Modern living has got us into all sorts of pickles when it comes to our nervous system. Let’s consider movement as an example. In early human times, movement was not something you chose. It was part of how you survived. You required movement to get your basic needs met; to hunt and gather, to take care of those around you, to build and maintain shelter.
In modern, first world countries, however, movement is now something we choose- or don’t choose. It’s something we do or don’t do, as part of a conscious exercise program that ranks in varying degrees of importance depending on our priorities and tendencies. For instance, I can literally never leave my house and have all of my survival needs met.
I can order food online. I can call people to mend my house if it needs it. I can chat to people on my phone. If I so choose, I can stay put in one room and be ok. I might not be happy, but all my most basic needs can be met.
So how does this relate to trauma? Well, it relates a whole lot. In fact, it’s fundamental. And for the record, I rarely, if ever, use the word trauma in my life and work anymore, but I do so here for the simple reason that it gives us a common playing field to work on, and for the sake of this discussion, that’s important.
If you are playing along with me at this point, I want you to start to consider all of your experiences in terms of patterns. If I have an experience that I might label or consider traumatic, I have now created a pattern related to that experience. This pattern can be a combination of both a physiological reflex (so a structural change and movement expression in my body) and a thought pattern and they can manifest in many different ways.
If we zoom out for a moment and consider the brain more generally, it is a storehouse for a huge number of movement and thought patterns. The ones that we practice the most are our dominant patterns. A pattern becomes dominant if it goes unchallenged. Challenge to a dominant pattern occurs via our senses, with the brain continuing to upload sensory data to ensure that what we are expressing and experiencing is a result of what actually happening, rather than something that happened in the past.
So let’s say something happens to me that really shakes the ground underneath me, something that I might label as trauma.
In the first example, I would not have the option to make my world smaller. Whether I liked it or not, I would have to be in life. I would have to move to get my food. I would more than likely have people to take care of. I would have to be in life. Because if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t survive.
As a consequence of being in life, I’m constantly uploading sensory data to my brain. I’m moving my body, expressing different patterns and creating new ones. The pattern around the trauma may still be there but it does not go unchallenged. And the more novel movement I do, the more engaged I am with other people, with activities, with my environment and with life, the more contextualized my trauma becomes. It sits in the content of the past rather than becoming an experience I constantly relive in the present.
Flip to the more “modern” option, and we have lives and upbringings where movement, play and exercise are often seen as luxury add ons when we have the energy for them. It’s a choice for adults, and for children these days, needs to be facilitated. Those for whom movement exists as a part of life and their everyday routine is in the shrinking minority.
So in this instance, if we have a situation where something happens to us that we experience and label as traumatic, from a physiological perspective, the pattern can easily go unchallenged. Our world gets smaller, we move less, do less, and the brain has limited opportunities to take in new information and create new patterns that provide buffering, understanding and context.
Instead of the trauma being part of our experience, we are now our trauma. It sits at the forefront of the brain in all its unchallenged glory occupying our thoughts and physiological expressions.
I write this not to minimize anyone’s experience but to highlight the reality of the essentialness of movement- and novel movement at that- in shifting experiences of trauma and creating a new reality; one that matches where you are now, not where you were previously.
We are creatures of movement. We move and shape our reality as we go.