The Things Held in the Body

I’ve been extra busy with these past couple of weeks, and I will be through the end of June (so apologies to my dear WP friends whose blogs I have not been keeping up with). Even with this business, I am trying to squeeze in something extra: the Healing Trauma Summit.  It’s an online conference consisting of conversations with 24 leading researchers and practitioners working in trauma healing, especially in the incorporation of the body in trauma healing.

Even though the primary intended audience is clearly clinical psychologists, I think there’s a lot of insight there for those of us working on healing from our own traumatic histories. At least there are a lot of titles and initial descriptions that spark my interest!

trauma summitIt’s set up this way: You can register for free, and you can listen to the talks live. That’s great. Then for 24 hours, you can also refer to the recorded broadcasts. If you want access after that, however, you can pay $297 for lifetime access to everything. If I were a practitioner, I might do it. Since I am instead a part-time freelancer, and this isn’t even my field, I don’t want to pay. So I feel this sense of urgency to pack in as much learning as I can within the first 24 hours of each presentation.

Today was the first day, with three presentations, each about an hour long. I’ll say right now, fitting in three hours of watching academic/psychologist types talking online is both kind of an overload and anyway would involve me not cooking, not going for my daily walk, and not getting my work done. So I didn’t make it.

But I did listen to brief portions of each of the three talks, and then this evening I listened to all of the recording of the first talk, with Peter Levine, the person who developed Somatic Experiencing as a trauma therapy.

“We can’t get rid of trauma by trying to talking ourselves out of it. It is the body that releases trauma and restores goodness. The things held in the body needed to be released in the body.”

–Peter Levine


Levine makes the argument that trauma is as much, or more, in our bodies than in our heads. It’s a sensory experience, characterized by tightened muscles, knots in the stomach, sweating, a wild heartbeat–you know the signs. We aren’t going to get better only by dealing with our cognitions, and not even with our cognitions and our emotions. At some point, we have to deal with the underlying sensations, learning to notice them and tolerate them. Obviously, this is terrifying at first, so it needs to happen slowly, gently. We need titrated experiences and we need to assisted in going back and forth between a little bit of frightening sensation and stabilization, a little bit more sensation, then back to safety.

He says he’s seen this process work with thousands of people. For people with a one-time trauma (such as a car accident), it can often work in one or two sessions. For people with early, developmental trauma, it takes longer. But he still said many people are better in six months. Six months! What?!? I’ve been at this for years!

(Then I think: I bet the people who get better in six months also went to a lot of other therapy first and have overall taken years to get better. Just like I did a lot of things before I finally started attended to being present in my body.)

Levine also spoke briefly at the end of his talk about chronic shame and how hard it is to heal from. This is something, he argues, we cannot heal alone. Shame originates in relationship, in a betrayal, and it gets healed in a relationship with a trusted therapist.

I heard only a few moments of Judith Blackstone (today’s second speaker) talking about The Realization Process: “a method for spiritual awakening and healing from trauma.” Her general point is that learning to be present in our bodies allows us to get to know ourselves as a part of the one undivided consciousness in the universe. I might have once thought that was New Age gobbledygook, except I feel like I myself have had this experience of spacious connectedness through yoga. So I no longer feel so inclined to roll my eyes about it.

Anyway, I heard too little of her talk to give you a good summary of what she said. However, I did notice a few things:

  • Like Levine, Blackstone thinks we get better by releasing the constrictions (what she calls the “bound postures”) of the body;
  • Like Levine, she notes that for severe trauma, the practitioner needs to go very slowly–we might just start with learning to be present with our feet, for example;
  • Also like Levine, she thinks that it is possible to heal from trauma, and so worth it, because we come out the other side able to live deeper, richer, more fulfilling lives.

It’s encouraging to see these parallels in their work.

The third presenter was Gabor Mate, known for his work in addiction and trauma research. You might know his book, In the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts, which I first heard about in my yoga-teacher training. I heard the least of his talk but hope to go back to it tomorrow. This man really touched my heart. He did the conversation via Skype from what appeared to be his bedroom, with the bed messily made and books on the floor in the background, i.e. no pretentiousness about this guy. One of the first things he talked about how what happens to us in early childhood shapes the way we perceive the world. If we experienced trauma then, it constricted our sense of our own possibility and what the world had to offer.

Like the other presenters, he believes it is possible to heal from this kind of intense, early trauma, also by bringing us back into our bodies. We learn to separate from our bodies because the connection is too painful. But it’s never too late to reconnect. He says he knows this because it’s been true in his own life. He said–and this is the part that made me feel so much for him–that for years he would go around, doing trainings, teaching this method, and people would tell him how much he had helped them. At the same time, he continued to believe that others could be healed, but not him. He said, “You would be surprised how recently this has changed for me.”

I would really like to find an hour to go back and hear what else he had to say (before the talk disappears behind a pay wall). Otherwise, perhaps I’ll finally read his book, or maybe watch other videos of him speaking elsewhere online.

I am feeling a little uplifted tonight, knowing there are these smart people doing work from slightly different perspectives but all arriving at some similar recommendations. Furthermore, these recommendations resonate with my own experience of becoming (somewhat) stronger and healthier, in part through slow, close attention to my sensory experience and being present in my body.

Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash


    • This morning I listened to Zainab Salbi (I’ve heard her before, but years ago). I felt inspired… braver, kind of. I took a lot of notes because I think I will want to come back to her words.

      Like the others, she also said that healing is possible–very difficult, but possible.

      I wish I had time to listen to everything.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Now it seems to obvious to me, but honestly, even five years ago, if you said that, I wouldn’t have any idea what you meant. I would have said, sure the body needs nutritious food and some exercise, but emotions in the body? What are you talking about?


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