping the coin from a ‘surviving brain to a thriving brain.’
Q: Can yoga help mental health, depression and anxiety?
A: Yes, yoga counteracts the negativity bias that we as humans have acquired in order to survive over many years. I am a strong advocate of yoga for short and long term mental health benefits, having experienced first-hand a shedding of many unwanted feelings including grief, despair, depression and anger. I believe yoga is one of the safer, higher-yielding practices to bettering mental health and offer a free 20-minute phone consultation to anyone interested in finding out more information about how it might be able to help them.