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Must Read: “The Body Keeps Score” by Bessel van der Kolk

Updated: Nov 20, 2020

I’ll admit I didn’t normally read books for pleasure, being forced to read in school kind of killed the fun of it. However, I had SO many admirable people recommend this book. It took me two years to just purchase the damn thing and probably six months after that to flip open the cover. I didn’t know what to expect; scientific research, a personal journal, or even a story? I found that it was a combination of it all. I used an audio book because it was a little more complex than an easy read and I wanted to soak it all up. It helped me comprehend some more scientific and psychological terms and concepts I wasn’t familiar with.

What finally brought me to read/listen to it was the fact that I had recently been a victim to a few very traumatic life events. I felt lost. There was some sort of block between my soul and my body that I had never experienced. I felt alone in life and disconnected from my body. I had a decent yoga practice before hand and during that challenging time I had taken a step back. My body couldn’t take anything physical, it all hurt. I developed severe back pain that enable me from sleeping or completing daily tasks (that turned into neck pain, knee aches, ankles problems and more probably due to compensation issues). Long story short, I had experienced some extremely emotional and almost debilitating changes and my body was screaming at me to deal with them.

I dove in and here are the components that guided me back.

In order to live a balanced life we need to understand how our emotions work with our bodies. Trauma can make this connection very difficult. It regularly leaves people with a hypersensitive alarm system. To avoid this, traumatized people often attempt to numb their feelings by drinking too much, taking drugs, and overloading themselves with work. These provide a temporary distraction, but do more damage than good on mental health.

“Trauma results in a fundamental reorganization of the way mind and brain manage perceptions. It changes not only how we think and what we think about, but also our very capacity to think.”

He discusses how yoga is helpful in settling down a hyper aroused nervous system and getting in touch with the body.  For trauma sufferers, yoga offers a safe way to get in touch with emotions and understand how the body experiences them.

He talks about Annie, one of his patients who decided to give it a try. She is a rape victim and PTSD sufferer and explained the first yoga classes as incredibly difficult. Even a gentle pat on the back could trigger her. Annie stuck with yoga and didn’t give up. She noticed that her body began sending her signals about her emotional state. She struggled with the pose “happy baby,” which required knees bent and your feet up in the air, an exposed position. She described incredible pain, vulnerability, and sadness in it. She worked to explore and accept them. Yoga helped her come to terms with negative sensations like these, and helped her realize that she could deal with them head-on, rather than holding them in.

Basically, this book did things for me no physical or emotional therapy could. Given that I already had a pretty substantial yoga practice, I was at a loss as to exactly what was holding me back. I kept a notepad in my car and I wrote down ever pose I shed a tear in (or just wanted too) and the date (half pigeon was and still is a sure way to do the trick).

This was not a one-day thing for me, it took time and commitment to just watching my body talk to me. As my practice slowed down I felt into poses instead of rushing to the next one, I was moving slower and feeling more. It all started with me physically moving slower, but that was enough to encourage my mind to explore what the pose was holding. My secret to forcing myself to slow down and listen is keeping my eyes closed. Not only does this challenge your body physically it also takes away the comparison to other people….

After taking that single sense away I noticed where my body touches my mat, where exactly the stretch or sensation is going, when I held my breath, and how much I looked at other people to see what my body should be doing.

This wasn’t a one-time thing. My body isn’t just open and magically not holding onto emotions anymore. This book gave me the tool and has been the only thing that has truly worked for me. I go to therapy, I journal, I read up on stuff that is supposed to help me understand my emotions, I meditate, none of which have given me this connection. Here I am again dropping back in my practice, closing my eyes, and listening to my body show me where I am holding. I am so thankful for what I found in this book and I hope this can help a soul or two too.

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