A man doing yoga

Yoga saved Chris Thompson-Lang’s life. Now he is a trauma conscious yoga teacher

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

It was an experience that would do him great harm and change him indelibly.

“In Afghanistan, I was involved in locating and disposing of improvised explosive devices – IEDs,” he says.

Whenever an IED detonated, causing damage to nearby residents, Thompson-Lang felt responsible for failing to remove the device in time.

Thompson-Lang, pictured here in Afghanistan in 2011, served as a sapper, non-commissioned officer and non-commissioned officer during his time in the armed forces.Delivered

The trauma caused by seeing injuries and death to the people he helped had a lasting impact on his mental state.

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

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

How trauma affects the brain

Typical reactions to trauma are fight, flight, or freeze, explains Thompson-Lang.

MRI imaging studies show how trauma — either a one-time event or cumulative exposure — changes the brain.

Changes in the amygdala — the brain’s “alarm center” — can increase sensitivity 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 is diverted from the outer cortex in the brain to the central limbic system where you have the amygdala,” says Thompson-Lang.

This state of hypervigilance has harmful health consequences.

“You are more often in fight and flight [modes]and that’s powered by adrenaline and cortisol,” explains Thompson-Lang.

“Production of the cortisol takes away the body’s ability to produce testosterone and estrogen, which are hormones necessary for health, growth and repair.”

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

What makes trauma-aware yoga different?

Walk into a regular yoga class and you’re often greeted by music and the scent of essential oils wafting through the room.

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