Last summer, I finally read the book, The Body Keeps the Score – Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, written by Bessel Van Der Kolk. People in my life had been telling me to read this book for over a year, by the time I finally read it. It’s a rather dense read, but I found it very helpful to further integrate ideas that I have been learning, regarding how trauma and negative emotions can get stored in the brain and body. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to know more about the mind-body connection and how stress is stored in the body.
As the author notes, experiencing stress and trauma, in one form or another, is a fact of life. But in our society, we are not usually taught the tools to process trauma in a healthy way. And when trauma is not processed and released, our body holds onto it, our brain holds onto it. It’s a survival mechanism, actually. And Dr. van der Kolk shares scientific research which explains both how trauma literally reshapes the body and the mind, and also he presents treatments in which we can finally release that stored trauma.
From the book: “Long after a traumatic experience is over, it may be reactivated at the slightest hint of danger and mobilize disturbed brain circuits and secrete massive amounts of stress hormones.”
Two of the ways that we can process the trauma in healthy ways – “by talking, connecting with others, and allowing ourselves to know and understand what is going on with us, while processing the memories of the trauma,” and “by allowing the body to have experiences that deeply and viscerally contradict the helplessness, rage, or collapse that result from trauma.”
One of the author’s discoveries during his career working with survivors of trauma was how many of his patients could not feel whole areas of their bodies. They were somehow disconnected from their bodies.
What I have come to realize myself is that a great percentage of our society is, in fact, partially numb to our bodies. I know that I am. I didn’t realize this before. It was my normal. But over the last year, I have come to finally recognize how I have retreated to my mind for so many years, for decades really, allowed my mind and ego to be in control for so long, that I didn’t even KNOW what it felt like to be in my body fully. This is a process that I am still in the process of regaining.
The author found that regular yoga and meditation are some of the most efficient and successful ways of becoming connected with the body and retraining the mind. And so that is what I have been doing, these last few months. I wrote about my yoga practice in a previous post.
Trying to re-train my body to release my stored stress is an ongoing process. I wish it were easy, but it’s not. Multiple times a day, I have to remind my body to relax tight muscles in my shoulders and neck. I have to remind myself to breathe. I have to remind myself to gently shake my body a bit and relax. I have to remind my jaw to stop clenching. All throughout the day. And the moment I stop being aware of it, I can tell that I go right back into those habits again.
But I’m working on it. It will be a long journey. But it could be worse…a few years ago, my digestive system actually shut down as a result of repressed stress. It shut down. I didn’t even realize that could happen. I will talk about that horrific experience, and how I healed from it, in my next post.