How yoga can help treat PTSD

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BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) -- The benefits of yoga go far beyond improving someone's flexibility. It's no secret the practice also improves the mind.

Kristin Little, a Marine Corps veteran, wife and mother shares her story of how Yoga helps her manage PTSD.

Looking in from the outside, one might envy Little. She's smart. She has a loving family and a successful career, but like so many veterans, Kristin's battle wasn't over when she left the military.

"I've struggled with PTSD most of my life," explained Little. "It feels like a battle zone in your head."

She tried traditional treatment options, but nothing seemed to work for her.

"I became very fearful," said Little. "I couldn't even really leave my house. I couldn't go to the store by myself. All I could think about was I wanted to be that person I used to be where I could just live fearlessly."

Then, while living in Japan, she had an unexpected breakthrough.

"I had two choices one day when we were in Okinawa. It was either to step off my balcony on the sixth floor or go to yoga class. I went to a yoga class, and here I am."

Little says the lessons she learned through yoga saved her life. She spent the next two years learning everything she could about the practice and now teaches classes for active military and veterans in Bay County, Florida.

"I'm not a yoga teacher that's here to make them bend and be flexible and stretchy," said Little. "I'm here to help them you know breathe and get their mind in the right place and so they can live more comfortably. "

As the benefits of yoga became more apparent, PTSD treatment programs, like the one at the Military Resilience Unit at Emerald Coast Behavioral Hospital, began to implement the practice into their curriculum.

"We decided to add yoga to our program in 2015 based on research showing that yoga has a lot of benefits for reducing stress in the body and the mind," said clinical social worker Megan Mould. "A big part of PTSD is hypervigilance. It's very hard for them to regulate their nervous system. They're always in that fight or flight mode, the anxiety, so it's been a key in being more mindful in their breathing."

Little and Mould agree yoga is not a cure all, but an effective addition to treatment.

Little says, "Medication combined with yoga, combined with therapy, that's really where the healing begins."

With a smile Kristin noted her progress over the past few years, "I'm in a good place. I'm in a really good place and I feel like I'm living."

Many would agree, she has so much to live for.

The VA is currently conducting it's own studies on yoga as a treatment for PTSD. Supporters say they hope one day doctors will be able to prescribe yoga as a treatment option.