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Using Yoga for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder


When I mentioned to a patient I was writing a blog on yoga for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), she poured out her story to me. Her ex-husband had been abusive, first verbally and emotionally, and then came the day he shook her. Violently. She considered taking her own life in the dark days that followed. Yoga, particularly the meditation aspect, as well as other counseling, brought her to a better place over time. Decades later, she is happily married and has practiced yoga faithfully ever since. Sometimes a therapy’s anecdotal evidence is so powerful academic research is merely icing on the cake.

Walker and Pacik (2017) reported 3 cases of military veterans showing positive outcomes with controlled rhythmic yogic breathing on post-traumatic stress disorder. Yoga has been theorized to impact the body’s reaction to stress by helping to modulate important physiological systems, which, when compromised, allow PTSD to develop and thrive. This particular study focuses on 3 veterans with PTSD and their responses to Sudarshan Kriya (SKY), a type of pranayama (controlled yogic breathing). Over the course of 5 days, the participants engaged in 3-4 hours/day of light stretching/yoga, group talks about self-care and self-empowerment, and SKY. There are 4 components of breathwork in SKY: (1) Ujjayi (‘‘Victorious Breath’’); (2) Bhastrika (‘‘Bellows Breath’’); (3) Chanting Om three times with very prolonged expiration; and, (4) Sudarshan Kriya, (an advanced form of rhythmic, cyclical breathing).

This study by Walker and Pacik (2017) included 3 voluntary participants: a 75 and a 72 year old male veteran and a 57 year old female veteran, all whom were experiencing a varying cluster of PTSD symptoms for longer than 6 months. Pre- and post-course scores were evaluated from the PTSD Checklist (a 20-item self-reported checklist), the Military Version (PCL-M). All the participants reported decreased symptoms of PTSD after the 5 day training course. The PCL-M scores were reduced in all 3 participants, particularly in the avoidance and increased arousal categories. Even the participant with the most severe symptoms showed impressive improvement. These authors concluded Sudarshan Kriya (SKY) seemed to decrease the symptoms of PTSD in 3 military veterans.

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Prenatal Yoga - What’s the Evidence?


As practitioners, we understand the value of a yoga practice for multiple systems. Yoga improves cardiovascular function, pulmonary function, improves flexibility, builds strength, improves balance, and cultivates resiliency. Prenatal yoga is deemed safe and widely practiced. Beyond not laying prone after the first trimester, what are modifications for practicing yoga while pregnant? Is there any evidence to demonstrate if specific yoga postures are safe from both the maternal and fetal perspective?

Polis et al set out to determine the safety of specific yoga postures using vital signs, pulse oximetry, tacometry, and fetal heart rate monitoring. The patients were diverse in age, race, BMI, gestational age, parity, and yoga experience. Exclusionary criteria included preeclampsia, placenta previa, bleeding in the 2nd or 3rd trimester, gestational diabetes, BMI greater than 35 and other medical conditions that presented contraindications.

The maternal and fetal responses were tested in 26 yoga postures. The selected postures, much like most yoga classes, offered a variety of physical positions. The standing, seated, twists and balancing postures chosen were: Easy Pose, Seated Forward Bend, Cat Pose, Cow Pose, Mountain Pose, Warrior 1, Standing Forward Bend, Warrior 2, Chair Pose, Extended Side Angle Pose, Extended Triangle Pose, Warrior 3, Upward Salute, Tree Pose, Garland Pose, Eagle Pose, Downward Facing Dog, Child’s Pose, Half Moon Pose, Bound Angle Pose, Hero Pose, Camel Pose, Legs up the Wall Pose, Happy Baby Pose, Lord of the Fishes Pose and Corpse Pose.

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Mindfulness and Interstitial Cystitis


You have been treating a highly motivated 24-year-old woman with a diagnosis of Interstitial Cystitis/Painful Bladder Syndrome (IC/BPS). The plan of care includes all styles of manual therapy, including joint mobilization, soft tissue mobilization, visceral mobilization, and strain counterstrain. You utilize neuromuscular reeducation techniques like postural training, breath work, PNF patterns, and body mechanics. Your therapeutic exercise prescription includes mobilizing what needs to move and strengthening what needs to stabilize. Your patient is feeling somewhat better, but you know she has the ability to feel even more at ease in their day to day. Is there anything else left in the rehab tool box to use?

Kanter et al. set out to discover if mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) was a helpful treatment modality for (IC/BPS). The authors were interested in both the efficacy of a treatment centered on stress reduction and the feasibility of women adopting this holistic option.

The American Urological Association defined first-line treatments for IC/PBS to include relaxation/stress management, pain management and self-care/behavioral modification. Second-line treatment is pelvic health rehab and medications. The recruited patients had to be concurrently receiving first- and second-line treatments, and not further down the treatment cascade like cystoscopies and Botox.

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Trauma Informed Treatment Approach


I work at University of Chicago and we are in the throes of preparing for a (big T) Trauma Center. But I am physical therapist who works with (little t) traumatized patients- as I treat only pelvic or oncology patients (and usually both).

From the online dictionary: Trauma is 1. A deeply distressing or disturbing experience (little t trauma) or 2. Physical injury (injury, damage, wound) yes- big T Trauma. In my experience, the Trauma creates the trauma and the body responds in characteristically uncharacteristic ways (more on this later).

People in distress/trauma-affected do not respond rationally or characteristically, so I have learned to respond to distress/trauma in a rational, ethical, legal and caring manner. Always. Every time. To the best of my ability, and without shame or blame.

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Benefits of working with the breath


In his famous book Light on Yoga, B K S Iyengar describes pranayama as “extension of breath and its control”1.  Pranayama includes all aspects of breathwork: inhalation, exhalation, and breath retention.  As clinicians treating pelvic floor dysfunction, we emphasize the importance of breathing as a critical component of rehabilitation.  Physical therapists Paul Hodges (et al) and Julie Wiebe describe a piston-like relationship between the diaphragm and pelvic floor2,3.  Pranayama, or conscious breathing, can enhance this relationship, especially if there are holding patterns in the pelvis. On inhalation, the pelvic floor muscles and diaphragm move caudally. On exhalation, the pelvic floor muscles and diaphragm move cranially4.  As physical therapists, we instruct patients to use the breath in coordination with the pelvic floor muscles to obtain optimal stability and continence.  Pelvic organ prolapse and urinary/fecal incontinence are often caused by a lack of tonic support and muscular strength of the pelvic floor, core and surrounding pelvic girdle musculature5.  Optimal pelvic floor support from adequate strength, core stability, and neuromuscular control allows for continence and organ support. For optimal core stability, there must be coordination and strength of all components of the deep core musculature – pelvic floor muscles, transverse abdominals, multifidi, and diaphragm6. The “Soda Pop Can Model of Postural Control”, conceptualized by Mary Massery, illustrates how the pressure system of an aluminum soda can maintains the stability of the structure7. Loss of support can happen at the top (i.e. tracheotomy), front (i.e. diastasis recti abdominus), back (i.e. disc herniation), or bottom (i.e. pelvic organ prolapse or incontinence). A “leak” in the structural integrity could affect postural control, core stability, and continence.  This concept underlines the importance of breath retraining as one aspect of our treatment plan. Pranayama gives your patient a strategy to decrease sympathetic nervous system overactivity and encourages the parasympathetic response. According to Diane Lee, common areas of rigidity of movement/holding patterns include lateral and posterior-lateral expansion of the ribcage during inhalation8.  Mindful pranayama encourages the student to explore diaphragmatic breathing without gripping in the chest and ribcage.   Examples of pranayama DirghaDirgha is the Three-Part Breath. Inhale, allowing the belly to fill.  If your patient finds this challenging, try a book on the belly when supine or try breathing in quadruped. The second part of dirgha is expanding the ribcage, followed by the collarbones to floating up. After trying this for 10 breath cycles, stop and recognize any new sensations or softening in the body. I recommend my patients set an alarm to go off every hour to remind them to move and breathe. 

Ujjayi

Ujjayi is known as the Ocean breath. It sounds like you have one ear to a giant seashell. Raise one hand in front of the mouth and pretend to fog a mirror with an inhalation and exhalation.  Recreate the same action at the back of the throat, but now with the mouth closed. This breath should sound similar to the signature sound of the Star Wars villain Darth Vader.  Perform this breath with any warm-up or asana while layer this breath onto Dirgha.

 

Letting Go Breath

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Pelvic Pain, Sexual Function, and Yoga


Speaking with a runner friend the other day, I mentioned I was writing a blog on yoga for pelvic pain. She had the same reaction many runners do, stating she has doesn’t care for yoga, she never feels like she is tight, and she would hate being in one position for so long. Ironically, neither of us has taken a yoga class, so any preconceived ideas about it are null and void. I told her yoga is being researched for beneficial health effects, and one day we just might find ourselves in a class together!

Saxena et al.2017 published a study on the effects of yoga on pain and quality of life in women with chronic pelvic pain.  The randomized case controlled study involved 60 female patients, ages 18-45, who presented with chronic pelvic pain. They were randomly divided into two groups of 30 women. Group I received 8 weeks of treatment only with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAIDS). Group II received 1 hour, 5 days per week, for 8 weeks of yoga therapy (asanas, pranayama, and relaxation) in addition to NSAIDS (as needed). Table 1 in the article outlines the exact protocol of yoga in which Group II participated. The subjects were assessed pre- and post-treatment with pain scores via visual analog scale score and quality of life with the World Health Organization quality of life-BREF questionnaire. In the final analysis, Group II showed a statistically significant positive difference pre and post treatment as well as in comparison to Group I in both categories. The authors concluded yoga to be an effective adjunct therapy for patients with chronic pelvic pain and an effective option over NSAIDS for pain.

In the Pain Medicine journal, Huang et al.2017 presented a single-arm trial attempting to study the effects of a group-based therapeutic yoga program for women with chronic pelvic pain (CPP), focusing on severity of pain, sexual function, and overall well-being. The comprehensive program was created by a group of women’s health researchers, gynecological and obstetrical medical practitioners, yoga consultants, and integrative medicine clinicians. Sixteen women with severe pelvic pain of at least 6 months’ duration were recruited. The group yoga classes focused on lyengar-based techniques, and the subjects participated in group classes twice a week and home practice 1 hour per week for 6 weeks. The Impact of Pelvic Pain (IPP) questionnaire assessed how the participants’ pain affected their daily life activities, emotional well-being, and sexual function. Sexual Health Outcomes in Women Questionairre (SHOW-Q) offered insight to sexual function. Daily logs recorded the women’s self-rated pelvic pain severity. The results showed the average pain severity improved 32% after the 6 weeks, and IPP scores improved for daily living (from 1.8 to 0.9), emotional well-being (from 1.7 to 0.9), and sexual function (from 1.9 to 1.0). The SHOW-Q "pelvic problem interference" scale also improved from 53 to 23. The multidisciplinary panel concluded they found preliminary evidence that teaching yoga to women with CPP is feasible for pain management and improvement of quality of life and sexual function.

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Breathing for Life: Efficacy of Prenatal Yoga

Prenatal Pranayama

During labor, I had no problem breathing out. My hang up came when I had to inhale - actually oxygenate my blood and maintain a healthy heart rate for my almost newborn baby. When extra staff filled the delivery room, and an oxygen mask was placed over my face, my husband remained calm but later told me how freaked out he was. He was watching the monitors that showed a drop in my vitals as well as our baby’s. In retrospect, I wonder if practicing yoga, particularly the breathing techniques involved with pranayama practice, could have prevented that moment.

A research article by Critchley et al., (2015) broke down breathing to a very scientific level, determining the consequences of slow breathing (6 breaths/minute) versus induced hypoxic challenges (13% inspired O2) on the cardiac and respiratory systems and their central neural substrates. Functional magnetic resonance imaging measured the 20 healthy subjects’ specific brain activity during the slow and normal rate breathing. The authors mentioned the controlled slow breathing of 6 breaths/minute is the rate encouraged during yoga practice. This rate decreases sympathetic activity, lessening vasoconstriction associated with hypertension, and it prevents physiological stress from affecting the cardiovascular system. Each part of the brain showed responses to the 2 conditions, and the general conclusion was modifying breathing rate impacted autonomic activity and improved both cardiovascular and psychological health.

Vinay, Venkatesh, and Ambarish (2016) presented a study on the effect of 1 month of yoga practice on heart rate variability in 32 males who completed the protocol. The authors reported yoga is supposed to alter the autonomic system and promote improvements in cardiovascular health. Not just the breathing but also the movements and meditation positively affect mental health and general well-being. The subjects participated in 1 hour of yoga daily for 1 month, and at the end of the study, the 1 bpm improvement in heart rate was not statistically significant. However, heart rate variability measures indicated a positive shift of the autonomic system from sympathetic activity to parasympathetic, which reduces cortisol levels, improves blood pressure, and increases circulation to the intestines.

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Supporting the use of yoga for urge urinary incontinence symptom management


Urinary incontinence (UI) can be problematic for both men and women, however, is more prevalent in women.  Incontinence can contribute to poor quality of life for multiple reasons including psychological distress from stigma, isolation, and failure to seek treatment. Patients enduring incontinence often have chronic fear of leakage in public and anxiety about their condition.  There are two main types of urinary leakage, stress urinary incontinence (SUI) and urge urinary incontinence (UUI).

SUI is involuntary loss of urine with physical exertion such as coughing, sneezing, and laughing.   UUI is a form of incontinence in which there is a sudden and strong need to urinate, and leakage occurs, commonly referred to as “overactive bladder”.  Currently, SUI is treated effectively with physical therapy and/or surgery.  Due to underlying etiology, UUI however, can be more difficult to treat than SUI.  Often, physical therapy consisting of pelvic floor muscle training can help, however, women with UUI may require behavioral retraining and techniques to relax and suppress bladder urgency symptoms.  Commonly, UUI is treated with medication.  Unfortunately, medications can have multiple adverse effects and tend to have decreasing efficacy over time.  Therefore, there is a need for additional modes of treatment for patients suffering from UUI other than mainstream medications. 

An interesting article published in The Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine reviews the potential benefits of yoga to improve the quality of life in women with UUI. The article details proposed concepts to support yoga as a biobehavioral approach for self-management and stress reduction for patients suffering with UUI.  The article proposes that inflammation contributes to UUI symptoms and that yoga can help to reduce inflammation.

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Sensing the Body from the Inside Out


In the 16th century, a theory called Preformationism claimed that sperm contained a preformed, exceedingly minute body referred to as a homunculus, which eventually became a person. This idea of a tiny man had staying power, as today the homunculus is a “body map” based on how much of the cerebral cortex is devoted to sensing each part of the body. Although the idea of a 16th alchemist placing little bodies into a flask conjures a variety of tantalizing images, our program focuses on the mundane, contemporary version of the homunculus. So…what does this have to do with a course that addresses pelvic floor dysfunction? Everything.

Emerging evidence indicates that therapies that include work to enhance body awareness/kinesthetic sense are potent and effective. Our professional training unfortunately, tends to over-emphasize a structural approach. The good news is that manual therapy, to some degree, enhances a client’s body awareness; but when we have more “tools” to capitalize on this synergy between manual therapy and improved body awareness, we have a potent “elixir” to promote change. To quote Deane Juhan, “touching hands are not like pharmaceuticals or scalpels…they are like flashlights in a darkened room.” By using the “flashlight”, we not only contribute to structural change, but neurological change – meaning the more we pay attention to a particular part of our body, the more “real estate” the brain devotes to that part of the body. Increasing the pelvic floor’s “footprint” on the brain can enhance function of the pelvic floor dramatically and quickly. Therefore, rehabilitation to address pelvic floor dysfunction benefits from weaving orthopedic, neurologic and mindfulness practices together.

This program is designed to add a new dimension for the skilled pelvic floor practitioner and to also serve practitioners new to this area of practice. There is no internal manual work; rather we draw from our deep knowledge of Yoga, Tai Chi, along with other Chinese internal martial arts (that put lots of emphasis on the pelvic floor for performance) and Feldenkrais to address pelvic floor dysfunction. Some lessons focus directly on the pelvic region and others on integrating the pelvic floor with full body movement. Ultimately, our goal is to help you connect the dots between structural, functional movement and mindfulness practices, as this powerful triad offers practitioners a comprehensive, approach for treating pelvic floor dysfunction.

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Extra Tools in the Treatment Belt for Pelvic Floor Rehab


In manual therapy training, we do not learn just one position to mobilize a joint, so why should pelvic floor muscle training be limited by the standard training methods? There is almost always at least one patient in the clinic that fails to respond to the “normal” treatment and requires a twist on conventional therapy to get over a dysfunction. Thankfully, classes like “Integrative Techniques for Pelvic Floor and Core Function” provide clinicians with the extra tools that might help even just one patient with lingering symptoms.

In 2014, Tenfelde and Janusek considered yoga as a treatment for urge urinary incontinence in women, referring to it as a “biobehavioral approach.” The article reviews the benefits of yoga as it relates to improving the quality of life of women with urge urinary incontinence. Yoga may improve sympatho-vagal balance, which would lower inflammation and possibly psychological stress; therefore, the authors suggested yoga can reduce the severity and distress of urge UI symptoms and their effect on daily living. Since patho-physiologic inflammation within the bladder is commonly found, being able to minimize that inflammation through yoga techniques that activate the efferent vagus nerve (which releases acetylcholine) could help decrease urge UI symptoms. The breathing aspect of yoga can reduce UI symptoms as it modulates neuro-endocrine stress response symptoms, thus reducing activation of psychological and physiologic stress and inflammation associated with stress. The authors concluded the mind-body approach of yoga still requires systematic evaluation regarding its effect on pelvic floor dysfunction but offers a promising method for affecting inflammatory pathways.

Pang and Ali (2015) focused on complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) treatments for interstitial cystitis (IC) and bladder pain syndrome (BPS). Since conventional therapy has not been definitely determined for the IC/BPS population, CAM has been increasingly used as an optional treatment. Two of the treatments under the CAM umbrella include yoga (mind-body therapy) and Qigong (an energy therapy). Yoga can contribute to IC/BPS symptom relief via mechanisms that relax the pelvic floor muscle. Actual yoga poses of benefit include frog pose, fish pose, half-shoulder stand and alternate nostril breathing. According to a systematic review, Qigong and Tai Chi can improve function, immunity, stress, and quality of life. Qigong has been effective in managing chronic pain, although not specifically evidenced with IC/BPS groups. Qigong has also been shown to reduce stress and anxiety and activate the brain region that suppresses pain. The CAM gives a multimodal approach for treating IC/BPS, and this has been recommended by the International Consultation on Incontinence Research Society.

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