There is an excellent book titled, “The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma” by Bessel van der Kolk, M.D. The book talks a lot about the development of trauma treatment over the years starting before PTSD was even in the DSM. There are a few areas of treatment I would like to write about today that are mentioned in the book: EMDR, deep breathing, and yoga.
EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. The founder of this trauma processing therapy, Francine Shapiro, realized while walking through a park that her distress around painful memories was reduced through rapid eye movements. EMDR has a way of touching the trauma in a different way. If you have ever dealt with trauma, you are probably all too familiar with the idea that your sleep is affected by that trauma. Through nightmares and disturbed sleep, your past permeates the time that you should be resting, like being chased by something you so desperately want to escape. EMDR uses eye movements that mimic REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, the type of sleep that organizes and shifts memories for years. REM sleep can help shape and develop what we focus on when we are awake. As you are likely aware, it’s darn near impossible to determine the direction of your dreams. Few of us have that capability of shifting their direction while asleep and are at the whim of our subconscious mind trying to make sense of our pasts. The issue with PTSD is that those natural processes of integrating memories during REM sleep could be hindered. The beauty of EMDR is that we can bring up those connections while in a waking state. There is even a protocol for managing recurring dreams that I’ve had success with! Depending on a person’s struggles, there can be numerous sessions around resourcing and building confidence in the Self before ever processing trauma. We at AHC are trained in EMDR and are happy to assist through this process!
I’m the type of person who needs to know the WHY behind things. Why are all these people preaching the importance of yoga for trauma? What’s the deal man? I believe this book gives great insight into it’s importance, as well as the importance of working on deep breathing techniques.
Have you ever heard of HRV? It stands for Heart Rate Variability. Did you know that when you breathe in, it speeds up your heart rate while breathing out slows down your heart rate? Now I understand why I was taught to have clients breathe in to the count of four and out to the count of 8! Studies conducted by Bessel van der Kolk involving measuring breathing and heart rates showed a connection between PTSD and unusually low HRV. Okay, what does that even mean? Basically, this explains why people with unresolved trauma respond strongly to small issues- the regulatory system for managing stress is off-balance. Many times, people think that they’re “bipolar” when they have big reactions to small things, but if there is unresolved trauma, that may be the more likely culprit. To answer your next question, yes, this is something you can work on! This is where yoga comes in, but first, let’s start small. I searched my iPhone’s app store for ways to measure HRV and found this free app (in app purchases though) called “Stress Guide: HRV & Meditation”. The app is blue with a white K. Here is a screenshot from inside the app as to how it works:
At the very least, use this app to measure your HRV daily. Try it at different points through the day. You can also work on improving your HRV through our next topic: yoga!
To quote a woman named Annie from The Body Keeps the Score: “Yoga is about looking inward instead of outward and listening to my body, and a lot of my survival has been geared around never doing those things.” We know that PTSD causes us to numb out overwhelming emotions while certain reactions, often caused by triggers, fall outside of our control at times. Yoga helps form connections in our bodies with areas that need to be reconnected. The importance is doing so in a gradual process that fosters growth. Yoga is about learning to listen to your body because you’ve spent years numbing out those overwhelming feelings. Yoga also integrates breathing, meditation, and certain stances. Bessel van der Kolk completed a study where they found that after 20 weeks of a weekly yoga class (y’all, that is simply 1 class per week), “chronically traumatized women developed increased activation of critical brain structures involved in self-regulation” (p.276, The Body Keeps the Score). So many times I’ve heard people say that logically they know their feelings are overreactions, but their body doesn’t understand that. Self-regulation can help make that connection. Yes, you may still respond to triggers from time to time, but self-regulation will help you recognize the differences between the past and present while tolerating those feelings of panic rather than by being overwhelmed and consumed by them. If yoga is something you would like to try, I found a video specific for PTSD, which you can find HERE. Please be aware that yoga may be triggering and please take the practice at your pace. I will end this blog with a quote:
“As we begin to re-experience a visceral reconnection with the needs of our bodies, there is a brand new capacity to warmly love the self. We experience a new quality of authenticity in our caring, which redirects our attention to our health, our diets, our energy, our time management. This enhanced care for the self arises spontaneously and naturally, not as a response to a “should”. We are able to experience an immediate and intrinsic pleasure in self-care.”
-Stephen Cope, Yoga and the Quest for the True Self