Frequently when we think about trauma, we think about it in reference to other people. But let me tell you that we ALL have trauma in our lives. “Trauma is a fact of life, but it doesn’t have to be a life sentence.” – Peter Levine
So, what is trauma? Trauma is defined as a “deeply distressing or emotionally disturbing experience”. Basically, it is a shock to your system. Everyone responds to events differently, so if a group of people all experience the same event, some may be traumatized by it while others will not. Multiple things can contribute to your chances of being traumatized, but according to Peter Levine, the most important factors are: 1. you experience a great deal of fear and 2. you are immobilized – meaning you experience the inability to act or the perception that you cannot take action in the moment which would allow the emotions and stress to move through you rather than becoming “stuck”.
We must remember that unexpressed emotions will store in our bodies. The things that we do not say, the feelings that we do not allow ourselves to feel, and the stress that we just “push down” will store and affect us later. “Most people”, Levine notes, “think of trauma as a ‘mental’ problem, even as a ‘brain disorder’. However, trauma is something that also happens in the body.” His approach is referred to as a “bottom-up” approach in that we address the needs of the body and then do the talk therapy to process.
What we have stored in our bodies will express itself at some time in some way. (Refer back to previous post titled “Right In The Feels”) It could manifest as physical pain, as disease, as illness- physical, mental, emotional. You can experience it now and get it over with or you can experience it later and many times, when we experience it later, it is more severe and longer lasting. Either way, it is not likely to be the most comfortable experience, but it is much healthier to allow the body to do what it wants to do naturally and to allow ourselves to feel what we feel when we feel it.
How many animals in the wild have you met who have PTSD? I would venture to guess none because when something traumatic happens to an animal- and it will as the food chain exists in nature- the animal responds to the frightening event by allowing the body to shake and release the fear and stress without caring what the other animals think of them. They literally shake it off (discharging the trauma) and move forward. For some reason, humans seem to think they know better than nature and we stop the body from shaking, we repress what we feel, and we store that stress in the body only to have it pop back up at some later time. And then we wonder what is “wrong” with us.
Outside of traumatic events, we are living in a society that encourages us to live in stress response and to be disconnected from ourselves and from others. This too takes a toll on the nervous system/mind and the body and trains us into a zombie-like state of functioning.
If you have experienced a traumatic event, I, of course, encourage you to seek out a therapist and to do some talk therapy around what you have experienced. But, I also encourage you to take it one step further. Tune in to what you are feeling in your body as well. Do your best to be “the witness”, that is to say, to observe without attempting to change or judge. We become fearful when the body responds in a way that we did not command it to respond and we resist. But, nature knows what it is doing way better than we do. It has survived for millions of years.
Find a trained professional to help you in your journey. Have some body work done in the form of massage or chiropractic work or physical therapy if needed. Go to a trauma sensitive yoga class, look up unwinding on YouTube, go to a myofascial release therapist, and let your body shake. Whatever you do, LISTEN to your body and TRUST that it knows what it needs to do.
When the energy that is stored in the body is accessed and released, it can transform from trauma to healing.
Fortunately, the same immense energies
that create the symptoms of trauma,
when properly engaged and mobilized,
can transform the trauma and propel us
into new heights of healing, mastery,
Peter A. Levine, PhD
It is amazing to witness the transformation that can happen in a yoga class where people are trusting their bodies, feeling safe, and allowing themselves to shake and release tension, stress, and trauma for the first time. Become friends with your body and your body will become friends with you.
I am passionate about the power behind mind-body interventions and I am making it my life’s work to bring yoga and therapy together. I hope you take the time and have the opportunity to experience the powerful mind-body connection and the amazing ways that our bodies work to heal themselves.
It may feel uncomfortable or scary at first, but you can do it. You have to trust and try something different to get a different result.
And don’t worry, I will be shaking right next to you, so we can do it together.
Check out Peter Levine’s book In An Unspoken Voice: http://www.amazon.com/Unspoken-Voice-Releases-Restores-Goodness/dp/1556439431/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1458307097&sr=8-1&keywords=peter+levine