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“For real change to take place, the body needs to learn that the danger has passed and to live in the reality of the present.”

-Bessel van der Kolk, M.D. The Body Keeps the Score



If you are dealing with addiction, harmful behavior, unresolved trauma, or any other ailment that has lead you to traditional therapy the foundation in healing must include incorporating the body. The mind and body are interconnected, emotional experiences affect the way you behave and the physiology within your body. In the other direction, your perception of these emotion-triggered bodily changes also influences your consciously felt emotions.


Let's use the following handy brain model to explore this deeper.

Dan Siegl's Hand Brain Model

The base of your palm represents your brain stem. This region of the brain is responsible for autonomic functions. These are the bodily functions that happen automatically, like heart rate and breathing.


Crossing the thumb over the palm, this represents your limbic system, it includes your amygdala and hippocampus. This part of the brain controls your sympathetic nervous system, the flight/fight/freeze response to threats or danger. It is also where old memories and emotions are stored.


Fold the fingers over the thumb, this is your prefrontal cortex. This is the only part of the brain in which thinking, analyzing, self-control, self-regulation, managing emotions, and problem solving occurs.


What happens when you get upset, overstressed, or experience a trigger to a past trauma?

You flip your lid!


Your fingers fly up, the prefrontal cortex goes offline and you no longer have access to your thinking, analyzing, and problem solving skills. The fight/flight/freeze response is exposed and active, old memories, and related feelings are triggered.


As you can see, when the lid is flipped this is not the time to problem solve!


Our nervous system cannot differentiate between stress from daily life and stress from imminent danger so this is where most of live, running from the bottom of the brain, in sympathetic response, living without the aid of our thinking brain. This results in the inability to control impulses, manage our emotions, tune into the feelings of others, and form relationships.


Talk therapy works exclusively with the top part of the brain, your prefrontal cortex. As we have seen, when it's offline everything you have learned here is inaccessible. This is why you may be able to rationally understand how to solve your chronic issues but continuously find yourself returning to the problematic behaviors or thinking patterns.


Practices like therapeutic yoga focus on the bottom part of your brain, the limbic system. Thanks to neuroplasticity, we are able to change the way the brain functions. By bringing the body again and again into the parasympathetic response, we are able to reprogram the conditioned sympathetic response to stressful triggers. It has been shown, with regular practice within as little as 8 weeks, we are able to decrease the size of the amygdala. This is the region of the brain that is associated with fear and emotion, and involved in the initiation of the body's response to stress. This allows you to come from a point of calm awareness when faced with threats or stress. It brings the tools you gain in talk therapy online so you can create real lasting change and once again enjoy your life.

LITTLE-T and BIG-T TRAUMA


It’s important to explain how we use the word “trauma” in our work. All our bodies carry some residue of physical and psychological tension as most of us have encountered some personal harm, injury or stress that was either physically and/or emotionally overwhelming. These memories, if not adequately processed, are stored in the body/mind as either “little-t traumas” or “big-T traumas”.


“Little-t traumas” although not life-threatening, are highly disturbing events that evoke overwhelming negative emotions and result in painful, unresolved memories which negatively impact a person’s view of self and others. Most people have had several such experiences during their lifetime, with events that occur in childhood having the greatest emotional impact. Being separated from parents, being bullied or punished at school, the death of a pet are all events that can create “little-t” traumas. Psychological abuse is a core component of domestic violence and can be even more devastating than the “big-T” trauma of physical abuse itself.


Other examples of “little-t traumas” are experiences which exceed our capacity to cope and include events like impacts of minor medical/dental procedures; an abrupt house move; being socially excluded; losing friends; failing an exam or interview; job loss/failure; divorce/break-up/discovering partner infidelity – basically anything that overwhelms our capacities to cope at the time of occurrence. It also includes the pervasive, anxiety-provoking scenes from our past or childhood such as humiliation or being rejected, which can be significant and can have lasting negative consequences. “Little-t traumas” also include any repeated or ongoing criticism/disregard/neglect/abuse of every type, where perpetrators are the people to whom the victim must continue to turn for protection.


Chronic maltreatment or repeated trauma can have a pervasive effect on the developing mind and brain, which may result in a breakdown of the capacity to regulate internal emotional states. It’s helpful to think of trauma as the experience we had and how we interpreted and reacted to it, rather than the exposure to it. Different people may have exposure to the same stimulus, but have very different experiences/reactions to the event(s).


“Big-T traumas” include big impacts, often single events. They involve death, or the threat of death or serious injury, to which the person reacts with feelings of intense fear, helplessness, or horror. Examples are major medical/dental/surgical procedures; big car/work accidents/bank hold-up; threatened or actual injury; close exposure to natural disasters/war; public shaming; sexual assault/rape; domestic violence or abuse; discovering partner infidelity; witnessing abuse or death. The exposure to any of these can be direct, witnessed, or something that happened to a friend or relative. Witnessing a trauma may have similar or sometimes worse impacts than personally undergoing a trauma because of the helplessness/powerlessness one may feel.


“Trauma is a fact of life. But it doesn’t have to be a life sentence.” Dr. Peter Levine


Trauma leaves a lasting impact on the body, this is why you must get the body involved in treatment to truly heal. As long as you only involve the mind you will be stuck in a loop. This is why many spend years in therapy but are still plagued with the same issues that brought them there.



Somewhere after lunch on Sundays most of us switch from a relaxed weekend vibe to an overwhelming dread about the upcoming week. This is the perfect time to take a few moments to practice alternative nostril breathing (Nadi Shodhana). It cleanses the nadis or nerves, strengthens the nervous system and clears the mind. It is very simple to do, either physically by blocking one nostril at a time, or visually if you are congested. To begin, inhale through your left nostril, exhale through your right, then inhale through your right nostril and exhale through your left keeping your breath smooth and slow. 3-5 minutes of this will clear your mind and allow you to enjoy the rest of your weekend.


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