I'd like to share with you a simple exercise that you can use to start healing from any trauma you've experienced. Getting any necessary professional help is always important, especially if you've just recently experienced trauma. But ultimately, it's ideal to learn what we can for ourselves to find healing. You have the power and the ability within, it just requires a bit of time and patience.
We've been talking recently about trauma. We've discussed what trauma is, what happens to your body, physiologically, when you experience trauma, and the physical and emotional changes that can take place in the body, especially for trauma that is very intense or repetitive and experienced over a long period of time.
That knowledge is helpful to give you an understanding that this is not something that is all in your head. It is something that is actually in the physical body itself. The blessing of that is that we can use the physical body to help find the healing that we need from the trauma. In fact, we have to use the body and we have to access the feelings and the emotions. The trauma is encased, if you will, within the emotional, primitive part of the brain, not in the thinking brain. So talking about a traumatic experience is not going to ultimately help you heal from that experience. It needs to be released through the emotions and through the physical body.
Trauma leaves us stuck
I'm going to relate being in a traumatized state to your breathing or your heartbeat, anything that is a rhythmic process.
With any rhythmic process, if you think about your heartbeat, or about your breath, you have alternating phases of opening up and expansion and of closing back down and contraction. These alternating phases happen throughout not just the processes in our body, but throughout all of the different cycles and experiences of Mother Nature and of our life as well.
The pattern of expansion and contraction is a model for processing trauma.
If you think about being in a normal, healthy, happy state, you are more open, more expanded than you are closed or contracted. You want to be able to have this big opening to life, and then this contraction, just like your breath. You breathe in deeply, we enjoy that breath, it feels good! And then you exhale and you let that breath go. And then there's this little pause. Then again, inhale, big expansion, and then exhale, and the contraction to release that breath. And the cycle just continues this way.
In contrast, when you have experienced some sort of trauma, it's like that cycle has gotten stuck. And it's much, much smaller in amplitude. Now, instead of having a big expansion and contraction, you're kind of stuck here, everything gets tense, and tight and restricted. You feel the fear and the helplessness associated with the experience. If you just think of fear by itself, or anxiety, what happens when you feel anxious or fearful? You tighten up, everything constricts and gets tight.
When you have trauma that has not been processed, it's kind of like being stuck in the state where your expansion and contraction cycles are restricted. So now, you only expand a little bit, and then you contract, and you expand a little bit, and you contract. You're probably doing that at a faster rate, too, then you would if you were feeling calm and relaxed, when you have this nice big pattern of opening and contracting.
Now you're stuck here in this space. And what happens is, as you start to expand, it can bring up those feelings and emotions that were meant to have been processed when you initially experienced the trauma, but they've been suppressed and haven't been allowed to express themselves.
Just starting to expand and open up can re-trigger the cycle of trauma.
Just starting to expand by itself can re-trigger that cycle of the trauma because you start to expand and open up and it starts to maybe feel okay, but then it brings up other emotions that are part of the trauma experience. And those emotions and feelings can be very, very strong. The intensity of those feelings is frightening to most people. You feel that fear, and then you close back down, and that just perpetuates this trauma cycle.
Some of the feelings that may come up, especially feelings of anger, and rage, are incredibly strong feelings. And it's not comfortable, and you don't like the way it feels, and you're not used to experiencing those things. So you shut back down.
The process of trying to come out of this constricted state with this unprocessed trauma can lead you to reliving and re-experiencing the trauma over and over again.
Learning to expand safely
The way to get unstuck is through that same process of experiencing the expansion and contraction. The only way out of the unprocessed trauma is by going through. It is by allowing the body to experience not the reliving of the trauma, but the expression of the emotions, the feelings of the sensations of that fight-or-flight response being fully executed and expressed through your body.
The key to this experience is in learning how to let these sensations surface without being afraid of the sensations themselves.
Two critical things to consider before you do this on your own:
- If you have recently experienced something traumatic, something very strongly traumatic, acutely traumatic, this might not be a good idea to do on your own. It might be best to find some professional help and work with someone. Because you don't want to be re-triggered as you try to find healing from the experience.
- It is very, very important that you find a space where you feel physically and emotionally safe. One of the biggest things that is compromised when we experienced trauma is that we don't feel safe. And so it is critical to find a space where you feel physically and emotionally safe to allow yourself to start exploring these things.
The third piece of advice that I have for you is to be gentle with yourself, allow yourself time and allow the body the time that is needs to process and express these things. The trauma that you experienced might not be recent. It might be something that happened years ago, or even decades ago. And only now are you ready to find healing from it. It's been with you a long time, it's going to take some time to fully and completely heal from that. It's not going to happen spontaneously in 30 seconds. So be gentle with yourself, allow yourself the process of time.
The last part that I want you to keep in mind before we go through this simple exercise is that the body naturally has its own spontaneous physical reactions to releasing the trauma. You may experience these as you start to go through this process. Most commonly, you will experience shaking or trembling, this is the body's way of dissipating all that energy that has been stored up as you went through the physiological process to react to the trauma.
If you notice that your limbs, your arms, your legs, any part of your body starts to do a lot of shaking or trembling, realize that this is normal, and healthy and helpful. And do the best that you can to stay with that sensation and just allow it to continue and it will help clear out that trauma.
A simple exercise to process trauma
Okay, so here's what we're going to do for an exercise to help you start processing your own trauma. The key for this exercise is to tune into your physical body, and to allow the sensations that you feel to just surface and do whatever they they want to do without trying to judge them to give them a name. The trick is to just be an observer and stay in that space of being safe and being protected where you are.
The key is to tune into your physical body and allow sensations to surface.
I want you to find a place where you feel safe, physically and emotionally, and let yourself come to standing. We want to focus on being fully present in our body and being very grounded, and this is easiest to do if you're standing as opposed to sitting or lying down. So come into your standing and get your feet a comfortable distance apart from one another.
Let your arms just relax gently at your sides. And then it's up to you whether you want to leave your eyes open or let your eyes closed. Do whatever feels more comfortable for you. If you are able to close your eyes that can make it easier to tune into your body and to the sensations that you're feeling within your body. So start off by just standing here in this nice comfortable position.
Just let yourself breathe. And just take a couple of breaths and notice your breath.Don't do anything with it. Don't try to change it. Just allow yourself to breathe. Notice what you feel.
Then take your awareness into your legs and into your feet. Shift your weight from side to side a little bit. Give a gentle push with each foot into the ground. Really feel the connection between your feet and the earth beneath you, that you are and supported by the ground beneath you.
Then when you feel a bit of that connection, you can just stop moving and come back to the center. Keep your arms relaxed and continue to breathe nice and slowly.
Now as you continue with your breath, direct your attention first to your right foot. Very slowly move your attention from that foot into your ankle, up to your lower leg, your calf into your knee. Then bring your attention up to your thigh.
As you go through this process, notice what each part of your body feels like. What is the experience as you bring your awareness to each part of your body?
Then go back to the left leg. Start in the foot. Come up to the ankle. Come up to the calf and the knee and the thigh. And notice what you feel as you go through the legs.
Have an awareness of any changes that you might feel in your breathing. Any place that you feel any constriction or any tightness and also any place where you maybe feel some openness, some freedom. Maybe you feel warmth someplace, or maybe you have an awareness of something feeling cold. Just allow those things to come.
Now bring your awareness up into your pelvis. Let your awareness slowly come up to your waist, to your belly, your ribs up to your heart and your chest.
Then into your shoulders. And we'll go down into the right arm, your right shoulder, your right upper arm, your elbow, your forearm, your wrist in your hand. What do you notice as you go through these parts of your body?
Then come back to your left shoulder, the left upper arm, the elbow, forearm, the wrist, and what awareness do you have? What sensations do you feel in these different parts of your body?
Bring your awareness now to your neck, to your head, to your ears, your mouth, your nose, your eyes, to the top of your head, and then down to your jaw. And then lastly, let your awareness come down your back, down your spine along the curves in your back and down to the base of your spine and your tailbone.
Once more, bring your awareness back to your feet where they connect with the ground and do a little shifting of your weight from side to side. And really feel your feet connected with the earth. If your eyes have been closed, open your eyes, take a few deep breaths. And then look around the room and just see what you notice and how you feel.
Don't worry about trying to describe things or name them. Let go of any judgments of them. Just have an awareness of things. And then thank your body for helping you with this process.
When you're ready, move forward and continue about your day.
Don't let the simplicity of this exercise prevent you from doing it. It can be very powerful when you allow yourself to dive into the sensations within your body. Give yourself five or 10 minutes every day to try this for for a week or two weeks and see how you feel and what comes up for you.
Being present with your emotions brings healing from trauma
The exercise you just did is meant to give you an idea of how you can start becoming more aware of the sensations in your body and allowing them to arise.
It is critical in healing from trauma that we get comfortable with these feelings and sensations.
Realize that the way to to heal from the trauma is to work through those feelings and sensations. Again, not reliving the experience but expressing the feelings that have been stuck within your body.
As you get more and more comfortable with this you will slowly start to feel more alive. You will notice more of your body and you'll have more energy.
It's that whole ebb and flow. If you're stuck in a state of contraction and a relative state of feeling unsafe and fearful, you're not very alive. You can't experience much joy and much happiness. As you slowly start to have more expansion and contraction action in your state of being, you will start to experience more of the joyfulness of life and the alive-ness of life that is within your body.
Again, be gentle with yourself! The more you allow yourself to feel those emotions and sensations that have been stuck, the more healing you will experience. As you continue to tune in to your body day after day, more and more things will surface.
It truly is a freeing experience.