What’s so SPECIAL about SLOW?
In Yoga for Trauma, we move s-l-o-w. Well, what’s so great about that?
When I used an online thesaurus to find synonyms for “Slowness,” I was a little dismayed. I found the following suggestions:
- Dull; sluggish
- Unwillingness; indifference
- Apathy; lethargy
- Listless; stagnant
- Weak, feeble
- Impotence, inactivity
I didn’t see any positives in that list, did you? Well, it’s clear that our fast-moving, instant-gratification culture has totally demonized “slow.” Hurry up! Don’t be late! We need this done yesterday! What’s wrong with you? Get with the program! Get moving! No time to rest!
“Slow” has been associated with failure, with crisis, with stupidity. A ‘slow economy’ is reason for panic. Being a slow learner or needing repetition is considered a deficiency. Slow internet is the worst thing imaginable to some. Slowness feels like a death state to others. Taking your time is seen as being obstinate or inconsiderate.
No wonder we’re all wound-up so tight and stressed out! We’re not allowing ourselves or each other to slow down — EVER!
I decided to come up with a few synonyms of my own to replace the negative-tinted list above. Here are some better synonyms for SLOW:
- Peace; quiet
- Leisure; luxuriating
- Pleasure; savoring
- Pause; rest
- Rejuvenation; relief
- Tender care; unwinding
- Gradual change; patience
- Comfort; softening
How does your body feel after reading that list? Better? Can you notice even a little softening in your body as you take in the words, like a long exhale that’s been waiting to happen?
Yoga and somatic healing came from a culture that embraced deep trust in divine timing. Grace, serenity and slowness were rooted into the tradition at every level. Patience for a long journey was built-in. Until yogic practices were imported and adapted by the West, yoga was never intended for fitness, athletics, or appearance. When used for these purposes, yoga can actually harm your health!
Health Detriments of FAST
Let’s talk about the real-life effects here.
Say you are in constant high alert and inner pressure. Your body is literally sending signals to your brain that you’re in danger. Your brain is receiving those messages and in turn signaling to the body to tense up even more, work harder, go further into states of defense and distress.
This vicious cycle completely compromises your body’s ability to carry out important metabolic functions related to immunity, cell repair, and digestion.
In this state of defense, you’re also feeling that you aren’t safe; that you can’t trust life, other people, or yourself. When you project that energy to others, they respond in negative ways. When you feed that energy to yourself, you feel not-good-enough, insecure, and like something’s wrong with you deep-down.
Moving fast, you can actually block your own progress spiritually, materially, and psychologically. You might lose the ability to appreciate what’s going right in your life.
Too fast and too much, when not in balance, are actually courting disaster! It’s like a car with no brakes.
Health Benefits of SLOW
When you intentionally and repeatedly take the time to pause, slow down, surrender, and go inward: something different happens. You shift out of sympathetic [fight-or-flight] and your parasympathetic nervous system [rest-and-digest] finally has a chance to take over.
Your body has been waiting for this! Deep healing and rejuvenation take place in a parasympathetic-dominant state.
Your body is truly nourished at a deep level by such a practice, because proper digestion and nutrient absorption in the gut only happens when you’re in a state of rest. Your immune system has a chance to recover and renew its resilience. Your cells can complete important DNA repair and cell repair processes that don’t happen if you’re in a state of survival, anxiety, or threat.
When you intentionally slow down your body, your mind has a chance to rest too; especially if you are guided in this awareness by a qualified teacher or guide. You gain more access to your five senses and your bodily sensations.
This access and awareness can help you re-negotiate stored trauma reactions moment by moment. You might even access inner realms which you would usually be unaware of or skip over entirely. These subtle realms contain needed insight, intuition and understanding unique to you.
Moving slow, you have an opportunity to release old patterns and form new ones consciously. And you get to make genuine choices from a place of greater awareness and intention.
All of this magic is accessible to you. And it will change your whole life! It’s simple: just slow down, rinse, and repeat, right? The problem is, most of us don’t know how any more.
If you’re reading this, you probably grew up marinating in an endless stormy sea of urgency, anxiety, impatience, and rushing. This might have become your habitual state, so that you hardly know anything else.
Your body, your DNA, and even your ancestors might carry the heavy burdens of this persistent survival mode. And that’s what it is: urgency and panic are survival mode, not real thriving. But the good news is, you are not locked into this forever. Your body and mind are crying out, craving change: Rest is possible for you. It just takes time, learning, commitment, and repetition.
So you will need support to access slowness. Most people do.
You could probably use some guidance and reassurance, as you drop into what might be unfamiliar territory. Someone who can help you find ease and learn to trust yourself more. Someone who can act like a compass, to help you navigate (slowly!) into surrender. Someone who will act as a guide; offering deep support, patience, deep listening, and proper scaffolding for this sacred inner journey.
I am offering that support. I can guide you to deep rest and the positive side of SLOW.
I hope you join me on this journey, with love.
Read more about the modalities I offer here
Read more about Supreme Release Yoga classes here and here.
Welcome to Rooted Bliss, your place for somatic therapy.
How is somatic therapy different from traditional talk therapy?
Traditional psychotherapy uses dialogue, and focuses on the thoughts the client is having. The client talks about what is wrong so the therapist can help them find solutions. This model is fine, except it deals with the mind and often completely ignores the body! Most clients who seek healing through therapy are having some kind of somatic issue (somatic means “body”) that may not be fully addressed in talk therapy… such as chronic physical tension, pain, or tightness; sleep issues, digestion issues, anxiety; depression, lack of energy, mental fog. Addictive behaviors (for example overeating, shopping addiction, substance abuse, relationship and sex addiction) also fall into the somatic category because the behavior often originates in some suffering or tension that’s first felt in the body, which the mind interprets as a need for a “fix”.
Somatic therapy is not psychotherapy. It is a body-centered approach to healing that helps the client focus on sensations arising in the present moment, and connect those sensations to life stresses they may be experiencing. It works from the bottom up, (meaning it addresses phenomena in the body & nervous system first and the mind follows), rather than the top-down approach that many cognitive therapies offer (which focus on the mind and thoughts and hope that doing so will regulate somatic symptoms such as anxiety). Focusing our healing efforts on what’s happening in the body can actually help resolve long-standing tensions left over from trauma, stress, and addiction. The somatic approach also addresses the nervous system dysregulation that happens when the body senses a lack of human connection.
If you already see a talk-based psychotherapist and you are getting results, there’s no reason to stop going! Somatic work is a great supplement to CBT, EMDR, DBT, and other traditional approaches to mental health. It also complements many holistic therapies such as acupuncture, chiropractic, meditation, yoga, massage, hypnotherapy, naturopathic medicine, ayurveda, reiki, and more.
Kate Hartman, SEP, C-IAYT is not a psychotherapist. She uses Compassionate Inquiry and Phoenix Rising dialogue techniques to coach the client toward greater awareness of what is happening in the body, while offering gentle SE Touch to directly guide the nervous system toward greater regulation.
What does the nervous system have to do with somatic therapy?
The answer to this question is, basically, everything. The autonomic nervous system (as opposed to the sensory nervous system, central nervous system, or musculo-skeletal nervous system) operates almost totally unconsciously. It silently dictates the operation of every organ, muscle, and bone in the body. It’s responsible for digestion, heart rate, breathing, blood flow to the skin and organs, and many other functions in the body that happen every minute but which you don’t consciously think about. In trauma and stress, the autonomic nervous system can become dysregulated, causing a multitude of somatic symptoms in the short term, and in the long term, creating disease pathways in the body.
There are two main branches of the autonomic nervous system: the sympathetic and the parasympathetic. The sympathetic nervous system is the “fight or flight” branch — meaning it raises the heart and breath rate, slows digestion, dilates the pupils and intensifies the gaze, causes bracing in the shoulders and neck, and pulls blood flow away from the extremities. This is the system that operates when the body senses that we’re under duress or threat (which can happen just from thinking about a stressful event!). The parasympathetic nervous system is the “rest and digest” branch — it slows the heart and breath rate, activates digestion and peristalsis, sends bloodflow to the limbs warming the hands and feet, and softens the gaze. These two branches of the autonomic nervous system are like a symphony, working in harmony with one another constantly throughout the day. One system or the other may become dominant at certain times throughout the day, but neither is ever switched totally on or totally off, except in extreme circumstances.
When we experience stress or trauma and we don’t fully process the emotions and body sensations that came along with it, the traumatic energy can get stuck in the body, throwing off the natural harmony of the autonomic nervous system. This disconnect causes a wide range of symptoms. The symptoms can manifest differently in every person, but autonomic dysregulation often causes sleep and digestion issues, distractability, anxiety, depression, dissociation, procrastination, adrenal fatigue, PTSD, persistent tiredness or inability to relax, high reactivity or easily triggered causing relationship issues, addictive behaviors, and more.
Somatic therapy works directly to balance the autonomic nervous system, creating relief from ongoing somatic symptoms. To learn how, let’s talk a little about Polyvagal theory.
What is Polyvagal Theory?
Polyvagal theory, developed by Stephen Porges, underpins the majority of the work I do with clients. It is the science of connection. It maintains that the “rest and digest” branch of the autonomic nervous system, which is controlled mainly by the Vagus nerve, has two branches within itself. The first, and oldest in terms of evolution, is the dorsal-vagal response. This is responsible for total shutdown of body symptoms, or the freeze response. The second is the ventral-vagal system, which is mediated by social engagement.
This means that, in scientific terms, we are “wired for love.” Our bodies are tuned in to the connections and relationships we have with those around us, and when these relationships feel sturdy, attuned, safe, and connected, the ventral-vagal branch of the parasympathetic nervous system signals the body’s alarm systems to relax. If the relationships around us (especially during early childhood) contain some type of mis-attunement, the body’s alert systems are quietly told to turn on. We evolved in tribes and connected family systems. Nature’s way of taking care of us (or you could say God’s way, as we are our brother’s keeper) was to put us in groups. The group takes care of us. In modern times, of course, we no longer live in tribes, and the extended family has been reduced to the nuclear family.
This ventral-vagal system is highly sophisticated. It can sense minute changes in speech, tone, eye contact, breath rate, and overall tension of the people around us. It is always searching for a secure attachment with someone in the environment. When we are engaged in a secure connection with another human, bloodflow to the skin increases, digestion can continue, our heart rate becomes more variable which indicates health, and we can breathe more deeply leading to increased oxygenation throughout the body. (As for how important oxygenation in the body is… well, recent research shows that cancer and chronic disease thrive in a de-oxygenated environment!)
The ventral vagal system also tracks mis-attunements in the immediate environment. If it senses that someone we’re connected to is mis-attuned, neglectful, or abusive, the alert system of the body turns on, activating the sympathetic nervous system. Distress and frustration are meant to cause us to seek out more secure attachment, especially in early childhood. In the long term, mis-attunements can cause what the industry refers to as “little-t trauma” which causes the same amount of nervous system dysregulation as a single “big-T trauma” also referred to as incident trauma or shock trauma.
The takeaway? Our relationship to other humans is of highest importance to our autonomic nervous system. We are hurt in relationship, and we heal in relationship. The goal of somatic therapy is to create a healing relationship, in which the therapist is highly attuned to the client, witnessing and holding space without judgment for everything that arises within the client’s body-mind. Positive regard is held for the client, which the nervous system picks up on energetically. Within this safe and contained healing space, magic can happen.
The magic of somatic work
Within the context of a therapeutic relationship, our first goal is establishing safety and trust. This starts with an empathic, nonjudgmental, and respectful container. I work hard at creating this with every client. If that connection is not there, the body feels stressed and the sympathetic nervous system will activate in order to protect the person. The focus through the whole session is to help the body feel supported and relaxed, and to connect you with yourself. This way the sympathetic nervous system can step back from its dominating position, and work in harmony with the parasympathetic nervous system. We know this is happening when the body starts to relax, the breath and heart rate synchronize, and the muscles can let go into the Earth’s gravity.
Many studies have shown that simply activating the relaxation of the parasympathetic nervous system actually allows the body to heal on a cellular level — furthermore, when that relaxation happens in the context of a supportive and attuned relationship, polyvagal theory shows that healing increases exponentially because our earliest instincts for connection are satisfied. In other words, growth, healing and insight happen naturally when we feel safe enough to be vulnerable, yet connected with a trusted other.
It is not about re-living or talking through the story of trauma. Rather it is a present-moment process that invites the body, mind and soul to find a new, more synchronized rhythm.
Talk therapy might help someone discover the truth on the level of the mind. Somatic therapy goes a step further by helping us connect the mind, heart, and gut. Then, the truth can be felt on all levels and the client can experience their authentic self as a whole, and live more freely with joy.
Natural ways to work with anxiety, Part 1
Somatic healing is informed by a bio-psycho-social model, which generally holds the following views regarding anxiety (notice that these are, for the most part, in direct conflict with the traditional medical (chemical) model:
- Chronic anxiety is a form of suffering often caused by avoidance of painful emotions. Our modern culture pathologizes emotions, and many families (though they love their children) did not properly attune to and validate the child’s emotions during development. Therefore, most of us have closed off a part of ourselves because it wasn’t safe to experience it, or it was too painful. That separation causes suffering. When we add in difficult experiences that happened later in life, sometimes severe symptomology can result.
- Anxiety is a non-pathological, temporary condition, not a fixed state of being. The condition fluctuates, even slightly, from day to day and moment to moment. The labels of “depressed” or “anxious” are misleading, because they imply a fixed biological state that does not change. Bringing awareness to the minute shifts within the present experience will bring a sense of impermanence, necessary for healing.
- Allowing the emotions to surface will heal the anxiety. The original stressor that caused the repressed emotions may have roots in our childhood experiences, family history, trauma, or current events. There may be many thoughts, interpretations, and core beliefs layered upon the original feeling, but these are not the feeling itself. Getting beneath the surface and experiencing the emotion in the body can help allow the body’s own natural healing process to unfold.
Healing Mode #1: Mindfulness
Jon Kabat-Zinn wrote an entire book called The Mindful Way through Depression. In it, he details many years worth of clinical studies that have found that basic mindfulness training is effective against depression and anxiety. Rather than going into a detailed explanation of mindfulness, I’d rather give you a direct experience. Take a moment to try this exercise now. Note that it’s best done when you are feeling neutral or good — if you are currently experiencing a difficult emotion or anxiety attack, scroll down to the second exercise.
Pause what you’re doing. Take a moment to notice your body.
Ground. Feel the places your body is being supported beneath you — your feet on the ground, your seat on the chair, or your torso on the bed. Really take your time here. Just notice.
Next, notice your breath. You don’t have to change or deepen it, but become aware of the sensation of breath in your lungs. If you can, also notice the sensation of your heart beating in your chest. Notice how this awareness affects the rest of your body. If you start to feel more tense at any point, go back to grounding.
Notice your thoughts. Rather than follow a specific thought, simply notice the tone of the thoughts and label them. Are they bored, judgmental, or worried thoughts? They are just thoughts. They are not who you are. Do not judge your thoughts, but allow them to simply be.
Now, come back to your body. Feel the ground once again. Notice your breath.
Allow your eyes to wander. See if you can allow the eyes themselves to choose where to go. Don’t think about it, just absorb the sights around you. Notice if there are particular colors or objects you are drawn to. Allow yourself to notice anything organic in your surroundings – trees, plants, grass. Can you feel an aliveness, an energetic connection with it?
Allow the sounds around you to come into awareness. Are the sounds near or far? Are they loud or quiet? Let the sounds pass by you, and notice the space between them.
Once again, come back to the body and see if you can feel your body as a whole, resting. Spend a few moments here. There is nothing to do, nowhere to be except right where you are, exactly as you are in this moment. See if you can offer yourself and your body some love and compassion.
What did you notice? Know that this basic mindfulness exercise can be used anytime throughout the day. It can take no more than 3 minutes, or it can be drawn out into longer sessions if you wish. It can even be practiced piecemeal, taking one section at a time. As you practice it, it will become more ingrained and you’ll find yourself becoming more aware and present in your daily life. Your capacity to hold whatever arises with compassion and presence will increase exponentially.
This practice sets the ground for the next practice, which is only to be done if you feel you can practice it safely and without overwhelming yourself.
Here is a second mindfulness exercise that can be helpful if you’re currently experiencing an intense emotion. The somatic wisdom-way to approach emotions is just to be with them. Don’t try to change them. Don’t view them as a problem. There is nothing to solve. Instead, try to see them as a treasure, a gift, and see that they may have something to teach you. Freedom is on the other side of difficult emotions, and avoiding them will only make us feel stuck.
Finally, don’t attach to the emotion – that is, the emotion is not you. The emotion will not last forever, no matter how intense or entrenched it may seem. See if you can hold the sensation along with the thought “It’s just a feeling. It will pass. Let me be with it now.”
Try to get a sense of where the emotion lives in your body. Feel the sensations that are arising in this very moment. Is there tingling, numbness, tightness, pain? Butterflies in the stomach, constricted breathing, tense muscles? Notice what happens when you focus your awareness on the sensation itself. Does the sensation and accompanying emotion increase, decrease, or stay the same?
If the sensation increases when you focus on it, bring your awareness out of the area of most intensity. Find the edge of the sensation in your body. Try to feel the sensation as a three-dimensional shape within you. With your awareness, gradually back out of it even more. Is there anywhere in your body that feels neutral? Can you feel your seat in the chair, your feet on the floor? Focus there until the emotion calms down. If you need to, you can label the emotion “anxiety” “fear” “sadness” “grief” “anger” etc. as this also helps release some of its grip upon you.
(Optional) Now, imagine a universal being holding you. This can be a religious figure of your choosing, a person from your past, a loving human you have met, or an archetype. This being sees you as you are, and loves you unconditionally. Place your own hands upon your body, holding yourself and offering a gentle touch. Imagine yourself wrapped in a blanket of compassion.
If the difficult sensation decreases or stays the same when you focus on it, stay with it. If you stay open, attuned and present, your body’s own healing process will unfold.
Most of all, when practicing mindfulness, be gentle with yourself!
Healing Mode #2: Movement
Movement is one of the ways our bodies naturally discharge energy. How do you like to move? Choose something you enjoy. Walking is a natural choice, because it’s low-impact, most people are physically able to do it, and it’s something humans have been doing for aeons. Yoga is also a good option, because it synchronizes breath and body movement, and allows for space to process stuck emotions. Free-form dance/movement is my favorite, because it allows the body to express itself naturally. I often find when engaging in free-form movement, my heart opens of its own accord and emotions flood to the surface to be released.
Here is a free-form movement exercise adapted from Rick Jarow’s Ultimate Anti-Career Guide:
Start by putting on some soft music. It should have a rhythm that you like, one that you can move your body to. Make sure you won’t have any distractions for the next 5 minutes. You can begin in a small way, just five minutes. After trying it, you can extend the practice to longer and longer sessions, working up to 45 or even 90 minutes if you like and are able.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Close your eyes. Let your body hear the music, the rhythm. Bring your hands with palms touching in front of your body. Feel the energy between your palms. Heighten your awareness and focus. You may start to feel a slight tingling, warmth, or sense of electricity between the palms. That’s the energy of your body. Now, start to bring your palms veeeerrry slowly apart, but still keeping them connected through the energy that you feel. If you start to lose the sensation, just bring them back together until you feel it again.
As you move your hands apart, start to sway gently side to side. Shift your weight onto one foot, then the other, with the beat of the music. Feel the connection between your hands and start to send that energy back and forth between them. Don’t think too much about it, just feel it. Then expand your expression into the rest of your body. Invite movement. Flow. Move freely through the space, inviting your body to express itself. If you notice thoughts and doubts coming in, just bring your attention back to the feeling of energy in your palms and feel your breath, your heartbeat.
When it feels like you have moved enough for now, stop. Find a quiet place to sit for a few minutes and just feel, and process what you are feeling before moving on with your day’s activities.
I encourage engaging in this exercise regularly, whether that’s once a week or once a month. It can help clear out old emotional energy and open your mind to new possibilities!
It doesn’t have to be free-form dance, though. Any kind of movement that you engage in mindfully is going to have this effect. If you like to walk regularly, try shifting your awareness as you do so. The point is to give yourself some respite from the thinking mind by focusing on the body and your surroundings. If you coordinate your breath with the movement, even better! In this way, you’re combining the benefits of mindfulness with the benefits of movement.
Mindfulness and movement are two ways you can deal with anxiety without drugs. These are not the only ways, though. I’ll go over three more all-natural ways to deal with anxiety in my next blog post. Stay tuned!
Rooted Bliss Coronavirus Update
Rooted Bliss has paused in-person sessions for now. I recommend following the CDC’s recommendations, mask mandates, and social distancing.
I am available for online sessions, at a special rate!
Please don’t underestimate how supportive an online session can be. I have received them myself and can testify to the transformative possibilities.
Of course, it’s not the same as an in-person session, but there is still a lot we can do: completing survival impulses using the tried-and-true SE dialogue process; coaching on self-care and self-soothing touch; guided movements, breath work, mindfulness meditations; compassionate inquiry to deconstruct what is getting triggered in you; and of course, empathic listening. This is a trying time for all of us, so please don’t forget the importance of self-care and getting the support you need.
I’ve introduced a first for Rooted Bliss: payment plans. If you are out of work for the time being, as so many of us are, please consider this option to pay for your online sessions. It’s only a $3 setup fee, and you can pay over several months.
And, as always, I will not turn anyone away due to financial need. I can and do offer my services at negotiated reduced rates and pro-bono, if the recipient is committed to regular sessions and completing the healing process.
The Science of Somatic Experiencing: A Randomized, Controlled Study
The first randomized, controlled study of Somatic Experiencing for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, published in 2017, showed promising results. In just 15 sessions, SE was up to 90% effective for a majority of participants, including after follow-up. This study proves what those in the SE world have known and felt all along about this amazing modality.
[Video] Peter Levine on Somatic Experiencing: How It Works
Peter Levine explains the physiological basis of trauma and the insights into nature that helped him develop the Somatic Experiencing method.
The Wisdom of Trauma: Upcoming film with Gabor Maté
Natural ways to work with anxiety, Part 2
In my last blog post, I went over two ways to heal anxiety naturally, without drugs or pharmaceuticals. This post is a continuation, with three more strategies to try when working with anxiety. If you already read that post, go ahead and skip down to the healing modes. If you haven’t, here is some background information about how I approach anxiety from a somatic healing perspective (which conflicts in many ways with the medical model):
- Chronic anxiety is a form of suffering often caused by avoidance of painful emotions. Our modern culture pathologizes emotions, and many families (though they love their children) did not properly attune to and validate the child’s emotions during development. Therefore, most of us have closed off a part of ourselves because it wasn’t safe to experience it, or it was too painful. That separation causes suffering. When we add in difficult experiences that happened later in life, sometimes severe symptomology can result.
- Anxiety is a non-pathological, temporary condition, not fixed states of being. The condition fluctuates, even slightly, from day to day and moment to moment. The labels of “depressed” or “anxious” are misleading, because they imply a fixed biological state that does not change. Bringing awareness to the minute shifts within the present experience will bring a sense of impermanence, necessary for healing.
- Allowing the emotions to surface will heal the anxiety. The original stressor that caused the repressed emotions may have roots in our childhood experiences, family history, trauma, or current events. There may be many thoughts, interpretations, and core beliefs layered upon the original feeling, but these are not the feeling itself. Getting beneath the surface and experiencing the emotion in the body will allow the body’s own natural healing process to unfold.
Chronic anxiety is often a result of not feeling safe at some developmental stage. With that in mind, here are some more natural healing modes that might be helpful for chronic anxiety.
Healing Mode #3: Examining Painful Beliefs
Sometimes the emotion hiding beneath anxiety is not due to a single event, but a belief or set of beliefs that we developed over time. When we are very young and we don’t get our needs met, it’s easier to believe there’s something wrong with us, than to think the adults around us are crazy or unbalanced or that the world is a messed-up place. Everyone has unconscious beliefs about themselves, some healthy and some painful. The work of dealing naturally with anxiety and depression involves examining these unconscious beliefs. Only when we bring them to light can we choose not to act them out anymore.
This process doesn’t have to be long or difficult. It can happen gradually, on a day-to-day basis. It starts with examining our triggers. What is a trigger? It’s anything that sets us off into a strong reaction. The problem is not the trigger, it’s the painful beliefs that it brings up.
Each time we get triggered, it’s a gift. It’s an opportunity to examine what painful beliefs we might carry. Here is where the work gets tricky, though. Often these beliefs are somewhat ‘invisible’ – they operate just beneath our conscious awareness. That’s why it’s so easy to mix up the belief with reality. Here are some simple steps to examine these beliefs, that you can use whenever you get triggered:
- Separate your interpretation of what happened from the facts of what happened. The facts of the situation are simple, straightforward, and cannot really be argued with. “My friend didn’t call me on my birthday” is an example of a fact. “My friend doesn’t really care about me” is an interpretation, one of many that are possible. If you want to grow, you have to get really clear about what are the facts, and what are your interpretations/perceptions/evaluations. Write them down, if it helps.
- Realize that your perceptions, your interpretations, are not you. You are the one having the perception. Don’t judge yourself about it, just notice your perception and say “okay, that is my perception.” This step makes it easier to set your perceptions aside for a moment to get to the feeling.
- Get to the feeling underneath the perception. “I feel abandoned” is not a feeling. “I am sad, and afraid, and angry” — these are feelings. The feeling is something that any human could feel; it’s on the spectrum of emotion. It doesn’t inherently describe the situation, just the emotion. Here is a list of feelings you can work from to get clear.
- Feel the feeling in your body. Again, this can be tricky if you’re not used to it. The point is not to overwhelm your system or to wallow, but to dip your toe into it for at least a minute and let yourself directly experience it. If you’re already overwhelmed or exhausted, skip this step and find a way to take care of yourself. It’s important not to act on these feelings, not to hurt someone else or yourself, just feel them and breathe. Support yourself by connecting to your own Presence and inner consciousness. Bring in your allies, as described in the first meditation in Part 1. True emotions, when felt in the body, don’t last long – they only take a few minutes if we are present with them. We have to be able to set aside the mental “storytelling” long enough to just sit with it.
- Realize that your feelings are not you. This is by far the most important bit, even though I listed it last (we had to find our way to the feeling first). You are not your feelings. You are having feelings. Everyone has feelings, it’s only human. It is not pathological, and it definitely won’t last forever.
Find a way to create safety for yourself in this process. Many of us had events or situations in our upbringing that did not create safety. It wasn’t safe to express our feelings, so we shut them off. You can create that safety for yourself now. Safety can come from a supportive friend or confidant quietly holding space or listening. Safety can come from a room with a closed door, where you can be by yourself and protected from harmful distractions. Safety can come from our sensory perceptions; a warm cuddly blanket, a favorite pillow or stuffed animal, a cup of our favorite tea. Nurture your senses. Never forget your body is a creature – don’t abandon that creature.
Healing Mode #4: Expressive Writing
Even if you’ve never liked writing, don’t dismiss this one. Expressive writing is backed by many scientific studies over the years. The exercise is to write about a distressing experience for 15 minutes. Set a timer, sit down, and write – and do it daily for 3 to 4 days in a row. That’s it.
Given, this will only help your anxiety if you are able to bring to mind the details of an emotionally distressing experience. Even if the experience is not recent, it may help. If you can’t think of one, I recommend trying the methods I posted in my first post about anxiety.
Studies of expressive writing have revealed health benefits lasting 6 months or more. Study participants had marked improvement in physical and mental well-being in the months following completion of the exercise. They reported more happiness, less anxiety and depression, lower blood pressure, improved immune function, and fewer visits to the doctor. They also reported better relationships, improved memory, and more success at work. And, these results have been duplicated over the years by other social scientists.
You can write at your own pace, in the first person or the third. I suggest sticking with one trauma for the whole three-day exercise, then see how you feel. You can always write more later.
I’ve tried this writing exercise myself and I can tell you, it works. I had an issue several years ago that was so painful for me to talk about, I couldn’t really get to the heart of the issue in therapy despite trying with several practitioners. I read about expressive writing on the internet and decided I had nothing to lose, so I sat down and tried it. I wrote for 20 minutes, on a timer. I filled up 4 pages the first day and another 4 pages the second. I didn’t even do the exercise the third day; I didn’t feel the need to. And I can tell you, that incident no longer triggers me. It no longer feels painful or difficult to talk about. Intrusive thoughts about it no longer creep in.
Some folks might have a resistance to writing, and I understand that. It may help to remind yourself that no one ever has to read it unless you want them to. You can even burn or shred the pages when you’re finished.
Why does it work? My personal interpretation is that writing allows you to witness your own experience from a nonjudgmental state. For most emotions, all they need in order to discharge is deep, compassionate and conscious witnessing. During a somatic therapy session, the therapist is the witness. If the client is able to sense the connection with the practitioner through the whole session and feel permission to have whatever emotions they are having, the magic of witnessing happens within that connection. When we write, our higher cognitive functions come online, creating an internal witness. Our internal witness then holds space for what we are feeling as we put it on paper. The process creates freedom and release from negative emotions.
Lots of space is given to the emotions in this exercise – 15 minutes of intentional time is plenty for emotional processing and in fact, most people’s nervous systems can’t really handle longer than that. The iterative nature of the exercise also helps, as you are going over the same incident several times. It’s like washing a dirty surface – you’re more likely to catch all the dirt if you go over it more than just once.
What have you got to lose? Make some time for this exercise and see if it works for you.
Healing Mode #5: Nutrition
Nutrition can be a big factor in our mental and emotional health. Your brain needs to use a huge percentage of the nutrients and oxygen you consume throughout the day in order to function properly. If you’re having anxiety, depression or other emotional difficulties, lack of proper nutrition could be playing an invisible role.
I recommend Ayurvedic nutrition as a starting place. Ayurveda is the oldest system of medicine in the world, and it is still used today primarily in India. It is known as the sister science to Yoga. While western medicine churns away with its expensive prescriptions and invasive procedures, Ayurveda focuses on gentler interventions — mainly dietary and lifestyle changes. Getting started with ayurveda is easy. You need to figure out your primary constitution, or dosha. Dosha translates roughly to “that which can get out of balance” and it’s the composition of elements or properties in your body. To get really specific, you need an ayurvedic doctor to take your pulses, but most people can get a general sense from taking a quiz. There are two that I recommend, Deepak Chopra’s quiz and Banyan Botanical’s Quiz.
Once you get a sense of your dosha, there are some general recommendations you can start to follow as to what foods to eat, when, and how to prepare them. How the food is prepared and seasoned is just as important, if not more important, than which foods you eat. I won’t go into depth about ayurveda here, as there are a multitude of resources online, but I will testify that it’s made a huge difference in my life.
I’ll end with a few simple recommendations I’ve learned from years of thinking and reading about food:
- Avoid processed foods. If it comes in a box, a can, or a plastic bag, it’s probably not that good for you. Check the ingredients. Does it contain preservatives, or chemicals you can’t pronounce? Our bodies evolved to eat whole foods, and the digestive system can sustain damage from being forced to deal with highly processed foods.
- Focus on whole foods and plants, especially fresh produce. If you can get it directly from a farmer or grow it yourself, even better. Our bodies evolved to eat whole foods, and mostly plants. When you read about blueberries or sweet potatoes or kale being great for you or bad for you because it contains this or that active ingredient, it’s often because some scientists tried to control for variables and test the effects of a single chemical extract from the plant. The truth is, plants contain micro-nutrients and multiple chemicals that probably interact on a molecular level, as well as inactive ingredients (like fiber) that may help the absorption of the others. The whole plant itself is likely to be better for you than any single extract taken from it.
- Balance your carbs, fats, and protein. Your body needs all three, and if you’re getting too much of one or the other, your brain may not have what it needs to stay balanced. Do this in a simple way by examining your meals, noticing which category might be over-balanced. Does it have too much starch? Too much protein? Too many carbs? Not enough fat? Add a side dish or snack to the meal to balance it out.
- Eat sprouted grains. Sprouting the grains before making the flour can have a huge impact on the nutritional content of the bread. Why is this? Grains and seeds have an anti-nutrient coating, designed to protect it until it lands on the soil and gets some rain. Exposing the grain or seed to the correct moisture levels actually sprouts it, which breaks open the coating and allows access to the nutrients. My personal favorite sprouted bread is Ezekiel bread because it’s available in the frozen section of most grocery stores.
- Add dark, leafy greens to your diet. I eat dark greens at least once a week. My favorite way to eat them is just to throw a big handful in my cast-iron skillet, and cook them down until they are about 1/3 to 1/2 their original volume. You can add spices or nuts to make it interesting, or just eat them on toast with some eggs. Dark greens have many micro-nutrients and anti-oxidants that bodies & brains love!
- Add herbal infusions to your diet. This is a simple, easy way to add nutrition. It comes from Susun Weed, the famed nutritionist. You can read more here.
Well, that sums it up! Thanks for reading. I hope one or all of these suggestions is useful, helpful, or beneficial. Did you like this post? Comment below! What resonated the most for you?
Emotions versus Perceptions, Interpretations, and Evaluations
This is a list of basic feelings. They are affect, often combined with a somatic sense, that doesn’t include a person’s thoughts, intentions, or evaluations.
Perceptions, Evaluations, and Interpretations
Notice the following words have a tinge of judgment to them. They are more like feelings that have been combined with a cognitive evaluation. There are many more than just this list, but here are a few so you get the idea:
Trauma Resources and Reading List
I created this reading list for those who want to know more about trauma, as well as self-help in general. If you are looking for resources to help you in your own or someone else’s healing journey, this is a great starting place.
Peter Levine: Waking The Tiger and In an Unspoken Voice
Peter Levine was a certified Rolfer who developed Somatic Experiencing and went on to become a PhD. He is regarded as a leader in the field of trauma resolution. All of his books are excellent, easily accessible primers on trauma and somatic resolution. He describes not only the physiological basis of trauma but how to release it on your own or with the help of a skilled practitioner.
Steven Porges: The Polyvagal Theory
This book is very informative, but not written for the lay reader. Porges’ polyvagal theory revolutionized somatic therapy (Peter Levine’s work is highly informed by it), because it not only explained the evolutionary value of the freeze response, but also provided a framework for thawing and releasing stuck survival energy from the nervous system. For a more user-friendly polyvagal theory resource, I highly recommend Twig Wheeler’s site.
Gabor Maté: In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts and When the Body Says No
Gabor Maté is a Canadian physician who challenges the predominating view of addiction and disease with a bio-psycho-social model. He explores how addiction stems from early trauma, and how chronic diseases develop as a result of emotional imbalances. His approach is non-pathologizing and extremely compassionate.
Alanis Morissette: Conversations with Alanis Podcast
Some of you may remember Alanis Morissette as the pop singer from the 90’s. However, she has evolved into a spiritual leader and teacher of all things personal growth. Her podcast invites expert guests (many of whom are on this list) to offer insights and information. It’s more of a conversational style than an interview — she often talks at least as much as her guest — but it’s still quite informative.
Candace Pert, Ph.D: Your Body Is Your Subconscious Mind
In this audio series, Candace Pert describes her clinical studies into the molecules of emotion. Her revolutionary discovery was that every organ in the body has receptors for neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, and other peptide molecules that organize our emotional experiences and mediate cell functioning. These become pathways for disease when the molecular vibrations of the cells and the transmitters don’t match. The mind-body split dissolves in this fabulous series.
Mark Wolynn: It Didn’t Start with You
This book is an excellent resource for inter-generational trauma. Many of us may be carrying patterns passed down by our recent ancestors and not even realize it. My favorite thing about the book is that he spends more than half of it on exercises and self-healing resources that you can do to heal the inter-generational trauma you may carry.
Brené Brown: The Power of Vulnerability
An audio book that includes Brown’s TED talk. She is a qualitative researcher who studies how people become healthy and whole. Her perspective on shame and vulnerability influenced a generation.
Charles Eisenstein: The Ascent of Humanity
On the surface, this book is only tangentially related to trauma, but for me, it informs the main reasons most of our society is out of balance. He talks about the age of industrialization, capitalism, indigenous wisdom, separation and interbeing, and how to bring about the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible.
Jon Kabat-Zinn: The Mindful Way through Depression and Full Catastrophe Living
Jon Kabat-Zinn almost single-handedly brought Mindfulness to the US. He led 30 years worth of clinical studies that prove the benefits of mindfulness when practiced in small amounts by everyday people. His work started a movement. His accompanying audio materials are hugely beneficial for those wanting to learn and practice mindfulness. I still use his guided meditations on a regular basis.
Pema Chodron: When Things Fall Apart
This book has been tremendous help to myself and friends of mine. Coming from a Buddhist perspective, Pema Chodron offers practical tools and techniques to still the mind, release negative beliefs, and work with harmful psychological patterns.
Roshi Joan Halifax: Being with Dying
This book was foundational in my approach to grief. Joan Halifax was a hospice worker and chaplain who spent years at the bedside of the dying. She offers a no-nonsense, practical approach to dealing with suffering. It’s an essential guide not just for those facing death as patients or caregivers, but for anyone facing loss of any kind.
George Everly and Jeffrey Lating: A Clinical Guide to the Treatment of the Human Stress Response
Comprehensive in every way, this extensive guide covers the stress response cycle, trauma, and pathways of disease and disorder that result from stress. It details the biological processes at every stage of the cycle and covers treatment strategies. Newer editions include special chapters on spirituality/religion, nutrition, grief/loss, sleep, and crisis intervention. It is accessible to lay readers and recommended if you want to learn the biology of stress and trauma.
Bessel Van der Kolk: The Body Keeps the Score
Van der Kolk is widely regarded as a trauma expert. I recommend this book with a disclaimer that it may be triggering for some people. He describes traumatic situations in detail. Other than that, it is very informative and stuffed with helpful information from the author’s many years of clinical practice. He is well-versed in the treatment of trauma of all kinds.
Susan Jeffers: Feel the Fear And Do It Anyway
This classic self-help text is a quick read, practical, and easy to get through. The writing style can feel a bit corny at times, but it really does contain life-changing advice. She doesn’t really cover the root causes of fear and anxiety, but she describes practical ways to manage and overcome them so they no longer limit your life.
Marshall Rosenberg: Non-Violent Communication
A classic. NVC is a revolutionary technique that shifts conflicts from blame and shame into curiosity and connectedness. It is the basis of all my communication with clients and is informed by the fundamental question: what is alive in us? This question can also be used for self-inquiry and to shift your internal dialogue from one of self-blame to self-compassion.
Stan Tatkin, Ph.D: Wired for Love and Wired for Dating
Stan Tatkin pioneered PACT, the psychobiological approach to couple’s therapy. His books provide a primer on modern day attachment theory, how to recognize attachment styles in your relationships, and how to consciously shift your attachment style towards secure. His tools for building a lasting love relationship are relevant both for those already in long-term relationships as well as those who are not yet seeking a commitment.
This is by no means a complete list, and I’ll be updating it as needed. Comment below – have you enjoyed any of these works?
Rooted Bliss’ 10 Tips for Thriving During Quarantine
As of March 2020, COVID-19 has arrived in the US. It has had a huge impact on the way we are working, living, and engaging online. This time that we are all facing is unprecedented. Never before has the world been as connected as we are digitally, and faced a pandemic. In a way, this is wonderful – we have access to online resources and connections like never before. But we also have more access to news, conspiracy theories, and upsetting information than ever. It’s easy for any of us to spiral into anxiety, panic, or worry about the current situation and what the future holds.
But! Good news: you have choices. While you may not have much control over the current situation, it’s important to remember that you DO have control over some things. And those things can make a big difference.
Here are ten tips to make quarantine a healing, beneficial time for your body and your nervous system.
- Take breaks!
If you can, try to limit your screen time. Make a plan. At the very least, plan to spend a few hours OFF computers and phones and TV every day, and then stick to it. No one can stay healthy (mentally, physically or otherwise) staring at a screen for hours on end – research shows it changes our brains and throws off our circadian rhythms, as well as other detrimental effects.
It might be helpful to make a commitment to check the news or social media only twice a day, or to set a timer when you do. And, if you do find yourself online when you don’t need to be, have compassion. You’re doing your best. If you suspect your screen time is compulsive, or that you’re using it to distract yourself, take a time out for step 2. Then, see if the distraction compulsion is still there.
And, if you have to be online for work or school, here’s a great document on how to care for your body while you are.
- Make time to feel
We are all feeling a variety of things right now – most of us anxious and uncertain, many of us grieving losses, some of us angry or depressed, some of us numb. Whatever you’re feeling, please know that (a) you’re not alone and (b) it’s okay. You are human. You are not supposed to be positive all the time! Allow yourself 5 minutes each day – at least – to turn toward, and sit with, whatever you’re feeling — and really focus on the sensation of that emotion in your body. Afterward, make time for steps 3, 4, and 5 to nourish and reward yourself for taking the time to be present to yourself.
- Connect – in a good way!
Schedule appointments to spend time with family members, friends, or other supportive people. Video chat is great for this, but a phone call works too. Now is a great time to re-connect with your extended family, or long-lost friends!
If you’re feeling depleted or down in the dumps, reach out to someone you know who might be struggling and practice compassionate listening. Taking the focus off yourself, although it’s counter-intuitive when you’re feeling bad, can really lift your mood — as well as that of the other person.
Make sure to get support for yourself, too. Ask for what you need. No matter how isolated you feel, there are those in your network who care and want to help.
If you prefer to have some alone time, take it — and then set the intention to be fully present and connected to those quarantined with you. Your relationships will be better for it.
Don’t neglect your body. Even if you just take 15 minutes, make sure you do something physical every day. If the weather’s nice, you can go for a walk or bike ride while still maintaining social distancing. If it’s yucky out, YouTube has lots of free workouts – just find one that suits your fancy and do it. Your local yoga studio or gym is probably suffering, so find out if they are offering online classes, and support them!
It’s so simple, and so fundamental to our existence in every moment, and yet so easily forgotten. Take a moment right now to feel your breath, without changing it. Where are you breathing? Is it in your chest or your belly? Are you holding your breath? Is your breath deep or shallow?
Chest breathing makes our heart rate go up and stokes the fires of the sympathetic nervous system. If you’re feeling anxious, bets are on that you’re chest breathing. Take a moment to slow down the breath and bring it into your belly. Focus just on feeling your breath for a few minutes. If you can’t feel it in your belly, try chanting the soft sound “voooo” in a low voice. Keep repeating it until you can feel it vibrate all the way down below your belly button. See? You’ve got this.
- Eat healthy food & drink plenty of water
It may be tempting to binge on junk food right now, or maybe you’re feeling food scarcity and not eating much at all. Your brain needs fuel to function properly, and so does your body. Getting the right amount of calories, and balancing your nutrients (50% carbs, 20% protein, 30% fat) will keep you feeling grounded and ready to face the world. If you like, a tracking app can be great for this. I use My Fitness Pal, which is free and easy to use, but there are lots of great apps out there.
- Stick to a schedule
For those of us not used to working from home, or who are suddenly faced with a layoff or unpaid time off, it may be difficult to structure our time at first. If you’re a pajama-loafer like me, I promise: the difference in how you feel will be amazing if you take at least one day, get dressed in your regular clothes, and eat on a schedule. And going to bed and getting up at around the same time every day can really help your body’s circadian rhythm stay on track.
- Write out your goals
If you’re facing long stretches of time without work or activities outside the home, now is a great time to focus on long-neglected projects. Does the basement need organizing? Have you always wanted to learn to paint or play a musical instrument? Start a garden? (I have pallets in the garage with the intention to build a compost bin.) Now’s the time. Set a goal, write a plan, or make a vision board. I personally like lists that I can post somewhere I’ll see them every day. Then get to it!
- Find gratitude
Research shows our brains have a negativity bias. Anything perceived as negative in our experience of life is naturally going to take precedence over the positive — we evolved that way because it helped our species survive. So keep this in mind, and don’t let “what’s wrong” take up more space in your head and heart than “what’s right.” I like having a gratitude practice.
Allowing yourself to dwell on what’s good and right in your life, right now, can really bring a sense of control and balance to the situation, while also helping calm your nervous system and crushing any feelings of anxiety or depression. You can write down:
- Three things you are grateful for (it helps if they are small, immediate, and tangible)
- Three good things that happened today
- What qualities in yourself, or actions of yours, helped bring about these good things?
- Stay in the moment
Did you know it’s possible to focus on the moment, while still planning for the future? Possible, but not easy. It may feel tempting right now to try to prepare for the worst. Nothing is wrong with being prepared, but try to stay mentally and physically in the present – with what is happening right now, in your immediate space. Spiraling into rumination about the millions of dreadful possibilities of the future is not helpful, as much as your mind may try to convince you that it is. If you stay in touch with your body and your heart, you will know what to do when the time comes.
Whatever your situation, please know that Rooted Bliss is here for you. I’m offering online one-on-one sessions at a steep discount, with an optional payment plan, and I’m hosting a donation-based free group support call twice a week. I have lots of exciting things planned for this group, so I hope you’ll think about joining. Come in your pajamas, if you like — no judgment!
Finally, let me know what you think! How are YOU putting these steps into practice in your life? Is there anything you would add? Write a comment below!
Kate Hartman, SEP, C-IAYT
Contact me or click below to schedule.