22 Nov Healing Trauma and Stress through the Body and Touch
“The way you hold your body determines how you feel. If you help the body to feel safe your mind will feel safe also.”
This quote is from a presentation by Bessel Van der Kolk M.D. (link in references), one of the leading experts in healing Trauma and author of his latest book “The Body Keeps the Score”.
For years Dr. Barry and I have been fascinated by how a gentle touch, which brings increased body/self-awareness along with a change in body alignment and muscle tension could have such profound and pervasive healing effects. Everything from decreased body pain (the one you expect from Chiropractic Care) to decreased anxiety, depression, sleep and digestive problems, hormonal imbalances and immune dysregulation.
The damaging effects of stress and trauma on physical and mental health come mostly from the over activation of the parts of the brain, like the amygdala, which create the sensations of fear, anger, hypervigilance and a fight, flight or freeze state, all aimed at our survival.
Dr. Van der Kolk explains in his book and lectures that releasing trauma is about helping the Nervous System to reregulate itself, come into the present moment and feel safe. The problem, as he explains, is the part of the brain that is rational, and understands and explains things (lateral prefrontal cortex) has no direct neurological connections and therefore no influence over the amygdala.
Therefore, we cannot usually talk or rationalize ourselves out of a trauma response.
However, the parts of the brain that do have a direct connection with the amygdala are the sensory pathways coming up from the body, the parts of the brain that link that bodily sensation to emotion (the insula) and the parts of the brain most involved with self-awareness (the orbital and medial pre-frontal cortex and anterior and posterior cingulate for the science geeks).
All of these brain areas have one thing in common. They all respond to pleasant, safe and healing touch by inhibiting the amygdala and rebalancing and reregulating the Autonomic Nervous System, which coordinates all of the organs systems of our body, sets baseline muscle tension levels and determines our “State of Being”.
We have found pretty consistently over the years that the quality of touch we are using enhanced by the resulting changes in posture, alignment, muscle tension and flexibility tell the brain we are safe and relaxed and allow us to feel peaceful and more easily read out intuitive signals.
When our bodies are at peace this peace spreads through our minds and emotions to our families and communities. The state of self-connection, self-awareness and positive sensations that the adjustment supports can be nurtured and cultivated by you, by allowing yourself to move more slowly than usual after the adjustment and trying to avoid screens or even the radio in the car for a while. This will allow you to stay present with yourself and focus on what you are feeling and let it “sink in”.
People with chronic health problems or pain are often challenged by the distressing signals their body is feeding up to their brains, which in turn activate the amygdala, the stress response and more muscle tension in a vicious cycle.
We are helping you to break that cycle by using touch and your bodies healing response to generate sensations of healing, safety, relaxation, lightness and peace. This in turn helps the Nervous System to further rebalance and re-regulate itself in what becomes a positive feedback loop that continues to work for you for the approximately 167+ hours out of 168 hours there are in a week that you are not in our office.
In this way our bodies become not just a vehicle to transport us or be ordered around to accomplish an endless set of tasks, but the key to our wellbeing and a source of healing on every level.