I think it is fair to say that most of us feel we have endured some form of trauma in our lives. Yet, I think it’s also fair to say that many of us feel like that trauma still lives in us, and at times, even levies our mind. I was recently watching a lecture by Irene Lyon on the neuro-biology of trauma and how to release it from the body.
I am fascinated by transformation; how a person genuinely transforms from the person they are, to the person they envision themselves to be. Always seeking to understand how we let go of what restricts us; be it habits, ineffective beliefs, subconscious reactivity, garnered roles, trauma, physical pain, grief; all that keeps us from living consciously and from our most resourced sense of self.
In Lyon’s video, she discusses that there are three main types of trauma: Shock, early childhood, and stress. Are you surprised to see stress on the list? High levels of stress, on a continuous basis, sets our nervous system into the fight, flight, or freeze response, as all traumas do. She suggests envisioning a swimming pool with a few pool balls in it. The water being our body, and the pool balls our stressors. She believes that people with held trauma tend to have a swimming pool packed full of balls; almost so tight you can’t remove them. People with lingering trauma, who are unable to release it, tend to have a more difficult time when the simple pool ball stressors of life then try to cram into their pool. Until we are able to release the trauma from our nervous system, we will never fully be free of it. Lyon’s believes we can use mediation, yoga, mantras, and other types of sensory tools to help relieve us, but they are not truly releasing the trauma stored in the nervous system.
So, how do you know if you are holding a form of trauma within you? Lyon suggests that first we need to begin to master awareness, and self-awareness. Awareness being what is around us in our environment; what we see and hear. Self-awareness referring to the ability to sense our physical body within our environment; feeling the pressure of your body against a chair, or noticing your breath.
Secondly, she suggests following your impulses. So often, to be respected in polite society, we are asked to ignore our impulses, and thus we weaken our ability to hear them. Needing to use the washroom, but insisting you can remain at your desk another ten minutes. Holding in emotions, or not speaking up – all ways of ignoring, or pushing down, our impulses. This minimizing, or ignoring of our impulses, does not allow us to process our trauma.
Thirdly, we want to befriend our chronic pain. We want to sit with it; go into it in our mind’s eye, in order to shift it. Pain’s purpose is to let you know that something is not right. Often, at a young age, we are taught to suppress our pain; “You’re ok.” This attempt to soothe us often shunted our trusting of our sensations. Fear falls into this area, too. As Peter Levine stated, “Feel the fear without being fearful of it.” Growing up we may have heard, “You don’t need to be afraid.” Again, these well-intentioned ideas pushed down our fear; adding new balls into the pool that we could not self-regulate. Ultimately, we want to master what Lyon’s refers to as introception, which is perception of our internal environment.
Lyon’s suggests that when we are trying to please others, taking on obligations that don’t serve us, or presenting ourselves as who we’ve been molded to be; we are continuing to hold that trauma within us. She suggests that instead of trying to push out negative thoughts, we tap into them, and get curious about where they are coming from. That we stop pretending to be okay and explore the emotions within us.
Lyon’s suggests that until we can gain neuro-plasticity, or flexibility in our nervous system, allowing our swimming pool to grow, we will never be free of our trauma. To achieve neuro-plasticity we must learn how to neuro-modulate, or come out of the stress response and free some balls from our pool.
It’s fascinating to think that we have the power to heal these traumas that live within us, and affect our day-to-day responses to life.