Dr Bessel van der Kolk is a leading trauma researcher and has a gift for explaining in simple language. This book is a comprehensive, easy to understand resource on trauma: The Body Keeps The Score,
Restoring the Body: Yoga, EMDR, and Treating Trauma
An interview by Krista Tippet onbeing.org with Dr Bessel van der Kolk
Benefit of yoga in healing trauma:
Something that engages your body in a very mindful and purposeful way — with a lot of attention to breathing in particular — resets some critical brain areas that get very disturbed by trauma.
But the nature of our trauma is that you actually have no recollection for it as a story in a way. But what is so extraordinary about trauma, is that these images or sounds or physical sensations don’t change over time. So people who have been molested as kids continue to see the wallpaper of the room in which they were molested. Re World War II: People who got traumatized continue to have the same story in 1990 as they told back in 1945, so they cannot transform it. When we treat people, you see the narrative change and people start introducing new elements.
And so sleep is a very important way in which we restore ourselves. And that process of that restoration that occurs during REM sleep — dream sleep — is probably an important factor in why traumatic memories do not get integrated.
Stored trauma in the body:
This is not about something you think or something you figure out. This is about your body, your organism, having been reset to interpret the world as a terrifying place and yourself as being unsafe. And it has nothing to do with cognition, with, you know, you can say to people, “You shouldn’t feel that way” or “You’re not a bad person” or “It wasn’t your fault.” And people say, “I know that, but I feel that it is.”
Healing the body:
I’d say the majority of the people we treat at the trauma center and in my practice, have cut off relationships to their bodies. They may not feel what’s happening in their bodies. They may not register what goes on with them. And so what became very clear is that we needed to help people for them to feel safe feeling the sensations in their bodies, to start having a relationship with the life of their organism, as I like to call it.
Early life trauma and brain development:
There’s a whole new field of interpersonal neurobiology that is studying how we are connected with each other and how a lack of connection, particularly early in life, has devastating consequences on the development of mind and brain.
The big issue for traumatized people is that they don’t own themselves anymore. Any loud sound, anybody insulting them, hurting them, saying bad things, can hijack them away from themselves. And so what we have learned is that what makes you resilient to trauma is to own yourself fully. And if somebody says hurtful or insulting things, you can say, hmm, interesting that person is saying hurtful and insulting things … I think we are really beginning to seriously understand how human beings can learn how to do that, to observe and not react.
Interviewer: The take-home is that we have to feel safe and that has to be a bodily perception, not just a cognitive perception. And that somehow everything comes back to that.
Dr van der Kolk: You need to actually feel that feeling. You need to know what is happening in your body.