I seem to myself, as in a dream,
Very often the only thing people who had suffered abuse want to do is to escape their own bodies as though their body betrayed or turned against them.
Massage can bring people back to themselves to create a healthy and nurturing self-connection and help them create a compassionate relationship with themselves and with their bodies.
Read here to find out how massage can help bridge the body-mind gap caused by trauma.
According to Melissa Soalt, psychotherapist who has worked with many survivors, “the trauma from abuse typically results in dissociative numbing or repressive mechanisms that can leave survivors feeling ‘empty’ or vacant on the inside.
She considers body work a valuable tool to help them reconnect and re-integrate and reclaim their body-mind.
“Because the body is such a direct medium, body-work can help facilitate this process of re-entry and one’s ability to feel more present, " she says.
The problem with numbing as a survival skill, says Chris Smith, who developed Trauma Touch Therapy, is that it not only numbs out the pain and horror of trauma, but also people’s capacity to enjoy life, to enjoy their bodies.
They no longer feel alive nor safe in this world.
TOWARDS CONSCIOUS AWARENESS
Body awareness via massage can help rebuild the oneness of the body, emotions and thoughts. It can encourage embodied self-awareness - really experiencing our movements, sensations, and feelings as well as a conscious awareness of interactions with the environment and world.
As the authors of the journal article, Body Awareness: a phenomenological inquiry into the common ground of mind-body therapies write, it is this awareness that leads to self-organization and wholeness.
How do they know?
This group of researchers had investigated mind-body approaches, such as yoga, TaiChi, Body-Oriented Psychotherapy, Body Awareness Therapy, mindfulness based therapies/meditation, Feldenkrais, Alexander Method, Breath Therapy and other modalities by speaking to practitioners and patients to find out what the concept body awareness in mind-body therapies meant to them.
That there is a growing body of evidence that body awareness-enhancing therapies may provide psychological and pain-related benefits for patients suffering from a variety of conditions.
HOW DOES BODY_MIND INTEGRATION HAPPEN?
Becoming aware of your body even during a massage, involves both physical and mental processes.
The mental functions include attention, interpretation, appraisal, beliefs, memories, conditioning, attitudes and affect focused on external and internal body sensations.
All of these mental processes are affected and have effects on the body in many ways.
According to the authors of two articles on the subject of mind-body connection, the connection between mind and body act on multiple levels:
HOW DOES BODY_MIND INTEGRATION HAPPEN?
I have looked at five ways in which the mind-body connection shows itself:
1. The connection between mind and body influences us at cell level.
At the basic cell level the body-mind connection influences the process by which information from a gene is used to synthesise gene products like DNA.
2. The connection between mind and body changes the brain
It supports interactions among central brain regions leading to change in the brain structures (neuroplastic changes).
3. The connection between mind and body is a two-way street
The connection between body and mind are made up of 1) top-down and 2) bottom-up feedback loops between the brain and the body organs including the skin, the heart, blood vessels, the immune systems and particularly via the nervous system.
All mind-body therapies actually involve a combination of both top-down and bottom-up mechanisms according to the authors.
For example: Progressive muscle relaxation involves:
4. The connection between mind and body listens to your heart ... and other organs
Mind-body connection affects our awareness of our own internal regulation responses also known as interoceptive communication, such as being aware of our breathing, hunger, heart rate, and the need to visit the bathroom.
5. The connection between mind and body is linked to circulating neurohormones
Neurohormones are substances that regulate other hormones. They pass along nerve-cell extensions or axons of a nerve cell and are released into the bloodstream.
These neurohormones is the link between sensory stimuli and the chemical responses or endocrine secretions that act on other tissues in the body. Just like neurotransmitters, neurohormones are released by neurons but like hormones, neurohormones travel in the bloodstream.
Neurohormones secreted by our bodies include:
6. The connection between mind and body links us from the outside in
Not only information gathered from inside our bodies are vital to maintain homeostasis and survival. The body has different sensory systems that keep us in touch with the outside world too.
The tactile or touch system
Receptors in the skin and even in the mouth, send messages to the central nervous system about touch, different textures, whether a surface is wet or dry, smooth or rough. The tactile system is also responsible for the processing of pain and temperature.
The vestibular or balance system
This system provides input about our movement and where we are in space.
It is related to our:
Vestibular input alerts us to danger and threat but can also calm down the nervous system.
This is the sense that provides feedback on the position of different parts of our body, in relation to each other and where it is in space.
It lets you know whether or not your body is moving, if it is moving with enough effort to achieve your goal (e.g. picking up a mug of rooibos tea - too little and you won't manage it, too much and you can spill the hot liquid burning yourself).
Proprioceptive receptors are located all over our bodies in the joints, muscles, and tendons and are activated by elongation, compression, or traction.
These sensors play an important role in muscle memory or the ability to reproduce a particular movement without conscious thought and acquired as a result of frequent repetition of that movement.
According to US massage therapist, Lind Fehrs the physical body retains a memory of what the mind experiences and the mind, or brain and nervous system, retain a memory of what the body experiences.
PULLING IT ALL TOGETHER
A physical trauma like physical assault or sexual abuse results in a reaction from our entire being - mind and body.
Long after the trauma, deep within the brain, the subconscious mind remembers. Within the limbic system lies the memories associated with the event or injury. The smells, the sounds, the tastes, the textures, the visuals – all the senses are stimulated during a trauma and stored to form a kind of emotional picture within the brain
The good news is that the process also works in the reverse - as the soft tissue, nervous system and posture are altered during a massage, the negative body memories and emotions are modified too.
Body-mind or mind-body? If you are struggling with physical and mental pain and feel that the dominant health paradigm’s dualistic approach to mind and body seems inadequate to explain anything, I want to talk to you. Join me under the tree in my garden for a cup of rooibos tea and let’s talk massage and SomaSense!