There are experiences in life that call on you to find a strength you never thought you had. To have to bury your soulmate or beloved parent, to live in a body wracked with pain, to lose mobility and independence—these are trials that can elicit the hidden potential of the human spirit to fight on through suffering, and to keep faith with what is good, with light and love. For many who practice, yoga is the lifeline that connects us with that power within.

“When we practice yoga, we clear the space to begin to touch base with who we truly are, beneath the story, beneath the tragedy,” says Amy Weintraub, founding director of LifeForce Yoga Healing Institute and author of Yoga for Depression. “And that can infuse us with a sense of hope.”

Yoga’s philosophy teaches that all the levels of our body and mind are connected—the musculoskeletal, the breath, the emotional, mental, and spiritual. When you go through a crisis or tragedy, Weintraub explains, your muscles tighten and the breath can become chronically constricted. “The body remembers the places we’ve held trauma and loss, even if we think we’ve let it go,” Weintraub says.

Practicing yoga with attention to breath and sensation can release what’s constricting your physical body, letting you tap into—and work through—what’s happening on an emotional level, and giving you access to your true, blissful nature.

“No matter if your practice is gentle or vigorous, it can have a profound effect,” says Weintraub. “Yoga can calm an anxious state, elevate a depressed mood, and generally allow us to cope better with whatever life brings. And, as an act of self-care, it’s empowering.”

A growing body of research shows that yoga can measurably improve the lives of people who’ve experienced trauma. Researchers working with PTSD sufferers have shown that yoga can improve heart-rate variability (a measure of chronic stress and PTSD), emotional regulation, and pain.

The research is powerful evidence, but often, real-life stories are even more compelling. The six people whose stories are featured in these pages experienced some of life’s most grueling tribulations. Let their stories of resilience, courage, and healing inspire you to tackle your life’s challenges—both small and large—and live with hope and faith even when times are tough.

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