How To Release Trauma When Talking Isn’t Enough
Although words still have an incredibly important place in therapy, they can leave some parts of one’s healing journey amiss.
This article discusses the other routes we can take to heal ourselves when talking isn’t enough. We’ll discuss the limits of talk therapy first, and then we’ll give you some examples of gentle body-based exercises that you can use in your healing process.
In this article, we’d like to share with you the benefits of somatic therapies. With daily practice, these approaches to healing can gradually fill the space that conventional therapies – such as talk therapy – can leave unfilled. According to Dr. Peter Levine, somatic modalities work directly with the body and the trauma-affected nervous system, thereby locating and releasing residual trauma from where it gets stored in our bodies.
What Talking Might Miss
As Bessel van der Kolk (2014) says: “Traumatic events are almost impossible to put into words.”
The reasons for this are twofold. Firstly, traumatic events themselves may simply defy all description. Secondly, the process of trauma recall tends to deactivate Broca’s area of the brain – the part responsible for speech production. In turn, this compromises our ability to speak in general– let alone speaking about a traumatic event (van der Kolk, 2014).
Talk therapy can often be retraumatizing for survivors. Being asked to remember and retell a story before regulating the nervous system can make us feel like we are reliving the traumatic experience all over again – posing the risk of retraumatization (van der Kolk, 2014; Wylie, 2004).
However, somatic therapies can help us to connect to our bodies and our sensations before we return to the sites of our trauma. During the process of becoming embodied, we work to distill the traumatic energy that otherwise overwhelms us.
These therapies also help to regulate the nervous system into a state of equilibrium, allowing us to be able to think and speak clearly if we desire to do so (van der Kolk, 2014; Wylie, 2004).
At Rewire Therapy, we put great value on the use of somatic therapies for the healing of trauma.
1. Vagal Toning
Dr. Stephen Porges (1994) argues for the validity of vagal toning in his polyvagal theory. Vagal toning entails the strengthening of the vagus nerve: the nerve that stretches from the brain down to the gut, transferring important information both ways (Porges, 2001).
Along with regulating one’s heart rate, the vagus nerve also oversees “digestion… respiratory rate, as well as vasomotor activity, and certain reflex actions, such as coughing, sneezing [and] swallowing” (Breit et al., 2018).
It is, simply put, the main nerve responsible for the activation of our parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) (Breit et al., 2018). The PNS is the system that activates the rest and digest state: our state of relaxation.
Therefore, one of the purposes of vagal toning is to strengthen the vagus nerve so that these states of equilibrium are less easily disrupted by stress. Stress activates the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) which can put us into states of fight, flight, freeze, or fawn. With the resilience we build as a result of vagal toning, we are able to regulate ourselves out of these high-stress states back to balanced and regulated states (Porges, 2004).
Some vagal toning exercises include humming, self-touch, softening muscles around the eyes, and diaphragmatic breathing. As everyone’s body is different, you might respond more positively to some exercises than to others. In our Vagal Toning Program, our expert-led exercises will guide you through a few different approaches to strengthen your vagus nerve.
Along with methods of vagal toning – such as humming and deep breathing – yoga is another somatic technique that has been practiced for thousands of years (Ross & Thomas, 2010; van der Kolk, 2014).
It has immense benefits – from lowering our blood pressure to bettering our physical and mental health by regulating our nervous system out of states of fight, flight, freeze, or fawn and ultimately helping us to achieve a balance of spirit, body, and mind (Ross & Thomas, 2010).
In our Trauma-Informed Yoga Program, our expert-led exercises will guide you through a number of yoga exercises, forms, and postures to support you along your healing process.
Qigong is a traditional Chinese practice. ‘Qi’ refers to our life force, and ‘gong’ refers to the act of working with this life force (Sancier, 1996). Along with vagal toning and yoga, Qigong is another practice we can perform to return to our desired rest-and-digest state (Yeung et al., 2018).
Qigong involves somatic techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, and slow, controlled, conscious movement (Yeung et al., 2018). These practices help to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, calming us down and allowing us to tap back into our senses. From this point, we can approach what is troubling us with greater clarity of mind and a better sense of safety in ourselves.
In our Qigong Program, we will guide you through some Qigong exercises and support you as you discover the benefits of these daily techniques.
If you found this article helpful and would like to explore practical therapeutic techniques to heal nervous system dysregulation, you may be interested in exploring our expert-guided programs.
1. Breit, S., Kupferberg, A., Rogler, G., & Hasler, G. (2018). Vagus nerve as modulator of the brain–gut axis in psychiatric and inflammatory disorders. Frontiers in psychiatry, 44. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2018.00044
2. Ross, A., & Thomas, S. (2010). The Health Benefits of Yoga and Exercise: A Review. Journal of alternative and complementary medicine, 16(1), 3-12.
3. Porges, S. W. (2001). The polyvagal theory: phylogenetic substrates of a social nervous system. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 42, 123-146.
4. Porges, S. W., Doussard-Roosevelt, J. A., & Maiti, A. K. (1994). Vagal tone and the physiological regulation of emotion. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 59(2-3), 167–186.
5. Sancier, K. M. (1996). Medical Applications of Qigong. Alternative Therapies, 2(1), 40-46.
6. Sancier, K. M. (1999). Therapeutic Benefits of Qigong Exercises in Combination with Drugs. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 5(4), 383-389.
7. Van der Kolk, B. (2014). The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. Viking.
8. Wylie, M. (2004.) The Limits of Talk. Psychotherapy Networker.