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How Trauma Gets Stuck in the Body

“We have learned that trauma is not just an event that took place sometime in the past; it is also the imprint left by that experience on mind, brain, and body. This imprint has ongoing consequences for how the human organism manages to survive in the present.” – Bessen Van der Kolk, author of The Body Keeps The Score

As David Attenborough once put it – we are all animals in clothing. When animals experience trauma, they shake to release tension and return the body to normal homeostasis. Shaking is our body’s primal impulse to deal with stressful situations – yet humans have been socially conditioned to do otherwise. They suppress their quivering and pretend like nothing happened.

If an animal can’t shake off trauma, they often die. Under threat, our body initiates fight-or-flight mode – activating the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and releasing a large amount of stress hormones. The limbic brain – the part of the brain that holds emotion – reacts by setting off shaking and trembling movements throughout our body, also known as neurogenic tremors. Tremors send a signal that danger has passed, thereby reducing action of the HPA axis so the fight-or-flight system can turn off. In doing so, your nervous system literally releases the traumatic experience from your body – all through the act of just shaking it off.

The problem – humans are taught to suppress their feelings. Not shaking it off won’t kill us but preventing the release of trauma effectively traps the tension in the body. This “freezing” of emotion might evolve into a mental or physical illness overtime. If you think about it - animals don’t get PTSD. But humans do. When children freeze their emotions, the excess trapped energy from the traumatic experience starts manifesting as a continuous anticipatory stress response. The child becomes hypersensitive to even the most minor of stressors in their environment. This contributes to high blood pressure and brain changes that result in anxiety, depression, addiction and above all, a diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

There’s no “one size fits all” approach to trauma treatment. There’s a whole range of what trauma might look like; it can be physical, emotional or psychological. Trauma is not limited to living through war but might manifest in response to a variety of situations – whether it be falling off a bike, getting screamed at, or seeing a negative post online. The good news is that the incredible tool of shaking doesn’t cost you anything. Just put on a good song, get your furniture out the way and just let it all out – cry, scream, and shake out your emotions. Move your body in whatever way feels right and let the tension of your body just spill out of you.

Practice Shraddha is all about offering you tools to help heal yourself. Take our class “Let That Shit Go” here and bring it anywhere with you to make those tough times a whole lot easier with the simple, quick remedy of a sweet shake.


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