Namaste & Welcome!
Recently, I had the honor of listening to the talented & insightful Krista Tippett (on her radio show On Being) interview Bessel van der Kolk, MD, a clinical phychiatrist and one of the world's leading trauma researchers. The conversation was captivatingly brilliant and completely affirmative of everything I am learning in my Somatic Experiencing (SE) Training. Namely, that the way to heal any kind of traumatic stress is through the body.
What Bessel had found over time is that talk therapy often fails because traumatic experiences get lodged in the viscera of the body, and no matter what we 'tell' the mind, the body might not feel safe. Ever tried to talk yourself into the fact that you would be okay about something (like giving a toast at a wedding) and yet the body is producing it's own very loud array of sensations and feelings about just the prospect of that event??? You can do as much deep breathing as you like or try to talk yourself into feeling calm, but it doesn't always work. What Bessel points out in his interview is that the two parts of our brain- the pre-frontal cortex responsible for rational, logical thinking and cognition and the reptilian or 'old' brain, actually don't have much of a connection to each other. So try as you might to get them to communicate with each other, it just might not happen. Hence, not being able to talk yourself into just 'feeling calm and good' in stressful situations.
The way in is through the body, not the mind. Although the mind can be a wonderful tool to serve the body and the heart. Bessel found through scientific research and studies that some of the most effective ways to heal trauma (and I would add the day to day stress of daily living) is through movement such as yoga, dance, physical exercise, breathing consciously, and body work treatments that take us deep into the viscera. Bessel now teaches workshops at Yoga Centers such as Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Lenox, Mass. In my Somatic Experiencing training, I am being trained to work 'being to being' with people, rather than 'mind to mind', if you will. Our animal bodies have their own ideas about life, and it is important to listen to and get to know this part of ourselves. As Mary Oliver says in her poem Wild Geese, '...you only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves'.
Rather than overlaying something from the outside on our traumas- such as a pill, a few drinks, or some other addiction (which is quick and easy to do), we are invited to be wiling to feel deeply inside (interoception) and listen and allow the feelings, sensations, and emotions to 'be there' and to move through us. This requires a willingness to 'sit in the fire' and 'sit with' whatever is arising in the present moment without our usual tactics or running away. * Please note that I am not a trained therapist and I know that pharmacutical drugs can be very appropriate as part of an overall treatment plan.
For someone who is traumatized, being present in the body can be one of the most difficult places to be. The body may have become an enemy and a very dangerous place. But again, the way out and the way into wholeness and healing is through this human animal and somatic or movement-based experiences are some of the most effective methods for treating trauma and stress. In our culture, we are actually rewarded for being immobile!!! How insane! If you have a high-paying job and have to sit at your desk for long hours, you are thought of as successful and looked upon as having climbed that corporate ladder to the top. That might mean spending less time in movement, in the body, in delightful play, in the flow and the enjoyment of life. Often, traumatized people were immobilized as part of the horror of their experience- pin downed, tied up or confined in some way against their will. It stands to reason then that movement is a way out of the trauma vortex and a way to heal.
We crave this as human animals, choosing to 'walk and talk' with a friend when we need to have a deep discussion about something important or upsetting to us. The fluid walking, combined with the generative resource of nature and the company of a trusted companion, all put our nervous systems at ease and allow us to settle in a beautiful way. Compare this to trying to have a deep discussion in a crowded coffee shop with lots of noise and perhaps too little space. An important tenant of the SE work that I do and in my yoga classes, is to invite people to follow their impulses. This is a great practice and something we can do each day. Are you feeling the urge to move, to stretch, to cry, to shake, to go out for a long walk or to sleep? Getting in tune with these basic impulses and having the courage to follow them may put us against the grain of culture, but within the flow of our own deepest spirit. Our bodies desire self-regulation, we want to heal and we are not hopeless beings. As Peter Levine, PhD, the founder of SE states, 'Trauma is a fact of life. It does not, however, have to be a life sentence.'
Enjoy listening to this inspiring and hopeful interview with Bessel HERE, and may you have the courage to pause, listen to and offer gratitude to your amazing body, mind and spirit each day! And, as much as possible, move it, massage it, listen to it and LOVE it! You just might find yourself journeying into the wholeness and unencumbered freedom that you are longing for.
Yoga Asana Suggestions:
A class focused on deep listening: Deep hip openers, seated poses, and some meditation and breathing practices. Seated twists are also a great opportunity to pause, move in stages and listen.
Self massage with rollers and tennis balls is also a great way to go deep into the viscera.
Contemplations to Deepen Your Practice:
* What is your 'go to' when you feel stressed out or traumatized in some way? Is it food, drugs, a few drinks or television or do you get out and walk, talk, move or take a movement-based class? Or a combination of these? Notice your patterns with compassion. Seek professional help where needed.
* Pause in this moment, close your eyes and take three full deep breaths. Simply notice what is happening inside focusing specifically on sensations and feelings. Can you allow it all to be for a few moments. Congratulations! You are on the road to healing through simply being present and aware.
* When especially difficult or unwanted sensations arise in your body, do you typically move toward fight or flight or freeze and collapse? Notice with compassion.
* Next time you have the urge to 'talk out' your feelings (and this is okay) see what would happen if you simply listened inside instead. Can you name any feelings, sensations, colors or impulses arising within you. Can you allow yourself to follow one impulse, no matter how wacky? Make sure that impulse is not harmful to any other living creature including yourself.
* Go for a 'walk and talk' with a dear friend. Practice taking turns sharing and listening from your heart. Timing yourselves (like 20 minutes each) might seem a bit extreme but can give you equal air time.
Here in this body are the sacred rivers, here are the sun and moon, as well as the pilgrimage places. I have not encountered another temple as blissful as my own body." - Tantric Song
Breath of Life
I breathe in All That Is--
to take everything in,
as if my heart beats
the world into being.
From the unnamed
vastness beneath the
mind, I breathe my
way to wholeness
Each breath a "yes,"
and a letting go,
a journey, and a
By Danna Faulds, from her book Go In and In: Poems From the Heart of Yoga (Peaceable Kingdom Books, 2002).