by Penny Boreham
In this series of blogs, members of staff at Khiron House are choosing and sharing the words of an inspiring thinker/writer/practitioner who has made an impact on them and encouraged them to reflect more deeply on the work they do. Today one of our practitioners, Vijay Rana, who is a psychotherapist, somatic experiencing practitioner and shen body worker chooses an extract from Peter Levine’s seminal work ‘Waking the Tiger, Healing Trauma’ about our innate capacity to transform overwhelming experiences.
Extract from ‘Waking the Tiger, Healing Trauma’ by Peter Levine
The key to healing traumatic symptoms in humans is in our physiology. When faced with what is perceived as inescapable or overwhelming threat, humans and animals both use the immobility response. The important thing to understand about this function is that it is involuntary. This simply means that the physiological mechanism governing this response resides in the primitive, instinctual parts of our brains and nervous systems, and is not under our conscious control. That is why I feel that the study of wild animal behaviour is essential to the understanding and healing of human trauma. The involuntary and instinctual portions of the human brain and nervous system are virtually identical to those of mammals and even reptiles. Our brain, often called the ‘triune brain,’ consists of three integral systems. The three parts are commonly known as the ‘reptilian brain’ (instinctual), the ‘mammalian or limbic brain (emotional), and the ‘human brain or neo-cortex’ (rational). Since the parts of the brain that are activated by a perceived life threatening situation are the parts we share with animals, much can be learned by studying how certain animals, like the impala, avoid traumatization. To take this one step further, I believe that the key to healing traumatic symptoms in humans lies in our being able to mirror the fluid adaptation of wild animals as they ‘shake out’ and pass through the immobility response and become fully mobile and functional.
Vijay Rana’s reflections
In my own recovery my healing breakthrough came when I turned away from mental (cognitive) approaches and began to experience therapies that work directly with the body. I learned that emotion is actually felt and held in our bodies – and not in the thinking that goes on in our heads! With the help of ‘bodywork therapy’ I was able to release and experience withheld difficult feelings, e.g. guilt, grief, anger and abandonment.
The approach I had most success with was an energy modality called SHEN and it cleared me of my backlog of unexpressed pain, much like an emotional detox. I eventually went onto train and practice in it. Some years into my practice I realised that when faced with clients who experienced on-going anxiety and panic, or other symptoms of PTSD, getting them to feel and process difficult emotions wasn’t shifting their underlying distress and symptoms. I then read Peter Levine’s’ book and what I then found out about his work drastically changed my practice. Peter says that traumatic experience is rooted in a different part of us – our instinctual selves – and this may then have an impact on our emotions and mental perceptions. I found then that working only with experiencing and clearing difficult feelings was not enough! I now needed to engage and work at the level where the trauma is held, and this is typically the defensive responses of fight, flight and freeze which is stored in the nervous system. It’s here that the healing of our trauma can reside.
(If you want to read more about “Waking the Tiger” here is more information: http://bit.ly/1fcuAQA)
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