Rosen Method Bodywork: Body Awareness and Trauma

Written by Cinnamon Cranston, published in Mosaic Magazine, Alberta, Canada, May 1st, 2015.

RMB is a type of somatic bodywork that helps people to access and integrate long forgotten or unconscious physical/emotional holding patterns through body awareness. What do I mean by body awareness? Body Awareness is a person’s sense of awareness within their bodies via the afferent neuropathways of their nervous system; or in other words, a person’s felt experience of themselves. Most people are under the impression that they have access to their entire body’s awareness when in reality they have access to varying degrees of awareness in various places within their bodies. In fact, there can be many places within a person’s body that are unknown to them; muscles can be working in excess without a person realizing it until eventually the body’s chronic tension, pain or stress become a bigger health problem. How does this happen and why?

When a person experiences a state of intense stress (emotional and/or physical) and the fight/flight/freeze/play dead nervous system response is triggered, the brain sends signals out all over the body in an effort to create the best survival actions necessary for the situation. Muscles tighten or collapse; breath quickens or freezes becoming very shallow. Our bodies prepare stances that can change within seconds if needed. This is a normal function of survival and it happens to all people throughout their lifetime with varying frequency and intensity depending on their life circumstance. In this way trauma is a part of everyday life. A healthy way to recover from trauma is to reconnect with other people through emotional support (verbal) and the comfort of empathetic, loving touch (non-manipulative) such as hand holding or having an arm around your shoulder. It is important that the person who is providing comfort is doing so in a way that is calming and asks nothing of the traumatized person.

When a person does not receive this kind of support after a trauma response has been activated and is left on their own to cope with their experience, their body remains longer in it’s survival state. If left for a prolonged period of time the body takes on the survival stance, as it’s familiar everyday way of being in the world. Muscles do not let go of their tension but instead hold on in an effort to support the survival stance. Stances can be experienced as being tough or defiant, being vigilant or hyper-alert, pleasing or invisible all as an effort to avoid danger and survive. Eventually over time the person loses the awareness of those parts of their bodies that are working hard to keep up the survival stance and the afferent neuropathways shut down, meaning we literally loose awareness of certain places in our bodies. Why does this happen?

In short, our bodies are wired (via our nervous system) for connection. Our bodies, when in close proximity, literally talk to each other without language via the nervous system. We learn to self-regulate within our own bodies through co-regulation with another body/person. This begins in infancy when as babies we are held by our mothers or other loving caregiver. Self-regulation is our body’s ability to know what our needs are and to then take the necessary action required to make sure our needs get met, maintaining a state of balance. Those needs can be physical, emotional, mental or spiritual or some combination of all of those. When we do not receive co-regulation with another person through empathetic touch and emotional support after an intensely stressful experience (trauma) then our capacity to self-regulate lessons and our bodies maintain the survival stance we needed at the time. For more information on this research please see Dr. Alan Fogel’s book, “The Psychophysiology of Self Awareness: Rediscovering the Lost Art of Body Sense”. Dr. Alan Fogel is a RMB practitioner and teacher as well as a professor of developmental psychology.

Along with the forgotten survival stance(s) in the body are the emotions and sensations connected to the original experience that were not properly integrated. Pieces of the person (physical/mental/emotional) remain hidden from their awareness waiting to be rediscovered and resolved. Rosen Method Bodywork helps to address this problem within people. By using a non-manipulative, present touch, by tracking the nervous system via the breath in the body and using words, which speak to the response in the body, RMB helps people to access awareness of parts of themselves long forgotten. Integration happens as a result of becoming aware of the holding pattern and any emotion that may be connected to it while receiving the supportive and safe touch of another person specifically trained to work in this way. In other words the person has the opportunity to connect with their past experience and not be alone in it creating the possibility for integration of the experience both physically and emotionally. Occasionally a larger emotional issue will be uncovered and psychotherapy may be recommended for further processing support. Obviously, Rosen Method Bodywork practitioners are not therapists however RMB does work well in conjunction with psychotherapy assisting with the integration and healing of body, mind and spirit for people who have not received the support they needed to recover from their trauma experiences.


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