Why the body is important in the treatment of trauma
When we experience trauma our body and nervous system become activated to protect us from danger. The sympathetic branch of our nervous system automatically initiates the fight, or flight response. The blood is redirected from the skin and digestive system to the large muscles of our legs and arms to give them more oxygen to fight or flee. Our respiration becomes rapid and shallow. Our heart beats faster. Our pupils dilate to allow the eyes to take in more information. Our blood clotting ability increases. Stress hormones are released in the body. If we cannot fight, we will run fast to escape from danger. Sometimes, if nothing can be done, we freeze, collapse, become numb, so that we do not have to feel the pain of being hurt.
If the body can successfully complete the fight or flight response, and get out of danger by running or defending itself, the vast amount of energy in the body can be released. The nervous system then activates the parasympathetic nervous system, resulting in feelings of warmth, fullness of breath, slowed heart rate, relaxed muscles, and an overall feeling of relief, safety and ease.
However, in many cases of trauma, neither fight nor escape is possible. The vast amount of energy mobilised during the fight and flight response is locked in the body, setting the stage for various symptoms of trauma. The body holds onto its ramped up state. The body is left with an incomplete fight and flight response that keeps repeating itself when triggered by internal or external reminders of the trauma (e.g. dreams, smells, nausea, being around people, being touched, seeing a dog etc), through such body symptoms as fast and strong heartbeat, difficult breathing, muscles tension and pain, sweating, trembling, irritability, sleep problems and anxiety, among many others.
Body symptoms of trauma cannot be alleviated by talk therapy alone. Trauma affects our body and nervous system. It affects how we feel in our body, how we hold it, how we move.
Body-centered therapies can help us slow down, listen and follow the wisdom of the body. As each person will respond uniquely to each threatening situation, it is necessary to tune into, listen to and follow the impulses and tensions of the body in order to support the body to finish incomplete actions and restore it to its pre trauma state. This results in a sense of deep release, openness and ease in the body. Once the body shifts, it is very likely that our emotions, thoughts and beliefs will shift. We may feel safe, relaxed, calm and coherent. As we reconnect to and feel safe in our body, we also reconnect with life, people, and the world.