Trauma is not just in your head. It always leaves a physical imprint. According to James S. Gordon, M.D., author of The Transformation: Discovering Wholeness and Healing After Trauma, "Everything that happens to us emotionally or psychologically happens to our bodies as well. It's all connected,” Traumas often live below the level of conscious awareness and may disguise themselves as a myriad of physical issues ranging from mild (i.e., poor digestion and waking up at night) to severe (i.e., cancers and diseases).
Research suggests that children who experience adverse events have significantly higher incidences of asthma as well as increased cancer risk as adults, while adults who experience trauma are at an increased risk of coronary atherosclerosis. The body keeps track of what you still need to process. The familiar adage, “The issues are in the tissues,” may be more scientific than once believed. Whether a traumatic event occurred 5 days or 50 years ago, the body retains the memories until they can be consciously released. Strong negative emotions resulting from traumatic events act as residual toxins contributing to physical ailments, emotional triggers, and spiritual disconnection. Fortunately, there is a way to release stored traumas from the physiology.
Many trauma victims have been conditioned to ignore physical and emotional discomforts as a means of survival. Though such mechanisms may have served a purpose in the acute state, the switch of perception often remains unresponsive long after the adverse event.
Current brain research explains how the brain actually perpetuates a dimming of awareness in response to trauma. It is this lack of mind-body connection that links post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with poor emotional regulation. Fortunately, there is compelling evidence demonstrating that increased physical awareness can provide trauma survivors with the skills needed to feel and heal.
By training themselves to perceive the physical sensations that usually lie beyond conscious awareness, a practice known as introspection, trauma survivors are able to initiate the healing of stored traumas. Awareness of heartbeat, respiration, satiety, and physical sensations help the unconscious world of inner sensations to become conscious.
Areas of chronic discomfort tend to correspond to unresolved traumas. By noticing sensations of chronic physical unease, valuable information about stored traumas filter into awareness. To facilitate body awareness, pause several times throughout the day, and simply observe the sensations within your body. Gently allow awareness to flow from your head all the way down to your toes. Notice where there is tension, pain, tightness, or constriction.
- Does your lower back ache?
- Do you have a tight sensation in your throat?
- Does your stomach hurt after a meal?
Give yourself permission to become acquainted with your body and its sensations. Keep a log so that you can see where your body most frequently retains discomfort.
Too often you may ignore or dismiss physical discomforts without recognizing the information that they contain. You may rationalize that the tightness in your shoulders is due to poor posture and that the gurgling in your stomach stems from something that you ate. Yet, the cause of those sensations often lies in past traumas.
If traumatic events are not fully processed, meaning that the physical and emotional byproducts are removed from the experiences, then they are stored in the body as cellular memories. These cellular memories inform the functioning of various organs, systems, and biomechanical structures within the physiology, which elicit either health and well-being or unease and disease. To illustrate:
- Pelvic pain may point to the need for sexual healing.
- Gut pain may hint at undigested emotions.
- Chest pain could correspond to unhealed heartache.
- Low back pain might indicate unmitigated insecurities.
- Thyroid issues might indicate a lack of safe self-expression.
Though it takes practice to learn how to speak the body’s language, you have some experience interpreting your body’s basic messages. You recognize that hunger conveys the need for nourishment, and fatigue announces the need for rest or renewal. By expanding your repertoire of energetic translation, you can learn to read and respond to every physical message.
Pay close attention to the areas of physical discomfort. Ask your intuition what is arising that needs to be healed. Then be still and listen deeply. In time, the meaning behind each physical sensation will be revealed.
Having recognized sensation as a pointer toward wholeness, it is time to engage in the therapeutic process. Somatic healing practices release stored trauma from the body’s cells and lead you back to an intrinsic state of health, joy, and vitality. The following three practices, though by no means exhaustive, can be used to move the energy of trauma out of the body:
Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)
EFT is a technique of tapping along specific meridian points. Similar to acupuncture, EFT is thought to relieve energy blockages and move “stuck” chi. Studies suggest that EFT can relieve depression, and its effects are on par with acupuncture. EFT helps you move through the overwhelm, stress, and anxiety that result from trauma. Once learned, it does not require a treatment practitioner and can be used to quell acute emotional states anytime and anywhere.
Trauma-sensitive yoga is a movement practice based upon the principles of yoga. It is designed to meet the needs of individuals working to overcome trauma. It offers restorative postures, diaphragmatic breathing, and self-care opportunities within a safe, soothing environment.
Preliminary research using a model of trauma-sensitive yoga, developed by the Trauma Center at the Justice Resource Institute in Brookline, Massachusetts, showed a reduction in severity of PTSD, less frequent dissociative symptoms, as well as gains in vitality and body attunement.
Trauma, being the residual blockage of energy leftover from a distressing event, is especially receptive to energy healing. Energy healing practices work at the body’s fundamental energy layer to remove obstructions in vital energies, quiet the mind, and restore harmony to the body. Energy therapies remove—at the bioenergetic field level—inharmonious energies that have resulted from traumas. Here are some examples:
- Therapeutic Touch
- Ayurvedic Marma Point Therapy
- Craniosacral Therapy
- Healing Touch
Science now has more evidence than ever before that reveals the intertwined relationship between mind and body. By bringing awareness to physical sensations, asking what they reveal about your past, and consciously releasing blockages, you can optimize your body’s natural healing abilities. It is no coincidence that the words healing and wholeness share the same root, for as you heal the body, you return to your intrinsic state of wholeness.
Explore the energetic power of hand mudras and how they can support you to access harmony and balance in your life in Your Guide to Mudras, a four-part series with Sarah Finger, available now in the Chopra App.