The Healing Power of Somatic Intelligence
written by Alana Layne Greenberg, MA, C-IAYT, E-RYT 500
We are living in rapid-paced, polarizing times. I often wonder if we are biologically wired to digest everything that passes through our awareness each day. In this age of information, we are exposed to more news, trivia, facts, figures and details in one edition of the New York Times (or one day’s worth of news) than a person living a hundred years ago was exposed to during their entire lifetime! Our nervous systems are trying to catch up, and in doing so, we are taxed, frayed, tired. We don’t need to be subjected to an external “trauma” in order to feel overwhelmed and burdened by daily life. If we have been subjected to traumatic events or overwhelming stress, we may be starting our healing journey in a state of overwhelm simply by being alive at this time. But there is always good news…
Researchers have found that there is now 295 exabytes of data floating around the world – that's 29,500,000,000,000,000,000,000 pieces of information. (Can your brain even fathom that number?) While this is enormous – 315 times the number of grains of sand on Earth – it is still less than one per cent of the information that is stored in the DNA of a single human being. To me this offers a scientific explanation for the fact that… WE ARE INFINITE! And capable of healing ourselves from the inside. We are genetically encoded for well-being.
That being said, when we do experience traumatic stress, the story - or traumatic narrative codes - become embedded in our soma and psyche. The inherent belief that life is OK is betrayed. This heartbreaking belief becomes entrenched in the nervous system where terror and/or disorientation may voice enormous suffering. Hopelessness, helplessness, anger, despair, depression, desperation, anxiety, grief, reactivity, rage, confusion or disembodiment may emerge.
Through our suffering, we long for a way home to ourselves: to a safe body, an undefended and receptive heart, and a vital mind. Healing trauma can be complicated, messy and even frightening. Yet there is a way through, often hidden in the very depths of our soma. To unearth the path and hear guidance from within (our pranic voice) we need to move the body, soften, unwind, decode and insert new, healthy impressions. This requires slowing down and moving mindfully to access awareness of the present moment and tolerate being with ourselves “as-is”.
We can be a great healing force for ourselves. When we do get triggered, react, and/or become dysregulated, we can tap into the body and its innate intelligence as an ally or gateway that re-orients us to the present. When trying to access the brain and re-establish a connection to the “now” moment, we can focus on our senses of perception. What are we seeing? Hearing? Smelling? etc. We can even turn that inward. What are we sensing on the inside? Can we track these sensations? What are the details? We can focus on our breath. Our breath, our attention, our prana are the keys that unlock the trauma codes, decipher their meaning, and dissipate their energy and their grip so the narrative that has held us captive can no longer run our habitual behaviors.
It is possible to move through a fragmented experience from traumatic events into wholeness. It is also OK if we don’t have the energy or the will to do so. The bottom line is to be gentle with the self, no matter what state, no matter where in the process we are. It is also OK if we can’t access that gentleness. A key is to stay out of self-criticism and practice accepting and relaxing.
Generating and fostering somatic intelligence:
It’s important (and self-loving) to note that habits and patterns that reflect and sustain previous memory of a traumatic event are actually healthy adaptive strategies at the time of impact. This is our body’s way of surviving a traumatic event. We don’t think about this - it is a natural adaptation/strategy that emerges from deep within the nervous system. Any integrated engagement with the body, or “embodied cognition,” helps us develop a usable, personal language that can navigate us to safety within in present time. This is paramount when working with stressed nervous systems because it is our nervous system that replays past traumas as if they are happening right now.
Tracking sensation: awakening the inner ear:
While noticing sensation in the landscape of our inner world, if discomfort arises, it helps to be mindful to steer clear of interpreting, storytelling, and mind-wandering. We can utilize discomfort as an invitation to be alert and clear while in a relaxed state. We can tune-in, inquire, discover and transform. We can notice that pain and discomfort are not static. They are energetic impressions that move, shift, undulate. Can we be with these states of discomfort, watch them morph, release, dissipate? Can we do this without criticizing, humiliating or blaming ourselves? This is the art of EMPATHIC ATTUNEMENT.
Rather than dissociating and becoming disembodied, cultivating somatic awareness through the tracking of sensation melts muscular rigidity so we can more fully (or for the first time) relax into the direct experience of our own body. We can notice. Take time with ourselves. Drop into the fluid pulse of our own being. Feel the effect of “feeling good” within, which may, at first, be a foreign experience. Somatic tracking practiced this way becomes an expression of Dharana - the limb of yoga Patanjali described as concentration. Focusing like this trains the mind. As prana flows where the mind goes, what we pay attention to and how we pay attention holds healing significance. This is the art of PRESENCING.
Presence requires integration between the somatic world (our body/mind) and the outer world. It’s where we merge with our surroundings, creating an integrated state of energy and information that flows through and within us. “Mental presence” has the capacity to alter our DNA. The field of epigenetics tells us that through mindfulness we can literally decrease inflammation, which is always heightened through stress. Stress also shortens our telomeres - the end part of our DNA that protects our genes. Paying attention to ourselves in movement and stillness lengthens the telomeres (which is what we want for optimal health). We can literally change our molecules with our minds, optimizing substances (such as enzymes) that reduce inflammation throughout the body. We have the power to heal ourselves. Can we activate our own inner guidance system - our compass that helps us navigate all aspects of our experience? Can we claim and take-up the space? Can we, through our direct experience and unique way of embodying source and drinking-in the infinite, find our inner medicine man/woman?