Trauma is any distressing event where we feel overwhelmed, powerless or helpless and do not fully use up or reset our instinctive fight, flight, or freeze response.

It can happen to anyone. When a human experiences distress such as injury, loss, continually pushing through to meet deadlines, or over-extending stress limits, it is disruptive to their nervous system.

This in turn affects their entire system and it changes the way that they perceive themselves in their environment.

During a fight or flight response the sympathetic nervous system causes an increase in heart rate, breathing and focus, whereas the freeze response can cause the opposite.

When our biology changes in this way, trauma becomes “trapped”; in the body – in the tissues, muscles, organs, cells, etc. The body alerts us to this somatically through various bodily sensations and physical symptoms.

Body-centred psychotherapy helps you to become conscious of your physical tension patterns. Polyvagal therapy uses knowledge of the basic functions of the nervous system to greatly enhance trauma healing, as it puts emphasis on guiding a client’s awareness to their body through interoceptive and proprioceptive experiences.

Interoception is the ability to notice and understand internal sensations in the body, such as heart rate, respiration, temperature and emotional sensations.

Dr Stephen Porges refers to interoception as our 6th sense that allows us to become aware of our instinctual responses to our environment (Porges, 2011).

Interoceptors are the sensory receptors located in the heart, stomach, liver, intestines, and other organs in the body. Your vagus nerve communicates all of your body’s sensory cues to your brain and this process occurs without conscious awareness.

From a young age we are taught to ignore and override our limits, so we just push through and tend to lose our ability to accurately read our internal sensations.

Learning how to identify your signs and symptoms helps you to regulate your nervous system more efficiently and this helps you to avoid your usual patterns of overriding and ending up stuck in wired or tired nervous system states.

Proprioception is awareness of posture, movement, changes in equilibrium, position, weight and resistance of objects in relation to the body.

Human beings do not have a single organ for proprioception – the sense is processed by the entire nervous system as a whole, and when there is disruption to our nervous system through trauma, our proprioception is also affected.

Proprioception is a perception of self or, a perception of where your body is and what it’s doing. 

Tiny sensors are located within the muscles, tendons, ligaments and other soft tissues of the body, and they relay information about joint position, pressure and muscle stretch to the brain.

Proprioception is a constant feedback loop within your nervous system, telling your brain what position your body is in and how it is moving and co-ordinating actions.

When it is stimulated by specific movements such as stretching, pushing, pulling, climbing, squeezing, lifting, leaning, holding, or tensing and using muscles, this has an organising and regulating effect on the body and brain.

Proprioceptive input, at varying levels of intensity, can be upregulating (stimulating) for someone in a freeze state, and downregulating (calming) for someone in a fight, flight state.

During a therapy session, a client’s nervous system may become hyper-aroused and they express anxiety by fidgeting and being unsettled. By using proprioception and co-regulation I help them to shift from fight, flight to a slower, more present-moment experience.

Or a client’s nervous system may become hypo-aroused and they express a heaviness through a slumped or closed body posture. By using proprioception and co- regulation I help them to shift from freeze to a more paced present-moment experience.

When our nervous system is dysregulated, one of the ways that it may impact us is with pacing ourselves. We become very all or nothing – so we find that we over or under exert ourselves, either feeling too much energy (fight, flight) or no energy at all (freeze).

Facilitating this self-paced proprioceptive movement enables the client’s lower-brain input to become more focused, and to step out of the cycle of fight, flight or freeze. Just understanding this, helps you to make sense of it. It helps you see what is actually happening in your nervous system and what you can do to self-regulate.

In developing new neural pathways and behaviours that provide alternative ways of responding to your environment, you no longer get stuck in the habits of the past.

When you learn how to use proprioception to regulate your nervous system, it’s very empowering and it helps you to learn to trust your instincts, to feel safe in your body and to feel back in control. These are key elements in healing a traumatised nervous system.

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How are you feeling after reading this? Relieved to know that you do not need to talk about traumatic events to heal? Intrigued to understood more about the mind-body connection? If you are looking for some more individualised guidance or someone who really understands the mind-body connection, I am able to offer you 1:1 professional and specialised support to overcome your trauma symptoms.