Philosophy of Bodywork
The Titles Say It All
"The Body Keeps The Score".... "The Body Bears The Burden".... "When the Body Says No"....
These book titles, all written by renowned leaders in the field of trauma, point to a reality that is well understood by trauma practitioners and yet sorely lacking understanding among general society, namely that:
Stress and trauma primarily show up in the body, not the mind.
On the one hand, we all know and feel this body-stress connection, to some extent. Maybe it's tension in the neck and shoulders when we're under a lot of stress, or a tightness in the chest and feeling like it's hard to breathe when we're worried or anxious about something. Or if giving a speech before a big audience, most of us get "butterflies" in our stomach at the very least; some would actually throw up if put in that situation!
On the other hand, these visceral reactions to the stressors in our life might not often be "loud" enough to get our attention most of the time (except in specific situations like public speaking). But they are there all the time; they might just be more subtle than we are used to tuning into, amidst our hurried pace of life and disembodied way of moving through the world.
The Honest Body
Body therapy is so powerful for stress and trauma because the body is so honest; it gives a true representation of what a person has been or is going through. Because while the conscious mind can only recall so much, our body remembers everything; it is literally the storehouse of the subconscious, and of one's significant life experiences. So to trained hands, the body reveals a story about the person, the key themes being:
unresolved difficult experiences and/or suppressed emotions they carry
subconscious life strategies they have formed in order to survive what they experienced
This story from the body is underneath the cognitive level; it is referred to as implicit memory and is accessed via sensations, movement patterns, posture, impulses, and emotions. Accessing these and bringing them to our awareness facilitates greater alignment between body and brain and sets the stage for the body's innate healing processes to occur.
The body is the place where all that we carry from life is manifested and on display,
for the trained eye to notice and to meet with compassion.
When It Becomes Too Much
Sometimes though, something happens that causes those normally subtle signals to become really LOUD, and it feels like our body is screaming at us. We may begin to hurt all over, or more intensely than ever before, or have strange new physical symptoms that we don't have an explanation for. And we may feel extremely stressed out, even if we have trouble naming exactly what all the stress is from. A general feeling of overwhelm can take over and make it difficult to get through the day.
What is at the heart of these kinds of scenarios is a dysregulated nervous system which leads to an inability of the body to find balance and alignment. There is a physiological process (a body-based chain of events) initiated by the nervous system in response to stress or threat that, when unable to complete, can render a person constantly feeling like their body is "stuck" with symptoms of fight/flight or freeze, and they can feel like their body and emotions have been hijacked and that they are no longer in control. Depending on the person and the situation, there can also be a strong shame component, as well as dissociative strategies against feeling the shame, that show up in the body.
The Vagus Nerve's Role
Thanks to the Polyvagal Theory, developed by Stephen Porges in the '90s, we now understand so much more about the Vagus nerve as the modulator of our response to stress and threat, and how activation of the different branches of the Vagus nerve affect our digestion, energy levels, muscle tension, hormones, sleep, emotions, and ability to connect with and relate to others.
Answers to how to move forward from life's difficult experiences lie in harnessing the power of this Vagus nerve. We know that bringing regulation to the nervous system relies heavily on recognizing internal signals of safety versus danger, and this is where the value of tuning into those subtle body signals comes in. From there we explore how your nervous system's response to stress or threat has maybe resulted in the tension, pain, or other body symptoms you experience, and we can navigate a return to safety. It is safety in the nervous system that sets the stage for the body and brain to begin to align and heal.
Naturally, symptoms then tend to dissipate as the energy that was once put toward survival is renegotiated and redirected toward other areas of life. It is a common experience of those that resolve their trauma to find they have more energy and vitality in life, and ease in their body, as a result.
If this resonates with you and you would like to have us join you on the journey of healing in this way, reach out and let's see how we can work together.
The video below helps explain how the nervous system modulates our experiences of safety versus danger, and how we can begin to feel more at ease in our body after a traumatic event or prolonged period of stress.