I recently attended at training that focused on Somatic Therapy which is a treatment for emotional and physical issues related to trauma, stress and the rigors of life. I was amazed once again at the powerful connection between what we experience and how the body processes it. As one researcher, Bessel van der Kolk puts it “The body keeps the score.” What does that mean? For years, since elementary school I remember back discomfort. In my household, if you were sick, the attitude was “just wait and it will go away”, ”grin and bear it” or maybe good excuse to miss school, stay in bed and get a little extra attention. That was my normal and I proceeded on, ignoring my “issues” and stuffing any emotional residue. Over the years, back pain continued to connect with stressful situations which eventually resulted in some chronic tension/muscle pain patterns and an impact on my life both in my belief systems about myself such as “I’m weak” or avoidance behaviors “I can’t do that right now” Anxiety was a common emotion woven throughout body/mind. This training highlighted the impact of these stress reactions in everyone’s life. Ideally we thrive in the zone of balance.
I often refer to the life of a healthy baby with their rhythms of living – being warm,loved, touched, fed, cleaned and stimulated in that safe environment of the home. When early relationship traumas occur , this zone of balance is tipped and our relationship to our world is changed. We develop from a secure or an insecure backdrop of experience and interpretation. Since no life is perfectly balanced we can be sure that the body holds many secrets and mysteries of how we came to be here today. The good news is that the human body and soul wants balance and freedom. Sandra Paulson, PhD commented in the training about the potential of Somatic strategies ”emancapation for what has been sequestered” within us. In my therapy practice, I often focus on the body’s reaction to a particular trigger/experience. This isn’t easy for many as we aren’t trained to tune in to our bodies. Like relationship education skills, we didn’t learn body awareness/release exercises in school. The good news is that there are strategies and practices that can be learned and practiced by anyone interested in living a more balanced and healthy life. It’s more than stress management – I’m not exactly sure what it is but I know it’s available for all if we want to learn.
One exercise to help open this door of awareness to your body is: Think of things in your life that create a positive feeling. It can be an image, a memory, words or a touch. Dr. Paulson referred to her poodle as a “grounding professional” meaning that when she touched her dog, her body calmed. Make a list of these grounding things in your life and choose one to practice. For example, I thought of the aroma of one the essential oils I use called Happy. Just the thought of this aroma of tangerine, spearmint, and rosewood created a change. The key here is awareness. Check in with your body or better yet have a partner to share this with you. Observe any subtle body signals and if you are energy sensitive you may notice waves of radiant energy. The key is noticing how it feels in your body in that moment. Each time you practice this, your body will have different responses depending on the state of balance at that moment in time. With practice, you will begin to tune in to yourself better and that leads to a sense of inner strength/mastery. Somatic Experiencing is an actual treatment to release trapped emotional energy that your body has stored from past trauma or stress and if you are interested in this subject I would refer you to the book by Pat Ogden called Trauma and the Body. The first step is developing that awareness that our mind/bodies have minds of their own and many of our everyday problems no matter how difficult are connected to how the body stores stress. There are many paths to healing emotional and physical pain and unbalance and each individual’s needs are different. My husband and I recently did a presentation on stress management. Biologically, there are reactions that we all have in common being human – that is the activation (sympathetic system) and calming (parasympathetic system). The other new one recently discovered is called the Ventral Vagal Nervous System and relates to feeling connected with another. This connection is necessary to make lasting changes in our lives. We were designed to grow and thrive within these healthy connection. With all the world’s challenges and realities living in balance can be a maze. We were also designed to be intelligent and learn….Let’s keep learning.