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Releasing Emotions in the Body, Rewiring the Brain

The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma, by Bessel van der Kolk

The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma, by Bessel van der KolkVan der Kolk’s masterful book, The Body Keeps the Score, charts the journey from talking and drug therapies to approaches such as yoga that help integrate trauma and take off the lacerating edge of painful memories. 

As Goethe concluded: “I am the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous.”

How we feel affects our perception of the world. If we wake each morning with gnawing anxiety in the pit of the stomach and struggle through the day with heaviness in the chest, the world will seem foreboding, events beyond our control and people untrustworthy. If on the other hand we feel strong and creative inside, the outside world will appear bright and safe and full of potential.

Bessel van der Kolk, a clinical psychiatrist who has spent three decades trying to understand how people recover from traumatic stress, views awareness as the first step toward healing in his book, The Body Keeps the Score:

“Neuroscience research shows that the only way we can change the way we feel is by becoming aware of our inner experience and learning to befriend what is going inside ourselves” (p. 206).

Van der Kolk’s masterful book, The Body Keeps the Score, charts the journey from often ineffectual talking and drug therapies to approaches, such as yoga, that help integrate trauma and take off the lacerating edge of painful memories.

Yoga is fundamentally about developing awareness or ‘mindfulness’, first of the body and the breath, and then of our thought processes, emotions and behaviours. Through developing self-awareness, we can access our feelings, observe them, and eventually release those that are frozen in the body.

As long as emotions are held in the body as muscle tension, they are ready to be triggered by sensory reminders of past trauma. Van der Kolk and his colleagues conducted research that showed that “ten weeks of yoga practice markedly reduced the PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) symptoms of patients who had failed to respond to any medication or to any other treatment” (p. 207). That is a powerful testament to the effectiveness of yoga in rewiring the brain and neutralising the negative emotions held in the body.

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