Addressing Trauma with MELT
September 12, 2018
Traumatic events happen to everyone. And sometimes we take on trauma even when it’s not happening to us directly – you hear about another high school shooting, a drunk driving accident, or an attack that has killed people. You see it on social media now all the time: Getting others to engage in our feelings makes us feel less alone in the trauma that occurred – whether it actually happened to us, we witnessed it, or we just heard about it on the news. Our brain often doesn’t know the difference.
As humans, we manage trauma in basically two ways. You’re probably familiar with the state of hyperarousal – your brain races, you can’t fall asleep or stay asleep, and the incident replays in your mind and body long after it’s happened, which can disrupt your ability to focus. On the flip side is the state of hypoarousal – you feel numb and lethargic, like you’re checking out.
Our nervous system has an autonomic aspect that manages stress on every level. We are all equipped with a “fight, flight, or freeze” response that occurs without our voluntary awareness or control. In fact, we often don’t realize it’s happening or why we react the way we do. Often we’re unconsciously drawing on previous traumatic events we may even have forgotten about.
When I’m working with a client who has experienced trauma, I often find that their fight, flight, or freeze responses are a bit haywire. It’s as if their nervous system is on detection mode for a predator – in other words, they are ready to be attacked. These clients share their feeling of being hypersensitive to their environment. This often leads to them becoming unnecessarily defensive, argumentative, or verbally combative – or to being shut down, disappearing, hiding, or fleeing from social situations.
Trauma recovery and the vagus nerve
It’s important to understand what’s taking place on a neurological level after a trauma. The vagus nerve plays a primary role in helping people recover from trauma and return to a state of calm.
The vagus nerve is an important part of the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for calming organs after the initial adrenaline response to danger. The vagus nerve plays a vital role in sustaining overall wellness. It tells the brain what’s going on in our organs, most specially the digestive tract (stomach and intestines), lungs and heart, spleen, liver and kidneys. Some of us have stronger vagus activity, which means our bodies can return to normal faster after stress.
On a neurological level, our body’s first response occurs in the subcortical areas of the brain, and only after that, in the higher cortical regions where we use our conscious mind to interpret those responses and make conscious choices.
Trauma can be debilitating, but one of the most important things I try to teach my clients is that they can do something about it, even long after the traumatic event occurred. Even though their initial response to trauma was automatic, they can choose to make a conscious choice now. It’s understandable that people become dissociated from their ability to choose different actions after trauma. But you can help rewire your brain and alter your vagal tone by engaging your parasympathetic nervous system.
When I work with clients who have experienced trauma, I often find that the problem lies not in their sympathetic (stress) response being high, but that their parasympathetic (rest and repair) system is inhibited. When your rest-and-repair system is not functioning optimally, it can affect everything from digestion and metabolism to energy level and sleep. This is important because sleep is normally when your rest-and-repair system is dominant – allowing your body to recover and heal.
How MELT works to help heal trauma
The foundation of MELT is the Rebalance Sequence, which is designed to activate your parasympathetic nervous system and allow it to be dominant while you’re awake. This is why the Rebalance Sequence has such a global effect on all aspects of your body.
Whenever a client walks into my office who has experienced a trauma, the Rebalance Sequence is usually one of the first treatments I suggest.
A key technique in the Rebalance Sequence, called the 3D Breath Breakdown, focuses on inhalation. Although breathing is autonomic and involuntary, we can in fact consciously control it. In doing so, we intervene consciously in the sympathetic response. By slowing down and focusing on the direction of diaphragmatic motion, you alter the way the brainstem signals the diaphragm to contract as it does some 25,000 times a day when you breathe and don’t think about it.
Then we add another technique called the 3-D Breath, which activates the neurological core reflex on an exhale. This boosts the parasympathetic tone, improves overall stress regulation, and stimulates vagal tone.
Every time you breathe in, your heart beats faster in order to speed the flow of oxygenated blood around your body. Breathe out and your heart rate slows. Heart rate variability is one of many things regulated by the vagus nerve, which is active when you breathe out but suppressed when you breathe in, so the bigger your difference in heart rate when breathing in and out, the higher your vagal tone.
If you are healing from trauma, definitely try the Rebalance Sequence and see if you can create a change in how you feel in just 10 minutes. This is such a simple, powerful sequence. I recommend performing it daily for best results, either at the beginning or end of your day. You can access this video for free through a 7-day trial to MELT On Demand.
If you sense changes, I want you to take another step. I want you to go to meltmethod.com and click Find MELT Near You and reach out to one of our thousands of instructors and get help to set you into a upward spiral of positive change. Feel free to reach out to me and let me know how it’s going for you. I want to assist you on your journey of self-care and healing!