Understanding Trauma As A Biological Response
Excerpted from Somatic Traumatology by David Berceli PhD
One only has to read the most basic of the literature on the function of the brain, the nervous system and the physiology of stress to understand that the mind and the body are undeniably linked. Rothschild (1994).
Until recently most research programs on trauma and post traumatic stress symptomatology were conducted in the field of psychology. Subsequently all of the recovery programs designed to help relieve symptoms of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) addressed the psycho-emotional behaviors of the individual. However, the most recent research in the field of traumatology is helping to dispel this limited view of trauma and PTSD. The cross-fertilization of fields of study such as psychobiology, neuro-physiology and physiological psychology are revealing new levels of understanding of the effects of trauma on the human organism. This dialogue among diverse fields of medical science has increased scientific awareness of the critical interaction and mutual interdependency of autonomic body responses and neurological processes.
This shift in awareness is increasing the recognition that trauma is primarily an autonomic, physiological and neurological response and this somatic reaction creates a secondary psychological response. Acknowledging that the human organism has a systematic set of autonomic responses that become engaged during the time of trauma allows us to study these unconscious responses. If these autonomic responses can be reversed, then the secondary psychological disruptions can be limited and the psyche of the individual can be restored to health much more readily.
To understand these unconscious physiological reactions, we have to look at the human person as an animal species in the process of evolution. During any traumatic experience the extensor muscles are inhibited so that the flexor muscles can contract. This allows the body to bring the extremities together, creating an enclosure that gives us a sense of safety while protecting the soft, vulnerable parts: the genitals, vital organs, and the head and its contents the eyes, ears, nose and mouth. (Koch, 1997 – The Psoas Book).
A key set of muscles that assist in this complex series of contractions are the Psoas muscles. This pair of muscles that connect the trunk, pelvis and legs are considered the fight/flight muscles. These muscles stand guard like sentinels protecting the center of gravity located just in front of C3 of the spine. These muscles help pull the body into a semi-fetal position as a way of protecting it from anticipated harm.
Since this contraction response of the human body is autonomic, instinctual and primarily unconscious it is not necessarily under the control or awareness of the individual. Because the human organism is genetically encoded to preserve its existence, this process of contraction is the emergency survival system designed to engage itself in any real or imagined life threatening experience. Since this emergency mode is not under the control of the conscious brain, the behaviors, actions and reactions of the individual(s) are instinctual rather than calculated and conscious. So, unlike other psychological issues, traumatic experiences cannot be immediately dealt with via conscious and logical methods to achieve a resolution…
Constructive Rest Position: Simply rest on your back. Knees bent and the feet placed parallel to each other, the width apart of the front of your hip sockets. Place your heels approximately 12-16 inches away from your buttocks. Do not push your lower back to the floor or tuck your pelvis. Rest in the position for 10 –20 minutes. Keep your arms below shoulder height letting them rest over your ribcage, to your sides or on your pelvis. Gravity releases your Psoas, calming an over active sympathetic nervous system while refreshing both body and soul.