A man doing yoga

“It got me out of such a bad place.” How yoga saved Chris’ life

Chris Thompson-Lang spent 14 years in the military as a combat engineer, serving in East Timor and Afghanistan.

It was an experience that would expose him to great harm and leave him indelibly changed.

“In Afghanistan, I was involved in the detection and removal of improvised explosive devices – IEDs,” he says.

Each time an IED was detonated, causing damage to nearby people, Thompson-Lang felt responsible for not removing the device in time.

Thompson-Lang, pictured here in Afghanistan in 2011, served as a sapper, noncommissioned officer and officer during his time in the armed forces.(Provided)

The trauma of witnessing injuries and deaths among the people he was there to help had a lasting impact on his psychological state.

Thompson-Lang was eventually diagnosed with PTSD, major depressive disorder, drug addiction and alcohol abuse.

“It was yoga that got me out of there,” says Thompson-Lang, who transitioned into a yoga teacher after leaving the armed forces in 2015.

How trauma affects the brain

Typical responses to trauma include fight, flight or freeze, says Thompson-Lang.

Studies using MRI imaging show how trauma – whether a one-time event or cumulative exposure – alters the brain.

Changes to the amygdala – the “alarm center” of the brain – can increase susceptibility to perceived threats.

Trauma can also decrease activity in the prefrontal cortex, an area of ​​the brain associated with executive functions such as planning and decision-making.

“You have oxygen, glucose [and] blood flow being redirected from the outer cortex of the brain to the central limbic system where the amygdala is located,” says Thompson-Lang.

This state of hypervigilance has harmful consequences on health.

“You are more often on fight and on the run [modes]and that’s driven by adrenaline and cortisol,” says Thompson-Lang.

“Cortisol production decreases the body’s ability to produce testosterone and estrogen, and these are hormones necessary for health, growth, and restoration.”

All of this means that yoga can be hugely beneficial for people recovering from trauma – but it might feel a little different than you might expect.

What Makes Trauma-Aware Yoga Different

Step into a regular yoga class and you’ll often be greeted with music and the scent of essential oils wafting through the space.

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