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The Nervous System: Using Mindfulness to Heal Trauma By Karin Wagner, Certified Rolfer™

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Presentation on theme: "The Nervous System: Using Mindfulness to Heal Trauma By Karin Wagner, Certified Rolfer™"— Presentation transcript:

1 The Nervous System: Using Mindfulness to Heal Trauma By Karin Wagner, Certified Rolfer™

2 What is Trauma? An experience that overwhelmed us at the time We believed we didn’t have enough resources to survive (but we did) The echo of trauma often intrudes on daily life Ideal health is to be able to respond to danger appropriately, yet be unguarded when we are safe, so we can connect with others and have a full, rich inner life.

3 Orienting: Am I Safe? Response to noise, scent, motion, or a hunch Quickly assess potential danger Turn to face source “Alert immobility” Ready to spring into action Settle back down completely if safe

4 “Rest & Digest” Parasympathetic Nervous System

5 “Rest & Digest” Parasympathetic Nervous System Sleepy after a meal or at bedtime Comfort and contentment Blood flow to gut increases Digestion: saliva, enzymes, peristalsis Awareness of body sensations “Dorsal” vagus nerve – pre-mammalian

6 “Tend & Befriend” “Social Engagement System” Parasympathetic Nervous System

7 “Tend & Befriend” “Social Engagement System” Parasympathetic Nervous System Communication and connection Muscles for face, eyes, ears, voice Peripheral vision – “soft focus” Sophisticated heart rate control Human connection with an attacker “Ventral” vagus nerve – mammals

8 “Fight vs. Flight” Sympathetic Nervous System

9 “Fight vs. Flight” Sympathetic Nervous System Heart rate increases Breathing rapid, shallow Muscles tense Digestion stops Focal vision When it lifts, expect shaking, crying, muscle spasms Chronic: anxiety, panic attacks, muscle tension, aggression, heart problems, constipation, insomnia

10 “Freeze/Surrender” Dorsal Vagal & Sympathetic Systems

11 “Freeze/Surrender” Dorsal Vagus & Sympathetic Systems Belief that death is imminent Overwhelmed by high sympathetic activation Paralyzed, helpless Sudden loss of bowel control Opiates released to anesthetize When freeze lifts, likely still in fight/flight mode Chronic: depression, “foggy brain”, diarrhea, dizziness, fatigue, low BP & heart rate, flat affect, “passing through life like a ghost”

12 Trauma Changes the Brain Amygdala: Danger alert, fear, risk assessment. Medial Prefrontal Cortex: Inhibits amygdala and prevents overgeneralization of fear. Time-stamp for memories (and “timeless” nature of trauma). Mindfulness helps. Anterior Cingulate Gyrus: Controls complex emotional responses. Prevents “freezing.” Adapts to constant threat. Orient and focus attention. Movement helps. Hippocampus: Memories. Vivid recall of trauma. Amnesia. Shrinks with trauma, reversible. Insula: Monitors distressing body sensations. Orbitofrontal Cortex: Relationship between external and internal data. Self-regulation. Social engagement. Eye contact and touch for infants necessary.

13 Just kidding. Tune in to your body and notice how your nervous system reacted.

14 Riding the Wave

15 Tune in to body sensations Instead of labeling an emotion, identify the physical sensation and where you feel it Stay mindful: how does the sensation change? Riding the Wave

16 Be present with (uncomfortable) sensations Know that your body is readying to protect you Trust that all these sensations will pass in time Minor irritations are a great way to practice

17 How to Get “Unstuck” Body awareness Stop staring! Soften eyes (peripheral vision) Notice your surroundings Breathe softly but fully Spine movement with breathing Joint movements Social connection (current or a memory)

18 Put it into Practice Exercise Meditation Mindfulness during chores, eating, bathing, etc. Workplace Posture: What is the emotional tone? Bedtime habits Dreams: What was the final emotional tone? Death and dying: acceptance vs. passive surrender


20 How Does this Relate to Rolfing ® ? Body pains can be from leftover “fight or flight” Postural habits can be connected to emotion Emotions come up during bodywork – Neuropeptides, the “molecules of emotions” – Sensations can trigger emotional response Injuries can hold emotional content from actual injury or from that phase of life Rolfing aims for truly optimal health, including being present with sensation and emotion

21 Resources for More Learning Peter Levine: Somatic Experiencing Waking the Tiger In an Unspoken Voice Trauma-proofing Your Kids Ki Aikido Dojos in Tigard and SE Portland Katie & Gay Hendricks Books such as “Conscious Loving”


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