Trauma Fatigue: Responding to Stress During Difficult Times

Trauma Fatigue

We have entered a time in history when traumatic occurrences are happening so frequently, there is hardly time to process one event before another is shoved into view. After the world revolted to protest the death of George Floyd and support Black Lives Matter, more lives continue to be threatened by human ignorance and brutality. Observing the current political climate is painful and for many of us, intolerable. And over the last month, and ahead of a fire season that no longer exists, the West has seen unprecedented destruction due to climate change-driven wildfires, with over two and a half million acres already destroyed. On top of all of this, a global pandemic continues to affect the health and economic strength of the world, and leaders in science and medicine are continually vilified in order to fulfill political agendas. 

Although violence and destruction are part of the human experience, traumatic occurrences are pummeling humanity like a persistent over-head swell. We are not wired to repeatedly experience trauma and function efficiently, therefore there has never been a more important time to tend to our emotional shores. I realize the word trauma carries a lot of charge and is relative to the experience of the individual. So for the sake of this article, I will place trauma into three categories: Big-T trauma, little-t trauma, and debilitating external stimuli, all of which may affect an individual’s equilibrium by limiting functioning and blocking much-needed relational connection and healing.

The current influx of environmental and social destruction is affecting the global psyche and for many of us, it is becoming increasingly difficult to see the forest from the burned trees. Tending to our emotional shores means committing to staying present in the moment, sensing tension in the body, and nurturing awareness practices that honor our precious time here on earth. When we pay greater attention to our inner structure of defense and protection (fight/flight/freeze response), we become more capable of reacting to the world in a way that is beneficial to well-being. Constantly panicking about the world, feeding fear, and consuming excess media leads to a dysregulated nervous system. Choosing to operate in this manner is not helping you, nor anyone else stay healthy. We all go there at times because we are mammals wired to defend ourselves. It is important to have compassion for the part of the brain that is conditioned to anticipate predation, real or imagined. That being said, committing to daily practices that regulate the nervous system supports health by reducing cortisol and promoting healthy immune-response in the body. The more we become aware of how thoughts, feelings, and body sensations negatively affect us, the better armed we become to attenuate negative response patterns driven by fear and anxiety. When you are confronted with an internal or external crisis and feel unable to utilize supportive resources, think about your patterns of defense and how to work with them. 

Withdrawal

Withdrawal, also know as the “freeze” response, is a primitive defense function deeply wired in the brain to increase the likelihood of survival. When the system becomes flooded with negative information and uncomfortable feelings or emotions, many people unconsciously enter a state of physical or emotional immobility. We distance ourselves from the input we are unable to tolerate and in doing so, also distance ourselves from good feelings and experiences that are there to support and regulate us. The body may feel closed off, and interpersonal connection becomes limited or nonexistent. In this peculiar era of social distancing, it is important to pay attention to the part of ourselves that wants to shut down and tune out, especially since social contact is already limited.

The first step in healing patterns of withdrawal is noticing your behavior. 

When you feel sad, angry, or frustrated, do you shut down? Do you limit social contact and go quiet instead of reaching out to a friend or family member? Do you turn to substances to numb the pain? How does your mood change? Do you stop engaging in activities you would otherwise enjoy? Do you stop exercising or move less? If so, you are most likely attempting to protect yourself, yet are doing so in a way that may be disconnecting you from the healing your body, mind, and spirit so desperately needs for balance. 

When you withdraw, do you feel disconnected from your body? How does the breath feel? Is it shallow, tight, heavy, or barely there? Is there less sensation in your legs and feet and more in the upper centers of the body? Is there no sensation at all? It is through the recognition of darkness that we are able to look towards the light and disarm unhealthy patters of avoidance, somatic tension, and withdrawal. If you tend to withdraw when you feel compromised, do what you can to feel more embodied and connected to your thoughts and feelings.  After conducting extensive research on interpersonal neurobiology, contemporary psychiatrist Dan Siegel M.D. coined the phrase, “If you can name it, you can tame it”. By naming our experiences, we acknowledge what is happening in the here and now and become more able to reclaim a sense of self and belonging. By naming our experiences, we acknowledge what is happening in the here and now and become more able to reclaim a sense of self and belonging. 

When practicing somatic (body) awareness, individuals who withdraw or freeze often say things like: 

“I feel numb”

or,

“I am having difficulty identifying sensation”

“I feel like I am floating upward”

“I feel walled up”

What does walled up feel like? 

“…it feels dull, dense, and cold”

 

Anxiety (Fight or Flight)

When the system becomes flooded with negative input and uncomfortable feelings or emotions, many people enter a state of moderate to extreme anxiety. This response is often associated with what is known as the “fight or flight” response, instigated by the sympathetic nervous system branch, and frequently associated with states of heightened anxiety. Similar to an immobility response (withdrawal/freeze), this defense mechanism is neurologically wired in the primitive part of the brain, and was designed to help mammals move away from, or fight their adversaries. As the nervous system becomes flooded, it feels natural for people experiencing a fight or flight response to react to stimuli, rather than withdraw from it, although sometimes there is a fluctuation between all three response patterns. When the flight or flight response is in full-swing, it can feel as though we are being carried away by an internal storm that crashes over everything and everyone in its hyper-aroused path. Although what we desperately need is these moments is regulation and support, what we exhibit often ends up pushing away connection, therefore sabotaging the likelihood that deeply vulnerable needs get met. 

In this era of heightened arousal and anxiety, the first step in easing symptoms is acknowledging them. 

When naming the sensation, thought, or feeling, we are better able to disarm unhealthy patterns of reactivity, anger, and anxiety. From this place, it becomes more feasible to seek support, develop coping skills, and start moving towards connection.

If you struggle with symptoms of stress and anxiety, try slowing down and checking in with yourself. How many hours, days, or weeks have you been aware of the symptoms? Do you react quickly rather than pause, and take a few mindful breaths? Do you feel unsafe in your environment even when there is no tangible threat? Do you feel distrustful of others or demand that they listen to you? Where does anxiety manifest in your body? How would you describe it? Do something every day to get in touch with these feelings. 

 

Common things said by individuals who feel anxious or are operating from a fight or flight response:

 

“My shoulders and back feel tense and tight”

“I feel like something is pinching my chest”

“My mind won’t stop racing”

“It feels like there is a ball bouncing around in my head” 

“It feels like there are butterflies under my skin”

“I want to escape”

“I don’t feel safe” 

What makes you not feel safe? 

“…I feel like walls are closing in on me”

 

Few humans become nervous system-regulating Jedis by practicing stress reduction occasionally. Take time each day for either self-care or somatic (body-centered) awareness. It is a practice that needs to be cultivated. Your nervous system and loved ones will thank you. 

Quick and powerful breath practice: Antara Kumbhaka

Antara Kumbhaka aids relaxation, decreases stress, improves concentration, and increases physical and mental energy.

  • Set a timer for 5-10 minutes
  • Inhale through your nose
  • Hold your breath for a few seconds (or more)  
  • Exhale slowly through your nose (a bit longer than your inhale)

Although these are challenging times, we have an abundance of resources at our finger tips. You owe it to yourself and your cause to continue taking loving care of yourself and others. 

Self-care ideas: Exercise, nature exploration, camping, meditation, getting more sleep, calling a friend, gardening, yoga, writing, cooking, creating or listening to music, being of service, activism, reading, sitting with feelings, reducing media consumption, learning something new, podcasts, educational videos, hot baths, sunshine, crying, resting.

Romi Cumes LMFT, CMT is a leading professional in somatic psychotherapy, intuitive healing, bodywork, and yoga. She has been passionate about healing work for over twenty years and created Transformative Healing Arts in 2005. Her private practice is located in Santa Barbara, California.

The Neurobiology of Mindfulness

Cultivating Interpersonal Attunement through Sensory Awareness & Mindfulness Practice: The Neurobiology of Intimate Relationships

Abstract

Current research shows that individuals who practice mindfulness meditation on a consistent basis improve their quality of life through the cultivation of inner attunement, loving kindness, and empathy (Seigel, 2007).  The benefits of meditation are not dependent on religious belief systems alone, and research supports the viability of myriad approaches (2007).  Emotional dysregulation plays a significant role in interpersonal discrepancies experienced between two people in an intimate partnership.  Current neuroscience has revealed that mindfulness-based meditation practices are able to effectively regulate mood disturbances due to significant neurological pathway alterations in the brain (Hanson, 2009).   This paper posits that neurobiological changes induced by mindfulness meditation are beneficial, and support individuals to sustain healthy, romantic relationships.  Inner attunement will be observed as a barometer for interpersonal success.  Emotional regulation, communication, receptivity, attention, empathic awareness, and proprioception will be examined through the somatic lens of mind/body holism, in order to illuminate how mindfulness practice is a gateway for interpersonal health and longevity.

Key Words: Mindfulness, Meditation, Sensory Awareness, Inner Attunement, Empathy, Attention, Relationships, Neurobiology, Mirror Neurons, Emotional Regulation

 

Cultivating Interpersonal Attunement through Sensory Awareness & Mindfulness: The Neurobiology of Intimate Relationships

For thousands of years, human beings have struggled to maintain stable intimate relationships.   Emotional dysregulation plays a significant role in how people interact in an adult partnership.  Relational dynamics can evoke a wellspring of neurobiological responses that inhibit inner and outer attunement.  According to Siegle, an individual’s inner attunement is defined as the ability to be mindfully centered, with integrated left and right brain hemispheres (2007).  Interpersonal attunement relates to a felt sense of empathy for another person, as well as an experience of “coherence”    (2007, p. 164).  When human beings experience coherence, they feel more connected, harmonious, receptive, compassionate, and empathic (2007).  Mankind has not yet discovered a universal panacea to heal all relational challenges, however we have fostered ancient esoteric methodologies to support health and wellbeing.   Neuroscience supports the hypothesis that individuals who meditate are able to effectively regulate mood disturbances by way of neuropathy modulation (Hanson, 2009).  According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, the operational working definition of mindfulness is, “The awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment” (2003, p. 145).

The roots of meditation can be traced back to many cultures, and most world religions adopt the belief that it is important for human beings to stay present in the moment (Siegle, 2007).  Meditation is interconnected with the religious context within which it is practiced.  Written records of meditation date back to 1500 BC in Hindu Vedantism, and it is believed that from 500-600 BC, Taoists in China and Buddhists in India began to develop culture-specific practices (Hanson, 2009).  Although meditation is often associated with a religious orientation, mindfulness-based skills can be taught outside of any particular group affiliation (2007).

 

Mind/Body Holism

In the 1950’s and 1960’s, perspectives began to evolve in psychotherapeutic and holistic communities (Benz & Weiss, 1989).  The somatic theory of Mind/Body

Holism suggests that people relate to themselves and each other as a unified and integrated whole, not separating mind and body as disparate entities (Kurtz, 1990).  According to Selver et al., (2009) the body is an instrumental part of meaningful, lasting psychological change.  Mind/body holism postulates that there is not something intrinsically wrong with a person, nor something that needs to be fixed.  Similar to Eastern spiritual philosophers, Charlotte Selver, Ron Kurtz, and many other body-centered therapists believed that people strive for wholeness by way of reorganizing the core material that is no longer appropriate for them in the present moment (1990).  Mind/body holism is theoretically congruent with mindfulness-based approaches.  It suggests that when individuals observe their experiences, their interactions with others, and their feelings during such experiences, they are more capable of seeing themselves holistically, and more likely to cultivate inner attunement and interpersonal equanimity (1990).

Despite the theoretical benefits of mind/body holism, approaches reflected through its proverbial lens are not widely promulgated across most cultures (Kurtz, 1990).  In the United States for example, life is fast-paced and production-oriented.  It may be challenging for a person unfamiliar with mind/body holism, to actively pursue a mindfulness practice for personal or interpersonal enrichment.  Although mindfulness is represented through mainstream media, and various cultures embrace ancient approaches, a majority of the world’s population does not view mind/body holism as an intrinsic way of life (Hölzel, 2008).

In order to elucidate the relationship between mindfulness, inner attunement, and relationships, I will review literature relating to neurobiology and emotional regulation. The first section will describe benefits of mindfulness practice as they pertain to intimate relationships, including: emotional regulation, communication, receptivity, attention, listening skills, empathic awareness, and proprioception.  In the second section, the neurobiological implications of mindfulness practice will be applied to a somatic-based approach called Sensory Awareness, which is considered a vehicle for interpersonal development.  The intrapersonal limitations of Sensory Awareness will also be examined.

 

The Benefits of Mindfulness: Using the “Right” Brain in Relationship

It is said that what moves through your mind can sculpt a person’s brain (Hanson, 2009).  According to Schore (2007), unconscious emotions drive all human emotion. Being able to regulate emotion supports balanced living and increases intrapersonal attunement and interpersonal ease (Hanson, 2009).  Mindfulness practices directly shape the activity and growth of the parts of the brain responsible for relationships, emotional regulation, and psychological response to stress (Siegle, 2007).  Areas of the brain activated during meditation include the limbic regions, temporal lobes, medial prefrontal cortex, posterior cingulated cortex, and the precuneus (Brefczynski-Lewis, Davidson, Johnstone, Lutz, 2008).  In their meditation study, Brefczynski-Lewis et al. (2008) confirmed that there is stronger activity in the right hemisphere than in the left hemisphere.  Mindfulness practice supports individuals to experience the moment for its own sake, without judgment or analysis, by activating the more self-reflective part of the brain, also known as the right cortex (Levine, 2011).  Right brain function cultivates inner attunement by supporting people to attend to feelings without the neurobiological disadvantage of emotional dysregulation (Siegel 2007).

When we operate from a place of mindfulness, we balance the verbal and non-verbal sections of the brain, are less driven by fear, and are more capable of experiencing inner attunement (Windinger, 2011).  According to Levine (2011), non-verbal [right] vs. verbal [left] parts of the brain function individually.  Life occurrences, including trauma, can consistently activate a person’s limbic system, also known as the “animal” part of the brain.  Limbic activation can lead to emotional dysregulation and can give a person the feeling that the world is not a safe place (2011).  In terms of intimate relationships, nervous system modulation becomes a valuable asset when a lover is provoked by inter-personal disputes.  What ordinarily would set off an aggravating limbic system response, can be dealt with in a more regulated manor when an individual is more attuned with themselves.

Neurobiological imaging studies of empathy have shown that by observing another person’s emotional state, part of the neural circuitry underlying the same state becomes active in oneself, whether it is disgust, pain or social emotions (Brefczynski-Lewis, 2008).  Mirror neurons in the brain inform the social engagement process, and suggest that we are able to perceive intentional states of others (Iacoboni & Siegel, 2006).  This perception supports the notion that an individual may become positively or negatively affected by the intentional state of those around them, and that interpersonal quality of life may be improved when inner attunement is evident.  Moreover, the well being of one partner in an intimate relationship is inextricably linked to the well being of the other.

A larger interpersonal field of intimacy is able to bloom when people become more mindful.  The emotional awareness of the right brain can support a person to tune into subtle emotional changes, a beneficial tool for preventing interpersonal miscommunication and strife (Siegle, 2007).  Mindfulness practices support couples to become more attentive, therefore ameliorating communication and attenuating ineffective defensive structures. According to Selver (2009), mindfulness nourishes the attention centers of the brain and opens people up to their inner indicator, also known as intuition.  One study held by the National Academy of Sciences analyzed how attention is mapped throughout the brain.  The main control center is located in the intraparietal sulcus, and is what gives people the ability to shift their attention  (Anderson, J., Ferguson, M., Lopez-Larson, M., Yurgelun-Todd, D., 2010).

Increased attentiveness also supports individuals to improve their listening skills.  In terms of an intimate relationship, Selver believed that most people want to, “do something to or for their partner, instead of just being there for him or her” (2009, p. 36).  She believed that this kind of effort leads to negative reactions within relational exchanges. When individuals are able to compassionately receive their partner’s words, and can empathize with their belief systems, mindfulness practice becomes a tool to soften the arrows of verbal attack (2009).  Daniel Levison, a staff researcher in the psychology department at the University of Wisconsin, meditated for three months as part of a study about brain phenomenon.  After three months, Daniel stated, “I am a much better listener. I don’t get lost in my own personal reaction to what people are saying” (Hölzel, 2010, p.1).  A female client of Charlotte Selver, the pioneer of a somatic-based approach called Sensory Awareness, had a similar experience after committing to a mindfulness practice.  After working with Selver for a few months, Selver’s client “Joan” noticed an improvement in her ability to listen to her husband (Selver, 2009).  Joan would ordinarily interrupt her husband when he spoke slowly and could not wait for him to finish his sentences.  After practicing Sensory Awareness for consecutive months however, her attention span increased and she felt more patient.  When Joan’s capacity for retaining and receiving information increased, her husband also became a more effective listener (2009).  Consistent mindfulness practice supported Joan and her husband to restructure their communication patterns and experience more ease in their relationship.

Integrating sensation-based awareness practices also improves connectedness by awakening the propriocetive capacity of an individual (Selver, 2009).  Proprioception is defined as the awareness of the position of one’s body (http://dictionary.com).  Carmodyc, J., et al. (2011) implemented a study on the positive effects of meditation on the brain. Seventeen individuals without meditation experience underwent Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programs for eight weeks.  This was a controlled longitudinal study that investigated gray matter concentration in various areas of the brain, both before and after the MBSR programs occurred.  Results showed an increase in gray matter concentration and increased function in the areas involving the regions of their brains involving learning, memory processes, and emotional regulation (2011).  These areas include the left hippocampus, posterior cingulated cortex, temporal-parietal junction, and the cerebellum.

Overall, one of the most important benefits of meditation is an increased sense of empathy, love, and sensitivity (Psychiatry Research, 2011).  Such prolific changes in the brain, when present in a close interpersonal exchange, can improve the quality of connection between two people and increase the longevity of a relationship.  When an individual is able to regulate her emotions, and retain and receive information with greater ease, she is more likely to empathically interact with her companion.  One study revealed that when a person feels a sense of compassion, the insula cortex becomes activated and its function improves (Brefczynski-Lewis,Davidson, Johnstone, Lutz, 2008).

Compassion for our own fear and shame opens us to others… Love is our true nature, but as we have seen, it is covered over by a protective layer of fear. Even though this love is innate, the [Buddhist] path also uses systemic trainings to cultivate this love. They strengthen our capacity for love, compassion, joy, and peace. (Kornfield, 2009, p. 386)

 

Sensory Awareness

Various modalities share the core intention of supporting individuals to feel more in balance with their inner selves. Holzel describes mindfulness practice when stating,

The main idea is to use different objects to focus one’s attention, and it could be a focus on sensations of breathing, or emotions or thoughts, or observing any type of body sensations…But it’s about bringing the mind back to the here and now, as opposed to letting the mind drift. (2011, p. 1)

Included in the global amalgam of mindfulness-based approaches is Sensory Awareness, developed by the late Charlotte Selver in the mid 1950’s (Selver, 2009).  Sensory Awareness is a body-centered meditation approach that draws from the spiritual principles of Taoism and Buddhism (Benz & Weiss, 1989), and is an effective healing tool that addresses somatic dysregulation, including mood and anxiety disturbances.  Similar to Buddhist meditation traditions, Sensory Awareness assists people to cultivate mindfulness and bring awareness into everything they experience (Kabat-Zinn, J., 2003).  Selver, like many other body-centered practitioners, strived to shift the old paradigm of psychological understanding.  Her method theoretically drew from mind/body holism, and was bolstered by new forms of social expression that supported independence and mutuality (1989).  Selver believed that allowing things to “take their course” assists couples to work creatively and patiently (2009, p. 36).

Embodied mindfulness practices can shift perspectives from self-oriented to other-oriented  (Brefczynski-Lewis, Davidson, Johnstone, & Lutz, 2008).  One of the fundamental principles of Selver’s work was to “learn to give up this doing” (Selver, 2009, p.36).  Rather than teaching people spiritual rhetoric that emphasized the process of ‘letting go’, Selver was interested in the process of ‘taking in’ (2009).  Based on the work of Elsa Gindler and Heinrich Jacoby, Sensory Awareness advocates various body-centered experiments to assist people to get in touch with their most authentic state of being.  Just as Buddhist practitioners focus on “Loving Kindness” (Kornfield, 2009), Sensory Awareness practitioners focus on “Conscious Sensing” (Selver, 2009).

Similar to other mindfulness practices, Sensory Awareness also utilizes sitting and breathing practices. Practitioners can close their eyes and become receptive to whatever they experience.  The key intention of this practice is to allow sounds and sensations to enter freely, so they can be experienced in a holistic way, rather than being analyzed and immediately identified (2009).  In almost all contemplative practices, there is an initial use of the breath as a focal point, which aids in the centering of the mind (Siegel, 2007).  According to Siegel (2007), breath is a major factor contributing to brain activity and regulation.  With as little judgment as possible, a Sensory Awareness practitioner observes, notices, brings awareness, and attempts to accept things in the present moment.

Despite current research that advocates somatic-based mindfulness practices, there is a global avoidance of sensation awareness that has reached epidemic proportions.  Humanity’s pervasive disinterest in sensing has become a limiting factor for this work to be effectively utilized for interpersonal development on a global level.  Trauma trains the body to avoid feeling processes (Kurtz, 1990).  Given the high number of traumatized people on this planet, mind-body disconnection is commonplace (1990).  Disembodied individuals are perfect candidates for Sensory Awareness, however their willingness is imperative. For individuals unwilling or unable to practice on their own, facilitation may be necessary, as it can create a safe environment for people to address core issues.  Group-based Sensory Awareness work can take participants to a deeper level of healing given the interpersonal context (Selver, 2009).

Some may argue that sensation-based meditation approaches are limiting for some bodies, including immobile individuals, or individuals incapable of movement altogether.  Sensory awareness is indiscriminate, and is an innate practice of conscious being.  It is a mindfulness practice that asks people to experience life from a space of receiving and allowing.  Participants can delve as actively or inactively as they choose, as long as they are experiencing themselves from the inside out.  Similar to various meditation approaches, observation is the key, however the participant is also not limited to sitting alone.  Sensory Awareness is active and inactive all at the same time.

 

Discussion

Humanity is more affected by emotional regulation and attunement than we may have previously thought.  Current research now confirms that individuals can markedly improve their quality of life when they are committed to a mindfulness-building routine.  Neuroscience confirms that the processes of the mind extend beyond the individual, and that our perception is part of a large interconnected matrix (Weininger, 2011).  Our efforts to become more attuned can be profoundly received by the people most close to us, and mirror neurons remind us that we are implicitly connected to other human beings.

Mindfulness meditation improves romantic relationships by nurturing: emotional regulation, communication, receptivity, attention, listening skills, and proprioception.

An individual’s ability to be empathic and sensitive to the needs of their partner plays an important role in the longevity of any relationship.  The mindfulness practice of Sensory Awareness can support balanced, attuned living and is an effective tool for interpersonal communication.  Individuals who practice Sensory Awareness are more likely to experience supportive intimate relationships, and to have positive interactions with others. There are limitations to mindfulness practices such as Sensory Awareness, due to the fact that awareness practices are not commonplace, nor unilaterally accepted by many cultures. Sensory Awareness requires a willingness to feel and experience sensations and this process can be difficult for traumatized individuals.

Intrapersonal harmony can ensue when we slowly and attentively allow the waves of mindfulness to roll through our daily lives.  People can make a dramatic difference in their social environment when they commit to healing themselves at an intrapersonal level.  The importance of mindful development cannot be stressed enough and it is humanity’s duty at this juncture to improve holistic infrastructure, develop effective psycho-educational environments, and cultivate the courage to look within.

 

References

 

Anderson, J., Ferguson, M., Lopez-Larson, M., Yurgelun-Todd, D. (2010) Topographic maps of multisensory attention. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1011616107

Baumeister, R., Masicampo, E., (2007). Psychological Inquiry; 2007, 18 (4), 255-258

Benz, D. and Weiss, H. (1989). To the core of your experience. Charlottesville, Virginia: Luminas Press.

Brefczynski-Lewis, J., Davidson, RJ., Johnstone, T.  Lutz, A., (2008). Regulation of the neural circuitry of emotion by compassion meditation: Effects of meditative expertise. PLos One, 3(3). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0001897

Carmodyc, J., Congletona, C., Gardab, T., Hölzelab, B.K., Lazara, S.W., Vangela, M., Yerramsettia, S.M. (2011). Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimagine, 191(1). 36-43.

Hanson, R. (2009). The practical neuroscience of buddha’s brain: happiness, love & wisdom. Oakland, CA: Harbinger Publications.

Hölzel, B. (2011, January 28). Meditation and the Brain. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/01/28/how-meditation-may-change-the-  brain/?scp=1&sq=meditation%20and%20the%20brain&st=cse

Lacoboni, M., & Siegel, D. J. (2006). Mirror neurons and interpersonal neurobiology in psychotherapy. Presented at The New York University Biology of Mind Conference, New York.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2003). Mindfulness-based interventions in context: Past, present, and future. Clinical Psycholog y: Science and Practice, 10(2), 144-156.

Kornfield, J. (2009). The wise heart. New York: Bantam Books.

Kurtz, R. (1990). Body-centered psychotherapy. Mendocino, CA: LifeRhythm

Selver, C. (1999). Sensory awareness and our attitude toward life.  Mill Valley, CA: Sensory Awareness Foundation, Collected Writings, Volume 1. 17-38.

Schore, J. & Schore, A. (2007). Modern attachment theory: The central role of affect regulation in development and treatment. Clinical Social Work, J. DOI 10.1007/s10615-007-0111-7

Siegel, D. (2010). The mindful therapist. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Siegel, D. (2007). The mindful brain. New York: Mind Your Brain, Inc.

Weininger, R. PhD, MD & Karney, M. M.D. (2011). [Revisiting Empathic Engagement: Countering Compassion Fatigue with Exquisite Empathy]. New Beginnings Counseling Center Trainee/Intern Training. Santa Barbara, CA. Unpublished raw data.

(Video) Five Poses a Day with Romi: Yoga for Jet Lag

Five Poses a Day: Yoga for Jet lag

This sequence will help you feel relaxed and restored after long periods of sitting, traveling, and crossing time zones. It can be completed in fifteen to twenty minutes. Or, add a few of your favorite poses and take some extra breaths to create a longer practice.

Five Poses a Day with Romi: Yoga for Jet Lag from Romi on Vimeo.

(Video) Five Poses a Day with Romi: Yoga for Inner Balance

Five Poses A Day: Yoga for Inner Balance

This video was filmed in the wilderness in the Okavango Delta, Botswana. Utilize these postures to feel more present with yourself and create a feeling of inner balance and calm. This sequence can be completed in fifteen to twenty minutes. Or, add a few of your favorite poses or take some extra breaths in each posture to create a longer practice.

To stay in touch with us about Romi’s upcoming 2018 Yoga Safari in the Okavango Delta, email us at romicumes@gmail.com or call (805) 448-4111

Five Poses a Day with Romi: Yoga for Centering from Romi on Vimeo.

Five Poses a Day with Romi: Centering

Five Poses a Day, September Sequence

Happy Friday!

I have many clients and friends that want to start practicing yoga, meditating, or exercising more, but find the process daunting or unapproachable. Even though I have been practicing and teaching yoga for many years, I can relate and often find it challenging to simply get on the mat. One thing I find extremely helpful with this yoga/exercise quandary, is to simply commit to five postures. That’s right FIVE POSTURES or simple exercises. We can all make time to do five poses and by setting the intention to just do five, we usually end up wanting more and extending the practice. Doing five poses a day is not overwhelming and only takes fifteen to twenty five minutes, depending on how fast you work through the sequence and how many variations you add.

Today is a new moon and a new time to commit to taking care of your body, mind, and spirit. Here’s a sequence that can help you jump start your day and motivate your self-care practice.

plank-1

Pose 1: PLANK 10-20 breaths if done without variations. With variations, 5-10 breaths each

(Variation 1 and 2 Pictured below)

plank-2

plank-3

fullsizerender2

Additional Pose/Rest: Child’s Pose or Wide Knee Child’s Pose

fullsizerender

POSE 2: Low Lunge with Rhomboid Squeeze

5-10 breaths holding lunge. 10-20 shoulder/rhomboid squeeze reps (pulse and squeeze shoulder blades together behind you, keeping hands active)

fullsizerender1

Variation 1: Gentle twisting low lunge (left arm not visible in photo and can reach above head to activate psoas/hip flexor stretch)

side-bend-1Pose 3: Side Stretch with Hip Opener; keep feet and arms active (both sides, 5-15 breaths)

Variation 1: Side Stretch with Hip Opener and Neck Release

side-bend-2

fullsizerender8

Pose 4: Knee to Chest (both sides, 5-15 breaths)

fullsizerender9

Pose 5: Spinal Twist (both sides, 5-15 breaths)

 

Have a beautiful day!

-Romi

 

 

 

 

 

 

Attracting Love Through Self Exploration and Self Love, A Somatic Inquiry

This article is an amalgam of some insights I have received based on my own personal experience with relational psychotherapy, somatic psychology, and dating. It presents a psychosomatic and spiritual inquiry about relationships for anyone wishing to form a healthier relationship with themselves and others. My intention is for all you amazing women (and men) out there seeking love to learn one of the most valuable dating lessons of all, to love and respect yourself.

While traveling alone overseas one year ago, I was meditating on relationships and the concept of, “attracting the right partner”. As I settled into my body, the first word that came into my mind regarding relationships was, trust or trusting. I began to think about those words as they pertained to me trusting myself, rather than it being about trusting another. Trusting my: Motivations, strength, intuition, inner calling, life path and creative power. Often when we are looking to find someone to complete us, we are really not in completion with a part of ourselves that still needs to be actualized or realized. There is a sense deep down that this ideal person or their qualities are known to us, but given our solitude, we create a dualistic way of perceiving relationship, within which other fulfills this part for us.

“When I get into that relationship, then I will be seen and understood”

“If he or she really understood me, then I wouldn’t feel this frustration, nor have these unmet needs”

“If he or she was the right one, it would all just work out and I would not feel alone”

When you read it out loud, it is actually quite comical. As if a golden plated, super-nova of a human being is going to waltz right in and rid us of our pain and psychosomatic programming in one fell swoop of the heart. No wonder it’s so hard for some of us to commit. How could any one human compete with such an illustrious, sexy apparition?  This “other” fantasy becomes the direct object of our attention rather than the self, and in our fantasy-drafting process, we often abandon ourselves. We ignore the possibility that through avoidance of what we truly need and want (self-understanding, self-love, strength, or vulnerability), we ironically push away what we need and want from others. Ultimately, understanding this dynamic is exciting, because when we actually embody a place of self-love and understanding (and it takes practice), the desire for love does not become extinguished, but rather galvanized by a force of authenticity that actually draws the right person to us.

Beyond Affirmation

I am a mystic and have been in love with many things spiritual and woo-woo for some time now. I grew up burying crystals, doing yoga, eating lentils, and going to healers and curanderos with my parents. But as someone who has also studied relational and somatic psychology, I have first-hand experience with how many New Age ideologies can be somewhat limiting. Online antidotes such as, “Ten Steps to Attract Your Perfect Mate”, “Find Your Inner Goddess” or, “How to Be the Best Partner Possible” consistently pervade social media and even world-news home pages. Life would be so much easier if these magical steps worked for people seeking to connect more deeply with themselves yet somehow, they come up short.

There are no ten steps…

Don’t get me wrong, thinking positive, stating affirmations, and giving yourself all kinds of cerebral candy is helpful and supportive to your quality of life. Myriad double-blind studies have proven the power of positive thinking and prayer. The point here is to suggest that simply thinking positive, or recruiting mentally-driven faculties to find love is not the whole truth. We have to go beyond those methodologies and explore ourselves in order to truly understand the blockages that prevent us from attracting the right mate in the first place. So how do you do that?  That is a big question and no one, especially me, can give you the perfect answer.  Is it slightly hypocritical that a single, thirty five year old woman is writing an article on attracting the right relationship? Probably, yet as many of you know, being single in one’s 30’s lends itself to a voluminous range of dating experience. Each time we enter the dance, we gain new insights and learn a little bit more about ourselves, especially if we care to look within and not cast blame on the men or women we used to share our time with.

Self Exploration

The first step is to explore. Explore yourself, your anxieties, and your fears around love and neediness. When you feel needy or alone, do you really think “Joe” (or Jill) is going to give you the kind of support you need? Especially when deep down you know he or she is kind of an ass, or is a bad communicator, or does not really make you feel good about who you are? The next time Joe texts you (because it has become evident to me through trial and error that phone call-making is a lost art), consider the possibility that the exchange will not truly give you what you are looking for. Consider that Joe is still the same Joe, and although he is most likely fantasizing about being with you, he has not miraculously manifested the emotional or spiritual attributes that broke you up, or led you to avoid him in the first place. When you feel rejected, ignored, or unseen, is it really because Joe needs to be the one to tell you how amazing you are? Or is it that you have been neglecting yourself and expecting him to make you feel more whole?

What can you do for yourself each day that makes you feel more beautiful/handsome, smart, and creative? The options are endless.

So what to do when you experience a period of stark loneliness, and it is difficult to evoke your dynamic, creative spark? The trick is to meet the sad place with your breath, with your awareness, and with a sense of self-compassion. Even it it feels as though nothing will shift whatever poor mood is present, mindfulness of your body-state will make all the difference, as will spiritual practice, movement (exercise), fresh air and other endorphin-boosting activities.

Self-inquiry supports us to know ourselves, and therefore clear the self-deprecating dynamics that attract the wrong relationships to us in the first place. Understanding such dynamics not only supports us to cast away the situations and people that do not serve the highest good, it allows us to align with the vibration that our hearts truly seek. And those good vibrations like to co-exist in the field of self-love and compassion.

During my “attracting love” meditation one year ago, I sat with the word trust and began to think about the ways I had not been trusting myself. What came to mind was my previous long-term relationship, and by long term I mean less than two years. I knew this individual was not aligned with my path, my body, and my intellect, yet I still attempted to force the situation into working by looking through a sepia-themed lens of attachment and fear. I abandoned the part of me that whispered, “he is not the right one for you” in order to maintain a false sense of security that other would help complete me and other would prevent me from feeling alone. Well you can imagine how that turned out, and the outcome? More loneliness, because I was abandoning a part of myself.

Get curious about the part of yourself that believes a partner is going to be the source of your happiness and ease, and that only when you are with that partner, you will feel whole. This dualistic belief may end up causing a lot of grief when things don’t work out. Now if you have a partner that is your everything or makes you happier than life itself, I am delighted that your heart has found its counterpart. I believe in love and relish the feeling of someone rocking my world. The point here is to say, we can have all the love coming at us in the world, but if we are not giving ourselves similar self-care and compassion, the nurturing from others cannot be completely embodied or received. Herein exists the quandary of single women (and men) today.

We need to learn to love ourselves. Better. Period.

Not in a narcissistic, “All hail me the glorious goddess, I have no faults” kind of way, but in a conscious way.  Look at your stuck places and learn how to feel into them. Next, ride them out without persistently being dependent on the approval of others. On the road to our ideal partnership, it is especially helpful when we realize we can receive much of what we are looking for from friends and family. Spending time with people that raise your vibration and remind you of who you are, puts you in better alignment with yourself, therefore internally restructuring you relationally.

Self Safety

As I meditated on the word trust, I also thought about the meaning of safety.  Often initially when we think about relationship we think, “I want a relationship that feels safe, with someone who loves me and who can ultimately be trusted.”  Neurobiologically speaking, the problem with this belief is that regardless of the individual, there may always be some aspect of another person that leads us to feel unsafe and unloved.  When we get defensive or “triggered” by our partners or other people, most of us are operating from a younger, more vulnerable or hurt place, and this is deeply rooted in our brain chemistry (Daniel J. Siegel M.D. offers some great talks and books on this neurobiological phenomena by the way).  When we operate from a reactive or defensive place, our most safe person in the world can seem like a distant stranger.  In those moments, our lovers feel as unsafe as the sketchy-looking guy or girl on the street corner. When defenses are up, we operate from a place of survival and defense (fight/flight/freeze), regardless of who we are interacting with. Moreover, that person you were just lovingly snuggling on the couch has become your nervous system’s psychosomatic arch-nemesis. The next ineffective step many of us take when operating  from this defensive space is believing things like,

“When I’m with the next partner, he or she will understand me, he or she will get it…”

And therein subsists the cycle of destructive interpersonal reasoning. Sigh.

That feeling of safety you seek needs to be recognized from within and it takes practice. Practice with self and with loving partners or friends.

Please note: recognizing your own issues with safety and defensiveness does not mean you should stay with someone who treats you poorly, is not right for you, or threatens you emotionally or physically.  

When we acknowledge our own lack of safety, within our own bodies and surroundings, we can become better informed of what we need to work on within ourselves, as well as what we need to walk away from. Over time, this kind of self/body awareness can support us to differentiate between what does and does not constitute a healthy relationship.

Somatic Awareness

By listening to the body, sensing into the lack of safety, and loving the hurt places like an old friend, we actually re-wire some of the neuropathways associated with love, and learn to trust better. Part of creating a self-safety practice is creating a somatic awareness practice in moments where safety feels far away. Pausing in the moment, noticing your body, and breathing into whatever areas feel tense or triggered, can be a helpful tool to understand discomfort and understand its root. Get curious about various somatic qualities in your body such as: temperature, tension, space, softness, hardness, tightness, etc.

We have the power to promote positive changes just by noticing what is happening in the body.

Sharing somatic awareness practices with friends or loved ones is especially powerful and ideally, they are also willing to explore their own reactivity (or lack of reactivity, also known as avoidance). It is curiosity, namely body/mind-centered curiosity, that changes limiting patterns, and we all got to help a brother and sister out if we want to grow. And if you want to better understand your trust or safety issues, or your inability, or twisted ability to attract love, start spending more time with people who are open to being vulnerable with you, and less time with those who aren’t. Keep in mind that the process of somatic awareness can often be unpleasant or awkward for people. Some might even ridicule this kind of practice and say it’s “weird” or “out there”.  In my experience, what they are really saying is, “This is scary. I am looking at myself and my reactivity more deeply than I ever have before, and it’s really uncomfortable”.

An Example of Utilizing Somatic Awareness

As I sat with the word trust I noticed where trust and distrust existed in my body. I sensed that my solar plexus area (where the ribs meet) seemed to be the most active. As I continued to observe, I noticed tension along my right side, which is the side healers often associated with the “masculine” or “doer” side of the body.  I sensed into the muscles on the right side of my back and shoulder and noticed tension and a feeling of being “held up” in those areas.  As I continued to examine myself somatically, I thought about how the masculine part of myself is often working much harder than the feminine aspect in order to be in control and feel safe. This kind of asymmetrical body structure is often connected to people who feel unsafe, or overcompensate in order to feel secure. When I manifest this kind of tense body posture, I give myself the illusion of safety displayed through my “strength”, however in that process, I am actually pushing away much-needed support. Just by breathing and noticing my body and the way it carries itself, I am able to understand my patterns and nurture myself emotionally and intellectually.

 

Conclusion
A pause is needed when the fear of being alone gets in the way of our true process of being and in those moments, body-centered practices help us see ourselves. What we see is not always pretty or feel-good, but it is powerful, and moves us in the right direction and on the path to greater love and understanding. When we embrace the essence of life and where we are in the moment, we become less attached to the process. That lack of attachment to outcome is what assists us to align with ourselves, and move away from that which is not authentically aligned with us. This process is not easy. Close attention is needed, as not to become distracted by proverbial love-bait, offered to us by attractive and persuasive people reflecting the less present aspects of ourselves.

Speak or write to yourself and others about what you long for, what drives you, and what you need. When you are in touch with practices that feed your soul, an entire field opens up, within which you are capable of seeing what the Universe wants to provide for you.

 

Key Points

  • Exploring yourself, your anxieties, your reactivity, and your neediness will help you see the the walls you have up against love.
  • Tuning into where the feeling of tension exists in your body will assist you to recognize stagnant or stuck patterns, and enable the stuck energy and people to move out of your field.
  • By noticing what you want to attract in your relationship or future partnership, you are able to attune to what is needed for yourself. Eg: Desiring a trusting, safe relationship can lead to the awareness that you need to trust and acknowledge yourself. Practicing somatic awareness with yourself, a friend, or lover is very powerful.
  • Spending time with people who are attentive listeners, and who are open to vulnerability, can assist you to feel more safe and attract the right parters. Participate in activities that make you feel happy, creative, and alive so you can spark the self-love fire.
  • When you listen and observe the signs the Universe and Creation, things start to fall into place, self-love is more easily nurtured, and the older parts of your self will begin to fall away

 

For those of you in Southern California, I will be teaching two workshops connected to this topic this spring.

Workshop: Somatic & Relational Psychology, Tools for Empowerment and Growth.

Santa Barbara Yoga Center: March 22nd, 2pm ($45 but no one will be turned down for lack of funds)

Lucidity Festival: Friday April 11th, Location TBA

Image Credit Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images

About the Writer:
Romi Cumes MA, MFTI, CMT is deeply committed to facilitating somatic and spiritual transformation by way of body-mind education and joyful, creative shenanigans. She is the founder of Transformative Healing Arts, which offers yoga instruction, bodywork, performance art, counseling, workshops, and international retreats to Peru. Shamanic studies, travel, and academia have guided Romi to explore the sacred connections between healing, art, ecology, spirituality, and culture. Romi received her masters degree in clinical psychology, with an emphasis in Somatic (body-centered) Psychotherapy, Marriage and Family Therapy, and Mindfulness. She currently has a private practice in Santa Barbara, California. To learn more, visit http://www.RomiCumes.com or like her Facebook page Transformative Healing Arts

 

 

Self Healing Exercise

Human Field image

Have you been struggling with another person lately? Perhaps a friend, lover, business partner, or family member? If this is the case, it may support you to look at the polarity present in the situation. When we can see “other” as our mirror for personal growth, we evoke the potential to explore deeply hidden, vulnerable parts of ourselves.

Sitting comfortably, ask yourself some of these questions:

Do you find yourself longing for something that you believe only another person can provide?

When you have this longing, does it seem to take you away from yourself? Ie: your own inner strength, calm, motivation, and creativity?

Have you judged yourself lately? Was it necessary?

Have you vilified someone recently because you yourself are not happy?

Did you cast your energy outward – towards another – because what you really desire is to be more settled within?

If any of the above seems true for you, try this meditation. You only need 10-15 minutes.

Consider how you might be abandoning a part of yourself. For example, what have you wanted to fill by another? Try not to get too heady about it in terms of long-winded thoughts and sentences, but rather tune into some simple needs/desires, as well as a place in your body where you feel any kind of lack, or emptiness. Notice whatever sensations that may arise. Breathe.

As you are tuning into those sensations, feel your breath and visualize giving energy back to yourself. If there is an area in the body where you feel a void? Notice that area, keep your attention there and breathe. As you do this, various thoughts may arise that are connected to any of the above questions.  As you tune in, keep exploring how you can feed yourself in some significant way. What are you denying yourself by wishing others would provide it for you? Remember, other human beings are crucial for our development, so this is not about being so independent that you don’t need others. What we are tuning into here is how not to seek outside ourselves for much of the inner power, love, and creativity we are able to cultivate within.

From a place of inner peace and expansion, supported by things like yoga, nature, and meditation, we are more capable of giving to others, and receiving what they have to offer us.  Sit for a bit, and see what wisdom your body-mind provides.

Much love and Happy Holidays,

-Romi

Yoga & Healing Retreat to Peru! Join us in the Sacred Valley of the Inca ~ May 2014

Yoga and Healing Retreat in the Peruvian Andes
With Romi Cumes M.A. & Lisa Veit
May 8-17, 2014

10 day, 9 night All-Inclusive Package
Email romicumes at gmail.com for complete information/itinerary
$3100 land cost only (excludes airfare). Register by Nov 1st for $200 off.

Expand, Transform, Prosper & Thrive!

Peru Final Flyer 2014- Web Only

Join Romi Cumes and Lisa Veit for a transformational retreat to Peru. This top-quality, ten day, nine night package beings and ends in the beautiful city of Cusco. Guests stay at the exquisite Willka T’ika Garden Retreat Center in the Sacred Valley of the Inca, and receive first-class guide service to sacred sites, villages, and ruines. Enjoy the rich scenery of Machu Picchu, Cusco and other sacred sites, as well as Willka T’ika’s spectacular gardens, accommodations, and organic cuisine. Additional overnight accommodations in Cusco and Machu Picchu are also included in this package.

New Headshot-Kimba

Romi Cumes M.A. is a Therapist, Bodyworker, Yoga Instructor, and Performance Artist with over fifteen years of experience. She supports people to embody their most authentic state of Being, so they may live in a more full and balanced way. Drawing from a background in somatic psychology, Romi integrates clinical training with intuitive capabilities to proactively work with trauma, physical distress, and psycho-spiritual blockages. She founded Transformative Healing Arts in 2004 and is currently in private practice in Santa Barbara, California. Romi has been traveling to Peru for the last twenty years, where her mother, Carol Cumes, founded the Willka T’ika guest lodge and the Willka T’ika Children’s Fund, a 501(c)3 that supports four Quechua schools in the high Andes.

Lisa-Headshot

Lisa Veit is an internationally known Intuitive Life Coach, Speaker, Regression Therapist, Owner of “Be You Come Alive”, Mother, and Creator of The Art of Embodiment Meditation CD. Her life experiences triggered an epic spiritual inquiry within, and an insatiable study of the human potential. Lisa has explored in great depth the many facets of life, energy, and consciousness. She is committed to empowering people to discover their unique capacities, and to assist all of those that choose it, to come alive at their greatest capacity. She lectures nationally and currently lives with her family in Santa Barbara, California. For more info visit www.LisaVeit.com

To Register and receive detailed Itinerary
Contact: Romi Cumes MA, LMT
romicumes@gmail.com
(805) 448-4111