Emotional trauma is one of life’s biggest burdens to carry and sadly so many of us are stuck with this overload from early childhood. In the past, we have always been solely reliant on formal psychology and psychiatry models but there has been a significant shift in the field, with a growing movement amongst trauma therapists who are embracing a novel approach to dealing with unresolved trauma. This new way of thinking is being led by the likes of Gabor Maté, Bessel van der Kolk, Peter Levine and Stephen Porges who are all pointing towards a somatic approach to resolve old emotional trauma.
Let’s begin by examining how emotional trauma becomes stored in the body.
To address this question, we must turn our attention to the autonomic nervous system (ANS), which plays a critical role in instructing the body on how to maintain its vital functions. This system governs all automatic bodily actions, such as heart rate, breathing, digestion, and more. In addition, it regulates our responses to situations perceived as dangerous and by doing so, activates the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.
Initially, when a potentially dangerous situation arises, the sympathetic nervous system is the first to react. It initiates a startle response, signaling alertness. Subsequently, if the situation continues to be perceived as threatening, a stress response follows. This stress response involves an increase in heart rate, accelerated breathing, and a surge of adrenaline, essentially mobilizing the body for action.
It is at this point that the ANS gives us the option to fight, to run away or to freeze. As soon as the danger passes, the sympathetic nervous system kicks in and brings us back to normal.
But what happens if the dangerous situation becomes overwhelming – too much too fast, or if the danger comes in an overload – too much to handle? This is when we stop responding and instead of the response moving towards the ventral part of the sympathetic nervous system, which is the part of the Vagal nerve which runs upwards from the diaphragm to the brain, it now moves over to the dorsal part of the Vagal nerve where it gets stored in the body as unresolved trauma.
During this process, the heart rate slows down, breathing becomes slower, the metabolism slows down, and we basically see a ‘shut down’ response to conserve energy. Other symptoms that start showing up at this point is chronic fatigue, anxiety, depression, gut problems, liver detox issues and many other chronic health issues. Auto-immune diseases are directly linked to this shut down process related to the trauma response.
The trauma response is therefore a response of immobilization and the part that is most visible to us as bodyworkers is the shutdown that we see in mobility of the fascia and muscles. When we do the full body assessment it becomes clear where the fascia has gone into shutdown, either from being overwhelmed or overloaded. Once we see the patterns that the body has shut down in, we can easily work out the movement patterns and habits that the client uses that feeds the trauma.
What exactly does somatic work involve?
In the past, the common belief was that emotional trauma had to be resolved through words. We thought we needed to talk our way out of it by describing the events that caused it. However, when trauma gets stored through the dorsal Vagus nerve, it is not necessarily in the brain – but in the body. The traumatic experience becomes physically lodged in the body. Therefore, it is only when we begin to assist the body, whether by providing support to the organs through supplements or by releasing fascial restrictions and aligning the body, that we create the space to access and address those overwhelming emotions that were previously buried deep within.
How do we approach emotional trauma through Lyno?
Let me share a relevant incident to illustrate this.
A few years back, I was conducting a Lyno course for a group of therapists. During the course, we were focused on assessing and releasing the fascia in the arm. One of the participants volunteered to be the model for the forearm demonstration. As soon as I began to work my fingers across his forearm, I noticed something unusual – he started trembling. Within moments, he began crying uncontrollably. The entire class created a supportive space for him, and he insisted that we continue with the release.
After a brief while, he began to calm down and shared his story with us. He recounted that the moment I started touching his skin, he felt a surge of emotion. Initially, he couldn’t pinpoint where it was coming from, but suddenly, he remembered an incident from his childhood. When he was a young boy, he went horseback riding with his dad. During the ride, they attempted to jump over a wire fence, but his horse stumbled, causing him to fall and cut his forearm on the wire fence. It was a painful injury which bled profusely, but his father insisted it was just a minor wound and told him to stop crying and get back on the horse. When they eventually returned home, his mother was alarmed by the extent of his wound, which when treated required several stitches. His father had completely dismissed his emotions, and all he could do was bury the trauma deep within himself.
Years later, he was struggling with persistent neck and shoulder problems. It wasn’t until we released the fascial restrictions, allowing those long-buried emotions to resurface, that he was able to finally address not only the emotional trauma but also the chronic symptoms that had manifested as a result.
Therefore, when a client comes to us with chronic musculoskeletal symptoms, our approach involves conducting a comprehensive assessment of the client’s fascia mobility throughout the body. We meticulously map out the areas where fascial restrictions are present, analyse the patterns, and then proceed to release these constrictions.
Our approach to fascia release centers around activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which creates a safe and soothing environment. We combine gentle movements and controlled breathing techniques, applying subtle touch to stimulate the superficial neuroreceptors in the areas identified during our assessment. This approach enables clients to consciously access spaces within themselves that were previously shut down to avoid confronting fearful emotions.
As the fascia restrictions begin to release, the emotions that were suppressed by these physical restrictions are liberated, and clients start to genuinely feel these emotions. At this juncture, it’s crucial for the therapist to provide support and maintain a safe space for the client to allow these emotions to surface. Equally important is the client’s willingness to embrace and experience these emotions without attempting to suppress them once more.
As the client reconnects with these emotions, we sit with them patiently as they allow the emotions to flow through the body. By adopting a witnessing perspective, they come to realize that these emotions are transient, and they eventually pass. This happens because the triggering event that initially gave rise to these emotions is in the past and no longer poses any danger.
Clients who experience these emotional releases often report a profound sense of relief and lightness. There’s a noticeable shift in energy, and they describe feeling an increased sense of space, not just within their bodies for movement but also for their emotions.
In the Lyno Method, our full body assessment guides us directly to the areas where these emotions are stored in the body, providing us with a significant advantage in the realm of somatic emotional trauma release work.