Body Sense

SPRING | 2017

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Body Sense 13 By Jenny Lorant Grouf may rest, digest, and restore when needed. On the other hand, when we experience trauma of any kind, our nervous system is swiftly alerted to respond. At that moment, our sympathetic nervous system kicks off a cascade of physiological effects, including the release of cortisol (our stress hormone), shallow breath, increased heart rate, reduced digestion, and general hypervigilance. We are thrown into a state of survival, literally. All energies go to our limbs and tense muscles to help us fight, flee, or freeze. Unfortunately, this is where our bodies can get stuck. Psychologist Peter Levine says humans are the only mammals whose "shake" mechanism does not activate automatically, or at all, following a threat or stress. A common example of the shake mechanism is a dog, who will shake from head to tail after a threat to their system has been removed. This shaking releases the inertia of stored energy from the peripheral nervous system, thereby allowing energy and impulses to be rerouted and reintegrated back into our central nervous system. When the trauma or threat is gone, we humans tend to remain in a state of high alert versus shaking it off like other mammals. Without the ability to shake it off, trauma survivors are left with an incomplete physiological process that can result in ongoing effects, including muscle tension, disrupted sleep cycles, compromised digestion, and increased heart rate. While we know there are many ways to approach a nervous system that is being held hostage in sympathetic activation—meditation, talk therapy, somatic awareness, movement, nature, artistic expression, and nourishing food—therapeutic touch is not always the first thing a survivor might consider. WHY BODYWORK? Although receiving massage and bodywork might seem counterintuitive for some trauma survivors, this human contact often works to mend the wounds that can't be seen. Here are just a few ways massage can help. 1. Physiological Benefits Massage and bodywork support the parasympathetic nervous system—the system that allows us to rest, digest, and restore our faculties—by providing stimuli that is intentionally present, caring, and safe. By deactivating the central nervous system, massage and bodywork can bring about increased relaxation, an unraveling of muscle tension, deepened breathing, increased circulation, regulated digestion, calming of the hypothalamus and cortisol, and more. 2. Safe Touch Touch can be a sensitive subject for someone who has experienced assault of any kind. As a massage therapist, I want my clients to understand that we are in complete partnership and that I absolutely support their processes. The goal of bodywork practitioners is to meet all recipients where they are and work from the needs that arise, versus imposing a one-size-fits-all protocol on clients. With this in mind, therapists work to educate clients about what a bodywork session should look like and emphasize that, as the recipient, clients are in complete control. On a basic level, we let clients know we will check in with them regarding pressure, temperature, etc., when appropriate. Additionally, we encourage clients to let us know when they need anything at all, be it a blanket, a bathroom break, a change in music, lighter pressure, or moving into a new position. Clients need to understand that they are in charge of their session and have full control over what happens to their body, including how, and how much, they will be touched. After surviving a traumatic experience, receiving safe, interpersonal touch can be an important part of the healing journey. 3. Trust of Others Survivors of violence often share that it is challenging for them to trust another person's touch after experiencing assault and trauma. When survivors cross the threshold into a bodywork space, they are taking a step toward trusting another person to ensure the safe touch that each session intends. The framework of each massage session is solely to support a client's healing process. While practitioners may bring the therapeutic techniques to the table, it's the client who has complete agency over everything that will happen during a

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