Author Archives: virginiawilke

Trauma: Maybe Not What You Think

When people think of trauma, they often think of the “big” stuff, like combat, child abuse, car accidents, and natural disasters. And from there, the thought process often goes: PTSD…flashbacks…find a therapist…fix the head.

Only…

Big stuff can be traumatic, but so can many other things we often discount.

And the symptoms of trauma are a lot broader than flashbacks.

And it’s not the “head” that’s traumatized—it’s the whole body.

Which is key.

It means we can’t just “talk to the head” to transform trauma; we have to talk to the body. And much of that conversation happens below the level of the conscious mind.

First, a definition…

Right, so people (really) argue over the definition of trauma. But for our purposes, trauma happens when your survival or well-being is threatened by something that overwhelms your capacity to respond and leaves you feeling terrified and helpless.

Trauma can fly under the radar

A lot of common experiences can be traumatizing. For instance, many medical procedures routinely cause trauma, especially for small children or if you were immobilized or anesthetized. Other examples include:

  • Repetitive painful childhood experiences like bullying, neglect, or a lack of support for being gay
  • Sudden death of a loved one
  • Difficult birth (for mom or baby)
  • Illness or high fevers
  • Falls and physical injuries

…and so much more.

How humans muck it up

Our bodies are uniquely designed to move through traumatic experiences unscathed. Animals in the wild do it all of the time. An antelope escapes a wolf pack. It bucks and tremors, shaking off the adrenaline. It walks away calmly.

But humans…

Our big brains take over and stop this instinctual process—or well-meaning people interfere. We shut down the shaking. We don’t let our bodies kick or block or run. All of that fight-or-flight chemistry and energy just implodes, getting stuck in our bodies.

How this shows up

That’s when the headaches start…or the nightmares, the constant anxiety, the crummy immunity, the depression. Or maybe its muscle tension or hair-trigger anger. Maybe you jump at the slightest sound. Maybe you can’t feel pleasure.

Trauma symptoms show up in a million ways. But they are all held in the body…old events on replay, like a broken record. Through body sensing, we can tune in to the “recording” and let it play through in a new way, rewiring and releasing the trauma.

Next month, in part two of this topic, I’ll describe how.

A Super Simple Way to Recharge

On a recent weekend in April, I found myself exhausted. Not the kind of exhaustion you get from lack of sleep. No, this was the emotionally drained, I’ve felt too much, dealt with too much, can’t do any more kind of exhaustion.

I decided it was time for an Enough Day. This was a concept I was lucky to meet up with in bodywork school (thank you Diana). It’s a day when just waking up is enough, no plans or accomplishments beyond that needed. It a day just to be…and see what unfolds. Pajamas encouraged.

I wanted to take the day to just relax. Ha!

Picture me on the sofa, drained and “relaxing,” while my mind keeps asking, “What are we doing? What are we doing?” and my wired body buzzes. Maybe you’ve been there?

Yeah…when I get myself into these places, I know my body needs a little help getting out of them. I often turn to nature. Camping for a couple of nights would have done it. Wading into the ocean waves for a while might have, too. But those involved getting off the couch, which wasn’t happening.

That’s when I remembered my somatic therapist’s suggestion to watch nature videos with the sound off. Just let yourself watch, he’d said, and check in with your body. That one seemed manageable.

I found a gorgeous production of coastal waterways, muted the TV, and started watching colorful fish dart between reefs. The fish captivated my attention, but in a soothing, slightly hypnotic way. From time to time, I checked in with my body.

The first thing I noticed was my body gasping for breath. Every few seconds, it would take deep, gulping breaths, as if surfacing from underwater. Guess I hadn’t been breathing much.

After a while, the gasping stopped, but my body was still buzzing. Ocean kelp came on. It floated in sunlit water, a slow tidal motion. My breathing slowed. The buzzing stilled.

Coastal waterways rolled into Amazon rainforest, which rolled into desert savannah. At some point, I fell asleep. When I woke up, my cat, Mara, sat rapt in front of the TV watching lions hunt.

I laughed. A few minutes later, I started wondering why there were five tigers together in a troop…weren’t they solitary animals? My thinking mind had kicked back in. That was OK, though. I felt much better. Mara and I played bat-the-birdie for a while. It was enough.

CBD for Pain? Here’s What to Know

If you haven’t heard of CBD, you will. It’s the hottest new cure-all, added to everything from lotion to smoothies. My clients tend to ask me about CBD oil and creams for pain. But CBD products are also being sold for a much wider variety of issues, including anxiety, sleeplessness, and inflammation. So, what is CBD and does it work?

Cannabis without the high

CBD stands for cannabidiol. It is one of the two most abundant compounds in cannabis, a family of plants which includes both hemp and marijuana. Marijuana is rich in THC, the ingredient that gets you high. Hemp is rich in CBD—which won’t get you stoned—and contains almost no THC.

So, is it a miracle cure-all?

OK, a couple of things to know for starters.

First, there are a lot of wild claims about what CBD can do. The FTC is starting to crack down on some manufacturers for unsubstantiated claims. Second, research into the health benefits of CBD is still in its infancy. So there’s a lot that medical science hasn’t tested. That said, here’s what the NIH and Harvard Health are saying so far….

There’s strong evidence for CBD as a treatment for a couple of severe forms of childhood epilepsy. There’s no strong evidence for anything else. Yet. But…

The next most promising areas of study are looking at CBD for anxiety, pain, and inflammation. But most of this evidence comes from studies in animals, not humans.

Is it legal?

It’s complicated…and depends on your state. In California, all cannabis is legal (with a caveat below). Nationally, hemp is legal, but it’s not in some states. Oh, and…the FDA doesn’t yet permit CBD from hemp in supplements, food, and drinks (even though that ship has sailed), and California follows this rule. So legally, you can buy a pot brownie here but not a CBD gummy made from hemp.

Confused? Join the club. The FDA is actively working to sort out the mess.

If you’re going to buy CBD products, just know that it’s kind of the Wild West out there. Though CBD is generally regarded as safe, there’s not a lot yet known about side effects or drug interactions. And what you get in the bottle (vape juice, latte, gummy bear), may or may not be what’s claimed on the label. Do your research.

So how about you?

Have you used CBD products for pain or other issues? If so, I’d love to hear back from you on what worked, what didn’t, and anything you’d recommend.

The Creature Within

When I was in massage school, my instructors would often talk about the creature within. It was that knowing, thinking, other intelligence inside. Call it the body wisdom. Call it the subconscious. By any name, it has a lot of opinions—if we’re willing to listen.

My own creature decided I needed a good talking to the night after my recent birthday celebrations. I woke up from a dream in which an inner healer came to me with some stern advice about my health.

The healer told me in no uncertain terms that refined sugars were playing havoc with my hormones and damaging my health. I needed to quit all refined sugars, she said. Then she loaded up my arms with healthy protein sources like lentils.

I woke up and said, “Got it. I’ll cut out the sugars and eat more healthy protein.” And then I got to enjoy a week of sugar withdrawal. Ugh, not fun. But worth it.

Your inner creature has access to information and wisdom beyond what you have. So it’s well worth it to come into relationship with this part of yourself. But you have to be willing to listen.

Listen to what?

Dreams are just one way our inner creatures speak with us. They can also speak in imagery, sensations, symptoms, illness, and spontaneous movements. To start a relationship with your inner creature, try these steps…

First, decide which channel is easiest to tune in to: dreams, images, sensations, or movement.

Second, tell your inner self you’d like to connect.

Third, reach out through the easiest channel. You could ask a specific question or just invite your inner creature to talk through:

  • Dreams: Put a notebook or phone by your bed at night. Ask for communication in a dream. Write down or record whatever comes.
  • Images: Go to a safe, inner space. Invite your inner wisdom to come talk. Be open to what shows up.
  • Sensations: Tune in to a body sensation. Describe it to yourself with words, images, gestures…whatever resonates. Ask your body if the description fits and describes all of it. Listen for the response.
  • Movement: Allow your body to move spontaneously. Do these movements speak to you? Do they tell a story or bring up any new awareness?

Finally, be persistent. It may take a few tries before your inner creature trusts you enough to respond. Be sincere. Listen and try to understand. And be willing to act in response, even if you don’t like the message.

Your Inner Scaffolding

Ever peeled that thin, white layer off a piece of raw chicken? That’s fascia. Most of us view our bodies as muscles, bones, and organs, held together by skin. But it’s actually fascia that holds us together. And it’s fascia causing so many of our aches and pains.

Imagine that, layered just beneath your skin, is a stretchy wetsuit covering your whole body. And if you tug on that wetsuit at the shoulder, it will pull all the way down your back and lower. Imagine, too, that this stretchy stuff extends all through the inside of your body, wrapping each part. So, if you melted away everything but the fascia, you’d have a complete replica of a human body with all of its organs, muscles, and bones.

Welcome to your body.

Fascia ties your entire body together in one, interconnected web. It lets your muscles and organs glide smoothly over one another. And it holds those organs in place. (You didn’t think they just sat there loose in your torso, did you?) It also stores lots of water and keeps it moving. Without fascia, your fluids would all pool at your feet.

So far, so good. So what’s the problem?

Just like with a sweater, a snag in one part of the fascia can pull on and cause pain in other parts. What causes these snags? Injuries. Repetitive movements. Poor posture. Physical strain causes fascia to shorten, tighten, and lay down more fibers to support overworked muscles. But this thick, tight fascia becomes stiff and painful. Its layers get glued together so it can’t glide. And it pulls on other areas, making them hurt, too.

And it goes even deeper…

Your brain and spinal cord are wrapped in tough fascia, called dura. It’s the deepest layer of fascia in the body. And it can tighten, twist, and get snags, too. So a snag at the base of your head could pull all the way to your tailbone. Or a twist in the dura at the neck could pull on the nerve root sheath that connects to fascia all down your arm.

Fortunately, fascia is malleable and can change with new input. Bodywork can be great for this. But what fascia loves best is movement. Movement helps it stay healthy, moist, and elastic. So stretch your body. Dance to the radio. Or walk some extra steps. Because a lot of what people call aging…it’s just their fascia getting tight, stiff, and dry.

Injured? This Is Key to Healing

Getting injured is, sadly, a part of life. We all go through it, whether it’s a pulled muscle, a broken bone, a paper cut, or something more traumatic. But no matter how serious the injury, it’s jarring. There’s pain, followed by that moment of realizing: I’m hurt. But it’s what you do in the next moment that can play a big role in how well you heal.

No, I’m not talking about staunching the blood—or calling 911. Though by all means do those if needed!

What I’m talking about is the attitude you take toward your injury. In the moment after getting hurt, how do you react mentally and emotionally?

Because there are a whole lot of reactions you can have. And most of them are not all that helpful and may even impede your healing.

Some people get angry after an injury. They berate themselves or blame someone else. This floods your body with anger chemistry, which can further feed the pain cycle.

Other people go straight to denial. That did not just happen. Or…I’m not letting this affect my life one bit. They try to keep doing all of their normal activities. They get upset if the injury doesn’t heal overnight. And they look for magic fixes to make it all go away.

Still others drop into a fear place. They don’t trust that their body will heal. Or they start imagining the worst-case scenario. Their body floods with fear chemicals and that gets looped into the pain cycle.

From there, some people go to despair. This will never heal. They get stuck in negative thinking and hopelessness and then don’t do the self-care needed to help heal.

But even if your reaction is not this extreme, you may find—if you really pay attention—that in the moment after getting hurt, you are sitting in active resistance to the injury. It’s not OK that you’re hurt. Some part of you is fighting the reality of being injured.

So, what is helpful? The one attitude that can be profoundly helpful after an injury—even if it’s just a paper cut—is acceptance. A nanosecond in which you allow, yes, I’m hurt. Alright then. From there, it’s easier to cope with pain. It’s easier to be patient. And it’s easier to accept that, for now, a part of you no longer works as well.

With acceptance, you’ll listen to your body, rather than push it. You’ll allow time for healing. You’ll do the self-care. And, most importantly, you’ll trust your body to heal.

The Body’s Dream Language

Over the past month, I’ve had two clients tell me powerful dreams they had after bodywork. I’ve had several clients describe images that came up during sessions. And I’ve had one reader request an article on dreams. So today, I’ll share some of what I know about the body’s dream language, my gift to them—and to you.

If you’ve worked with me for any length of time, you know I’m always interested in how things feel for you. Your body’s language of sensation and feeling is a powerful tool for healing and for knowing yourself. But there is another: the body’s language of symbols.

A symbol is a compact assemblage of meaning—all highly personal to you. Take an oak tree, for example. For you, it may connect to a sense of climbing, freedom, and elation. For another, it may be linked to falling, fear, and pain. For yet others, it may evoke coolness and shade, warm fall colors, or the start of school. All of your associations get built into the symbol. And you can draw on them to figure out what it means.

Here’s some of what I’ve learned from many years of writing down my dreams:

Create your own dream dictionary. We are all humans, having similar human experiences, so often symbols have common meanings. But just as often, the meaning of your symbol is highly personal. So it’s best to figure out that meaning for yourself.

Look at what went on the day or two before the dream. Dreams often process unresolved issues—especially feelings—of the past day or so. What stirred you up or left you unsatisfied, even if it’s about the past? That is fodder for dreams.

Follow the feelings. Dreams help us process undigested emotions. So give priority to the emotions in the dream. How do they relate to what’s going on in your life?

Ask what the symbol is like. Look at all of your past associations with the symbol. What stands out as the essence? Then ask what that essence is like in your life now.

Imagine every character is a part of yourself. Dreams about people we know can relate to outer relationships. But often, those people embody an aspect of ourselves.

Figure out what you don’t know. Dreams are communication from our deepest selves. They don’t just rehash what you already know. They tell you something more.

Lastly, look for the “aha.” Dream interpretation is more art than science. So look for a sense of “aha,” that inner ringing bell that tells you when you’ve got it.