The work of life is to become more fully human – softening into ‘what is’ over and over again.
My work with clients is about listening to the ways we talk about our selves and our lives- somatically, verbally and energetically. Tuning into the body while we tell our stories, provides a subtext that is often the doorway to the state of our nervous system, one of the places trauma gets stuck. In addition to our body’s negotiation of stress, are the ways we narrate ourselves verbally. I find that most of us are stuck in unkind beliefs about who we are. Unexplored beliefs and their corresponding feelings, sensations and behaviors leave us living our lives unconsciously- or in a place of reactivity where we abandon ourselves over and over again. By bringing “kindfulness” to our thoughts and feelings, we can shift old ways of being and embrace ourselves with respect and kindness. This awareness is the portal to making peace with our selves and coming home to our bodies, befriending all of our parts with the hopes of eventually allowing for integration.
Exploring the Bodymind
My work as a Yoga Therapist and bodyworker deeply informs my approach as a psychotherapist. While talk therapy has a critical role in healing, I believe that working with the physical and energy bodies furthers our capacity to honor our truth and live from a more integrated place.
Because we are acculturated to override the heart and belly brains, we miss life promoting information in the form of sensations and emotions. Our thought obsessed culture, invites us to ignore the myriad signals of the bodymind. Taking the time to slow down and orient to the physical and energy bodies, can be life changing and in some cases life saving.
Somatic Experiencing is a powerful modality that works directly with the nervous system. A healthy nervous system pendulates between sympathetic and the parasympathetic with relative ease. We know we are working with traumatic stress when the nervous system gets stuck.
Trauma is defined as an experience that overwhelms the nervous system. Chronic fight/flight/freeze results in symptoms that manifest themselves somatically like physical pain, sleep issues, disease, anxiety and depression. Chronic fight/flight/freeze can also manifest as beliefs around worthlessness and helplessness.
Trauma healing comes from finally completing an experience that in the moment was truncated, be it emotional (like crying) and/or physical (like running). The initial moment of pain may have become so overwhelming that we make a subconscious decision to ‘check out’; in other words, we freeze. Every part of us screams “Stop, I don’t want to feel this!” The problem is that we don’t stop the experience, we just press pause. Even though a trauma may have occurred years ago, it could be playing out in the ways we carry ourselves and our perception of the world. What can help bring the nervous system back to balance is: slowing down and paying attention to the nervous system states that arise, and in particular, orienting to the thwarted self protective responses (like running and fighting) while tending to the thwarted emotional experiences, and allowing these states to come into completion.
Once completion is integrated, new possibilities emerge sparking energy for healing and change.
Reclaiming Safety through Somatic Experiencing
Touch Work for Early Developmental Trauma
Early developmental trauma is an epidemic in American culture in part because of the medicalization of birth, the dissolution of kinship systems leaving parents isolated and overwhelmed, a misunderstanding of the attachment needs of the infant, and the lack of family leave forcing parents to go back to work too soon. Because this type of trauma happens when we are young and have not formed language, the memories are implicit (not consciously recalled) shaping the way we perceive our own lovability and sense of safety in the world.
In touch work, gentle, unobtrusive touch is used to open the diaphragms of the body (the feet, joints, pelvis, shoulder girdle, jaw and cranium in addition to the viscera) with the intention of allowing these places to soften so that the physiology can begin to move. Once the energy is moving, Somatic Experiencing is then used to support the completion of the energy.
Touch work is also useful for medical trauma involving the use of anesthesia where memory is impaired.
Here is an interview I did with Melissa Groman on traumatic stress, grief and healing.
Sometimes we need to process something out loud and get some empathy (advice is offered only when asked). In addition to sessions in my space, I offer walking and talking sessions in Bakers Park or Gambrill State Park at a reduced rate. I hold two slots a week open for Empathy walks.
"The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers." -Thich Nhat Hanh
Relationships are hard work: two people coming together from different family systems and different life experiences. In essence, coupling is a cross cultural experience. We all need support in creating a healthy, vibrant relationship that is dynamic, respectful and real.
I love helping people learn to slow down and listen deeply to each other. Through my own relationship, I have become interested in the role the nervous system plays in the dynamics that we dance. Inviting couples into awareness of the autonomic responses in our physiology can illuminate the impulse to fight, flee or freeze that under girds our stuck places. Once these impulses are brought into awareness and gently explored in combination with a curiosity about the early attachment wounds and trans-generational trauma that impact our responses, we can begin to do a different dance.
The work of Stephen Porges, Stan Tatkin, Dr. Harville Hendrix, Helen Lakelly Hunt and Marshall Rosenberg influence my approach. In addition to using Non-violent Communication and Imago for communication skills, I tend to the neurophysiology underneath the conversation to support co-regulation and self regulation. The combination of communication skills and neuroception creates a dynamic of empathy and joining that shifts seemingly entrenched dynamics.
I also offer Yoga Therapy for couples with the intention of supporting empathy, connection and ishvara pranidhana, an opportunity to drop out of psychological time and connect deeply in the vast, abundance of the now. When we can drop into the now and soften into what is, we have a felt experience of okayness offering perspective, capacity and resilience to the challenging dynamics of intimate relationship.
“We must cultivate the courage to look deeply, with clarity and courage into our own suffering. We often hold the tacit assumption that all of our suffering stems from events in the past. But, whatever the initial seed of trauma, the deeper truth is that our suffering is more closely a result of how we deal with the effect these past events have on us in the present.” -Peter Levine
Yoga Therapy is a powerful technology because it gives us a lens that sees humans as multidimensional beings offering us additional entry points to work with our stuck places. The entry points consist of the koshas: physical, psycho/emotional and breath layers.
I use Yoga therapy to unearth and integrate trauma as it manifests in the koshas. As a Yoga Therapist, I support re-establishing movement, alignment and space in the physical body through breath work, postures, mantra and mudra. The physical practice of breath and movement is particularly effective in loosening and freeing body armor, shifting the body from chronic defensive postures that were adopted in childhood. It can also impact the effects of aging and illness which have resulted in the shortening and thickening of the connective tissues. This stuck quality mirrors the fight/flight/freeze response in the nervous system. So through gentle awakening, softening and strengthening of the tissues, we begin to meet the material that “stuck” us in the first place and move it through.
Yoga Therapy also works with prana or energy in the body. When prana gets stuck, disease takes hold. Understanding the way energy moves in the body and how to shift it when it becomes stuck is central to my work. Releasing old beliefs, healthy circulation and digestion, and proper breathing can move stuck energy and promote health.
Yoga Therapy is an experiential, collaborative process that prioritizes your needs and follows your lead. It is an opportunity to awaken from the illusion of our separateness and connect to the deepest heart knowing that we are not our thoughts, emotions, or experiences. We are the ocean to the waves of experience.