Welcome to Transforming Trauma:
An Introduction to Your Healing Journey
Trauma – injury to the mind, body, spirit – comes to us all.
Our initial responses to trauma are healthy and designed to preserve us. First, we seek out connection and comfort; we call and look for help. When safety and reassurance are unavailable, we experience the fight- or- flight response. When fight or flight and the stress response can’t deal with an overwhelming and inescapable threat, a last- ditch survival mechanism, the “freeze” response, takes over.
Fight-or-flight is a life-saving response. When prolonged, however, we become agitated and hyper-vigilant; we feel powerless, grow angry with little or no provocation; we cannot concentrate or relax into a sleep that may be filled with nightmares of what we’ve suffered or might again undergo. When we freeze, our body collapses or grows rigid, and our emotional numbness may make us pull away from those to whom we’ve been close. We’re unable to find relief by sharing our pain with them.
The video modules here, and the comprehensive program in pages of Transforming Trauma: The Path to Hope and Healing, directly address trauma- induced biological damage and its psychological consequences. The techniques you’ll learn are the antidotes to the fight- or- flight, stress, and freeze responses. They reestablish broken brain connections and promote the healthy integration of thoughts and feelings. They revive functions that have been compromised – memory, focus, self- awareness, judgment, emotional intelligence, and compassion. They will free you from the loop of hopeless, self- defeating thoughts that bind you to trauma.
The Transformation will help you discover hidden resources of physical and mental energy and hope, as well as your capacity to imagine and make use of perspectives and solutions that may have previously been unthinkable. You may also discover the treasure of meaning and purpose, and a love for others and yourself that will warm and brighten all the moments of your life.
CMBM: What and Who is The Center for Mind-Body Medicine?
The Center for Mind-Body Medicine (CMBM) was founded in 1991 by James S. Gordon, M.D., a Harvard-educated professor of psychiatry and family medicine at Georgetown University Medical School and former chairman of the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy, under Presidents Clinton and G.W. Bush.
In the 29 years since then, CMBM has become a worldwide leader in making self-care, group support, and community-building central to trauma-relief and stress management, to the training of health professionals, and to the education of children.
CMBM has focused on providing innovative solutions to some of the world’s most intractable and complex psychological and physical problems.
CMBM’s international faculty of 130 experts have trained over 6,000 health professionals, educators, and community leaders in our pioneering mind-body medicine model of self-care, self-awareness, and group support; they in turn integrate our model into the institutions in which they work, and the communities in which they live, benefiting millions of children and adults.
Meditation: Creating Relaxed, Moment to Moment Awareness: Shaking and Dancing
Meditation is fundamental to The Transformation. It is the antidote to trauma.
Soft Belly, a “concentrative meditation,” quiets the stress response, making it easier for us to accept and put our emotions in perspective. It enhances activity in the hippocampus and frontal cortex, which allow us to gain perspective on our emotions, to integrate them more easily with our memories and our ongoing experience. When our brain function is restored by Soft Belly, we are able, little by little, to quiet the flood of painful memories and fearful anticipation. We react less and respond more.
Shaking and Dancing, an “expressive meditation,” uses intense, disruptive effort and free movement to help us shed stress and tension and bring up and release emotion. Shaking and Dancing uses activity to bring us to a place of relaxation, balance, and acceptance that is similar to the one we find when we do Soft Belly.
Both meditations help us discover that emotions, even those that seem overwhelming, really do come and go.
Drawings: Mobilizing Our Imagination
This experiment with drawings builds on the relaxed awareness that concentrative meditations – like Soft Belly – help to cultivate. Drawings are one of the simplest, most reliable ways to bypass the fears that arise from our amygdala and the hope- limiting doubts of our “rational” left hemisphere. They give us immediate access to the right brain’s intuitive wisdom.
Drawings are easy for everyone to do and are a safe, playful way to express and share what’s going on inside us. Drawings invoke our imagination, our intuition, and empower them to play a creative, guiding role in our life. As you do them, you’ll see what’s possible, that even when you may feel empty of ideas or in despair, you have the capacity to imagine change.
In this module, we’ll do three Drawings. All you need is three sheets of blank paper—81 / 2″ by 11″ is fine— and crayons or magic markers.
Guided Imagery: Accessing Our Inner Knowing
Imagery is the language of our unconscious mind. When we create mental images, the areas of our brain associated with that sense light up with activity, just as if we were actually seeing, feeling, tasting, hearing, or smelling something in the outside world.
The brain centers where images are formed are intimately connected with the limbic or emotional brain, which includes the amygdala and hippocampus, and with the hypothalamus, which controls the autonomic nervous system and its fight- or- flight and freeze responses, as well as the endocrine and immune systems. These connections make possible imagery’s remarkable power to improve physical and mental functioning, reverse the damage done by trauma, and help us chart a path to ongoing healing and happiness.
Imagery reawakens right-brain activity that trauma has turned down or off, and allows us to use our imagination to become aware of concerns that had eluded our conscious mind, and to solve problems that had resisted purely rational thought.
In this module, we’ll do two experiments with imagery. This first experiment with imagery (Lemon Imagery) will give you a direct experience of how images can affect your autonomic nervous system and, through this, your physiological functioning. Lemon Imagery is a good place to start if you’re new to Guided Imagery: it gets you comfortable with using imagery and gives you an immediate felt sense of imagery’s power.
The next experiment is with Safe Place and Wise Guide imagery.
Safe Place imagery can be particularly important in giving you relief when troubling memories are surfacing, when you’re facing an experience that evokes previous trauma, or when you’re just living through a stressful time. When you create a Safe Place, you draw on happy memories— or the imagined end of distress— to create a place and a feeling of calm and peace.
Once you’ve cultivated a sense of calm and peace in your Safe Place, you’re ready to meet your Wise Guide to access your intuitive wisdom.
For aboriginal healers, the Wise Guide’s words are a communication from the Spirit World. Some people are sure, when they meet their Guides, that they are contacting a Higher Power. Most scientific researchers believe the Wise Guide is an Inner Guide, a manifestation of our own unconscious wisdom, the creative right hemisphere of our brain, our intuition.
Set aside twenty or thirty minutes for visiting your Safe Place and meeting your Wise Guide.
Dialogue with a Symptom: Writing Spontaneously to Understand and Resolve Problems
Dialogue with a Symptom, Problem, or Issue— pain in your head or back, rapid heart rate, conflict with a partner, indecision about a career choice, anxiety about coronavirus — is a rapid dialogue, written back- and- forth with questions from you and answers from your Symptom, Problem, or Issue.
Here, you will mobilize your intuition to guide you to the answers you need. Often the advice you’ll receive through your dialogue is practical— steps you’ve thought of but resisted taking. And sometimes, a simple physical symptom can offer subtle psychological understanding and spiritual guidance.
All you’ll need for your Dialogue is a pen or pencil and several pieces of paper.
Mindful Eating: Traveling the Royal Road to a Healthy and Delicious Diet
Mindful Eating is a “mindfulness meditation” designed to bring relaxed, moment to moment awareness into every aspect of eating.
The focus and appreciation that accompany mindfulness will enhance your pleasure in food, your thoughtfulness about which foods to eat and how much of them you really want. Eating mindfully will maximize the nutritional value of the foods you eat. Over time, it will exert a positive influence on your choice of foods and on the way you combine and prepare them.
Mindful eating also opens the door to bringing mindfulness into every activity in our lives.
You’ll need fifteen minutes for this experiment in mindfulness.
Body Scan: Embracing the Wisdom that Lives Inside of Us
Body Scans focus relaxed attention on the various regions of our body.
The inner journey we’re going to take in this experiment begins with the awareness and relaxation of a Body Scan. It then guides us into a deeper, shamanic territory that includes active exploration, inquiry, and dialogue with the parts of our body to which our intuition guides us. This inner journey may bring you surprising, trauma-healing, life-changing discoveries.
Give yourself twenty to thirty minutes for this experiment. You may want to give yourself some extra time after the experiment to think about what you’ve learned, and record it in your Journal.
Self-Care Skills Plan: Putting it All Together
You’ve begun walking on the path of Transformation, of becoming who you’re meant to be.
The techniques you’ve worked with in these modules provide some of the foundation for this healing journey. You can combine them in ways that feel right for you. Generally, I suggest that you begin by regularly – ideally, daily – doing both Soft-Belly Breathing (or Safe Place Imagery) and Shaking and Dancing. When challenges or concerns arise – for example, anxiety about the coronavirus or a relationship, or concerns about a physical symptom – you can use the imaginative techniques like the Drawings, Wise Guide imagery, and the Body Scan to explore these concerns and find ways to meet, learn from, and resolve the challenges they present.
What you’ve learned so far is, however, just the beginning. The approach you’ll find in the pages of The Transformation: Discovering Wholeness and Healing After Trauma is comprehensive. It includes the techniques you’ve learned, amplifies and builds on them, and teaches you how to bring them together in an individualized, life-changing, life-enhancing, life-long, daily practice.
In addition to what you’ve learned so far, there are evidence-based chapters that explore how other forms of exercise and movement can melt trauma-frozen bodies; how we can use biofeedback and autogenic training to achieve significant control over our physiology; and how the wise choice of foods and supplements can resolve psychological trauma and promote lifelong wellbeing.
There are chapters as well on accessing the healing power of nature, and of animals; encouragement to reach out to others – family and friends – who can accompany and guide us on our trauma-healing journey; and practical techniques for mobilizing and enhancing our capacity for gratitude, forgiveness, and love.
In Transforming Trauma, you’ll meet people just like you, as well as others from around the world who’ve endured wars and climate-related disasters, who have discovered previously unimagined possibilities for healing, women, men, and children who are becoming the people they’re meant to be.
You can meet some of these people, and many others who are integrating The Transformation into their lives in our in-person and online mind-body skills groups, and in the trainings that we offer each year. I invite you to join us.