Acupuncture, Chinese Medicine, Dissociation, Dissociative Disorders, Embodiment, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Trauma

The vagus nerve, emotions and the difficulty with mindfulness practices

“Now, many people who don’t know a lot about trauma think that trauma has something to do with something that happened to you a long time ago. In fact, the past is the past and the only thing that matters is what happens right now. And what is trauma is the residue that a past event leaves in your own sensory experiences in your body and it’s not that event out there that becomes intolerable but the physical sensations with which you live that become intolerable and you will do anything to make them go away.” (Bessel van der Kolk)

Last week, during a two-day deep cleaning/paint prep binge (see the kitchen ceiling to the right!), I listened to a recorded talk by Bessel van der Kolk given at the May 2011 22nd Annual International Trauma Conference. The title of van der Kolk’s title is a mouthful: “Putting neuroplasticity into clinical practice with neurofeedback: rewiring the brains of children and adults who lack safety, self-regulation, capacity for play, and executive functioning.” The lecture in itself was interesting enough to keep me attentive for its length, but what particularly captured my interest is the manner in which he described the relationship of the vagus nerve to our emotions.

As I remembered from anatomy, the vagus nerve (cranial nerve x) innervates the diaphragm [author’s correction – the phrenic nerve provides motor innervation of the diaphgram] but what failed to register in class is that the vagus nerve also innervates much of our viscera – in fact all of our internal organs with the notable exception of the adrenal glands. It supplies parasympathetic fibers to these organs, meaning that the vagus nerve is a “rest and digest” nerve, not a fight or flight nerve. Van der Kolk quotes from Darwin’s work, “the heart, guts and brain communicate intimately via a nerve” – the pneumogastric or vagus nerve – “the critical nerve in the expression and management of emotions in both humans and animals…. When the mind is strongly excited it instantly affects the state of the viscera.” This is, of course, why our guts react strongly to our emotional state.

Van der Kolk continues with the statement that grabbed me: “what makes life unbearable is not emotions but physical sensations.”

“When you have a persistent sense of heartbreak and gutwrench, the physical sensations become intolerable and we will do anything to make those feelings disappear. And that is really the origin of what happens in human pathology. People take drugs to make it disappear, and they cut themselves to make it disappear, and they starve themselves to make it disappear, and they have sex with anyone who comes along to make it disappear and once you have these horrible sensations in your body, you’ll do anything to make it go away.”

“If these sensations last long enough, your whole brain starts fighting against emotions. And what happens in the long range is that traumatized people who continuously have a state of heartbreak and gut wrenching feelings learn to shut off the sensations in their bodies. And they go through life not feeling their physical presence.”

He then touches on a very important point and one that strongly resonates with me – “it’s a beginning of understanding why traumatized people have such a hard time with mindfulness and why mindfulness in principle doesn’t work for traumatized people because they cannot feel.” Van der Kolk had sent many of his highly traumatized patients to do mindfulness exercises with Jon Kabat-Zinn and found that many of them were returning in a state of upset and agitation.

“As they became silent and started to pay attention to themselves, they get overwhelmed with the physical sensations and they would flee, because being mindful means that you get confronted with your internal world.” In other words, the sensations of the internal world can be so intense that, lacking the tools to work through those sensations, people dissociate during mindfulness exercises. This is not limited to mindfulness exerces but happens in other types of movement, meditative, or healing practices, such as qigong, yoga or massage.

What van der Kolk has found to be a useful tool for moving through this difficulty is neurofeedback, which helps individuals learn to self-regulate by utilizing a feedback tool very similar to a video game that rewards the user for achieving target states such as relaxation, alertness, or focus.

One type of neurofeedback

While neurofeedback is a very useful tool and may be a major breakthrough in trauma recovery, it is not always easy to access. Although I am less familiar with them, there are other therapies such as Hakomi method and SomatoEmotional Release that help individuals work with the emotions and physical sensations that often trigger dissociation. A major focus of my studies at this point is to understand better how Chinese/Traditional East Asian medicine works with trauma and the emotions. I suspect that many different modalities can be useful for learning to be present and integrated with our bodies, but also argue that the role of the practitioner and power of intention are key ingredients in the process.

I also believe that bodywork and somatic re-education (acupuncture, massage, tuina, qigong, sotai, et) are essential components to releasing and restoring function to tissues and organs that have lost mobility due to years of fleeing from those physical sensations that van der Kolk describes. We may learn to stay present with our physical sensations, but if the diaphragm is hypertonic (or too tight, just like your shoulders) or the stomach can’t move properly in the abdominal cavity, we will have to work really hard to achieve calm presence when we could instead work to unblock stagnation and release tissues. However, the issue is often truly much more complex than this and healing for many people occurs not by a magic button but through many interwoven processes that may include acupuncture, movement work, EMDR, neurofeedback, nutritional counseling, talk therapy, and meditation or mindfulness practices.

I’ve been unable to get Van der Kolk’s talk out of my mind. Although none of the concepts are unfamiliar to me, there is a sense that I’m missing something or that this visceral-emotional relationship needs to be more closely explored. In Traditional East Asian Medicine (TEAM), the emotions closely affect and are affected by the viscera but I have yet to truly explore the many classical references to this relationship. Spending some time sitting with the classics may help shed some light on how and why acupuncture, moxibustion and other TEAM modalities have been known to treat trauma and shock. A worthwhile topic to explore next.

About Tracy A. Andrews, MSOM, LAc

Tracy Andrews, MSOM, LAc is licensed by the Oregon Medical Board and certified as a Diplomate of Acupuncture by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. She maintains her private practice in Portland, Oregon, working collaboratively with her patients to address their health and wellbeing through treatments tailored to each individual's unique needs. Additionally, Tracy sees patients at the Immune Enhancement Project, a nonprofit clinic providing complementary care to patients with chronic pain, cancer, and multiple sclerosis, and is a volunteer provider with the Returning Veterans Project. More information about her practice at tracyandrewsacupuncture.com.


190 thoughts on “The vagus nerve, emotions and the difficulty with mindfulness practices

  1. This is a great post. I suppose my question after reading is what makes something like neurofeedback preferable or more effective for some trauma patients than MBSR? Because to me, it seems that both approaches have awareness as the major therapeutic goal. I would also like to get more context for the quote from Dr. van der Kolk saying that, “it’s a beginning of understanding why traumatized people have such a hard time with mindfulness and why mindfulness in principle doesn’t work for traumatized people because they cannot feel,” specifically, what the basis for the word “cannot” is.

    Posted by Jason Lay | 18 August 2011, 1:10 pm
    • Later in the talk, van der Kolk goes on to discuss using neurofeedback as a way that someone can reach a state in which they can begin mindfulness or other work. My interpretation is that an individual in a hypo- or hyper-aroused state cannot begin mindfulness work because it is the process of feeling from which they have fled. This began as an adaptation to the trauma and has become maladaptive; if being in a state of hypervigilance is how you survive, and to feel something threatens your ability to stay in that hypervigilant state or is simply too overwhelming because there is a backlog of months, years or decades, then mindfulness is perhaps not the best place to start. But I will be happy to listen to that section of the lecture again and bring in some more context for you, Jason.

      Posted by Tracy A. Andrews | 18 August 2011, 1:27 pm
      • You are so right about hypervigilance – well said!

        Posted by LSAndersen | 31 March 2016, 9:16 am
      • Thanks for much for sharing this. There’s a lot of information to digest, but it’s already helping me put some pieces together and allowing me to let go of the mild guilt for not sticking with the mindfulness or other meditation or breathing techniques that just don’t seem to help. For me, my nervous system is easily startled, the stress response is triggered, and it’s difficult to calm down physically and emotionally. so my body is often in fight or flight mode and rarely in rest and restore, leading to a cascade of health problems. The term hypervigilance is a good one. Most of that is probably focused outward, for survival from perceived dangers. Being in a chronic traumatized state seems to affect my body’s ability to discern what is really a danger. No matter how aware I am that a situation that used to just be annoying but is now perceived by my mind and body as a threat isn’t truth, that awareness doesn’t really help stop the physical and emotional responses. I know intellectually that the startled deer that bounded off as I opened the door isn’t a threat, but I was startled also and the cascade of stress response hormones and chemicals has already started. I know having to wait for tech support once again isn’t a danger to my life, but my body is already responding to the recorded messages and music I’ve already heard half a dozen times and is remembering the frustration and going straight into full blown stress response. Even being in public places with bright lights and strong fragrances is enough to have my body reacting. I’ve been thinking it’s an interesting mix of feeling sensory overwhelm while also feeling somewhat numb. But I wouldn’t say I don’t feel internally – I’m pretty hypersensitive there too. But maybe it’s just the original trauma that’s been hidden away from feeling. I’ve thought about it and processed the experience(s), but now I’m wondering if I ever really processed the intense feelings. Something to re-consider.

        My input about the vagus nerve is that my ptsd escalated after an auto accident with bad whiplash 18 months ago. I’d been improving after lots of myofascial bodywork and chiropractic sessions, but decided to see a specialist who adjusted the atlas. Unfortunately just her exam aggravated my neck and it was like experiencing the whiplash again only worse. Lots of pain, crazy emotions with lots of uncontrolled crying and the stress response/nervous system overwhelm got even worse. It was a very dramatic change. I’m wondering if it wasn’t the vagus nerve being reinjured causing a short-circuit. Now even getting a massage or some polarity work doesn’t calm me down like it used to. I’ll be looking into the neurofeedback along with more research into the vagus nerve.

        Posted by Susan Hanson | 24 July 2016, 10:59 am
      • This is what I find. Mindfulness is emotionally painful, and I try to escape emotional pain and destructive thoughts by distraction. I find useful rewarding ways of distraction within my own home. I have had M.E. for 17 years and it is unbearable to think on it and what it means for my future. So I guess I am in a state of maladaption However I do think I can engage in mindfulness that doe not encompass my disease, my fears my exhaustion my helplessness my state of no energy to help myself. I can be mindful of nature’s beauty, the wonder of my children etc etc

        Posted by Beverley Bodenstein | 29 December 2016, 6:33 am
    • This is just kind of my intuitive take on this subject. With nfb, there is little to no awareness of what is going on or the reason a problem exists. There is an awareness of less effective vs a more effective way of dealing with one’s world. The resulting redirection and more efficient use of one’s energy pathways are experienced as a relief of bothersome symptomology without the ego-threatening confrontation that is a concomitant adjunct to talk therapy. Something happens to relieve one’s less than optimal performance and is replaced by a more useful way of dealing with one’s world. We are, after all, an energy system, and when that energy has blockages, whatever works to remove those blockages most effectively, at the lowest expenditure of stress and energy, might be, after all, what should be pursued.

      Posted by Alice Ihde | 3 April 2016, 4:56 pm
    • As a former therapist I can offer a suggestion to answer your question. Traumatized people often cannot feel because when they begin to feel something associated with past trauma they use dissociation to leave their painful feelings. These feelings may reside in the subconscious and the person may not realize what has been triggered. To dissociate is more comfortable to them rather than feeling the pain,anger,fear or whatever. I hope this helps. Whether this is what the speaker meant,I cannot say. There can be other explanations.

      Posted by Marilove | 21 July 2016, 1:44 pm
    • The basis for’cannot feel’: the learned response to trauma & the strong, uncomfortable emotions that accompany it can be to shut down the ability to feel strong emotions (usually both highs & lows). The body equates these emotions as’dangerous’ and therefore protects us from feeling them. Counter – intuitively, to liberate oneself it is necessary to be willing to face the emotions head on. The body will facilitate this when there is the will to do so and the person feels in safe hands. As emotions are actually bio chemicals, when we allow them to flow freely, they will be extinguished once they’ve all been metabolised. Leaving you feeling lighter, more peaceful.

      Posted by slindon | 7 March 2017, 6:58 am
  2. You quoted that becoming silent and turning inward in mindfulness practice/therapy aroused powerful (overwhelming) physical sensation in traumatized people which to me seems to contradict that they cannot feel. Perhaps they have “shut off” their ability to be aware of emotions per se, but the physical correlate is still there and accessible. I would love to know what neurofeedback might be doing differently. I have a friend who is a neurofeedback therapist who I could ask so I’ll share whatever insights he might have.

    Posted by Jason Lay | 22 August 2011, 8:55 pm
    • I agree with you that it is not that people are incapable of feeling, but rather that we learn not to feel as a coping mechanism in the absence of other tools to process the feelings as they arrive. In many traumatized people, there is often a high level of “fight/flight/freeze” that keeps an individual in a survival state – to sink down into one’s feelings is to leave oneself vulnerable to threats, including threats that will not be threatening to someone who has worked through their trauma.

      Settling into mindfulness practices requires a certain letting go and letting down one’s guard – it is not something that you can do by trying harder – and yet the dominant “fight/fright/freeze” primarily knows how to survive by working hard and staying hypervigilant. I am not sure that I really understand how the “freeze” mode interacts with mindfulness practices and so I won’t try to speak to that just yet.

      One way that neurofeedback works is that it teaches people how to be present and stay within a certain state, the parameters of which are determined by the frequency of brain waves coming from different parts of the brain. By learning to reach and then maintain a certain state (relaxation, calm focus, etc), a participant can learn to regulate their own state when they become hypo- or hyper-aroused. In my own experience working with a neurofeedback therapist, I learned to pull my head up above the clouds or back down to the ground. Then when I started to feel the onset of anxiety, I could rein in my thought patterns to keep myself in my body rather than fleeing my body to avoid the feelings. When I started to practice qigong I began to recognize that I could, at times, use certain forms or moves to create an effect similar to neurofeedback.

      In a nutshell, neurofeedback has the potential to teach people to become sufficiently stable so that they can pursue further healing from a safer place. Does that help bring any more insight to the question?

      Posted by Tracy A. Andrews | 22 August 2011, 9:48 pm
      • Dear Tracy, thanks so much for sharing this. I am very much in this process right now. I am have been working in unlocking my nervous system for a long time so I can self regulate hyperarousal. Just as I reached a level of staying with and not running from stimulus, my nervous system decided to classify going to sleep being still as a great threat. Your article makes a lot of sense in this frame. And also helps me see I am on the right track as far as my self talk goes. I am 54 and I imagine it will take some time for my nervous system to believe we are safe.

        Posted by Argnesh Rose | 2 April 2016, 5:26 pm
      • I wish you the best on your journey and I hope that you have good support for the courageous work you are undertaking. Thank you for writing!

        Posted by Tracy A. Andrews, MSOM, LAc | 3 April 2016, 8:19 pm
      • I wonder if neurofeedback works in the same way as developing the adult state first in order to work with the wounded child in psychotherapy, or the ‘drastha’ or witness in yogic psychology, in that it allows the trauma survivor to be ‘one step removed’ from the actual traumatic experience? This means they have a sense of agency or control in the situation, are grounded in the present and can then, over time, gently start to experience their bodily sensations again. Often in trauma there is a lot of confusion, resentment, fear and even hatred of the physical body due to the experience of the body ‘letting down’ or ‘betraying’ the survivor at the time of trauma, so to reconnect through practices such as mindfulness, after years of highly effective coping strategies that have kept the survivor disconnected from their bodies and thus ‘safe’ , can be potentially re-traumatizing. In my work with trauma survivors I have always found this sense of control or agency key to the healing process and imagine that by being able to see on a computer, and interact with and/or gain mastery over what is happening neurologically would provide the objectivity often necessary to begin the journey back to the senate body. In this complex and delicate work I feel the more tools we have to assist survivors the better and appreciate everyone’s ideas and sharings on this subject.
        Aums, prem and om shanti,

        Posted by sagaciousjaya | 2 April 2016, 9:25 pm
      • I’ve always been energy sensitive and in the 70’s created a degree in Holistic Healing and a masters in East/West psych. In my holistic practice I was “shown” many ways to work with embodied trauma (even past life trauma), but it was not until a very intense 3-year immersion into a Kundalini awakening (and the ten years of integration) that I was taught some very basic practices for bringing the dissociated energy bodies back into the body. The coherence this creates builds a heightened experience of presence and activates the chakras, meridian system, and the cellular intelligence in the body as well as the flow and deep intuition of the spiritual energy body. We inherently feel much more safe and empowered with this coherence of wholeness. We’ve come back to our self, and are much more capable of processing whatever needs releasing.
        I call this “Embodied Meditation” and am in the midst of creating an embodied meditation program to be taught in schools. It’s the full embodiment of the subtle energy fields and the flow patterns of grounding and centering that works every time. When we experience a new octave of well-being the old story holds so much less power and is readily released. Then opening to the expanded states of consciousness available in meditation is profound.

        Posted by Cherie Byrd | 15 June 2016, 12:19 pm
      • Well said!

        Posted by Harry | 5 March 2017, 4:49 pm
      • Hi Tracy,
        You editing of the comments about the vagus nerve going to the diaphagm by Kolk may be inaccurate. Are you aware of the PolyVagal Theory, and the discovery by Dr. Stephen Porges of the dorsal vagus nerve from the brainstem (“reptile brain”? Activation of the dorsal vagus causes the “Freeze” behaviours- immobilization, which happens after flight and fight have been tried and are not helpful. I am doing my masters in special ed. and am focusing on a new sound therapy (the Safe and Sound Protocol by Integrated Listening Systems) for anxious children (especially autism) so have become aware that many specialists (including myself- a behaviour interventionist), are not aware of the significance of this discovery. We assign all the vagus response behaviours to the myelinated ventral vaus from the human brain, when it is actually the dorsal “reptile” unmyelinated vagus that is at play.
        Just a thought,
        Pippa Olivier B.Sc. Hons, B.Ed. SETS, MAstsr of Spec Ed.student

        Posted by Pippa Olivier | 11 March 2017, 3:10 pm
  3. Oh, and can I get a link to that talk?

    Posted by Jason Lay | 22 August 2011, 9:00 pm
    • I’m looking for an article or essay that summarizes this work. Right now the talk is only available for purchase from the conference recordings.

      Posted by Tracy A. Andrews | 22 August 2011, 9:49 pm
      • Tracy: I read the article…. posted on FB by a friend of mine… I have been dealing with severe trauma ( death of my son) for over a decade now… i found my way back onto my yoga mat about a year after his death.. which helped me immensely…. actually, i credit my ashtanga practice for pulling my our of the depths…. due to some physical issues that developed in my spine ( due to a riding accident in the 80’s) …i can do very little physical practice…hopefully that will change after surgery !!!! anyway.. i have delved deeply into mediation over the last 8 -9 yrs… done a great deal of energy work…. am a positive and strong woman…. but i’ll tell you.. when I read your article… it resonated very deeply with me…. i have only recently began to understand that i have lived in this hyper-vigilant state…. i am understanding now that the fight/flight/freeze has been my way of living as well… although i never really accepted it … I find myself on the verge of tears a lot during meditation… almost as though its such a relief to me to be able to surrender….I am very very interested in knowing more about all of this… please email me if you find the article summarizing Van der kolks talk….. thank you so much for posting this…. it has opened up a different perspective for me….

        Posted by constance pappas | 2 April 2016, 1:45 pm
  4. I’m also an acupuncturist exploring this link between trauma and the viscera, meridians. What I have been meditating on recently is that the trauma and freeze exist in an electric field around certain areas of the body, and that as acupuncturists we dissipate that charge. This can bleed off excess charge, which I find to be more of a mental energy, or yang. However, there’s also a need to ground the charge back into the emotional energy, the yin. Most times, there is an imbalance in the yin, and we must come in and supply the correct structural matrix for the yin to become a stable home for the yang. Hari, a style of Japanese acupuncture does this with “Seki”, which is a process of needling that brings in tonification energy into the organ, it has been described as crystalline in nature. I’ve also found the modality Source point Therapy holds this structure, this may be what is referred to as Zheng Qi, or upright Qi.

    Posted by Kent | 19 April 2013, 7:51 am
    • I have been practicing and teaching mindfulness for many years and am also a counsellor working with people with various trauma issues, as well as people with many other difficulties.My experience is that mindfulness can almost always be used and can be helpful in reconnecting people to traumatic emotions stored in the body and then allowing their processing and release. And in most cases this approach is helpful, but the mindfulness needs to be adapted and titrated according to the individual client situations. People might begin to be mindful of the other senses to begin with – what they can see, hear, smell etc this can be very “grounding” rather than going to their internal states straight away. It might be that they then try to bring mindfulness to their feet on the floor, or their hands and arms. Always being reminded that what they are experiencing is in the “present” and not a re-experiencing of the past trauma. So we tiptoe with them in the shallows, deepening at their own pace, always with a view to keeping them in contact with their resources – inner and outer – in the sessions and outside of the sessions to help them feel safe. And the process described above might take many, many sessions. Often when comment is made about the use of mindfulness it is thought of in monolithic terms – but mindfulness can be practiced and taught in very nuanced and refined ways. It need not be about whether or not to use it, but how and when. It is not an either/or situation. At least this is my experience.

      Posted by steve | 22 April 2013, 8:15 pm
      • Steve, I have just finished training as a counselor and I appreciate your comment greatly as I think this article could be interpreted that people that have experienced trauma cannot practice mindfulness without neurofeedback. Mindfulness may be one’s beginning and most important path toward healing, when done in a clinically educated, respectful, and gentle way. Thank you for your contribution to the discussion.

        Posted by Merri | 31 March 2016, 1:14 pm
      • I completely agree with you Steve – I think that mindfulness practices can be taught in many sensitive ways, appropriate to each individual – and for traumatised people titration and resources are key – as is self-compassion. I’m sure your work is very helpful. I’m a Craniosacral therapist and I’ve found this approach central to how I work with trauma. Helping people feel safe and remaining calm, present, neutral and compassionate are also vital I find… Many thanks.

        Posted by Jessica Pailthorpe | 3 April 2016, 11:29 am
      • Sounds like Hakomi. With a skilled therapist the is indeed possible.

        Posted by Donna | 3 April 2016, 6:41 pm
      • Steve, I am suffering with trauma since my husbands death almost 6 years ago. Are you still practicing and taking new patients? Sheila

        Posted by Sheila Thorsen | 6 April 2016, 6:48 pm
      • When I’ve done mindfulness found it difficult but listening to outside noise or concentrating on the body is how I do it instinctively. So poster has a point here. I couldn’t do Ms Belleruths ( trauma expert)/ imagery as that took me to internal things I did not like but Mindfulness in the way I described was easier.

        Posted by Moira | 20 April 2016, 8:16 pm
      • Steve, I haven’t walked in everyone’s mocassins, but this sounds very right and wise. I would like to suggest that avoidance of pain, or fear of pain, is as much the challenge as is the pain itself. The mindfulness meditation that I’ve done, Vipassana, encourages us to persist with the technique to the extent possible, and continue to observe whatever sensations arise, painful or otherwise. Many people report that this can become very intense. Some leave the practise. But by sticking with it, one can observe the avoidance and fear, and at this point the technique can become very powerful.

        What happens is that by using courage and determination to overcome our fear we become “antifragile” to the pain. We thrive from a certain amount and frequency of pain when we have a healthy relationship to it. Avoidance and dissociation do not constitute a healthy relationship.

        Roosevelt: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself”. There is more to that than most people typically realize.

        Posted by Doug | 5 March 2017, 7:13 pm
    • I think it is really important to have someone hold a safe place at the beginning of learning mindfulness. I find that at times it creates anxiety in me if I try on my own.

      Posted by Argnesh Rose | 2 April 2016, 5:32 pm
      • Yes i totally agree. Pat Ogden (Sensorymotor psychotherpay) has a great phrase; embedded relational mindfulness. when someone is traumatised i think this is really important. It certainly was for me; trying meditation or ‘mindfulness’ on my own was just more of the problem – me on my own (to cut a long story short!). but EVERYONE seemed to be saying it was good, so it felt like ‘something must be wrong wit me’. People might also like to explore Peter Levine’s work, called Somatic Experiencing. He has a really deep understanding of how to work with the body, the nervous system and trauma. Dr Robert Scaer also has good stuff on the somatic symtoms of trauma – all about that vagus nerve and what goes wrong when we’re stuck in that hypervigilant or freeze state.

        Posted by charlene martelli | 22 April 2016, 3:28 pm
  5. this is a great post. where could i access Van Der Kolk’s recorded talk to listen to? The one you mentioned:

    “Putting neuroplasticity into clinical practice with neurofeedback: rewiring the brains of children and adults who lack safety, self-regulation, capacity for play, and executive functioning.”

    Posted by Sarah McCarron | 31 March 2014, 11:59 pm
  6. Thankyou this has been really helpful. Both the article and the discussion.

    Posted by chris blagdon | 29 June 2015, 5:40 am
    • Thank you for sharing all this; there were lots of usefull information. I am a physiotherapist and reflexologist and we have treated traumapeopel over 35 years, most with reflexology and vagus nerve-reflexes has been very very important in every session to treat. And it has given very good results too.

      Posted by anna-kaarina lind | 29 November 2016, 1:22 am
  7. Tracy, lovely writing. I am a long time Jin Shin Do® Bodymind Acupressure® practitioner and instructor (33 years), and a Hakomi graduate. Through JSD I came to know of, and release, my continual state of hyperarousal and to have very clear memory – from the present body experiences- of early abandonment (later verified). Hakomi is a natural fit to the Acupressure work. JSD evokes deep relaxation, and recipients often experience a true sense of comfort, some for the first time ever. It melds excellently with the mindfulness which is the foundation of Hakomi. I am able to have clients study their in the moment experience, and along with the knowledge of where differing emotions affect the body, from a TCM perspective, point work can be very precise at shifting long held patterns.

    Posted by Doreen Bakstad | 28 March 2016, 9:04 pm
    • Dorreen, thank you for writing. I look forward to checking out your website and learning a bit more about Jin Shin Do. Please stay in touch.

      Posted by Tracy A. Andrews, MSOM, LAc | 29 March 2016, 7:03 pm
      • I’m glad Doreen mentioned JSD® because it really is pertinent to this article. Tracy, you can read about it until the cows come home but it really must be experienced to be understood in any way. I’m a Jin Shin Do® Practitioner and I have found it very helpful for myself and for clients. There are some especially great tecniques for dealing with trauma I recently learned from Iona Marsaa, the founder of JSD. Also, JSD is based on 5 Element acupuncture and Classic Chinese Medicine, which I believe focuses more on the bodymind and emotions than Traditional Chinese Medicine. Great article by the way.

        Posted by Rebecca Lynn | 3 June 2016, 2:27 pm
  8. This is the major focus of my Chinese medicine practice and I am in the process of adding Somatic Touch to my bag of tricks. I will be doing work for my doctorate in the near future on the use of these in treating the stress/trauma/PTSD spectrum. If you would like to share resources, let me know.

    Posted by Janice Campbell | 29 March 2016, 10:30 am
  9. This makes so much sense. I recently came across this and think it is a great tool for self-soothing and self-nuturing: http://www.mindfulselfcompassion.org/handouts/SoothingTouch.pdf

    Posted by Steven Sandberg | 29 March 2016, 11:16 am
  10. Reblogged this on .

    Posted by Malefecia | 29 March 2016, 12:53 pm
  11. Thanks for posting this article. It is helpful to network together on these complex issues. I am an acupuncturist, Qigong, TaiJi, NeiGong and meditation teacher, so I find the mind/body connection of utmost importance in the healing process at every level (Jing, Qi and Shen). There seems to be something about acupuncture (to a large degree) and acupressure (to a usual lesser degree) that helps to re-boot the major systems of the body. From clinical trials using PET scans and fMRIs, we have gleaned that acupuncture activates parts of the brain and helps to de-activate others. This close connection to the central processing unit of the body is very advantageous in all sorts of chronic conditions. From hormones (cycle issues), inflammation, pain cycles, immune regulation, and emotional re-framing,etc. We are not sure how this works, but this is what seems to happen and that is why acupuncture can treat many diseases with one treatment and it can be many treatments that address one disease.
    On the meditation side, when practitioners, traumatized or not, begin to practice meditation, most people do not have the ability to use their ‘experiential mode’ of their mind very well. This is explained in neuroscience because we, as adults, have many more neuronal connections that have been formed to the ‘evaluation mode’ including the amygdyla, language areas, etc. This ‘evaluation mode’ network wants to judge, tell a story, analyze the present moment and compare it to other experiences. It is like the annoying little brother or sister that always wants to tag along. In meditation, we have to recognize the ‘evaluation mode’ of the mind is doing its thing and then kindly and compassionately bring our focus and attention back to the present moment. This is hard to do for beginners. I could see how a neurofeedback system could be great for beginners. The great thing is that in as little as 8 weeks of practice, our neuronal connections actually start to form stronger bonds and fire more effectively in the ‘experiential mode’ parts of the brain. And as time goes on, the ‘evaluation mode’ can be tamed more effectively. This is the part of Tibetan Buddhist training called, Shamatha, creating a more calm abiding mind and body. Then once Shamatha has been achieved to some degree, you move on to, Vipashyana, this means more clear insight or being able to see the truth of reality. This is where someone with past traumas can more clearly see that they have feelings, but they are not their feelings. They have had past experiences, but they do not have to be defined by their past experiences. There is an element of more objectivity to their own mind. Therefore, they can establish new relationships to their emotions, perceptions, sensations and even traumas. They have less power over the victim of the trauma because they have more power to work with their mind in an ‘experiential’ vs. ‘evaluating’ way. Truly healing work.

    Posted by David Peters | 29 March 2016, 2:10 pm
  12. This makes soo much sense. Would it also be the reason why some people have extreme reactions after energy work? I myself will be completely in total chi coming out of an it session and need to eat something very decadent and bad for myself right away?

    Posted by Linda | 29 March 2016, 3:45 pm
    • We tend to use many different methods to distract ourselves from sensations – indulging in rich, unhealthy, or comfort food is just one method. Others behaviors of seeking distracting stimuli could include exercise, overwork, television, video games, perfectionism, sex, alcohol and drugs, and so on.

      I don’t know what type of energy work you’re having done, but you might consider speaking with your practitioner about different methods to help you stay present and in your body after a session.

      Posted by Tracy A. Andrews, MSOM, LAc | 29 March 2016, 6:59 pm
      • Bessel van der Kolk also spoke to this. He talks about how different cultures have developed coping/calming (self-regulation) skills for managing toxic stress, such as meditation, Tai Chi, etc. Unfortunately, the western (European and now American) culture adopted coping skills of using some sort of external aide such as sex, drugs, alcohol, gambling, etc. to numb over the pain, rather than actually truly calming or regulating. I think there is a lot of good that can be had with other cultures’ learned ways of calming, but they likely need to be packaged in a way to make them both more palatable to the general public and more accessible. It is interesting, that Bessel also talks about 911, and a post-survey found that massage and meditation were the most commonly used forms of calming treatments. As for the Vagus nerve, I’m a firm believer of what happens in Vagus should stay in Vagus ; )

        Posted by Stu Rayner | 5 April 2016, 10:14 am
  13. Tracy,
    I realize this post is quite old, but I just came across it. I hope you still get notified of comments here.

    I have been exploring this terrain experientially through QiGong without really knowing the details – it turns out that I “shut down” sensation in my gut when I was a kid, and have found my way back in the last few years. I have stumbled upon a process that I think can be quite helpful in alleviating the eruption of overwhelming sensations. I’m writing to you because I would like to share it with you, and also because, if it appeals to you, I would like to talk with you about it on an Internet radio magazine that I host and produce.

    Posted by John Carosella | 29 March 2016, 4:52 pm
  14. Fascinating. As a trauma survivor, I had the words “vagus nerve” come to me during a meditation. I was baffled. I asked my massage therapist about it and she spent some time doing bodywork that was intended to normalize the functioning of the vagus nerve. It helped, but seems to have unleashed a storm of other weird symptoms in my body. It is a mysterious journey.

    Posted by Marguerite Storbo | 29 March 2016, 8:24 pm
  15. Excellent post and great questions! I’d like to invite you and your readers to join my study group on Facebook, simply called “Vagus Study Group”. We’re compiling and discussing resources that address many facets of this fantastic topic.

    Posted by Lisa Elliott | 29 March 2016, 11:03 pm
    • I would love to be a part of the study group! I am an occupational therapist and I specialize in treating people with sensory defensiveness. Over the past 5 -7 years, I have begun to see more and more people with trauma – eating disorders, anxiety, depression, etc. – CranioSacral Therapy/SER work can be very effective, but the issue of helping my adult clients “stay in their bodies” during SER work emerges over and over again. I often wish I had more tools to help my clients with this challenge. Also better understanding of the amazing links discussed here.

      Posted by Denise Peick | 6 April 2016, 11:51 am
    • Thank you Lisa, I’d love to be involved.

      Posted by Tracy A. Andrews, MSOM, LAc | 6 April 2016, 8:50 pm
  16. Check out the new Polyvagal research by Stephen Porges.

    Posted by julee snyder | 30 March 2016, 2:52 am
  17. Hi Tracy,
    A friend posted this on FB and led me to comment. I run a neurofeedback clinic in Los Angeles and deal with trauma every day, from civilian to military. Neurofeedback is an amazing program to teach self regulation for this and many other problems arising from the brain’s inabillity to manage it’s state. There are two books I would recommend to anyone interested in this approach, Van der Kolk’s “The Body Keeps the Score” and “Neurofeedback in the Treatment of Developmental Trauma: Calming the Fear-Driven Brain” by Sebern Fisher.

    Posted by John Mekrut | 30 March 2016, 10:30 am
  18. Reblogged this on Margoness.

    Posted by margoness | 30 March 2016, 12:13 pm
  19. Hi Tracy – You might the writings of UK shiatsu therapist Bill Palmer interesting, if you’re looking for an Eastern perspective (at least from his point of view). You can start with “Embodiment of Energy” and “Movement Shiatsu as Developmental Process”. Thank you for your post! http://movementshiatsu.com/msarticles.shtml

    Posted by Gina | 30 March 2016, 12:58 pm
  20. I would like to explore nuero feedback.sometimes I have a difficult time concentrating and staying in the moment and have racing thoughts that distract me.i feel like triggers and past memories flash through my mind and keep me from enjoying my day to its fullest. I use what techniques I can and I breathe whole heartedly so that I can work. I’ve tried a lot of Eastern Philosophies and I have tried to use them in my present day life. I think there is a lot out there to help, I just have to feel that I can access my power without someone hurting me or access my power so that I can be creative and function well, feel safe using my power and knoW that I’ll be ok.

    Posted by Meera Popkin-Tarack | 30 March 2016, 3:07 pm
  21. I’m not sure how I came about this article, but I cannot tell you how absolutely wonderful it is and such a relief for me to read as I lost all feelings of hunger 15 years ago when I made the heartwrenching decision to continue in a loveless marriage. 5 years ago I ended the marriage and feel happy but still my hunger hasn’t returned and although I’m not a sad person, I feel very little joy about anything. I’ve had blood tests which came back normal, and my doctor told me it was emotional, I had counselling and acupuncture, I’ve meditated and for the past 8 years have used Byron Katie’s technique of The Work for clearing negative thoughts, but still the hunger hasn’t returned. So if anyone has any suggestions to how I might feel alive again or can point me in a direction of any forums I could join with people who feel similar, I would greatly appreciate it as I’d given up hope before reading this article and felt that no one else feels the same as me. Many thanks.

    Posted by Jill Farrow | 31 March 2016, 3:24 am
    • Have you considered trying Hahnemann Healing? A powerful form of emotional healing from Ancient Egypt. Hahnemann Healing deals with releasing negative thoughts and feelings held in the body towards events that have happened in a persons life ie Grief, Shock, Loss, Rejection, Physical pain and Trauma. If left unresolved, these emotions may later be the cause of illness, Anxiety or Depression. Practitioners are highly skilled at drawing energy from a higher level and through a gentle, light finger touch to the client, disperse that energy throughout the body. This energy flows through the nervous system to specific points relating to where the negative emotion is held. Hahnemann Healing can help to release this stored negative emotion. The client can, over a number of days, feel a release of emotions and resolution to conflict. Hahnemann Healing is the only healing of its kind in the world today.

      Posted by Michelle Miers | 2 April 2016, 3:27 am
    • Hi Jill, have you considered trying Hahnemann Healing? A very powerful form of emotional healing that deals with negative thoughts and feelings towards events that have happened in a persons life ie: Grief, Shock, Loss, Rejection, Physical Pain and Trauma. If left unresolved, these emotions may late be the cause of illness, Anxiety or Depression. Practitioners are highly skilled at drawing energy from a higher level and through gentle light finger touch to the client, disperse that energy throughout the body. This energy flows through the nervous system to specific points relating to where the negative emotion is held. Hahnemann Healing can help to release this stored negative emotion. The client can, over a number of days, feels a release of emotions and resolution to conflict.

      Posted by Michelle Miers | 2 April 2016, 3:41 am
    • Hi Jill
      I am a Mind Detox Practitioner, someone that been trained to work with the mind body connection and specifically the unconscious mind where all our memories, emotions and body regulation comes from. Mind Detox aims to find and resolve the often hidden root cause reasons for a problem so the body can return to normal. It seems to offer an alternative perspective other therapies don’t.
      I’m a practitioner of it, and would be happy to talk to you some more to see if it might be of benefit? I also know of a great little meditation technique that is wonderfully effective at reconnecting you to joy known as Ascension meditation – I’m happy to speak to you about that too.
      Best wishes,

      Posted by becciharvey | 2 April 2016, 10:45 am
    • Hi, Jill, You’re definitely not alone and there is hope. The responses to Tracy’s article show that there are many avenues to release old patterns. It might make sense to offer yourself one or more additional methods.

      The ones I know best are talk therapy, Infra-Low neurofeedback, and play therapy, especially sand tray. I’ve also seen EMDR, hypnosis, and psychodrama have strong, positive effects. My sense is that each person may respond better to one method over another, or perhaps to one practitioner compared to another.

      BTW, the beauty of Infra-Low neurofeedback is that it gives the brain information it cannot otherwise access. Once the brain sees its patterns, it can change its electrical behavior. This change is typically much faster than what occurs in talk therapy.

      Best wishes! And thanks to Tracy for a great article!

      Posted by Art Wagner | 3 April 2016, 11:00 am
    • Jill, I recently read Bessell van der Kolk’s book, The Body Keeps the Score. I am working with recovering memories of childhood sexual abuse in hopes of alleviating almost constant back and neck pain. My guides told me that I have to journal my feelings. As I am getting flashbacks, they show my how my child’s mind misunderstood many things, but don’t reveal my feelings. As I journal, I identify the feelings and decisions that I made at that time. Perhaps this could help you. Your decision to stay in a loveless marriage felt cruel to your inner “child” although logical on some level or you wouldn’t have done it. By asking your inner (I don’t know what else to call her except “child”) child what she felt and thought when you made that decision, you can uncover your buried feelings, which took with them some of your physical functioning. Writing her answers with your left hand is a technique. I sit in a safe place and go deeply into my inner self and ask her feelings. And her needs. And let her speak through me and my pen. Non-violent communication has helped me learn to verbalize my feelings and needs, even to myself. When she feels heard, it helps her to feel better. Nobody asked her how she felt or what she wanted. She was shut out. You must invite her to express her feelings and let he know you love her, no matter what. Hope this helps you. Blessings. Ann

      Posted by Ann Frances Ellis | 3 April 2016, 8:17 pm
    • I am still enjoying scrolling down reading the many posts and views, but since you asked Jill, I share some experience with you. I am not sure this will be THE answer, but it could be. EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) and other offspring techniques have been helpful for some and many. The meridians being highlighted here are utilized in this unique and new technique EFT, and I think it holds key for the mind-bodu connection we talk about here. Check it out!

      Posted by Mitsuko | 6 May 2016, 3:37 pm
  22. I so appreciate this article and the work that Van der Kolk is doing. As a trauma survivor, yoga (I have practiced Iyengar and Kripalu style) practice has helped me to release the trauma energy . I have practised yoga for 25 years or so. I have had the felt experience of the shift of trauma memories, which I think has created the space for me to practice mindfulness. I am curious if others have had experience with yoga practice and healing from trauma. Thank

    Posted by Esther Brandon | 31 March 2016, 3:28 am
    • There has been quite a bit of work done around yoga and trauma healing – van der Kolk’s new book (The Body Keeps the Score) references some of this work. He also references it in many of his talks. Google trauma-informed yoga to see what’s out there as well.

      Posted by Tracy A. Andrews, MSOM, LAc | 6 April 2016, 8:53 pm
  23. Reblogged this on corestarme and commented:
    I offer CHAKRADANCE as a moving meditation and healing modality. One wears a blindfold in order to access one’s inner world and then creates spontaneous movement to chakra-specific music. (In Applied Kinesiology it is believed that memories are stored in the body- in muscles and the nerves that act as messengers) During the dance one accesses the untold stories – the subconscious – and bringing the stories into the conscious realm, where the emotional charge the story holds is released. The story is not analysed, nor interpreted – it is simply acknowledged. This article by TRACY A. ANDREWS, Acupuncturist, on the talk given by Bessel van der Kolk on May 2011 22nd Annual International Trauma Conference, discussing the vagus nerve is surely a very helpful bit of information when understanding the complexities of therapy and traumatic emotion. Mind>>>Body>>>Spirit.

    Posted by corestarme | 31 March 2016, 5:55 am
  24. Thank you for your great article. I will be interested to know more of this man’s work.

    My own interpretation is that we have all passed through the bottleneck of trauma before, during, or after birth. The coping systems we have developed as a result can never provide resolution.

    We are ‘broken’ – incomplete. It is no coincidence in the dualistic existence that we use words like ‘re-pair’, ‘re-member’ or ‘re-connect’, as our disconnection is so severe and we have become so artful in avoiding it that many will pass a lifetime in the same psychic shape as the neck of the bottle itself.

    I would add as a suggestion the use of Breathwork as a useful tool to untie the knots bound by stasis. When we were traumatized, we certainly lost our breath. When we breath consciously, the trauma is often released – remarkably quickly.

    As you say, it is not necessary to re-live the trauma, just to re-member with that which existed before. Allowing the body to tremor, shake or convulse is the natural release of what has been bound to the system.

    If we ‘inspire’ (in-spirit) consciously, we are connecting the highest spiritual awareness with the densest part of our selves. The archives of the past are opened to the highest cosmic force. This alignment of Superconscious, Conscious and Subconscious is a rare moment; perfectly natural as all we are doing is breathing air. Yet we also discover that miracles are natural as we witness such an instant and permanent shift of awareness.

    Our enlarged awareness, endowed with Spirit, is able to feel the feelings without the story, to stay in the witness, re-paring the breath back to the moment it was lost in the first place.

    The Breath is the greatest gift we have never received.

    Posted by Anthony Abbagnano | 31 March 2016, 6:20 am
  25. Tracy, do you know if there is a way for the rest of us to listen to recorded talk by Bessel van der Kolk? I’d look to listen!


    Posted by Lorie Jensen | 31 March 2016, 7:54 am
  26. There are other good modalities, too. I’ve had good results from seeing a Somatic Experiencing practitioner for trauma issues, and she frequently references the role of the vagus nerve.

    Posted by Martin Berg | 31 March 2016, 8:14 am
  27. The work Bessel is referring to comes from Stephen Porges’ Polyvagal Theory. Another treatment modality that applies polyvagal understanding is Somatic Experiencing (Peter Levine’s work). There are many excellent folks in the SE community who are addressing issues with meditation and trauma – teachers at Spirit Rock (a meditation center in the Bay Area) are all given one year of SE training to help people who experience difficulty during the practice. As a former yoga teacher, I always invite people to experiment with different forms of practice (walking meditations, very short, directed practices, etc), until they find something they can work with. Many people who cannot meditate don’t get overwhelmed – they get antsy, distracted, uncomfortable and can’t stay. They perceive themselves as bad meditators and don’t come back. It’s another form of the same thing you described above, but the person is unaware of the underlying activation. This can be especially true when it’s developmental (pre-perinatal especially). I have a system prone to freeze, and meditation felt great for me – but it was mostly reinforcing my tendency to dissociate, so I had to look for different ways. My blog youhaveitinyoutoheal.wordpress.com also talks about some of these concepts. Best wishes on your journey!

    Posted by Brandy V | 31 March 2016, 8:20 am
  28. Hi Tracy. I, too, have just recently come across this article and am extremely appreciative. I am a Rolfer, and like Doreen, a (next month) Hakomi grad. I’m in the process of weaving these two powerful modalities together, along with the knowledge I have of Somatic Experiencing and Porges’ Polyvagal Theory from previous work.

    I think this information is critical to practitioners today, and as Steve comments, titration is key to our clients’ ability to integrate mindful awareness and our work fully into their systems. I’ve found over the years in my Rolfing practice that the vast majority of my clients’ pain and dysfunction is not driven by specific injury or illness, but by some aspect of what you’re discussing here — whether it’s trauma, an overly-stimulated sympathetic nervous system & adrenal fatigue, or simple lack of connection to the body supported by external (and internal) expectations of hyper-productivity. Helping clients make a basic, and integratable, connection to their bodies has been the lynch pin to a successful intervention in my practice. This connection then empowers our clients to more-fully embody any changes we as practitioners facilitate, and gives them the awareness to maintain that new state so they don’t simply slip back into habitual ways of being.

    Many thanks for a great article.
    Mike Williams, Certified Rolfer

    Posted by Rolfing in Austin | 31 March 2016, 8:59 am
  29. Would Tai Chi be helpful as well?

    Posted by henriette | 31 March 2016, 11:31 am
  30. Helpful Thank you

    Posted by Susee | 31 March 2016, 11:58 am
  31. Thanks for this article. Due to profound developmental trauma I have experienced many of these trauma symptoms and spent years lost in non-feeling land and hyper physical sensation with frequent episodes of dissociation. I have tried multiple methods for healing – it has taken a team with myself as the constant in that team.
    The biggest reason for my healing and continual journey is those on my support team – the team composition changes but the team is always supporting my highest growth.
    Medical qigong along with acupuncture and counselling has changed, CHANGED my life.
    it wasn’t until the physical symptoms were controlled/healed that I could ‘stay’ long enough to witness the coping mechanisms my body had developed and eventually reprogram or release most of them and help adjust my thoughts and beliefs around many things in life.
    Medical qigong was the only thing that shifted these physical symptoms for me.

    Posted by sparkle | 1 April 2016, 7:45 pm
  32. -From my experiences-
    Like many parts of my experiences, my traumas aren’t “traditional”, and another “crack” I fell into Is, though I’m a Veteran, my issues happened after Serving: the VA seems to focus/give credit-to the highly-publicized Combat PTSD; as-well, it’s discouraging That if a person loses a Loved One, their home/job/belongings in a traditional Disaster, Help is easier to get.
    Moreso, I’ve heard the importance of Support in-Recovery, and see too in the Survivor Groups I’m in, how difficult “coping” is even with Support.
    I witnessed my partner’s suicide; dealt-with insinuating looks/remarks from the police: I’d been so overwhelmed doing Resuscitation, I hadn’t noticed my arms/shirt covered in blood.
    Then, being left alone at 3:30a.m., the police didn’t mention the Clean-Up; stepping barefoot on a piece of scalp? just-after convincing myself to step-toward the blood-soaked bed; the blood trail through-the-house; panic about even the mattress: What do you do with That!? Scrubbing so much blood off-of It……I didn’t know how long It’d sit in the house, or if blood smells after sitting…..just didn’t know……
    Job harassment/stress, having to quit….fighting a Going Inside anxiety for three months because of finances/no help from anyone; The House almost seemed like It was trying to keep me there……I finally had to abandon It. Leaving Our entire life, save for what I threw in the Pickup. The House was a prison without-bars to me.
    So much gone…….even now, fourteen months later, I’ve dealt with more stress/doubt/distrust: if you’re intelligent/insightful…..and moreso don’t act “disturbed” as-expected, you’re issues are treated very lightly.
    Trauma/Disaster Should-be defined per-patient, not so generically.
    So much Negative, no Positive…….

    Posted by Kevin | 1 April 2016, 9:01 pm
  33. I see this article is a few years old, but that there are still recent comments / conversation. I found this really interesting. I probably have a million questions I could ask relating to my personal situation (but I won’t! ). I am however, very curious about 2 main things. One would be where physical injury to the vagus nerve might fit into all this (I fell – serious shoulder/ scapular/ upper extremity injury with a dislocation, fractures, detached muscles from scapula & damage to all surrounding soft tissue. A BAD shoulder injury – in 2011) I don’t have emotional trauma – other than dealing with a prolonged recovery, & yes that has been very challenging, but in a bad situation, I am lucky to have an incredibly supportive family & found a great medical team too. My injury is so unusual, a…. weird, but I suppose beneficial for me…. result is ‘my team’ are invested in the outcome; it’s new to medical science (I was thinking 170th to have the surgery, globally; only one surgeon performed (& created) it. I have had loads of support.

    Vagus nerve and parasympathetic pain response was mentioned very early after my surgery. I had ‘syncope without loss of consciousness ‘ (ie fainting without passing out), as a pain response. I had nerve damage to my entire upper right quadrant, I’ve had brachial plexus/ thoracic outlet scans & tests (bad overstretched nerve network), and I’ve straddled conventional, Western medicine & complementary medicines – in all forms I can find – as much as I think is possible. (My mum has an interesting career combo of pharmacist & reiki practitioner; & a good neighbour/friend an MD-turned-acupuncturist (trained & qualified in Hong Kong) – so I really feel I have my eyes & mind open to everything, & that I’ve tride it all. Additionally, I studied cognitive neuroscience at PG level, something I just see as another facet. MRI imaging shows acupuncture hits pain centres (& way more) – I don’t need Western-mandated ‘proof’ – I’m ok with the big ‘stuff we don’t understand’ bubble (bigger than stuff we do understand ), but its still there – ‘proof’ if desired.

    ….. that all said (& I’m not exactly sure what point is buried under there – how blurred my understanding / theories/ views on all this is, maybe?)… I am convinced my vagus nerve issues are physical. I do believe the mind-body connection is strong, but so much of what I read about the vagus nerve IS linked with (emotional) trauma. We all have our issues, but that requires differentiation from true trauma and emotional challenges, I believe – I would class mine in the latter category. I guess I’m hoping maybe someone with knowledge on physical vagus nerve issues may be able to weigh in. There appears to be very little research.

    Add to the mix I have Lyme disease, undiagnosed for I don’t know how long, severely ill for 4 years before finding out it was Lyme & having successful (as much as it can be right now) treatment. Injury & surgery came just after that, and the infection ‘reactivated’. I know there is ongoing debate with Lyme & the vagus nerve – I don’t rule out Lyme affecting it, but vagus nerve issues started after the should injury.

    Also ‘psysical’ Vagus nerve-related, I have what is known as a ‘bovine cough’ – apparently it sounds nothing like a cow coughing & the name is a mystery….. So is the condition, but it is thought to be a vagus nerve spasm. It sounds like a horrific asthma attack but feels like those sore, unbeatable hiccups (& jolts the severely painful shoulder!). My lungs are “crystal clear” (I had an ‘episode’ right in front of a doctor – fortunately, I guess) – no asthma. Research is difficult, there is very little info available. Attacks happen sporadically, perhaps once a month, sometimes in clusters but with one big attack. I take a pretty innocuous drug that essentially numbs internally (having tried everything – herbal throat teas, honey, ice, heat are still used), and as it improves, doing the breath-holding, nose holding, (someone else’s) fingers in my ears hiccups trick seems helpful. Afterwards, my body does respond as if it is a traumatic event. It usually lasts between 30 and 60 minutes and can be severely painful. Usually I sleep afterwards.

    That really covers the physical vagus nerve issues and I’ll say briefly, I’ve found specific types of mindfulness very helpful; but that my body was completely unable to cope with even very gentle acupuncture (not even on the affected side – started very slowly, but it was still too powerful). If anyone reading this can point me in the direction of any Vagus nerve information sources or is willing to share their knowledge, I would greatly appreciate any help. Thank you for reading my lengthy comment.

    (I blog: outofthelymelight.blogspot.com – 2012/13 are mostly shoulder surgery related)

    Posted by Gail | 1 April 2016, 10:26 pm
  34. I started with yoga ten years ago. At first I would leave in the middle of practice. I didn’t understand why, but I was unable to be present for the whole class. This article gave me insight. As a person who suffered trauma, it makes sense now that I was experiencing what the author described as feeling agitated and upset when working with mindfulness, because I had shut off my feelings. Now, ten years later, I’m still practicing yoga, and with the recent addition of Chinese medicine massage, my body is finally able to recognize the pain that is stored deep in the tissues, and work with it to and kiss it goodbye. It is possible to get healing, but not overnight. It’s a long journey with many ups and downs. If you want to go down that path, your path, you only have to take the first step.

    Posted by ksavin | 2 April 2016, 12:56 am
  35. Wow.!….simply so many answers for me here. Have been also using colour therapy especially soft white light during meditation which i find is giving me new strength to go beyond the bodily sensations and during a reiki session i was drawn to do barefoot dancing for further releasing and grounding. The colours Turquoise and Orange were also given which is throat and centre. Now considering more accupuncture with EFT…tapping.

    Posted by Tina Knight | 2 April 2016, 3:33 am
  36. It isn’t the case that mindfulness practices aren’t helpful for those with trauma or that persons with PTSD “can’t” do them. Yet, they do require skillful mindfulness teaching and a “trauma-informed approach” to address these and other challenges. See the book “Mindfulness -Oriented Interventions for Trauma Care” (2105), Guilford Press, in which leading trauma therapists describe promising work using mindfulness approaches. Disclaimer: I have a chapter in there based on research using MBSR for people with complex trauma in which I was the interventionist–which was significantly helpful on a number of levels. “Trauma-informed Mindfulness” is the topic of my second book chapter, being published in June, and the subject of my upcoming book.

    Posted by Trish Magyari | 2 April 2016, 7:27 am
  37. I was at a local ‘spiritual healing group’ event today that began with a supposed “Meditation Session”, but like many “Guided Meditation” practices that are around at the moment, it was in fact a “WISHFUL THINKING PRACTICE”, rather than a true ‘meditation’ or ‘mindfulness’ [= ‘aware presence’] practice….

    True ‘meditation’ or ‘mindfulness’ practices, as this article points out, are always about being with OURSELF in a space of exploring and integrating HERE AND NOW TRUTH. ‘Wishful Thinking’ practices lead us to a place of self-experience where we would like to be, but actually are unable to sustain for long – which is why they are inherently ADDICTIVE, MIND-LESS and ANTI-MEDITATIVE.

    The practice today was one of those so-called “Guided Meditations” where the guide is leading you along a path of visualisations and seductive ideas that [at best] lead you into a ‘much nicer place’ than the reality you began with. At worst, this stream of external interventions distracts you from finding [and working with] your own inner truth and path of natural transformation!

    WISHFUL THINKING practices have their value – they can give us a ‘holiday break’ from the pressures, stresses and demands of our daily life. In this respect, however, they are inherently DISSOCIATIVE – splitting us away from the reality of ‘here and now’ feelings and impulses.

    Like all “Get away from it all!” holidays, the ‘return to reality’ can be quite jarring, or even depressing, as in “Same old, Same old!” and “Same sh*t, different day!”

    The POTENTIAL UPSIDE of pseudo-meditative, pseudo-mindfulness practices is that we can return to ‘Here and now’ feeling refreshed and better able to face and bear the limitations, frustrations and current challenges that our life offers.

    The potential DOWNSIDE is….

    “While the cat’s away the mice will play!” – ‘bottled-up’ underlying issues, unskilfulness and problems remain unresolved and true feelings and impulses are ‘distanced’ [disconnected from awareness, but not actually ‘gone away’]. Self-sabotaging ‘stuff’ had gone underground – consigned to our personal shadow as self-sabotaging energy blocks, sub-personality projections onto others, mind-less reactivity and hypervigilance.

    Unfortunately some folks come to Mindfulness training with an unrealistic expectation of SOMETHING FOR NOTHING – acquiring tools that will lead straight into a better life without having to deal with [confront and transform!] the old one!

    Neurofeedback practices do lead to an opening of the door to enhanced mindfulness, by reducing the activity of our primitive threat-detection structure: THE AMGYDALA and thereby temporarily reducing defensiveness, hypervigilance and reactive, stress-and-struggle-driven living.

    However, as the author of this article rightly points out, the primary problem of acute trauma [and prolonged-stress] sufferers is internalised UPSET, SELF-SABOTAGE & AGITATION [natural impulse suppression]. In my experience, the ONLY EFFECTIVE WAY to deal with this is through CATHARTIC RELEASE…


    Full Cathartic Release [as opposed to merely ‘taking the top off’ our feelings] temporarily re-connects stressed people with their own real and genuine [not ‘wishful thinking!’] profound sense of inner stillness, calm-ness and peace.

    If they continue to live by the same [past conditioning] patterns, the upsets, agitations and reactivity will eventually return, although usually somewhat softened. A more lasting and accessible place of ‘inner peace and stress-resilience’ requires that cathartic release is combined with new experiences of being safe and supported that OVER-WRITE the old body-memory recordings of trauma and struggle. This combined experience is something that we provide in our ‘Emotional Detox’ work: http://www.sunflower-health.com/courses/detox.htm


    Posted by Michael Meredith | 2 April 2016, 9:10 am
    • Not all forms of meditation are minfulness or seeking to achieve mindfulness.

      Catharsis is no longer seen as effective in the treatment of trauma, in fact neuroscience has now made clear that catharsis is in fact re-traumatising.

      Posted by Raymond Baskerville | 2 April 2016, 11:11 pm
      • Thank-you for your comment, Raymond,. Yes I am familiar with this work, which like so much evidence-based work seeks to isolate the effects of a specific, isolated intervention. I came to “Emotional Detox” work based around catharsis, after personally suffering 6 years of PTSD. Catharsis [within a facilitated group-healing framework] at that time [20 years ago now – I am now 68] immediately got me off medication, into better energy levels, less tension, sleeping better and a renewed self-confidence.
        Facilitating catharsis is skilled work and requires careful selection [especially self-selection by the sufferer] of folks who are ready for it. It is not something to be applied as a ‘broad brushstroke’ to unselected and unprepared people!

        I have been providing catharsis-based “Emotional Detox” and “Anger-Release” courses for 10 years now and out of the wide range of stress-management, mindfulness, personal development and healing courses I provide, the 2-day catharsis-based “Emotional Detox” course produces the greatest chang ein the shortest period of time. The first day is entirely devoted to preparing the participants – graduated body-awareness and Gestalt-based emotional intelligence exercises. The day of preparatory exercises also faciltates group-bonding, so that the group support and encourage each other on the second day, which includes 2 hours of catharsis opportunities [done in a range of structured body-grounded formats to cater for the range [rainbow] of trauma-energies that people commonly hold.

        After the self-chosen cathartic release work, the participants are guided through partnered and group-based calming exercises [as the powerful,internalised trauma energies are released, some people, by no means not all, will be left feeling “shaken”] plus given group-based TLC experiences which OVER-WRITE the trauma memories [which are often human-based and ‘ugly’] with beautiful experiences of people singing and circle dancing co-creatively. Group singing and circle dance has of course been used by human societies since the beginning of time, to heal trauma and re-connect to life.

        Hope this makes things clearer! Best wishes! – Michael Meredith. http://www.sunflower-health.com

        Posted by Michael Meredith | 4 April 2016, 1:33 am
  38. As a survivor of multiple traumas from childhood, and multiple episodes of PTSD, this is something I’ve worked on since leaving my family at 18. Yoga and a dozen types of bodywork were my saving grace as I required a PHYSICAL focus for meditation. So powerful was it in my own healing I worked as a bodyworker, also certified in a half dozen movement modalities for thirty years. Most of my work is about retraining the nervous system. For many of my clients, broken in a multitude of ways, that is the first layer of the proverbial onion. I could not sit in meditation until my late 40’s, after 25 years of healing (I tried), as the PHYSICAL sensations of grief and broken heartedness were overwhelming. NLP was helpful, as was shamanic work.

    Currently I am working with a mustang who was taken from the wild, placed holding (jail) where she lived glued to two mares from her original herd, then adopted, delivered a foal to her new owner, who then asked me to take her, retaining her foal and her new family. I received an animal completely shut down, so overwhelmed with grief and anger she barely ate. For six months I’ve been working with her employing Tellington Touch (as well as bodywork, chiropractic, acupuncture and herbs) and the last couple of months are just beginning to reveal a personality (besides bitch) and a glimmer of playfulness from a flight animal who has been confined for over a year (think about the nervous system of a flight animal who is not allowed flight), was completely shut down, grief stricken on multiple levels and did not want to feel or interact. She was a zombie. Horses live in the moment, but the damage to the nervous system makes lasting physiological changes. So every moment with her is about changing her nervous system, finding ways to enter her energy and body spheres in a way that she can experience positive sensation and choose a different reaction. I emphasize that the positive sensation is not the sensation of touch, but of the sensation of changes to her nervous system. It’s pretty amazing to see her become dis-armed, eyes softening, head lowered, lids at half mast, as she processes internally in what looks like a meditative state. It’s definitely a brain wave shift, which is the goal of the Tellington Touch and has been tested as such. Other ways to positively influence her nervous system include various mental challenges and puzzles.

    My point being, that it takes a multitude of approaches to rewire the nervous system as well as physiology. It must be individualized, and in my experience, different approaches seemed to be more or less effective at different times in a person’s recovery process. If neuro-feedback can speed that process, then absolutely, let it be one more tool in the toolbox. Fortunately (or not) because of today’s research into war related PTSD (which is not the only kind) we know much more than we did when I was a young adult, falling through the cracks.

    I would also add, that societies that have extended, rather than nuclear families have a broader social support system within the tribe. The post WW II nuclear family might be one of the worst things devised for mental health and safety of children.

    Posted by Kerry O'Brien | 2 April 2016, 10:19 am
    • I am not sure if TRE – Trauma Releasing Exercises – has been mentioned in this discussion yet? In my personal life and working as a counsellor I have been using mindfulness/Zen meditation for many years and then came across TRE last year. I am now training to become a TRE facilitator. Kerry’s post about her work with her horse reminded me about how animals more generally have a way of recovering from a traumatic event by tremoring. All mammals do this. You can see it in horses, in dogs during/after a storm, zebras after an attack by a lion etc. But not humans. We seem to have suppressed this natural healing process.

      The theory is that when we feel threatened we go into fight or flight, and then with trauma we go into freeze, immobility and dissociation, and unless we come out of that by releasing this held energy charge that was sent into those parts of our bodies used to fight or to flee, that charge and muscle tightness remains. Our brains then receive an ongoing message via the vagus system that there is something threatening us and so we stay on high alert. Of course while we are on alert many of our body processes such as the immune system, the endocrine system, digestive system and others are not maintained in their usual good working condition and we suffer. Being meaning-making organisms we search for the cause of this threat and often “find it” outside of ourselves when it is not “really” there. Or we feel that “there is something terribly wrong with me” and search unsuccessfully and endlessly for a cure from health professionals.

      Tremoring is one way we can release this held charge so that the mind no longer gets the message of threat. The organism can relax and go back to normal operations. US social worker David Berceli devised this physiological practice after years of working in war zones in Africa and the Middle East and in natural disaster areas. He was looking for a way to help large numbers of people deal with trauma when the usual western method was 1:1 trauma counselling. He came up with these exercises that produce a tremor in those muscles involved in fight and flight. Once the tremor is established via these exercises the tremor becomes involuntary and releases the charge and armoring held in the body. The “story” does not necessarily need to be told, nor strong emotions be felt for this practice to be helpful. People begin sleeping better, panic attacks resolved, flashbacks fade, hypervigilance reduced, energy lifted, depression can drop away and a host of other benefits can flow.

      You can check it out by googling David Berceli, or TRE Australia and TRE also has a Facebook page. I find it endlessly interesting. It is similar in some ways to Somatic Experiencing and very much based in Polyvagal Theory – Stephen Porges gives it a big thumbs up. Some people say SE is surgery, while TRE is first aid. TRE can also be a self-help practice that you can eventually do on your own at home. I am looking at its application with veterans and emergency services workers, with First Nations peoples suffering from Transgenerational Trauma, asylum seekers, populations who have Developmental/Complex trauma – that’s kids who have suffered abuse and/or neglect or early medical trauma. Maybe even prison populations? It may also have application to low prevalence psychiatric disorders like BiPolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, OCD now that research is suggesting that these may have their etiology in early trauma. Polyvagal Theory is also being used to explore the roots of autism spectrum disorders such as Aspergers Syndrome. And yes – I am a little excited by the potential of TRE at present!

      Posted by Steve Brown | 2 April 2016, 4:36 pm
      • Trauma Releasing Exercises are a really wonderful method for working with trauma and stress in the body; I discuss them in my thesis work (which I may post here on this blog). Thank you!

        Posted by Tracy A. Andrews, MSOM, LAc | 3 April 2016, 8:20 pm
    • I work with traumatised people, through horses – i am a facilitator of equine guided healing, growth and learning (also a psychotherapy background and work as a psychosynthesis coach/counsellor). Really interested to hear about Kerry’s mustang mare and Tellington Touch (which i too have used with some success previously). I heard an incredible conference talk by Dr Porges at the Breath of Life conference a few years ago. He shared a platform with Dan Siegel and Stephen Levine, which was a great line-up!

      As a facilitator of equine guided growth and healing, my experience is that being with horses can be incredibly beneficial for traumatised people. I use a Body Feelings Mind meditation from psychosynthesis, extended into becoming mindful of contact with ground, the weather, the environment around. People seem to dissociate less when around the horses and i invite them to mirror the state of the (calm, relaxed) horse, feet like hooves on the earth, long slow breathing, relaxed alertness (instead of hyper vigilance). Limbic resonance between horse and human is very powerful.

      This is usually the beginning of work with people on specific or generalised trauma. personally i love Peter Levine’s Somatic Experiencing – the pendulating to a positive resource, and a catharsis that enables resolution of the original flight/fight/freeze response. There can be amazing breakthroughs – the client running with joy alongside the horse for example, which to my way of thinking is the safe release of trauma and rewiring of a neurological pathway, and an experience that can be anchored in the client to touch into when they notice dissociation arising. It’s vital that the horse is stable, well resourced and receives what’s needed to stay healthy as the effects on these sensitive creatures can be powerful. Very happy to share more if wanted – pm me at equilibrium@harriethanmer.com or see website http://www.equilibrium-partners.co.uk/equine-guided-learning/

      Really appreciate the discussion here, very interesting. My partner is a massage therapist and previously mental health social worker. He is interested in extending that into some kind of body-mind-feelings psychotherapy/counselling practice and i would love to hear people’s recommendations for a good training/approach, particularly in the UK.

      Posted by Harriet Hanmer | 4 April 2016, 1:31 am
  39. I am deeply moved by this article which I discovered in my Facebook feed recently. Three weeks ago, I traveled 1000 miles to work with a doctor who is using qEEG with neurofeedback. Fifteen months before that I had begun using Zinn’s mindfulness meditations. What I experienced with neurofeedback tied in with qEEG, is an immediacy, a tangible result. I could see what is malfunctioning and see the changes, the results as they occur. It is indescribably encouraging. The neurofeedback/qEEG has not supplanted mindfulness practice but it allows me to open to the extreme pain, long ago repressed. What I could not get from Mindfulness alone, was a quantified sense of progress. That difference is significant.

    I was drawn to your article by two words in the title: vagus and freeze. I have lived my entire life in a kind of anxiety paralysis, a freeze, that has been completely debilitating in many, many ways, including precluding my ability to hold a job. So I was keen on reading your article. Once I started I knew it was speaking to me. I have tried so many therapies that worked for others but did nothing for me and your article explained it so clearly – many therapies and practices exposed the nerve leaving me in excruciating psychic, emotional and physical pain. Here is a partial list: EFT, Centering Prayer, EMDR, acupuncture. Neurofeedback with qEEG is the only therapy that allowed me to see the dysregulation and see the increments of progress. It is lifesaving.

    Posted by Paros | 2 April 2016, 10:28 am
  40. Thanks for this article! Are you familiar with Philip Shepherd’s work? You might enjoy his book, New Self, New World – and can get a taste for it in this interview. http://philipshepherd.com/the-sun/

    Posted by Erin Geesaman Rabke | 2 April 2016, 10:35 am
  41. Thank you!

    Posted by ripplemonkey | 2 April 2016, 4:00 pm
  42. Reblogged this on Jack Pilgrim's Ghost and commented:
    I want to be sure to read this later.

    Posted by Jack Pilgrim | 3 April 2016, 1:39 am
  43. Interesting

    Posted by Torgeir Mathisen | 3 April 2016, 4:02 am
  44. For a more complete understanding of Bessel van der Kolk’s current thinking, read The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma –

    Posted by Patti Levin | 3 April 2016, 6:01 am
  45. Hi, I wanted to share a method that really worked for me. I had PTSD for twelve years related to horrific childhood trauma from satanic cult abuse and sexual abuse. What finally worked for me was a technique a new therapist used on me. I don’t know the name for this technique. I call it the ‘put a new ending on the story’. Bascially my therapist (Trudy) would have me begin to describe in detail a particular traumatic experience until she could see I was totally immersed and beginning to feel emotions. Then Trudy would tell me to stop, to pull back, way back and visualize the situation from above. Then she would have me create a new ending for the experience. It didn’t matter what it was, if it made sense, or how fantastical it was. A giant dinosaur could come in and squash the rapist; whatever. the point was to get involved visually and emotionally while creating this new ending. The research on this showed that new hormones imprinted with this new ending would begin to circulate through the body. I really believe this is what changed everything for me in regards to overcoming PTSD, anxiety, panic, self loathing etc. later on after watching “What the Bleep Do We Know” I understood what was happening (holographically imprinted hormones). This especially works because our minds and our bodies don’t know the difference between 20 minutes ago or 20 years ago (this also applies to 20 minutes into the future). As far as our mind/body is concerned it’s just happening again. I have had a great life for many years now and have only recently experienced minor PTSD triggers through a car accident and then because of an emergency surgery. But I always recognize the triggers and know to give my self time to ‘reset’. I hope this is of assistance to you.

    Posted by Deborah | 3 April 2016, 10:17 am
  46. Love your post! The purpose to link it with TEAM is so fascinating, I wish you good luck for your researchs and look forward to reading your theses!

    Posted by Leila | 3 April 2016, 1:19 pm
  47. I have seen this hypersensitivity effectively managed with the many tapping therapies (EFT, Robert K Smith’s Faster EFT, Body Talk, I think there are over 20 versions many of which came out of Paul Denison’s Brain Gym work.) Many strands here that may connect to managing mental health issues resulting from these super sensitive nervous systems-what if we could give people simple tools to soothe early in their lives. I’ve read in a Runner’s magazine a year ago or so where Dutch researchers are working on stimulating the vagus nerve with a pacemaker like device for treatment of depression.

    Posted by Donna Smith Holst | 3 April 2016, 4:59 pm
  48. Reblogged this on Claire Crystal.

    Posted by clairecrystal | 3 April 2016, 9:23 pm
  49. Bessel works with Yoga and SE
    As ways to bring more attention to the body
    I believe you bundled up a few things in a wrong manner 😦
    Mindfulness can be used and has shown to be used, in a very delicate and focused manner, certainly not the regular mindfulness courses. Yoga can be used if one knows the skills of yoga for trauma. SE which is based on the understanding of the vagus nerve and the polyvagal system is helpful as well.
    The MBSE system can be beneficial, as it brings together state of the art knowledge and tools to regulate the nervous system and mindfulness techniques cut out specifically for trauma.

    Posted by Juditta ToWo group | 3 April 2016, 9:32 pm
  50. I am now following you – BRILLIANT article – I am a Yoga Teacher that this really sheds some light on Yoga practice and the Vagus Nerve – best wishes Kim

    Posted by kimismet | 4 April 2016, 12:50 am
  51. Given the fact that all human beings are not exactly alike – no medication or treatment are going to work on everybody in the same way. I would counter anyone’s theory that all trauma victims cannot feel or in some way turn off their feelings as a survival or coping mechanism. In fact I suggest that there are also trauma victims out there who not only are hypervigilant – but they are also hyper-sensitive.

    These people not only feel their own emotions in a very intense way – but they can feel and intuit other’s feelings at a very high level. So much so that they become empaths, which makes life even more difficult. This is all due to having these ultra sensitive feelings that are flowing all around your being at all times & the more people you’re around the worse it is. This often can drive people into solitude where they have to live life with as few interactions as possible in order to not get overloaded. Rather like an autistic person who can get over stimulated by noise or other things,

    Posted by Christie Adams | 4 April 2016, 1:50 pm
    • Earlier today, I read the linked article on Dissociation. Having had this state for most of my life. I am also an empath, and couldn’t understand how these two could be true in one person. You have helped me very much

      Posted by Susan Zecchini | 26 April 2016, 5:44 pm
  52. I am curious to know how a VNS implant for epileptic seizure reduction and/or depression can affect this nerve? Can it shut off a persons emotions while shutting off their seizures?
    I would be interested to know if this treatment has been studied regarding how the implant affects emotions etc.

    Posted by Sydney | 4 April 2016, 7:17 pm
  53. Thats fascinating and really feeds into the thinking that i have been having around mindfulness and attachment styles, people whose internal experience is overwhelmingly painful need to practice placing their attention on the outside world in order to establish regulation only then can they start to take a peak into the inside knowing that they can manage this.

    Posted by hannah clarke | 5 April 2016, 3:42 am
  54. >> As I remembered from anatomy, the vagus nerve (cranial nerve x) innervates the diaphragm <<

    Nope. That's the phrenic nerve. Bad start.

    Posted by Gordon Dent | 5 April 2016, 9:11 am
  55. Look up Bo Forbes. She has a lot on this topic, and great stuff!

    Posted by Ruth helling | 5 April 2016, 2:27 pm
  56. Thank you for a very interesting article and discussion. I think titration, establishment of safety and an ability to self-regulate first is key. Sorry for the link bombardment, this just made me associate to many things.

    I really like the Somatic experiencing and Sensorimotor Psychotherapy (https://www.sensorimotorpsychotherapy.org/) approaches, and there are some quite nice talks by Stephen Porges (who formulated the polyvagal theory) on Youtube, like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MYXa_BX2cE8

    There is also a great interview by Krista Tippett with Bessel van der Kolk at the podcast On Being: http://www.onbeing.org/program/restoring-the-body-bessel-van-der-kolk-on-yoga-emdr-and-treating-trauma/5801

    Also, the are some quite nice “workbooks” where mindfulness work with trauma victims is addressed, such as
    101 trauma-informed interventions or Trauma competency: a clinicians guide, by Linda Curran.

    I also highly recommend the work by Bonnie Badenoch (for example the book Being a Brain-Wise Therapist and The brain-savvy Therapist’s workbook.

    Last, and something that I would recommend the most, is this, for me it was truly eye-opening. It’s an episode of The Liberated Podcast called “Interoception, Contemplative Practice, and Health” with Norm Farb.

    Kind regards, Maja

    Posted by Maja | 9 April 2016, 3:29 am
  57. 🙂 It will be interesting to follow further posts here.

    Posted by Maja | 10 April 2016, 6:07 am
  58. Enjoyed your article on vagus nerve and its connections to emotions (visceral responses ) and mindfulness as a means to healing from trauma.
    18 years ago I lost a son in a car accident and I used art as a means of working through the grief of that and a marriage that was not working anymore and now I am peeling through layers of understanding how I intuitively worked through the emotions and dysfunctions from then til now in a very mindful way. The art was the link to emotional health and release.
    I have recently presented a tactic for others to use… If you are interested in exploring please see my webdite at http:// reversecolouringbook.com
    I hope to share a link your your article as well…

    Posted by Corla McGillivray | 11 April 2016, 8:20 am
  59. This is a really great article I enjoyed it very much thank you. Not only am Licensed practitioner of 30 years that specializes in trauma, but also a person that has had PTSD since I was 12, broken my neck 2xs and had 9 concussions among other injuries and issues. 🙂 . I wrote an article that might address some of your questions I hope you will find something in it of value. https://www.facebook.com/notes/the-cannabis-curandera/a-practitioners-view-of-ptsd-cannabis-for-healing-spiritual-trauma/116789505323200

    Posted by cristala | 12 April 2016, 11:39 am
  60. “Now, many people who don’t know a lot about trauma think that trauma has something to do with something that happened to you a long time ago. In fact, the past is the past and the only thing that matters is what happens right now. And what is trauma is the residue that a past event leaves in your own sensory experiences in your body and it’s not that event out there that becomes intolerable but the physical sensations with which you live that become intolerable and you will do anything to make them go away.”
    It sounds like you may be confusing “trauma” and “post-traumatic stress disorder.” My understanding is that trauma is an event. If it leaves a certain kind of residue, that is post-traumatic stress. Am I missing something?

    Posted by Steve | 13 April 2016, 1:10 pm
  61. Here’s a list of somatic healing modalities I’ve put together that people might find useful … https://floweringbrain.wordpress.com/2008/03/12/effective-neuro-somatic-healing-modalities/

    Posted by Mark Brady | 16 April 2016, 6:56 am
  62. How does vasal vagal syncopy fit into this?

    Posted by Roshan | 16 April 2016, 7:30 am
  63. I found this article in my Facebook feed. Right now, I am not financially in a position to invest in treatments that are not covered through my insurance. I am going to be starting counseling through a LCSW and am considering trying medication again to help with anxiety and depression. It is to the point where I know I am not able to be as conscientious a parent as I want to be. Does anyone have any suggestions as to what I can discuss with the counselor that either she might try with me, or that I can do for myself?

    Posted by Erin | 17 April 2016, 11:31 pm
  64. Reblogged this on The Life Of Von and commented:
    Posting this in case you missed it – “When the mind is strongly excited it instantly affects the state of the viscera.” This is, of course, why our guts react strongly to our emotional state.

    Van der Kolk continues with the statement that grabbed me: “what makes life unbearable is not emotions but physical sensations.”

    Posted by eagoodlife | 18 April 2016, 5:15 pm
  65. Super to see this article.. The line that really stood out for me. was.. “lacking the tools to work through those sensations”… I’m one of the lucky people who have pulled through PTSD (with dissociation, the works).. through an inspired person who showed me the tools… showed me the HOW! SO many counsellors, therapists, yoga people, meditations, etc, all well meaning.. did so much to make me feel more helpless and triggered.. they just don’t understand. LOL, I’ll never forget the beginning of a hypnosis CD aiming to cure anxiety that began.. “Now relax” .. er…. ya, No. I can’t comment on the therapy mentioned here.. but I do know there are tools out there that help “work thru sensations” (and my sensations were not mild.. talking about life threatening and sexual 3 year old trauma and more that I was dissociating from on a daily basis my whole life and much much more).. and I feel that is the beginning, for sure. To have those tools. =) =) This article brings hope to me, that in the future there will be more understanding and more help.. that others may not need to go through a nightmare merry-go-round in the ‘mental health’ system like I did, before real solutions can be found. =) =)

    Posted by Leela Zoukrazy | 21 April 2016, 1:48 am
  66. I use EFT for myself and clients and it addresses the trauma and sensation piece quite nicely. Appreciate your article for bringing the trauma piece to the conversation about mindfulness.

    Posted by Deborah Donndelinger | 21 April 2016, 7:51 am
  67. This is what Judy was recommending. I might do it

    Posted by Barbara | 21 April 2016, 1:42 pm
  68. In using a new therapy, The Richards Trauma Process, both the mind and body are re-regulated. Trauma symptoms simply disappear. Fast, effective, safe. Multiple dissociative disorder, complex PTSD, other anxiety disorders, etc. The entire being goes from hyper arousal (fight, flight, freeze) to calm.


    worth checking out…
    Therapists such as a psychologist who won an award for her very effective PTSD unit in a major hospital are now using this.

    Posted by Judith Richards | 21 April 2016, 2:15 pm
  69. Came to think about this article – Building a safe internal attachment:

    Click to access Lamagna_Gleiser_Building_a_Secure_Internal_Attachment_2007.pdf

    and this – Of the Self, by the Self and For the Self

    Click to access Lamagna_Of_the_Self_2011.pdf

    I think this internal attachment is crucial. Makes me think of Internal Family Systems as well:

    Posted by Maja | 22 April 2016, 10:53 pm
  70. Excellent article, thanks for bringing his work to my attention. It really hits home with my personal experiences and makes sense in the feedback I’ve seen occurring in my emotions of my stomach or bowels are disturbed. There is a Tibetan technique known as Vase Breathijng which I think is a meditative version of the Valsalva effect, calming the vagus nerve. You should check out the work of my teacher Reggie Ray (www.dharmaocean.org) esp his book Toiching Enlightenment which offers an embodied Buddhist perspective on how trauma is stored in the body. He also recommends Hakomi. Also have a look at Tantsu practice (www.tantsu.com) which I’ve found amazing as a practitioner.

    Posted by Scott Rennie | 24 April 2016, 11:58 pm
  71. So interesting. My dr has diagnosed a “Vaso-vagal reaction” that I experience periodically. Very strong and sudden physical episodes that include sudden diarrhea and drop in blood pressure, leaving me lightheaded and exhausted. I haven’t figured out all the connections, but one piece seems to be gut reactions to certain foods. Now I’m thinking I need to attend to the emotional triggers. Thank you for the post. Now I will
    Investigate more.

    Posted by Susan Kliewer | 27 April 2016, 6:12 pm
  72. Reblogged this on Silver Girl.

    Posted by SilverGirl | 30 April 2016, 5:50 am
  73. In my 35 years of teaching Alexander Technique I have found the quietening, unconditional touch of our work to be a kind and bespoke way for an ‘out-of-body’ student to gradually move their awareness down through their neck and slowly into their body. In my lessons no one is rushed, no one is pushed, and my desire is to hold them in a compassionate attention as they gradually re-embody themselves, often healing the avoided trauma on the way. To facilitate and/or companion a student’s reconnection to their whole self is always an incredible honour.

    Posted by Annie Turner | 1 May 2016, 11:12 am
  74. Thanks for your thoughts and comments, Tracey. I was quite curious reading it and the (possible) connections your are making. Personally, I had struggled with mindfulness practice initially when I started it after a burnout years ago. Then, practicing Yoga helped me get better access to my body and later on one particular type of introduction to meditation actually changed my picture quite a bit: My introduction to Tibetan Buddhism and that path of meditation stressed that we should always first practice to find some part in our body, where we have a positive or at least a neutral feeling. Initially, we should avoid any negative feelings in the body, but always focus on and stay with positive or at least neutral feelings. This training (Unity in Duality provided by Tarab Institute International) is actually initially pointing out that what we perceive can be grouped into the five sense perceptions (smelling, seeing, hearing, tasting and body feelings) and “sixth mind” perceptions (among others our thoughts – yet also 6th mind sense perceptions, e.g. triggered in dreams or from memories). Emotions in that approach are a combination of thoughts and body-mind perceptions or what we feel in the body. Furthermore, it states that in our bodily feelings the subject side and object side of perceiving are coming very closely together, they are becoming one. Whatever we see or hear is perceived as “outside” of us – subject side and object side are separate – and for that reason less threatening to us. However, what we feel in our body is perceived as “one with the perceiving” – and for that reason far more threatening to us if negative. Moreover, thinking takes us away from the direct perceiving and therefore again creates a distance to whatever we are perceiving. To my knowledge, the body scan used in MBSR does not ask participants to look for positive or neutral places in the body to linger at. Traumatized people will then likely get in touch with their negative body sensations and triggered.

    From what I wrote above one approach in mindfulness practice could be to start with looking for places in the body that feel positive or at least neutral and staying there to build up ressources. Once the participant can access those places it might be okay to slowly venture into areas that are negatively feeling.

    Of course there are certainly many other approaches and they may be needed and worthwile. In particular in people with strong traumas a specialist therapists should be involved and accupuncture, body work, as well as other techniques may help.

    Maybe this post is adding a bit of further insight in addition to all the other posts (most of which I haven’t read, I have to admit).

    Posted by Klemens | 2 May 2016, 1:45 pm
  75. I completed a 240hr yoga teacher training with emphasis on psychologically informed & trauma aware modalities/yoga. Yoga Nidra was a large part of our practice, in helping to retrain the brain from knee-jerk reactions and avoidances to being calm and having higher tolerances to these uncomfortable feelings or situations that trigger PTSD or Childhood Stress Disorder. I’m curious about other’s experiences with this, and opinions on how effective it is regarding trauma.

    Posted by Nilda | 4 May 2016, 5:43 pm
  76. So interesting. For me; it’s not the physical that overwhelms me ~ it’s my mind. It is almost always spewing and I’ll suddenly ‘come to’ in my meditation realising that I have been ‘away with the fairies’ for minutes. Gx

    Posted by gwozzie | 5 May 2016, 5:23 am
  77. Thank you for this! It’s made me question a lot around my own trauma on the past few years and the more recent therapies/healing.

    Also, the link you provided didn’t go directly, so here’s the direct link to the talk 🙂


    Posted by Karen | 22 May 2016, 6:34 pm
  78. Excellent article. So many great points in both the article as well as the comments-pleasure to read! I am a little concerned that there is a take-home message of “mindfulness does not work with individuals with unresolved trauma.” A foregone conclusion when trying to summarize may also feed into ongoing division, or lack of consensus about the term “mindfulness” and how it can be useful in a self-healing process. As you know better than most (from your TCM training and experience) no two individuals are alike – this is an eastern concept and not typically found in western healing modalities, no matter how “alternative” their approach. Using the concept of “mindfulness” while working with people with unresolved trauma as opposed to sending them to an MBSR training are two very different scenarios. Some random thoughts sparked while reading your excellent article:

    MBSR is a wonderful program, but it is not the end all be all of mindfulness. It has indeed helped thousands (hundreds of thousands probably) find inner healing. My guess is that Zinn himself would not send just anyone into a full MBSR program, especially someone who cannot sit still, has flashbacks, etc – it just isn’t right for everyone, nor is it right for people who have not gone through the necessary first step of regaining some self-regulation first.

    The use of “mindfulness practices” may be radically different than the protocol that is used in the MBSR program. For one example (of many, many possibilities), in a yoga class in maximum security prison, colleagues have found success introducing mindfulness by staying active; using repetitive and rhythmic movements, drawing one’s attention to gross sensations, for short periods of time, e.g. in the Yoga pose downward facing dog: move into the pose, ask the student to draw their attention to pressure in the face (sinuses) even if just holding for 5 seconds, they can typically feel it – if not, fine, we normalize that too…no expectations. Move through another pose, then back into down-dog, ask them to draw their attention to the sensation in the back of the legs…5 seconds out of the pose. Quick snippets, with an invitation to stay longer and explore-if THEY choose…many do, but rarely during the first couple of classes. Over time, one can move from gross to subtle and the length of time the pose is held may increase…all student led, no forcing, no expectations – some cultivate body awareness more quickly than others – many take months to slow down. Drawing “attention” leads to awareness. With this methodology, it is a slow, but safe methodology…also keeps a Yoga therapist in their scope of practice.
    Another consideration is the type of trauma – hyper vigilance may present as too much body-sensation focus…health crisis (e.g. cancer), they may be in a battle with their body…hating it; or in an eating disorders clinic – there may be too much focus on the physical body, it is often a distorted view – we, as yoga therapist in an ED clinical setting are typically asked not to draw attention to the body by the Mental Health professionals running the programs. These communities may be better served starting with a rotation of consciousness, perhaps focusing on sounds in the room (the ticking of the clock, the birds chirping outside, cars passing the building…); perhaps 2 minutes total, and with slow movements of the arms synchronized with the breath at first if movement seems necessary. There are just so many different scenarios, so many practices and opportunities to use “mindfulness” and most importantly, so many different people, with different needs, different strengths, different interests, etc.
    There is no single mindfulness practice in my opinion – yes, there are trademarked programs that use mindfulness, but its important that we do not use them as a definition of this ancient concept.

    The use of bio-feedback is not new at all – and has proven to be very useful, especially for clinicians when trying to quantify a human experience in a clinical setting. The word “trauma” is just as vague and huge as “mindfulness,” and we cannot view either through a one-size-fits-all or a cookie-cutter-program, western lens. So much more to say, but I am out of time. Thank you for your article and for creating the space for this great discussion, and allowing me to be part of it. Metta.

    Posted by Genevieve | 17 July 2016, 10:30 am
  79. Verry interesting.

    Posted by moscovici simon | 20 July 2016, 4:13 am
  80. Verry. Interesting

    Posted by moscovici simon | 20 July 2016, 4:17 am
  81. Tracey.

    I enjoyed your article as I too have been interested in repression and dissociation, having been there myself after childhood trauma, as well as seeing it constantly in clients as a psychologist over 20 years of private practice. The most powerful approach I have encountered is the German New Medicine as practised by Ilsedora Laker in Toronto. It makes sense of all these states.

    Posted by Karen Joy | 21 July 2016, 12:39 am
  82. I would also like to add TRE as a brilliant self help technique which is quite new to help unfreeze, when it’s done with a certified TRE provider at least in the beginning until one learns how to self regulate.
    See what it’s all about: http://traumaprevention.com

    Posted by Adi | 24 July 2016, 5:49 am
  83. You might be interested in a program of visceral proprioception and self-mobilization I developed for my clients. It is based on Taoist exercises from 5 animals spontaneous qigong and Hsing Yi chuan, both utilize the 5 element theory model. Kalpeshrpatel.com

    Posted by Kalpesh R Patel | 3 August 2016, 11:47 am
  84. I only skimmed the article, but it appears that according to Dr. Van Der Kolk, traumatized people somehow are emotionless so as to not feel pain. I saw not one comment about the opposite: traumatized people who are huge balls of emotion so that any perceived slight sends them into a tailspin, oftentimes making them lash out at others and withdraw. And who often dwell in the past. What, then, would be the physical relationship with that and could neurofeedback work with those suffereors?

    Posted by C. Brown | 16 August 2016, 4:01 pm
    • One of van der Kolk’s primary assertions is the need to help people come into the present. Not feeling pain and feeling so much pain are both on the spectrum. He does advocate bodywork and mindfulness. Bodywork helps with hyperarousal and the development of mindfulness – including mindfulness of what goes on in the body, i.e. recognizing one’s self from the inside. Going directly to mindfulness often doesn’t work because of precisely what you said – overwhelm. Addressing hyperarousal is the first step with those with too much.

      Posted by Charlene Vartanian | 26 November 2016, 3:14 pm
  85. For mindfull meditation the best is VIPASANA MEDITATION based on sensation

    Posted by Sk siraj | 25 October 2016, 6:08 pm
  86. I’d like to invite you to join the Vagus Study Group on FB if you’d like to explore a ton of excellent resources on this subject, and to join in discussion with smart, deep and curious professionals and seekers of healing.

    Posted by Lisa Elliott | 26 November 2016, 2:52 pm
  87. Interesting. However, the vagus nerve only has a very minor connection to the diaphragm, at the point where the esophagus goes through in order to inhibit diaphragm activity while a food bolus is passing from the thoracic to the abdominal part of the esophagus. The diaphragm is innervated by the phrenic nerve.

    Posted by Thom Ludwig, MD | 28 November 2016, 5:16 pm
  88. That ‘s why Osho designed active-meditations…very scientifically…for the modern man living in this century! I say Dynamic Meditation is one of the most important meditation technique – a transformation processes if done 21 days. You can read about on internet…how are the 5 stages…

    Posted by punita | 28 November 2016, 9:16 pm
  89. Great beginning for exploration. I’d definitely mention Craniosacral Therapy and for sure Alexander Technique as ways to unlock stagnant, negative emotions and create internal space for all organs to work better, to work the way they were designed to.

    Posted by Sofia Engel | 29 November 2016, 6:55 am
  90. “help shed some light on how and why acupuncture, moxibustion and other TEAM modalities have been known to treat trauma and shock. A worthwhile topic to explore next.”

    The placebo effect is a powerful thing. It is the mind that exercises this effect on the body and is why Qi Gong works so well. Mentally visualizing Qi as an actual force that circulates and opens energy channels activates the placebo effect in the body. The physical aspects of Qi Gong have their obvious physical effects, better limberness and flexibility, which contribute to a general feel of well being. The purely mental aspect of Qi Gong, visualization of energy circulation effects it’s contribution to our sense of well being in a different manner though. Some will see associating placebo effect with this aspect as derogatory but it isn’t it’s simply using an accurate terminology to describe what’s actually going on, the fact that we can think ourselves well or ill.

    Posted by Larry Rowe | 29 November 2016, 10:32 am
  91. Hi Tracy, Have you read or heard about Dr Leon Hammer’s book Dragon Rises, Red Bird Flies? A pioneer in Psychiatry he learned acupuncture and used it almost exclusively when he discovered how effective it was with his psychiatric patients. His book is full of case studies.

    Posted by Rachel Chevalier | 29 November 2016, 2:19 pm
  92. Is there free access somewhere or a link to subscribe to this audio/video podcast of van der kolk from the trauma conference? It is fascinating.

    Thank you for your thoughts.

    Posted by Jessica zauner | 1 December 2016, 9:46 pm
  93. I got a lot out of this article.

    One point I’d like to add: this works the other way around too: if you have something irritating your digestive system (like a fungal infection, like me) you’ll experience similar physical sensations but it will produce mental illness in the brain too. As people like Chris Kresser have put it, “if you have an inflamed gut, you have an inflamed brain”.

    Very interesting on the neurofeedback.
    Thanks for the article.

    Posted by Carl Bullen | 3 December 2016, 3:36 am
  94. Reblogged this on Trauma Recovery Professionals and commented:
    This is so crucial to our understanding of the impact of trauma..

    Posted by bdetltd | 3 December 2016, 3:02 pm
  95. Just bumped into this article. Why don’t you explore what fascia has been known to do. It could helpful in tying the pieces together…

    Posted by Vicky Seda | 19 December 2016, 4:57 pm
  96. And when this interuption disrupts the normal balance of interconnective systems for too long, the emergence of serious mental challenges may occur, including disorders of personality and even psychosis?

    Posted by Katalina | 31 December 2016, 10:38 am
  97. Good info

    Posted by janet sutherland | 3 March 2017, 12:28 pm
  98. Part of the issue of why mindfulness sometimes challenges our traumatic responses instead of releasing them is that mindfulness, divorced from its origin of Buddhism, does not necessarily substitute our need for security with something else.

    Mindfulness in its rightful context was developed as a means of accessing a deeper sense of being within ourselves. It was not meant as a technique to control our responses to life or to become more efficient at managing them. Rather, mindful watching is a method of guiding the attention away from what we think we are to unveil who we really are – we are the consciousness that precedes our emotional, perceptive consciousness.

    Resting in the awareness that we are pure consciousness, a deeper sense of presence and ease begins to unfold. This is not a mental knowledge, it is a directly realizable experience of deep safety and homecoming.

    Once we begin to grasp this essential fact that the essence of our inner being is more true, more essential than the experiences of the body and mind, we begin to relax.

    Trauma-release must deal with this underlying understanding of who we are and what is going on. As long as we believe we are defined by our experiences we feel threatened by anything that challanges our sense of ease and we will maintain our defensive responses. Only when we awaken to a broader sense of existing, can sensations become second-place.

    Posted by Shuchita | 26 March 2017, 5:03 am
    • I have practiced Buddhist meditation for 5 years whilst healing from an emotional abusive marriage. I do think that practicing just mindfulness on its own, as it were, is hard going when repressed emotions, especially fears, start to arise strongly. However, as I perceive it, in the various Buddhist meditation classes and courses I have attended, mindfulness practices such as paying attention to the breathe, are always coupled with other meditative practices that promote attention to positive emotions e.g. Metta bahvanna or putting attention in the heart centre or dwelling in the clear nature of the mind etc. By undertaking both types of practices, I can now find safe places within the mind that I can choose to visit and contemplate my own healing.
      I do agree therefore, that the current trend of promoting or prescribing mindfulness without promoting the other types of practices I I have mentioned could be unhelpful for those who are traumatised – all that fear brought to your full attention and no way of knowing how to greet it, accept it, let alone transform it!

      Posted by Jane Flowers | 3 April 2017, 5:43 am
  99. Great article.
    Your edit about the vagus nerve not innervating the diaphragm is not actually accurate. Stephen Porges talks about the vagus nerve innervating the diaphragm; and my father has vagus nerve damage from surgery and this has impaired his diaphragm on one side. For some reason the vagus nerve connection is less well known than the phrenic nerve connection.

    Posted by Sarita | 1 April 2017, 2:19 am
  100. I used TRE® to re-organize my body and heal the trauma. I started it in October 2013, and here it is April 2017 and I’ve been symptom free for a while. When I came out of freeze it was dicey for a while, and I need to hone the self-regulation I was taught, but as my body released the trauma, the symptoms disappeared. No meds, no therapy. My embodied experience of self has been far more than what I expected.

    The impact on my vagus nerve was confirmed in discussions with the docs who created TRE and the polyvagal theory, both of which I still follow. “The Polyvagal Theory” is a chewy read if you’re not academic, but his broadening aspect of the parasympathetic nervous system has added to the understanding of how TRE works.

    Posted by R. Leckey Harrison | 4 April 2017, 8:32 pm


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