In 2020 I started diligently applying myself to how to heal from trauma.
Over the last 5 months I have seen consistent benefits.
When the ME/CFS (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) symptoms kick on from PEM (post exertional malaise) I feel fear. My ability to soothe myself at these times (self-regulate) is improving.
As we heal from trauma we help the body to spend more time in a place of rest and digest - a healing state.
The body's natural ability to heal comes into play.
Regardless of the chronic illness with which you live, the 5 simple exercises on this page are worth learning .
Even without illness in your life, they are a sensible healing strategy to incorporate into your daily life.
I haven't yet listed any here, but breathing exercises are also important. You might wish to look up Wim Hoff.
After about four months of doing somatic exercises to heal from trauma, I crossed a line.
I currently feel more hopeful that I will continue to be able to build up my activity levels.
I notice a hesitation to say that on my website. To be clear, at the time of writing, I have had two days in the last week, where I mislaid that hope. Post exertional malaise PEM kicked in on those days.
But my body hasn't shown such signs of improvement for many years now, and so I am quietly excited.
I am finding myself telling other people with Myalgic
Encephalomyelitis/ Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or other chronic illness about the benefits of doing
somatic exercises to heal from trauma.
I am writing this article so I can send them here to decide if it’s something they want to try.
As so often, I include a disclaimer. I am not a teacher of
how to heal from trauma. I am very much a student.
I share this information on the understanding that you take responsibility for your own health.
My hope is to give you some resources to check out.
Setting out to have a regulated nervous system doesn't work on the principle of 'no pain no gain'.
An exercise which helps another may not help you.
An exercise which helps you at one point may not help you at another time..
You may be able to do a somatic exercise for a few seconds only, and build up over time.
Be gentle with yourself.
In order to see results, you need to take these exercises to heal from trauma seriously, and apply them often.
They are not hard. They don't take long. But they only work if you do them!
It's important to make them part of your daily life.
Doctor Aimie Apigian really brought this point home to me. She
ran the Biology Of Trauma Summit.
She was clearly well, able to operate at a high level of health, having healed from her experience with chronic fatigue.
And yet she, along with many of her guests, emphasised that she still does these exercises throughout each day.
The aim of the repetition is to build resilience to stress, so that stress doesn't get stored in the body as trauma.
Also to train oneself to have this toolkit of healing exercises
available to you.
In a moment when the body goes into fight and flight, or collapse, the prefrontal cortex is not operating, and therefore you are unlikely to think, ‘What lovely resource is available to me right now'.
The way it will be available to you is if you have trained yourself to do the trauma releasing exercise so often that it has become second nature.
Many years ago now I was introduced to the trauma releasing exercise of very
deliberately looking around you to different parts of the room you are in.
You can do the same if you are outside. This exercise is called orienting.
I learned that orienting cultivates a sense of safety in your nervous system.
However, I didn't take this piece of advice seriously and apply it to my life until I understood the reason behind it.
Are you sitting in your room right now looking at the screen?
If you are on your own, in your accommodation, or even if you are in a public place, you may be very
confident that no one is about to come up and verbally or physically attack
you. And yet you may find yourself in a state of feeling on edge. Perhaps
you hear a noise and feel on alert. If so, it's quite possible that your
nervous system is feeling vulnerable to attack.
You may try to reason yourself out of this sense of attack.
However, you have a reptilian brain and a mammalian brain that are older than the reasoning parts of the brain. You also have nervous system responses that are designed to allow you to override your rational mind.
Looking very deliberately around you – orienting– is one thing that you can do many times a day in order to calm your nervous system.
Don't expect this to bring immediate benefits. Just
build it into your daily practice.
At a time when your body is safe, let it know that it is safe. You are training your body to be able to tell the difference between danger and safety.
The video below shares three simple techniques from Peter Levine to help you heal from trauma.
These are tools for how to self-soothe and self regulate the nervous system.
You may at times get lost in your thoughts in a way that does not feel good for you.
You can potentially quieten these thoughts by consciously locating yourself in your body.
If your trauma comes from chronic illness or physical abuse, it may not feel safe to you to be in your body.
Indeed there may have been times in your life when the skill of 'leaving' your body was helpful to your survival.
However, when you leave the body or 'disassociate' too often, you are likely to end up feeling numb to life, as though you are not truly living.
This is your body. This is your life. Claim it.
1. The containment hug.
I find this so helpful. Less so than I did at the start.
A friend had an 'Oh no' response. He felt like he was in a strait jacket! So remember to do what is right for you.
2. Hand on forehead. Hand on upper chest.
And then move the hand from the forehead to the upper belly.
The exercise may take on even more power if you feel the contact of your hand on your skin.
Imagine you are a baby being held and soothed.
You might want to adapt the exercise by gently rocking.
(If you are living with severe ME and are bedbound, putting your hands on your body in this way is a good somatic exercise for you, as it can be done lying down.
This is also a good trauma healing exercise to do if you are lying awake at night. I do it first thing in the morning before I get out of bed.)
3. Tapping as in EFT. Or a butterfly hug tapping. Or squeezing the muscles round the body.
Instructions start at 2 minutes 20.
Full breath in.
Out breath whilst saying Vooooooo. Feel it in the belly.
Peter Levine doesn't say it here, but follow the breath in your consciousness, up the windpipe and out of the mouth.
That one additional instruction (heard by him in an online course I attended) made this a more powerful exercise for me.
Again he doesn't say it here, but the hope is that the shift in your nervous sytem to the parasympathetic state may be confirmed by a spontaneous in-breath immediately after the exercise. Or a yawn or a swallow.
These indicate that your body is moving into rest, digest and heal.
Instructions start at 1 min 53
Sukie Baxter. She credits Stanley Rosenberg as the author who introduced her to the vagus nerve reset exercise.
This exercise achieves the same result for me as the voo breath so I alternate between the two.
I do the exercise sitting up, and it still has power.
It is my understanding that once you get a spontaneous in breath (swallow or yawn) you can return your eyes to look straight ahead.
But please do your own research.