As I attended the training and observed and felt the power of the Somatic Experience therapeutic approach I was struck by the similarities I witnessed in concept and practice between the SE and Yoga. The more I delved deeper into the training I really understood on all levels WHY, so many thousands of years ago the science of yoga was created.
The science of Yoga wasn´t just some kind of way to pass the time on long summer nights or entertain one another with pretzel twists and headstands. Those ancient Yogi´s observed and knew that we were more than our rational brain and that though it was a great tool for survival and fun, it needed to be integrated with our more animal parts for us to live a whole and integrated life (I discuss this in my former entry insert link to former blog here). To be the doers of our own destiny and live in harmony with ourselves, the planet and our community we needed to release the tension of restricted fight, flight and freeze responses or resort back to being their slaves rather than owners. In contrast to western medicine and philosophy that has attempted to separate the rational brain and override the more ´profane and animal parts´, at it´s very core, Yoga was developed as a science of life and connection not a science of parts and separation.
In the practice of Yoga the practitioner is asked to go within themselves and feel what is happening from the inside out. The physical practice is combined with conscious
awareness so that not only is the student learning how to read their own body, they are also releasing various blocks, which are often
associated with emotional/mental stress, from the inside out. Via breath, movement and awareness the stresses that were once held in the body as a response to threat are gently released, acknowledged and hopefully, via meditation (in whatever form that maybe) integrated into the whole person.
As I pondered the basis of Somatic Experience and what I was witnessing, practicing and feeling I got the clear feeling that at its base, it was a guided, very personalized, meditative practice. Much like a guru might guide a novice in meditation, a psychologist trained in such a technique would guide the client to their points of restriction and then help them release and come out of that restricted state by empowering the client to move with and acknowledge their body´s wisdom.
Like Yoga, Somatic Experience is gentle. There is no screaming or forced expressions of emotion or stress. Therapists are careful to avoid the harmful effects of catharsis and watch with great attention what the breath, body and temperature of the client is communicating. Like a guru, the therapist uses this information and acts as a guide rather than an authority figure as they guide the session. The purpose this somatic approach is to empower the client to understand their own body´s language and how to connect it with the rational of the cortex, thereby integrating the whole person and their experiences into ONE whole instead of into parts.
In my perspective and experience, the great benefit of the Somatic Experience approach is that it takes an age old eastern practice and transforms it into a language and technique that the western mind, body and lifestyle can appreciate and understand while using the language of neuroscience and biology to explain how the mechanism works. I personally experienced the power of this therapy over eight different times with six different people, myself included, during my training and I can say that with one session it is possible to get relief and create connections between body and mind one had no idea existed.
For example, for the sake of science, I will elaborate on my own personal experience. Ever since I can remember I have had an annoying itch just underneath my left shoulder blade, which in times of stress, flares up into more of a stabbing pain. No matter how much yoga and body rolling I do, no matter how hard my very intelligent and well trained mother tried to work it out with Body Logic, the spot simply would not budge. I discussed this with the SE therapist I chose to see the first day of the training and we decided to see what might be the issue in the tissue.
As I started the therapy I came to connect that constant itch and minor pain with an accident I had over seventeen years ago. The connection didn´t take long and I was surprised by how quickly the memory and sensations of that memory came to me as I relaxed my body and focused in on the location between spine and shoulder blade. I was further surprised because it was a serious accident but I came out of it without any serious injuries, so it really isn´t a memory I keep on hand.
In that car accident the old ford ranger I was driving was hit at a very high speed by on old van in the back right side that sent me into a tail spin. It was stopped by a large light pole that then flipped the truck over onto its side forcing it into a sliding stop. As I allowed myself to go into the memory, I remember turning to the right and seeing a van popping over the hill before the accident and me with my right foot bearing down on the accelerator trying to get that old ranger to go faster through the intersection, but to no avail.
To this day I still can´t remember exactly how it happened or how I even exited the vehicle (typical frozen response), but as I entered into my body and into the Somatic Experience, involuntarily I felt my shoulder twitch and, unbeknownst to me, the therapist informed that my visceral were twitching and that my head kept turning and body kept leaning to the right. She informed me 3-4 or four times of my body´s desire to turn and lean to the right. During this process I felt the tears start to roll down my face and as they began to flow I observed that sensation between my shoulder blade increase in intensity and then dissipate as I connected with the memory and the sensation of the therapist´s hand now gently placed over my spine.
In one session I felt a difference and an increased awareness. In follow up sessions I came to understand that this is a weak point where I generally go to hold stress and trauma and that there are layers of stressful experiences locked there. Due to the extremely personal nature of the traumas unlocked during the follow up sessions, I am going to end here and just offer my reflections over the first session.
Reflecting upon my body´s language I came to understand my desire to turn my head to the right and lean in the same direction was my body´s unfulfilled instinct to turn towards the threat (the van) and then away from the cause of injury where the window came into direct contact with my left shoulder and broke. The tears were the result of the unreleased discharge of that frightening event over 17 years ago. I didn´t cry when I exited the vehicle. I was too shocked by what had occurred…but the body never forgets, and more than ever, I acknowledge the truth of that statement. Nonetheless, thankfully…
…the body does let go when given the space and permission to do so.
With the few weeks of cooler weather here in Barcelona before I nip off to India for my 500 hour training, I will be writing more about my experiences with Somatic Experience and my thoughts and insights concerning this incredibly powerful and healing approach and how it ties into my own history, world history, evolution, Yoga and sexuality…