Yoga, Poetry and PTSD

Guest post by Mary McManus

Trauma came early in my life as I contracted paralytic polio at the age of 5. Shortly after learning how to walk again, my father became alcoholic and sexual, physical and emotional abuse were a daily occurrence until I was 17 when he suicided. There was no caring, nurturing adult in my family.

Fortunately, I met physical therapists and teachers along the way who gave me enough sustenance to harness and develop my intellectual strengths and believe that I deserved to live. I learned to dissociate from my body at an early age.  Going through life using only my intellect and ignoring the needs of my body eventually caught up with me when, in December 2006, I was diagnosed with post polio syndrome, a progressive neurological disease. While there are some neurological issues as a result of the initial polio virus which are more prominent as the body ages, the primary diagnosis was PTSD. Each of the symptoms could be traced to the trauma; my body, mind and soul were crying out for healing. Disconnection could no longer be sustained.

I began writing poetry and for the first time expressed feelings about the abuse while transforming them through the lens of light and Divine Love. I began to connect to my Spirit – to my core that no matter what we live through never changes.  I was finally ready to heal my life. I quit my full time award winning social worker career at the VA with a heavy heart but knowing that I could no longer help the veterans to heal their PTSD until I addressed my own healing.

Poetry poured out of me and I visualized feeling healthy and whole. I began a practice of gratitude, journaling, meditating and as I began to connect mind to body with the help of beautiful therapists at Spaulding Rehab Hospital, symptoms began to abate. I wrote letters to my parents saying that I forgave them.  I’m smiling when I say I could not leave well enough alone but Type A personality traits die hard. I hired a personal trainer after being discharged from outpatient rehab and went on to run the 2009 Boston Marathon. Running the marathon helped me to leave a lot of feelings out on the road from the trauma of polio but you can’t outrun symptoms of PTSD or a spinal cord injury. The finish line of the marathon was another starting line for healing.

In January of 2011, I found my way to the yoga mat. With the help of my amazing teacher, Pat Donaher,  I began to find and deepen my breath. I began making an intimate mind/body connection  Body memories began to surface. They were met with love and compassion. In  May of this year, Pat referred me to  David Vendetti, a KMI Body Worker. We began to release the trauma that was bound in the fiber of my being. It was in truth excruciating work but all of the pain was transformed by his love, compassion and tenderness.  With hands more skilled than a surgeon’s, he released the memories from the tissue.

Yoga is becoming a hallmark treatment for PTSD symptoms. I have discovered the joy of my parasympathetic nervous system and can feel calmness and peace in my body. I am able to harness the power of my breath to breathe through emotional pain and help it to heal. I have created new body memories not only through David’s compassionate touch but through yoga teachers’ adjustments and assists. Yoga poses help me to feel empowered and strong. There is nothing like standing in warrior pose to wash away all those years of feelings helpless and out of control. I feel joy, freedom and happiness as a result of the biochemical changes that happen as a result of a yoga practice.

My pen continues to be a powerful source of healing and whenever my mind begins to race with thoughts I now recognize as having their roots in trauma, I pour those thoughts in poetry. I blog. In September of 2012, I am planning to take a yoga teacher training. I am finally able to give from a place of wholeness, freedom and joy. It’s time to take what I have learned to help others heal trauma through the practice of yoga. I realize that all I have lived through has been an incredible gift and blessing. I live life with passion, purpose and walk in beauty.

When Mary McManus was diagnosed with post polio syndrome in December 2006, she realized that the pattern of disconnection from her mind to her body could no longer be sustained. Although she had a stellar academic and professional career, a wonderful husband and two healthy children, Mary realized something was profoundly missing in her life. Mary had an award winning career as a social worker at the Department of Veterans Affairs.  In her attempt to heal her own life, she cared passionately about the veterans she treated for PTSD. She realized that in order to heal her own life, she needed to leave her career. She discovered the healing power of poetry, meditation and journaling. She began the mind/body connection. In January of 2011, Mary found her way to her yoga mat. Through her yoga practice, she has awakened to her inner beauty and truths and freed herself from the memories that kept her mind, body, heart and soul enslaved. Mary has a BS in Public Relations from Boston University, and an MSW from Boston College. She is a blogger and is the author of two books of inspirational poetry with a 3rd collection of poems and her autobiography “Why Do Squats Make Me Cry” to be released in 2012. Mary lives in Brookline, Massachusetts with her loving, supportive husband of 34 years.

Photo acknowledgement

The ideas contained in this post solely represent the perspective of the author. To contribute to ‘Survivors Speak’ contact Michele.


The information provided on the is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between a patient/site visitor and his/her health professional. This information is solely for informational and educational purposes. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Neither the owners or employees of nor the author(s) of site content take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading this site. Always speak with your primary health care provider before engaging in any form of self treatment. Please see our Legal Statement for further information.

PsyWeb Poll

Are you currently taking or have you ever been prescribed anti-depressants?
Total votes: 3979