Many people face trauma, but what follows after going through a trauma is at times equally bad. PTSD- post traumatic stress disorder is a very tough time that people face. Also at times people suffer from depression or anxiety and don’t even realise it, maybe because in a society like ours depression or anxiety is not given the importance that is needed. People are usually misunderstood and don’t get enough sympathy and support from their close circle.

The first thing that any person suffering from PTSD or depression or anxiety is looking for is someone who can help them get some relief. On today’s show I had the pleasure of talking to Heather Mason who is the founder of the Minded Institute. She said that she started practicing yoga when she was 19 years old, she is an ex-gymnast and at that point of time yoga was more of a competitive sport for her.

She spoke about the depression and anxiety that she went through, which had increased since her childhood and she decided to take off and travel where she came across a monk at a monastery and he started her on the path of meditation and while doing that she started looking at yoga from a mindful perspective. She had trained as a yoga teacher and when she came back to the UK to do her masters in Psychotherapy, she realised that she really liked understanding people’s needs and wanted to help them. She went back to India to study to become a yoga therapist as talk and cure was not the way in which she wanted to help people. After that she studies neuroscience and it became more and more a bridge between the world of yoga therapy and the medical world.

What she is really trying to do is raise the awareness of yoga’s use in aiding those with mental health and chronic diseases, She constantly looks into alternative ways to blend yoga, as she herself has been through post-traumatic stress and has suffered from anxiety and depression too.

Distinguishing between anxiety and depression she said that more often than not depression will be linked with anxiety. Depression on its own comes with low mood, repetitive thinking and if not coupled with anxiety will include a lack of self-esteem, fatigue but may not involve hyperactivity in the nervous system.  On the other hand anxiety is the hyperactivity in the nervous system creating high levels of worry which can be due to different reasons. If Anxiety goes untreated for a long time then there is a chance that it will move into depression. She said that low breathing has a very specific effect on anxiety, because of the overlay between the way you breathe and the messages you send to your heart, when you breathe slowly you naturally reduce your heart rate and that helps in curbing the anxiety.

She also spoke about post-traumatic stress disorder which is a condition that has arisen in the relation to a very challenging traumatic event where the symptoms continue for over a period of a month and the individual has trouble sleeping, may have flashbacks of the event, may avoid anything that may remind them of the event, has a very hard time reducing their levels of anxiety and basically experiences a lot of fear there is a high level of dysregulation in the autonomic nervous system which means that the person struggles in life and additionally since trauma more often than not happens in interpersonal relationships, it can very deeply and profoundly affect the sense of trusting themselves or other individuals and that makes it very hard for these people to have relationships.

She believes that there is something unique coming from a community that has an honest intention for wellness and compassion and a feeling of safety. People who have depression, anxiety or PTSD often don’t feel safe. The breathing practices help them to rebalance the nervous system. The movement of the body sends signals from the body up to the brain that can re stimulate pathways that support part of the brain, specifically the pre frontal cortex which allows a person to develop a greater capacity to reduce states of fear. The stronger the pre frontal cortex, the easier it is for someone to consider their level of stress or having negative thoughts and maybe their lack of utility in the present situation. There is also the meditation and mindfulness aspect which is built into yoga that also provides a way of seeing yourself from a new perspective.

She demonstrated a few breathing exercises that can help calm the nerves. She said that when you elongate your exhalation then that helps to calm down the nervous system and this is a known physiological mechanism and the reason is the nerve that goes from the back of your head down to your heart called the Vagus. The prime role of this nerve is to slow down the heart rate, and the Vagus is most active during the process of exhalation.

She also spoke about how yoga would be beneficial for a person suffering from diabetes. She said that integrated practice specifically interspersed with common breathing technique has shown to reduce fasting glucose levels and other bio markers of type 2 diabetes.  She also stressed that yoga is not the cure for any problem, but will help individuals feel better.

If someone is undergoing treatment for any mental health problems, they can still try yoga. Research suggests that integrated treatments are more effective at reducing mental health problems. Heather suggests telling the doctor or therapist who is helping you about trying to do yoga and see if they are willing to communicate with your instructor so they can support your wellness together.