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- The Difference Between Fixing and Healing
And then, in between, it gets forgotten. And so, the way — the time that I got into the field, happened to be a time of ignorance again. It was come and go. Tippett: And my understanding from your writing that this diagnosis of PTSD, the term we use now, came about because of post-Vietnam War advocacy. And so later on, I became aware of all sorts of colleagues who had been working with abused kids and rape victims. And they had been trying to get a diagnosis in.
And that group was too small to have any political clout. That was strong enough to make it an issue and a diagnosis. Tippett: So I think that language you used a moment ago about that first veteran you spoke with, that he was a living testimonial to his memories and to something that had happened, which no longer was happening but utterly defined him, is a good way in to how you define trauma.
I mean, start with me. How do you describe what this is, trauma, as you deal with it, as you study it, as you treat it? And we are a very resilient species. So if we are around people who love us, trust us, take care of us, nurture us when we are down, most people do pretty well with even very horrendous events. So the social context in which it occurs is fantastically important. Now, these days, the trauma is a popular subject.
Many victims, over time, get to tell a story to explain why they are so messed up. So, people create their own realities in a way. So people who have been molested as kids continue to see the wallpaper of the room in which they were molested. Or when they examine all these priest-abuse victims, they keep seeing the silhouette of the priest standing in the door of the bathroom and stuff like that. My old teacher, George Vaillant, did a study that you may have heard about.
Most of them went off to war in , and almost all of them came back in , and they were interviewed. And then they have interviews in , , So now it was a glorious experience, it was a growth experience, and how good it was, how close they were to people, and how patriotic they felt. People who got traumatized continue to have the same story in as they told back in , so they cannot transform it.
Saxophonist Patricia Zárate Pérez’s horn of plenty - The Boston Globe
When we treat people, you see the narrative change, and people start introducing new elements. I compare it very much to what happens when people dream. Maybe dreaming is very central here, actually, in that the natural way in which we deal with difficult stuff is we go to sleep and we dream, and next day we feel better. And so sleep is a very important way in which we restore ourselves. And that process of that restoration that occurs during REM sleep — dream sleep — is probably an important factor in why traumatic memories do not get integrated. This is not about something you think or something you figure out.
This is about your body, your organism, having been reset to interpret the world as a terrifying place and yourself as being unsafe. How hard it was for people to even during the most blissful part of the yoga practice called Shavasana, what a hard time traumatized people had at that moment to just feel relaxed and safe and feel totally enveloped with goodness, how the sense of goodness and safety disappears out of your body, basically.
Tippett: I want to talk about yoga in a minute. Here and there, people noticed the somatic dimension of it, but by and large, I think psychology training really breeds the tensions of body out of people.
Antonio Damasio, in his books, The Feeling of What Happens , in books like this, really talks about a core experience of ourselves is a somatic experience, and that the function of the brain is to take care of the body. I mean, what are we learning? Is any of this surprising to you? That is something that almost everybody has experienced.
10 things teachers want to say to parents, but can't
You get really upset with your partner or your kid, suddenly you take leave of your senses and you say horrible things to that person. So when people really become very upset, that whole capacity to put things into words in an articulate way disappears. And for me, that is a very important finding because it helped me to realize that, if people need to overcome the trauma, we need to also find methods to bypass what they call the tyranny of language.
Today, with psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk. But then when people are traumatized, they are actually — they also have this impulse to rationalize and then become unable to grasp the irrelevance of that memory and that feeling to the present moment. So we have our animal brain that makes you go to sleep, and makes us hungry, and makes us turned on to other human beings in a sexual way, stuff like that.
And then we have our rational brain that makes you get along with other people in a civilized way. These two are not all that connected to each other. So the more upset you are, you shut down your rational part of your brain. When you look at the political discourse, everybody can rationalize what they believe in and talk endlessly about why what they believe is the right thing to do while your emotional responses are totally at variance with seemingly rational behaviors.
Tippett: All those things all at once. How did you get interested — how did you discover yoga and then make that part of this kind of work? We learned that there is a way of measuring the integrity of your reptilian brain, i.
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And you measure that with something called heart rate variability, and it tells you something about how your breath and your heart are in sync with each other. It turns out that the calmer people are, and the more mindful people are, the higher their heart rate variability is. And then we were doing that on some traumatized people, and we noticed that they had lousy heart rate variability. There are like apps for your iPhone on which you can measure them. But, of course, we do it in a more sophisticated way.
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So we found this very abnormal heart rate variability in traumatized people. And then we heard that there were 17, yoga sites that claimed that yoga changed heart rate variability. And I have to give a little bit of background here. Way back already in , Charles Darwin wrote a book about emotions in which he talks about how emotions are expressed in things like heartbreak and gut-wrenching experience. So you feel things in your body. And then it became obvious that, if people are in a constant state of heartbreak and gut-wrench, they do everything to shut down those feelings to their body.
One way of doing it is taking drugs and alcohol, and the other thing is that you can just shut down your emotional awareness of your body. They may not register what goes on with them. And so what became very clear is that we needed to help people for them to feel safe feeling the sensations in their bodies, to start having a relationship with the life of their organism, as I like to call it.
And so a combination of events really led us into exploring yoga for them. And yoga turned out to be a very wonderful method for traumatized people to activate exactly the areas of cautiousness, areas of the brain, the areas of your mind that you need in order to regain ownership over yourself. But yoga, to my mind, is an important component of an overall healing program and, again, not only yoga.
You could do maybe martial arts or qigong, but something that engages your body in a very mindful and purposeful way — with a lot of attention to breathing in particular — resets some critical brain areas that get very disturbed by trauma. Not enough, of course. None of us ever does enough. But I try to start every day with a yoga practice.
Tippett: Now, did I read somewhere that you also found that your heart rate variability was not in sync and was not robust enough? Tippett: And do you know if yoga has helped your…? He talks about body memory. It sounds very sympathetic and very right.
The Difference Between Fixing and Healing
The sense of the experiences, of feeling weight and feeling your substance…. Really feeling your body move and the life inside of yourself is critical. Rolfing is called after Ida Rolf. So your body sort of takes on a certain posture. And the idea of rolfing is to really open up all these connections and make the body flexible again in a very deep way.
I had asthma as a kid. I was very sickly as a kid because I was part of this group in the Netherlands. Finally, after the war in the Netherlands, during which I was born, about , kids died from starvation, and I was a very sickly kid. I think I carried it in my body for a long time, and rolfing helped me to overcome that, actually. So now I became flexible and multipotential again. And for my patients, I always recommend that they see somebody who helps them to really feel their body, experience their body, open up to their bodies.
And I refer people always to craniosacral work or Feldenkrais. I think those are all very important components about becoming a healthy person.