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An Embodied Approach to Healing Trauma: Therapeutic Qigong

Safely Returning to Your Body Through Mindfulness, Movement and Talk Therapy

Dissociating from the body is one of the hallmarks of surviving any traumatic experience.  Splits between body and mind occur as a result of intensely shocking events.  The moving meditation of qigong is ideally suited to repair these splits in a safe and gentle manner.  Psychotherapeutic qigong works to re-integrate the body and mind after extremely disturbing experiences.


World renowned trauma expert Bessel van der Kolk, MD, author of Traumatic Stress and The Body Keeps the Score offers the following four concrete steps for clinicians working with trauma.  All four steps directly relate to the benefits of using qigong in psychotherapy.


Step 1: Start with Self-Regulation


I would say the foundation of all effective treatments involves some way for people to learn that they can change their arousal system.


Before any talking, it’s important to notice that if you get upset, taking 60 breaths, focusing on the out breaths, can calm your brain right down. Attempting some acupressure points or going for a walk can be very calming.


So the issue of self-regulation needs to become front and center in the treatment of traumatized people. That’s step number one.



Step 2: Help Yourself Take Steps Toward Self-Empowerment


The core idea here is that I am not a victim of what happens. I can do things to change my own thoughts, which is very contrary to the medical system where, if you can’t stand something, you can take a pill and make it go away.


The core of trauma treatment is something is happening to you that you

interpret as being frightening, and you can change the sensation by moving, breathing, tapping, and touching (or not touching).


It’s … about knowing that you, to some degree, are in charge of your own physiological system.


There needs to be a considerable emphasis on “cultivating in myself,” not only as a therapist, but also as a patient – this knowing that you can actually calm yourself down by talking or through one of these other processes.


So, step number two is the cultivation of being able to take effective action.



Step 3: Learn to Express Your Inner Experience


Learn to know what you know and feel what you feel. And that’s where psychotherapy comes in: finding the language for internal experience.


The function of language is to tie us together; the function of language is communication. Without being able to communicate, you’re locked up inside of yourself.



Step 4: Integrate the Senses Through Rhythm


Tango dancing, Qi Gong, drumming and various other rhythmical movement practices that put an organism in rhythm with other organisms provide a way of overcoming the frozen sense of separation that traumatized people experience.