How Yoga Helped Me Overcome PTSD
Twenty-three at dinner. Six males, three of whom are in shape, five children, six employees, two exits. The best place to sit is on the side wall back facing the wall, can see both exits and front counter area.
This is how I enter a restaurant. That will never change, and that's ok.
I have Posttraumatic stress disorder. I'm an Army vet, and I'm constantly sizing up the situation I'm in to develop a plan for it. This could be walking along the street, sitting in my car or in a restaurant, or even at a family function. The habit is always there.
While my PTSD will always be with me, I've learned to quiet its screams with yoga. PTSD is an enhancement of your fight-or-flight response. It's always on, and it's always on full.
My wife dragged me to my first yoga class two years ago. Like most vets, I believed I could deal with the issue on my own. Besides, "Yoga is for women." Little did I know, my wife had had enough of my aggressiveness, anger, and constant on-edge attitude. It was so bad that I didn't even notice it, because it was my norm. This was her last shot to help me before she moved on.
I went to three classes and gave up. I didn't know why at the time, but I do now. I needed the PTSD; I needed the heightened awareness, the intensity, and the aggressiveness. Without them, I didn't feel secure.
Shortly after I quit, my wife told me if I didn't do something she was gone. This was the one thing that forced me into action, the one thing I feared more than losing my heightened awareness; losing my best friend and love of my life.
I went for psychological help, which said I needed to be on pills; they said I was depressed. I thought depression meant people who can't get out of bed all day; I want to take it on with vengeance! I learned rage is a form of depression. I took the pills.
I don't like taking pills. It means I'm not in control, but I do admit that I needed them. They allowed me to pause and think. Pause long enough to think, “yoga."
I went to my local yoga studio in York, Maine and began to practice. I truly enjoyed the physical practice. However, savasana was a problem. Closing my eyes in a room full of people I did not know was not easy. Even when I was able to close my eyes, thoughts raced through my head, keeping me ready for anything.
I first focused on the physical aspects of the practice. Being an Army guy, this was a natural fit. My body was beaten after years in the service. I was no longer able to run, and even had a hard time walking long distances. The physical activity kept me focused. As time passed I was able to focus more and more on the breathing. The more I focused on my own breath, the better I was able to calm myself. After about two months of dragging myself to class, I was hooked. Not only did I want to go to yoga, I needed to go to yoga.
Physical therapy and yoga helped me be able to walk and even hike as I pleased. More importantly, I noticed that my mind was clearer. I was able to let go of the thoughts and think before reacting. I felt calm.
I stopped taking the pills, and I focused on yoga and continuing to clear my mind. I became frustrated because the thoughts were still there. Even in savasana the thoughts where there. I was still very aware of the places and people around me, and I was still sizing up situations compulsively.
That's when I moved my practice from the yoga studio exclusively, but to every moment. The thoughts are still there, but I let them go. I accepted them as part of who I am. I didn't punish myself for having them, but instead acknowledged them and let them move on. My mind was quiet.
I'm a soldier, and that will never change. However, now I'm happy to also call myself a yogi, one who is supported and loved by my yogi family, my friends, parents, siblings and pets.
Now I do yoga every day, in every moment.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com
To learn more about yoga, check out The Complete Guide To Yoga With Tara Stiles.
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