Yoga and EMDR in the Treatment of PTSD

This is a really fascinating interview with Dr. Bessel van der Kolk who is a psychiatrist that has been treating people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other types of trauma for more than 40 years. He talks about the effectiveness of Yoga and EMDR in treating PTSD. As someone with PNES who is working through trauma with EMDR and in Yoga Teaching Training this really cleared some things up for me and realized I could not be on a better healing path.

Really worth listening to, click below:

You’re not broken.

I have been out straight for three days in a yoga teacher training module. A while back I met an amazing yoga teacher who somehow convinced me to take yoga teacher training. It’s a year long program, stretched out into one weekend a month. We do a lot of yoga, but we also study anatomy and philosophy.

This weekend during pholisophy, we were talking about letting go, and letting to of attachment. The Dalai Lama says all suffering if caused by attachment. I did not understand this, because I have suffered a lot and now I am being told it’s because I’m attached. Attached to what? Yoga philosophy would say, PTSD is attachment to a trauma. (Did I get that right?). Attached to an event in the past, a wrong that was done to me, and I took it personally. When someone does great harm to you, it’s really hard not to take it personally. How can you brush something like that off?

One of my friends in the class gave an example of a little girl she knows who was mauled by a dog. She was ok, but after she got out of the hospital she was crying a lot. And my friend asked her, “why are you crying” and the little girl said, “I really miss the dog.” This is an example of how the little girl did not become attached to the event and did not take it personally that the dog attacked her. It is safe to say she will not be traumatized by the event.

After the talk, I went up to my teacher and said, “it’s like I broke my leg and it healed wrong, and for years I’ve used a crutch to walk. I am very attached to that crutch, it lets me walk. It’s my safety net. And it’s as if you’ve taken my crutch away and told me to walk. I feel like I’m going to fall of a cliff, this is life and death.” She looked at me and said, “I’m going to tell you something really radical, you’re leg is not broken, you are not broken.” She reached out and put her hand on my heart and said, “this was never broken, your body was broken but it healed, your soul – who you are, was never broken. Your body was harmed but it healed. You are whole.”

This was very difficult to hear! Back on my yoga mat, I broke down in tears because I thought, ‘if I am not broken, what are these seizures? If I am a whole women who has seizures, what does that make me … weak. It makes me weak.’ Except I know I’m not weak. I feel broken, and yet I’m whole. I feel weak and yet I’m strong. I’m attached to a traumatic event in the past and yet, I don’t want to be. Right now my life is full of conundrums. My brain is going crazy trying to figure it all out.

I have PTSD?

I am meeting more and more people with PNES who also have PTSD. It this point my working theory is that the PNES is a symptom of PTSD. That PNES is a Conversion Disorder, born out of trauma. For a lot of people, the two diagnosis usually come around the same time, and either diagnosis can be quite a shock. We live in a war-time era where we think of people with PTSD as soldiers who have experienced the horrors of battle. Further complication arise when one may not even remember the event.

I started having seizures in 2010, and when I was diagnosed in 2011, all the medical professionals kept asking me, “Did you have a happy childhood?” The question made me angry. My childhood was the only thing in my life I remembered as being happy. I started to meditate at the beginning of 2012 as a way to help my seizures and it must have started to heal some deep part of my brain because by the summer of 2013, I was experiencing flashbacks.

Flashbacks are a terrible thing to experience. While somewhere in your brain you know you are standing in a grocery store or in a yoga class, your past come hurtling back and you feel as if you are there again. For all intensive purposes, experiencing a traumatic event from the past, in the present. Some may actually see and feel that happened, but some may only feel the emotions. For me, at first it was just the emotions. Something would trigger me and I would be shaking and crying and not know why. Now that I have my memories back through therapy, I know why. And knowing why can be very helpful in coming out of it.

At first it was really hard to accept that anything traumatic had happened to me. It was only a few months ago that I asked my therapist, “do I have PTSD?” At that point having something of a diagnosis made me feel better. It’s something I can tell people that they understand. I think I was affected more than I think I was. Life feels normal but I have been living 23 years with this – I’m 29 now. I don’t know what it feels like to be an adult without mental disorders. I used to be very depressed and anxious. When I started meditating, seeing a therapist, confronting my past, and pursuing a conscious lifestyle, my reality of “normal” shifted quite a bit towards the positive. I realized normal people feel safe, feel love, feel comfort…all things I have to work to feel. And while I don’t think I’ll ever be normal – the experience will leave a markedly different viewpoint for me – I will heal and learn happiness, peace, love. I will probably never be normal, but at this point I don’t want to be. I’d rather be me.

Seizures by the Month 2012 – 2014

Happy New Year!

Just for fun I decided to chart my seizures for the past three years. I also added some notes about things that affect me, like going to school, driving and relationships.


As you can see, some of my best months are 2014 Jan – Aug. These were the months following my first set of EMDR. In September we started the second set of EMDR, and at the same time I started Yoga Teacher Training. Because of these two combined my seizures rise in Sep, Oct and Nov this year. I’m certain once the EMDR is over, and I have become more physically accustomed to YTT, I will see the lowest levels yet in 2015.

Here’s to 2015!