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There is a call from the second highest ranking fella in the U.S. military, Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the Army vice chief of staff, to rename PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) to PTSI (post-traumatic stress injury). Post-trauma cognition and behavior truly isn’t a disorder or illness. Physical changes to the brain do take place. Changes in gene expression do take place. The intention behind the change in label is to bring more compassion, understanding and awareness to traumatic stress survivors. I think it’s a pretty snazzy idea. It’s no disorder. Trauma injures the brain.
It’s not just veterans of war that live with post-traumatic stress injury (PTSI). We see the horrors of modern warfare in the news. Water boarding is torture. Truly, no getting around that through any moral justification. That only scratches the surface of the ways human beings intentionally and unintentionally inflict stress injuries on one another.
Blast-related trauma will mechanically over-stretch the axons and dendrites of the neurons, leading to swelling and breaking of those synapses. Gross mechanical force disrupts the integrins surrounding a cell that anchor them to the surrounding fascia. Mechanical deformations of the neurons can even lead to changes in gene expression. New models of gene flux are beginning to predict survivability after a traumatic event.
Peter Levine talks about trauma release through his work with Somatic Experiencing. He breaks down the onset of trauma and our body’s natural methods of releasing trauma in his latest book, In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness.
One area of trauma release that is of particular interest to bodyworkers is the concept of pendulation. Pendulation is the ebb and flow found within range of motion. It is a gentle, rhythmic motion towards pain, the sympathetic nervous system, and away from pain, the parasympathetic nervous system.
“Pendulation is the primal rhythm expressed as movement from constriction to expansion, but gradually opening to more and more expansion. It is an involuntary, internal rocking back and forth between these two polarities.” -Peter Levine,
So, I’m hanging out with therapists these days, discussing trauma release and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). At a recent study group with three marriage and family counselors, plus a couple massage therapists, we watched a video of Peter Levine working with a young veteran from Iraq who had been near an IED (improvised explosive device) detonation.
The trauma was obvious in the young man’s gestural patterns, watching his hand involuntarily lift again and again, shielding his face from the blast, the traumatic moment, that was no longer present.
I learned that pendulation takes the autonomic nervous system from sympathetic nervous system response (flight or fight) to parasympathetic nervous system response (rest, relaxation, rejuvenation, digestion). The rhythms of pendulation create a norepenephrine flush of the adrenal system, decoupling the physiologic trigger of post-traumatic stress injury.
Watching Peter Levine work, we saw the veteran’s gestural patterns change into a far more relaxed state. His random twitches settled down and he became increasingly aware of the subtle sensations of his body and surroundings. He was given simple awareness tools, such as slowly opening and closing the hands, pendulating back and forth between ranges of motion.
Somatic practitioners are in a unique field, where we can use the tools of pendulation and awareness in a very direct way. We can feel for full body traumatic tensions and guide our clients through the awareness of these connections. What do you feel here? And, here? And, here? Mindful awareness is an important key towards healing.
To work with survivors of trauma requires working with oneself first. If you’re drawn to working with these populations, I encourage you to build your capacity to hold sacred space, to expand your capacity to listen, to let go of any notion of trying to fix. This is work of improvisation and presence. There’s a lot of hurt on this third rock from the sun. We need more practitioners dedicated to the art of compassion and the exploration of science to make a difference.
I’ll be sharing some techniques of pendulation in my upcoming class on Myofascial Mechanoreceptors.
It’s been awhile since my last blog entry, so I’m going to share a recent recording made entirely on the iPad 2. GarageBand’s workflow has been a little frustrating, so I’m trying out Multitrack DAW and loving it! This tune has not seen a computer. It was recorded and mixed in Multitrack DAW and uploaded directly to SoundCloud. Dig it! This is a song called The Watcher.
Here’s another bonus! A home movie of pendulation in action…. Volanching with Cascadia Wild… enjoy!
iPad users, tap on the blank space above if the video does not show.