Body: the storage unit for trauma.
“When we're traumatized, when we're beaten, when we're raped, we leave our bodies. We disconnect from ourselves. …. It's been a long journey to get fully back into my body. “
The body: a source of pain, and also key for healing. Talk therapy alone is not enough. This key is all about coming “home” to your body, and releasing stored trauma.
The body has been with us all along: in the Learn Key, you’ll learn about bodily systems that can be impacted by trauma; in the Support Key, you’ll find things you can do to support your body; in the Balance Key you’ll see ways the body can be out of balance; in the Allow Key you will find ways to return to your body following a trigger or flashback; in the Emotions Key you will learn to track bodily sensations related to emotions.
In this section the focus is on exercises and treatments that may help in releasing the trauma from your body in different ways. For all, start small, only go as deep as feels safe, and have your supports from Key 2 available.
A simple exercise is to pay attention to your inner sensations. You may want to close your eyes, notice how you’re breathing without trying to change it, and identify what parts of your body are drawing your attention. Get curious.
Exercise is a proven anti-depressant. If you have a medical condition or have a tendency to overdo it, check with your doctor first. Yoga, and Trauma Sensitive Yoga classes in particular, are great places to start.
Wrap yourself up
Think of a cocoon, or a swaddled baby, or Dumbo wrapping himself up in his own ears. Wrap yourself up (or close your eyes and imagine wrapping yourself up) in a warm, safe blanket or your favorite sweater.
Weigh yourself down
You may like the feeling of a heavy blanket pulled over you, or lying down with a yoga sandbag across your chest or hips. Weighing yourself down can help you feel the support of the earth (or whatever you’re lying or sitting on).
Petting an animal has been shown to reduce anxiety and stress. So, pet a dog or a cat or some other furry creature –one that you feel safe with.
They say laughter is the best medicine because it’s been shown to reduce stress, relieve pain, and even boost immunity. Laughter can also help bring us back into our body. The next time you find yourself laughing, take a moment to notice any sensations you feel in your body. You could even try imagining the laughter spreading to your belly or other parts of your body.
Show your body some love
What would showing your body some love in this moment look like? It might be taking a relaxing shower or bath, or taking the time to put lotion on your arms, or slowly brushing your hair, or clipping your fingernails, or spritzing some water on your face while you’re at work, or realizing that you’re tired and taking a nap. Whatever it is, hold in your mind the reason that you’re doing it – to show your body love.
Put your hands on your heart
One way to show yourself love is the simple act of putting one or both hands on your heart. Some people do this naturally – when they hear especially good news or especially terrible news they take a breath and put a hand to their heart. Place your hands on your heart, one over the other, or whatever is most comfortable and relax inward.
Music, especially percussion, can help bring you into your body. Trauma can cause our body to stiffen, and we can lose our sense of rhythm so be kind to yourself – no judgments!
Practice presence through sensing
As kids, it wasn’t always safe to stay present with what’s happening in the moment, so it makes sense that our minds tend to stray away from the present even more so than for most people. Staying present can be a challenge. Try this: going through each of your senses one at a time, notice what you’re seeing, touching, smelling, tasting, hearing, and sensing. If it feels right, something jarring can help with this practice, like getting a bikini wax or listening to intense loud drums or participating in a polar bear swim.
Rebuild your personal bubble
Your sense of your own personal space – your “imaginary bubble” that surrounds you - may need repair. Try this exercise: Sit in a chair, feet flat on the floor. Mentally gather up all the things (energy, thoughts, beliefs) in your body that are not serving you and imagine sending them down and out your tailbone down into the earth. Remember that the earth decomposes dead things and regenerates life. When you're ready, draw fresh earth energy up through your feet and legs, and then back through your tailbone into the earth. Imagine this flow of energy cleansing, grounding, and supporting you.
Now, draw energy from the sky above, imagining it coming down through the top of your head, down your spine, to your tailbone where it loops around the earth energy and then travels up through your front body. As it reaches your heart, it splits - both continuing up your chest, throat, and out the top of your head; and through your shoulders, arms, hands, out your fingertips. Imagine as this energy exits your body, that it creates a bubble of your own energy around you, like a forcefield that you control. Spend some time reinforcing these flows and your bubble. Feel the protection your bubble provides you, while not cutting you off from connections that you choose.
Hold your own hand
Many eastern traditions include ways of holding your hands to express energy. I’ll share just two “handholds” that I’ve found to be grounding and calming. The first is simply holding the ring finger of one hand in the fist of your opposite hand (this hold is found in both Jin Shin Tara and Jin Shin Jyutsu). The second is called Gyan Mudra, which is done by touching the tip of the thumb and the index finger, while keeping the other fingers straight but relaxed.
Tension and Trauma Releasing Exercises (TRE), as well as Shaking exercises are aimed at releasing pent up trauma from the body.
Completing the Movement
If we think or feel back into incidences of trauma from our past, there may have been a body movement that we weren't able to do for whatever reason, but the urge to move in that way is somehow stuck in our body. This muscle momentum can be there without our even knowing it exists. Working with a Jin Shin Tara, or Craniosacral practitioner can help with this. Running or rowing (where you are forcefully pushing away with both legs), can also help your body "complete the movement."