Today I was throwing the ball in the park for my beautiful silver lab, Akasha. I stood on the path and threw into the lush grassy field. She brought it back time after time with tail wagging, happy slobbery exuberance. This time, I bent down to grab it with the “Chuck It” (a ball throwing stick~ for those of you unfamiliar with such doggy play tools) and as I stood up to turn and throw, a jogger began to pass by. It was one of those brief confusing moments where he saw my ball tossing arm aimed in his direction and Akasha was bounding around looking at the ball, inadvertently bumping into him. He swore loudly as he swerved to avoid us. I apologized as he jogged by. After he was about 30 feet away, without turning around, he flipped me the bird. Now, keep in mind this was not a teenager, or an old man with fragile bones ~ This was (by all visual appearances) a privileged, educated, socioeconomically sound adult male.
Immediately my heart rate sky rocketed. I felt my body tense and a tingling sensation in my limbs as my body readied its resources to enter fight or flight mode. (“Freeze” is not my first response in this particular scenario.) I engaged my breath to remain in control of my higher brain functions (like logic). My instinct to fight battled with my higher self. They came to a begrudging compromise and I yelled after him “That was inappropriate! It was just an accident!” My higher self was starting to lose the battle… I was Fuming!
At this point you may be thinking ~ so what, he flipped you the bird~ Big deal! In the calm after the storm, that’s what I think too. But in the moment, it was all I could do to keep my yogi cool… and had he turned around or completed the loop around the park back to where I was, I might not have. While I was waiting for him to come back around I had some time to think. Why is it that I am so Escalated!? I realized that one of my personal BIGGEST triggers is Unprovoked Passive Aggression. Not just Aggression. But specifically Passive Aggression. Had he stopped, turned around and threw me the finger in my face I probably would be just fine. Why is that? Clearly the second scenario presents more of an actual potential threat.
So here it is. Its about the Cycle of Completion. (CoC for short ~ phonetic pun not intended!) Nature is based on a cycle. Human beings are based on a cycle. Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter. Day and Night. The waxing and waning of the moon. Birth, Growth and Death. Foreplay, Arousal, Orgasm, Post~climax glow. You get the idea. Our minds and bodies are designed to exist in a cyclical mode. We crave this. Our nervous system craves this. Think of how you feel in experiencing the build, the rise and the fall of a beautiful symphony. It’s Incredible. Now notice how you’d feel if someone cut off the symphony right in the middle. I was calm, open and unexpecting. With no warning his aggression shot straight into me. It felt like such a cowardly move on his part. My nervous system got escalated and he didn’t give me the opportunity to release which increased the aggression I felt towards him. I felt cut off right before climax. This is not a big deal for some people. For others who have either experienced trauma in their lives or whose sympathetic nervous system functions at an already escalated rate this can throw them into overdrive. It was not his responsibility to provide completion for me, even though the less evolved part of me Really Really wanted him to. I want to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he was out running in the middle of the morning because he desperately needed to and his nervous system was already at maximum capacity and the ball-dog-threat was like the straw that broke the camel’s back. I assume that in his mind, he felt very justified. Just as in my mind I feel very justified in my response. So what does one do when there is no feasible means of extracting that validation or sense of completion from an other?
We bring it back to Biology, to the nervous system. In the wild, animals don’t get PTSD. (See Peter Levine’s work~ specifically his book entitled Waking the Tiger.) When their nervous system gets escalated animals in the wild continue their fight, or their fleeing until they can neither fight nor flee anymore and the energy has run out.. When they freeze of play dead, the energy gets stopped but not stuck. As soon as the danger has passed they return to animation by trembling, shaking and releasing the residual energy. And not in any random way either. They release energy in a way that completes the action they were doing when they went into freeze mode, meaning if they were running, they return to animation starting with a trembling in their feet, thus completing the cycle.
How do we bring this into our daily lives? We give ourselves the opportunity to tremble, to shake the energy out, maybe even to vocalize or make some guttural sounds as soon after the perceived trauma as possible. In the scenario I recounted, I was in a park, and am used to being ridiculous in front of people for a living so I didn’t have any qualms about shaking out my arms and legs and head and wiggling my torso and hips around while letting out some sounds. By shaking out my body I released the energy that got stuck when my sympathetic nervous system escalated so that it didn’t continue to recycle through my body making me angrier and angrier. By letting out some vocalizations, I released the trapped sound energy that would have gotten stuck by not being able to tell him exactly what I thought of him. Ahhh… Sweet completion! I felt calm and back to my cool and collected yogi self. I am aware this isn’t in most peoples daily norm. But you wanna know what could be? YOGA.
Yoga allows for the deep accessing and release of trauma energy as you stretch and strengthen and breathe into places that normally get ignored. We feel the body tremble and shake. Skilled yoga teachers actually create sequences of poses designed to do exactly that! We access deep guttural vocalization through the Ohm sound and sometimes specific Pranayama (breath work practices). We basically invite the CoC to happen. All those things that you didn’t get to say to your boss because you might get fired, or your lover because it doesn’t serve anything, or the stranger on the street because he’s probably having a worse day than you… all this STUCK, residual energy from your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system trying to balance things out gets accessed and released in a mindful yoga class, or on a DEEPER level, in a Yoga Psychotherapy session.
Aren’t you curious about how Yoga or Yoga Psychotherapy can help you?
Michelle Lee Weldon, LPC, E~RYT