Thursday, November 23, 2017

Healing from trauma during the holiday season


   
  According to my professional and personal experiences, holidays tend to be difficult for many trauma survivors, and the season from Thanksgiving through Christmas is on the top of the blacklist. I remember certain stages in my own recovery, when mentioning of gratitude and forgiveness caused me to sarcastically laugh while experiencing pain and shame. Since then I have encountered multiple people, who felt very similarly.
     My invitation to you is to accept where you are at today. Whether you are cherishing every second or despising every moment or somewhere in between, it is OK to feel exactly the way you are feeling. Remember that your reactions are not fixed in time and they will be changing as you continue your healing journey.
     If this current holiday season is a struggle for you, I have a number of suggestions that could help soothe the pain. First and foremost, give yourself as much compassion as humanely possible and then… some more. Remind yourself and your parts OVER and OVER again that emotional and physical struggles are a normal part of any healing journey. Explain to your parts that even though you cannot take pain away, you can soothe it. Hand on the heart practice (see below) is an excellent compassion balm.
     Second, If you already practice listening to your parts from a compassionate place, then ask them how you can help. Validate what a part is telling you and then follow through on the request if possible. In the case that aforementioned practice is not a part of your repertoire yet, here are some specific suggestions of things to try:
1.     Hand on the heart technique. Put one of your hands on the heart area, focus on the sensation of touch, breathe light into your heart. Repeat soothing affirmations, such as “I know you are struggling right now. Its ok. I love you just the way you are”. If saying “I love you” is impossible in the moment substitute with God, pet, child, etc.

2.     Move your body in a caring way. Gentle yoga practice is ideal for that. For suggestions and videos of specific poses visit my YouTube channel:
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCpbWHr4qUZnwYPsDbnM9mcA
Such practices as Humming Bee breath and Forward Fold tend to be really calming for thenervous system. You only need to preform one of the practices 3-4 times a day to start receiving benefits (overall 5-7 min a day)

3.     Set healthy for you boundaries with family and friends. Remember that you can end any unpleasant situation or destructive conversation by a variety of different means, such as excusing yourself to go to the bathroom, shifting to a different topic, explicitly stating that you are not willing to engage in X way, and if nothing else works, simply leaving the situation.

4.     Schedule some personal time daily, when you do ONLY what you want in the moment. Give yourself different tools and options, such as paper and markers, calming music, good book,
                                               a bath with essential oils, etc 

5.  Forgive yourself at least once a day and if needed multiple times a day. Regular forgiveness practice is a must during difficult times. A simple 3 min visualization of love and light that your Higher Self is sending into your heart is a good start.

6. Seek support from the trusted others. Before you leave for the holidays or host family at your home, discuss ways to stay connected via text, email, or phone with one or two close friends. Exchanging even one word or emoji when you feel upset or out of sorts can give you enough resource to do what needs to be done.
7.   Prepare a plan B and if needed a plan C. If you are traveling for the holidays, think of the alternative places to stay, people to see, dates and ways of getting back. Always have an exit out of a potentially unpleasant environment planned. Flying by the seat of your pants, when you are going in the situation that has been dysfunctional in the past is NOT a good plan, even if you think everyone has changed since. Also, just a gentle reminder that when we are going into an environment in which we have felt  traumatized before, it is very easy to freeze and blank out. This is why it is important to have the plan B spelled out, written down in a place that you have access to, and rehearsed a few times with a trusted friend.

Have a joyful and healthy holiday season!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

NERVOUS SYSTEM, BRAIN, and TRAUMA. Part 1: Autonomic Nervous System and trauma



NERVOUS SYSTEM, BRAIN, and TRAUMA series. Introduction
     In this series, I will briefly describe impact of complex trauma on nervous system and brain of a trauma survivor and offer tools for re-wiring survivor’s brain & nervous system. These tools are to be used on the regular basis, meaning several times a day, every day, as you are working on a particular issue that you have identified as your target. Stay on one target for 40+ days to see noticeable and sustainable results. According to Linda Graham, in order to utilize amazing ability of our neurons to rewire, we need to use a particular activity we have chosen for that goal in brief frequent bursts: 30sec-2 min 4-8 x day for 4-6 weeks.
Part 1: Autonomic Nervous System & trauma
     Our autonomic nervous system consists of 2 major branches: sympathetic & parasympathetic. They work together to create an optimal level of arousal so that we can be present in the moment and respond to the ongoing stressors and life events in adequate ways, meaning smart and sensible. When one of the branches is dominating in the moment, our functioning is not optimal.
     Survivors’ autonomic nervous system is often dysregulated with either sympathetic or parasympathetic branch dominating or domination changing from moment to moment. When sympathetic branch is dominating survivors experience HYPERAROUSAL, which may manifest in anxiety, anger, restlessness, insomnia, nightmares, and re-experiencing of trauma. If you are one of those folks, who tend to get stuck in the hyperarousal zone, the following yogic practices can be helpful to you:
·         Humming bee breath - https://youtu.be/qZ5w1Dt4OLA - this is a good technique to practice when you first notice signs of increasing anxiety; can be used at any time during the day, including before bedtime
·         Forward Fold with visualization - https://youtu.be/cdALBzr8M0U - this is a great pose to help with release of worries, obsessive thoughts, and any “mental junk”
·         Legs up the wall – this is an excellent pose for insomnia, for evening fatigue, as well as both anxiety and depression. I suggest that once you get into the pose you use either guided calming visualization or mantra. In yogic tradition, mantra is a word or combination of syllables that is repeated over and over again as a way to focus one’s mind and go deeper into meditative state. For trauma survivors, it is important to focus their mind deliberately on a chosen word to prevent being flooded by negative feelings and memories. Some options for mantras may be: compassion, love, healing, calm, letting go, and so forth. If you would rather focus on something that does not have any meaning to you, try om.
     When survivors’ autonomic nervous system is dysregulated in the opposite direction and an unmylienated branch of the vagus nerve is dominating, then they experience a state of  HYPOAROUSAL. This state might manifest in slowing down of cognitive processes, feeling overwhelmed, being disconnected from one’s own body or feelings, experiencing fatigue, and at its extreme completely shutting down. Being stuck in hypoarousal for a long period of time is often associated with depression. If this is a concern for you, then one of the following yogic practices may be helpful:
·         Dynamic bridge – video is coming soon – this is
an excellent pose for increasing the strength of the
mylienated vagus nerve and regulating thyroid,
both of which are implicated in depression.
Attached picture shows you the final pose that you will be holding for 5-10 breaths. Before you come into that final expression of the bridge pose, you
will move in out of it a few times. Starting on your back with your knees bent and both of your feet on the floor (closish to your sitting bones). As you inhale, bring your navel and your sitting bones up towards the ceiling while at the same time rising your arms over your head and placing them on the floor behind your head. As you exhale, bring your sitting bones and your back to the floor while at the same time moving your arms to your sides. Keep moving with your own breathing pace and complete 5-7 repetitions. After that come into the bridge pose and hold it for 5-10 breaths.
·         Breath of joy – video is coming soon – this is an excellent pose to be performed the first thing in the morning and in the afternoon when you hit a low energy point. Please, do not practice this pose in the evening. Also, proceed with caution if you are prone to high levels of anxiety. Try it in slow motion first and pay attention throughout each practice to any developing signs of agitation or nervousness. If any are noticed, stop this pose and do something else. Starting in the Mountain pose with your feet parallel to each other, spine straight and long, as if you are suspended from the ceiling by the crown of your head, generously bend you knees and bring your torso slightly forward, letting arms freely hang by your sides. You will inhale in 3 parts and exhale in a brief and forceful way. Inhaling 1/3 of your lung capacity, bring your arms in front of you, parallel to each other and straighten your legs a bit. Inhaling another 1/3 of your lung capacity, bring your arms out to the sides creating a T-shape, while straightening your legs and torso a bit more. Inhaling to the full lung capacity, stretch up towards the ceiling with arms up and over your head. Now, exhale in one brief motion of your arms going towards the floor,  your torso bending forward, and your knees bending with a sound “ha” (saying it aloud). Repeat 5-7 times increasing speed of the movement. This pose takes a bit of learning and practicing. But once you get it, you will be able to enjoy full benefits of this powerful pose, which include instantly improved mood and increased level of energy.




 
Happy practicing! To be continued.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Yoga for healing of trauma.

What does yoga have to do with healing from trauma? Actually, a lot, according to both ancient texts and contemporary research.
     Yoga is an ancient holistic practice that originated in India more than 4,000 years ago. It includes ethics, meditation, breathing techniques, movement, diet and other approaches for keeping body healthy and mind sane to help the seeker achieve spiritual enlightenment. In our days in the West, yoga mostly covers physical exercises, some breathing techniques and some meditation. Many people think of the folks practicing yoga as “flexible pretzels” and feel intimidated by the idea of a class. But yoga class does not have to be scary or challenging. There are many types of yoga, such as subtle, gentle, restorative, or yin that people with any fitness level can practice.
     Trauma affects individuals on all levels: physical, emotional, spiritual, and social. It also has profound effects on the functioning and even structure of our brains. According to a number of researchers (Ogden et al., 2006; van der Kolk, 2006), during traumatic events our cortex and frontal lobes get overloaded and shut down, while brain stem and amygdala carry on and get hyperactivated, which results in person’s inability to process trauma verbally and cognitively, as well as increased arousal and anxiety. Talk therapy, which is often used, to address consequences of trauma has pretty serious limitations given aforementioned effects of trauma on brain. However, yoga, which is a holistic approach, has an ability to effect change on the level of brain stem, amygdala, and autonomous nervous system. Research shows that regular practice of yoga leads to decrease in anxiety, improved mood, increased ability to self-regulate, and restoration of biological rhythms (Brown & Gerbarg, 2009; Spinazzola et al., 2011). Moreover, according to the researchers from Boston Trauma Center, 8-12 weeks of regular yoga practice led to significant reduction in PTSD symptoms in different trauma populations, including adult women with sexual trauma which was treatment resistant and veterans with war trauma.
     In my own experience of using yoga in the group treatment of trauma survivors, the regular practice is associated with increased sense of safety, ability to change state from depressed and anxious to more joyful and calm, enjoyment of being in one’s own body, and decreased level of anxiety and stress.
     There are many ways to start and develop your own yoga practice. Attending yoga classes is the easiest way to go. However, if you don’t have a yoga studio or GYM with yoga classes, you may want to purchase a yoga DVD. Below are some of the places and items that I recommend. Of course, you are welcome to do your own research. There are a lot of options available in our days.

     If you live in Knoxville, TN or surrounding area, check out my therapeutic yoga class specifically developed for trauma survivors:  at http://www.dr-irina.com/Yogaclasses.en.html. They are open to any level of ability and include specific techniques for regulating functioning of the autonomic nervous system and brain.
. There is a wonderful yoga studio, Glowing Body, in the Old City with multiple yoga classes every day of the week: http://www.glowingbody.net/. Blue Ridge Yoga offers great quality yoga in Farragut area: http://blueridgeyogatn.com.  . If you live outside of Knoxville area, check out yoga journal directory for teachers & studios in your area: http://www.yogajournal.com/directory/.
     Here are some of the good yoga DVDs:
     If you think that you cannot practice yoga, I suggest you watch the following video for inspiration and motivation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bIXOo8D9Qsc – Arthur’s Transformation – Never give up. It features a man with both physical and psychological trauma, who used a power of yoga to help himself heal.

 AS always, interested in your comments and questions.
Namaste: Light in me recognizes and honors Light in you, and within this Light we are one.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Dealing with post election emotions and concerns



     Now that the next president has been elected, you may be left with all kinds of concerns and fears around it. I personally am concerned. I am concerned for myself as a female and an immigrant, for my family, and for multiple friends, clients, colleagues and just people, who do not fit into the category of the white straight able-bodied and wealthy enough male. So, if you have concerns and fears, please, know that you are not alone. And, keep reading further.
     I do not have any political solutions in mind. However, I would like to offer a few thoughts on coping with post-election distress. First of all, it is important to acknowledge and validate your feelings. No matter what they are or how different they are from those experienced by others, you have the right to feel the way you do. I have been reading and hearing a lot form the folks that voted for the president-elect that I and others, who are upset need to get over it, accept the results, and stop being angry. I DO NOT believe this rhetoric, and I do not think that it is healthy to suppress your feelings and “move on”. Instead, I encourage you to express your feelings and your thoughts in healthy ways.
     So, the second suggestion that I have is to search for and find ways to express your feelings and moreover, use energy of your distress in a meaningful and constructive way. You may ask how do I do this? The options are limitless. Here are just a few ideas. Writing about your feelings or expressing them in any kind of creative format may help further understand and process your reactions.  It often helps to talk to the SUPPORTIVE and SAFE others about your feelings and concerns. Many people told me that since November 8 they have not been sure who is safe and who is supportive.
I understand that. Here are some ways to identify safe and supportive people in your life: 1) read their social media posts since election and notice if there is a rhetoric of inclusiveness, support for minorities, and desire to advocate for oppressed and less fortunate; if the answer is yes, they are probably safe; 2) look for people wearing safety pins; #safetypin action has taken off around the country; if you see a person wearing a safety pin, ask them what it is about. I myself am wearing a safety pin. By doing this I have committed to support and advocate for minorities anywhere I go and to stand against discrimination and bigotry. I will continue to hold safe space for you in our work together, as I have been doing prior to the elections. You can bring ANY issues and concerns to my office, and I promise to not only suspend my judgment and listen, as I always have, but also to advocate for you and help you find safe places in your life.
     If you would like to put energy of your anger, disgust, fear, distress and so forth to good use, look for different social causes and movements that make sense to you. Since November 8, multiple campaigns and movements have started organizing. For example, there is all-inclusive “Women’s March on DC” being organized and planned in every corner of the country right now. It is scheduled for January 21, 2017, the day after president-elect’s inauguration. You can join your local chapter and work with like-minded others and/or march in DC or locally in support of the human rights and advocating for the minority groups. There is “Love Trumps Hate” and “Let Love Conquer”.  I have seen people donating in the names of president-elect and vice-president-elect to all kinds of organizations and groups that have been ostracized during election season. Here is a list of different organizations representing and fighting for marginalized groups:
You may choose to be-friend others from particularly vulnerable minority groups, such as people of Muslim faith or LGBTQ individuals.
     Third, during times like this self-care is even more important. So, remember to be nice to yourself by soothing your worried and young parts by things like positive loving affirmations, essential aroma oils of lavender  and sweet orange, being in nature, listening to calming music, hugs from self and others, and LOTS OF SELF-COMPASSION. Also, take good care of your body through good night sleep, walking, exercising, eating healthy food and drinking lots of water.
     Finally, being with SUPPORTIVE OTHERS and finding a community you feel safe with is as important as ever. No one can do it alone. If none of your friends or family members can understand and appreciate your concerns, join Love Trumps Hate group on facebook, come to one of their local events, and connect to those who are willing to listen and understand. WE ARE HERE FOR YOU.
With lots of love and compassion