Arriving in the “postpartum period” is like being a tourist in a foreign city where…
Pain: it’s the sensation us humans want to avoid at all costs, because… well, it hurts. Whether that’s emotionally or physically. As a result, we’re really good at pushing away pain, hiding pain, and numbing pain. And in today’s modern world in particular, we have a lot of resources at our disposal to do that: smart phones, Netflix, alcohol, drugs, workaholism, etc.
As a result, many of us are living with unprocessed emotions, stress, and trauma, which are not only stored in the brain, but in the body. This causes both physical tension and a sense of hypervigilance that has us living in a state of fight or flight, and results in having a hard time being present in the moment, struggling to relinquish control, and not trusting ourselves.
That’s why I’m so grateful for the existence of mindfulness and movement techniques that pull us into the present and invite us to come face-to-face with those feelings, sensations, and truths. Because pain is not the enemy, pain can be our guide.*
While I’m not a mother and I have not given birth, I am a father. I’ve been a witness to the postpartum period, and have experienced my own healing as a trauma survivor and former addict. I’m no stranger to struggling and recalibrating in life.
One of the modalities I’ve leaned into most is TRE (Tension/Trauma Release Exercise), a movement technique that allows the body, and its inherent inner wisdom, to slowly and systematically process traumatic experiences. To literally metabolize the stress.
Here’s how it works.
TRE releases physical tension in your body and signals your brain to shift the state of your autonomic nervous system from sympathetic (fight/flight/freeze) to parasympathetic (rest/digest). This allows our mind to start unwinding and to release your panicked state of being. Your physical body initiates this shift.
Settling your nervous system is what allows you to create change in your mind and feel calm. You can feel safe in new spaces. You can embody a more grounded, safe, and secure experience. And when you shift gears like this your brain realizes you don’t need all of the extra adrenaline and cortisol, so you start to metabolize these hormones and release them. Your brain can then rebalance your internal chemistry with some of those sweet feel good hormones.
When we allow the body and nervous system to lead the healing process, we can start to explore trusting ourselves, letting go, and surrendering. It’s in this state of surrender where we can connect to the deepest parts of ourselves, the parts we’ve been hiding in order to stay safe and protect ourselves from pain.
It’s important to note that there is no set timeline for surrendering to this vulnerability when we are moving towards trauma. Your body guides the process based on where you are in this moment physically, mentally, and emotionally. Your nervous system responds to this work in increments that you can handle and digest. This means that you metabolize the experiences bit by bit.
Now, before starting a TRE practice, it’s important that you know your personal baseline. Become acquainted with your triggers, your general state of being, and any judgements that you have about yourself. For example, I dissociate quite quickly. Within 10 minutes of starting a yoga practice or TRE I disconnect from my physical body. This is my personal go-to coping mechanism.
My movement practices can trigger this response to keep me from moving toward painful memories held in my body. My brain thinks that if I keep moving my body, I will be triggered by painful trauma held in my body. So, my brain disconnects to protect me. TRE helps me to be able to sense the warning signs of my dissociation more clearly and be present and aware of what is happening inside me. Then, I can more quickly and easily (fingers crossed) return to my homeostasis and equilibrium. To return to my baseline.
Beyond the processing of trauma, pain, and stress, TRE also allows you to connect with your inner superpower.
Below the frontal lobe and cerebral cortex in the brain, there is a super intelligence known as the Inner Guiding Intelligence. Or IGI for short in my line of work and “mother intuition” in yours.
All animals have this inner intelligence system that helps process trauma so that we can once again, rest, recover and thrive. And all animals go through a physical reaction in order to process, metablize, and eliminate trauma from their bodies. I know you know this, but as a reminder, humans are animals too.
And if we can allow our “animal bodies” to process and metabolize experiences like childbirth, trauma, emotions, and memories we are subconsciously holding onto, we can connect with our IGI. And if we begin to build a trusting relationship including deeper communication with ourselves, we may be able to let go, surrender, listen to, and trust this inner guidance and intuition creating the potential for deep transformation and ultimate healing.
Ok, Mark. I’m an animal and I want to process past pain or trauma and connect to and trust my inner guiding intelligence. How do I get started?
A TRE practice starts with a warm up to promote circulation and suppleness throughout the body. When your body is primed, we practice a series of movements that set off a natural tremor reflex which feels like shaking or vibrating in your body. These tremors literally reset your nervous system.
It’s important to work with someone you trust and feel safe with. Because moving toward healing trauma, brings up that trauma which feels very unsafe. But you are safe right now. What happened in the past, happened in the past. And you are here. TRE can help you move through it and finally let it all go.