For many years, we in the West have been guilty of separating our mind, body and spirit and trying to compartmentalise them. We look for medicine to fix physiological things, only looking at the presenting physiological issue. We engage in talking therapies to process our thoughts. We pray for strength to get through whatever it is we are facing. It’s like there are three distinct ‘tanks’ and we treat each one differently and discreetly. Increasingly, science is endorsing the view that our body, mind and spirit are not mutually exclusive to each other. They are in fact inter-related and inter-dependent. Where there has been a traumatic experience, often our body remembers what our mind has chosen not to dwell on. Sometimes, our body can hijack our thinking and emotions – have you ever felt sick in the pit of your stomach when someone told you bad news? Your body is reacting and, sometimes, remembering.
Being aware of your body and how it is behaving can be really helpful in dealing with triggers or activation. Often, when we’re dealing with complex trauma in which our bodies were involved, we develop what, at best, might be described as a difficult relationship with our body. Pain or other sensations of discomfort in our body can attract all our attention such that it becomes all consuming, bringing with it uncomfortable or unpleasant feelings or thoughts. Again, this can take us into a flashback or into a state of being where we feel helpless and useless.
When feeling activation in our body, we can also begin to notice where in our body isn’t activated and bring our attention to there. Even if the place without activation is tiny, it is still there. There will always be somewhere in our body which isn’t activated – somewhere which feels solid and stable. Notice it. Direct your attention towards it. Notice that you don’t need to be consumed by the thoughts and feelings which come with this activation. You can, in fact, turn your attention somewhere else. You can be mindfully present in the moment and allow thoughts feelings and sensations, even in your body, to come and go. You can keep your pre frontal cortex switched on by bringing your attention to somewhere else and by simply noticing that you can focus on somewhere which isn’t activated. This mindful noticing will help to communicate to the nervous system that not everything is difficult. When that happens, the alarm system in our brain begins to dial down a notch. We can notice that we are still here in the present and that our body is actually remembering. Rather than being pulled helplessly into the past, we can build resilience via our body in order to remain in the present.