“The Politics of Trauma” by Staci K. Haines

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Subtitle: Somatics, Healing, and Social Justice

Recommended to me by: Darryl C.

This book rang true to me from beginning to end. Staci Haines combines embodied trauma work with social justice, and everything she says fits with what I already know and takes it further.

Many healing modalities view trauma and abuse as individual problems. Instead, Haines puts trauma and abuse in the context of our abusive social structures that put individuals in harm’s way. White supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism, and environmental destruction divide us from one another and keep us from learning the skills we need to treat each other with care. They keep us divided from ourselves as we try to heal.

Safety, belonging, and dignity are core needs that should be met together for everyone. Traumatic and abusive situations put one in conflict with another – we can choose either safety or dignity, either dignity or belonging. Our bodies deeply learn traumatized ways of responding to the world.

We can form declarations and commitments: statements about our core beliefs and goals that guide our healing. For example, “I am a commitment to be in my skin without apology.” (Lisa Thomas-Adeyemo) We can discover what commitments and declarations we have unconsciously adopted or had imposed upon us. Declarations can be personal or community-oriented or both.

We can find what supports us and practice resilience, reminding ourselves to come out of trauma mode. Social justice organizations can also collectively practice resilience. We can rebuild safety and trust at the embodied, physical level. We can relearn boundaries and requests.

To help someone heal, we blend with the patterns that are already true for them, and help them notice what the pattern has been taking care of for them. As the body is supported and honored, the underlying physical and emotional memories and holding patterns can be released. We can help someone feel allied with, exactly as their body needs to feel it.

For example, make a fist with one hand. With the other hand, try to pry it open. How does that feel? Instead, let your other hand support the fist with curiosity and kindness. How does that feel? What happens with your fist? With the rest of your body?

Trauma is held in the body through bands of tension, or absent slackness. A healthy body has relaxed presence. Somatic opening is encouraged by blending with what is there and allowing it to release and transform. While emotions often arise during a release, cathartic emotion is not the goal.

We can discern what shame is ours and what belongs to others. We can blend with shame, hearing its messages, and look underneath to what it is hiding or protecting. Often shame is preferable to feeling powerless, helpless, or abandoned. We can learn to take centered accountability rather than being over- or under-accountable for our actions. We can sit with the complex questions around our responsibilities. We can learn about forgiveness of others and self-forgiveness. “Even if … [shameful act or belief], I am forgivable.”

We can learn to be present with ourselves and with others at the same time. We can learn to hold contradictions and conflict. We can learn how to have generative rather than destructive conflicts.

Personal healing and social justice organizing can support and serve each other.

I loved this quote at the beginning.

The Church says: The body is a sin.
Science says: The body is a machine.
Advertising says: The body is a business.
The body says: I am a fiesta.
—Eduardo Galeano, from “Window on the Body”

Highly recommended for activists and healers!

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Bodyfulness” by Christine Caldwell, PhD

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Subtitle: Somatic Practices for Presence, Empowerment, and Waking Up in This Life

Recommended to me by: Darryl C

“Bodyfulness” is the embodied version of mindfulness, presence without leaving the body behind. Caldwell brings in Tibetan Buddhism, Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, and her own experiences with movement and presence. The different modalities felt awkwardly pushed together in places, with superficial coverage of anatomy and neurology. Perhaps she came to the topic from an academic perspective and forgot to talk with bodyworkers and others who make a lifelong practice of body awareness.

There are practices to try out in each section to explore body awareness.

8 principles of bodyfulness:

  1. oscillation – movement through a range, with a preference to stay mostly in the middle of the range. Our cells, our organs, our whole body, all have oscillations.
  2. balance – pausing, like balancing on one leg, and also being centered, not getting stuck at the far end of an oscillation
  3. feedback loops – sensing and moving, trading information back and forth. Also cross-connections between different systems.
  4. energy conservation – habits conserve energy by not having to figure them out every time. Movement plans (such as reaching, or standing) do the same thing at a body level.
  5. discipline – practice leads to grace. “Use it or lose it.” This was a brief section and felt grafted on.
  6. change and challenge – our bodies change under the challenge of new needs or a new environment
  7. contrast through novelty – when something is new, it gets our attention and perhaps elicits change.
  8. associations and emotions – guide our actions, memories, experiences.

4 themes

  1. breathing – this book, about awareness of the body, says that gravity does the work of the outbreath. Which moves up. No. The diaphragm relaxing up into a dome shape lets the outbreath move without additional effort. This error alone made me lose all confidence in this book.
  2. sensing – add kinesthesia to the usual 5 senses. Balance the amount of sensory awareness, and the amount of attention inwardly or outwardly.
  3. moving – motor plans and motor development, probably from Sensorimotor Psychotherapy. Some basic exercises to address trauma held in the body.
  4. relating – borders, boundaries, and coregulation.

Bodyful Applications included material on oppression, activism, and bodily authority. It also explores the contrast of bodylessness: ignoring the body, seeing the body as a problem or project, hating the body, and making one’s own or other people’s bodies wrong.

Unfortunately there is an ongoing theme of “curb your addictions” and “fix your eating habits” in the examples. It seems strange to have judgmental examples in a book about body awareness and acceptance. Also there is a non-ironic positive use of “trickle-down economics.”

This is such a great topic, addressed in an oddly skewed way, as if it’s trying to match up modalities that don’t quite fit. It has interesting information, but I can’t trust any of it when basic facts about breathing are simply wrong. It would be a good start for someone who hasn’t thought about body awareness at all and needs a step by step introduction to the idea.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“A Pathway to Health” by Alison Harvey

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Subtitle: How Visceral Manipulation Can Help You

Recommended to me by: Bundled with the Visceral Manipulation textbook

An engagingly written introduction to Visceral Manipulation bodywork. Alison Harvey describes the techniques and shares vignettes from her practice. There are drawings and descriptions of the anatomy of each organ.

Recommended for bodyworkers who are interested in learning more about the body and about Visceral Manipulation.

Available at IAHE.

“Visceral Manipulation” by Jean-Pierre Barral & Pierre Mercier

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Recommended to me by: Required for the Visceral Manipulation class

A highly technical textbook for the Visceral Manipulation class. Some anatomical terms are defined, and some aren’t. Some are illustrated, and some aren’t. The book seems directed at medical doctors (“order radiographs when indicated”) and at the same time seems slightly defensive when describes experiments demonstrating results from these techniques.

For each internal organ, anatomy and relationships to other organs are precisely described, along with possible variations and disorders. The mobility (motion with breathing) and motility (intrinsic motion) of each organ is also described, along with manual techniques to improve these motions. I’m assuming the class will make all this clearer – these are not techniques to learn from a book, even with the included photographs.

Available at IAHE.

“A Headache in the Pelvis” by David Wise, Ph.D. and Rodney Anderson, M.D.

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Subtitle: A new understanding and treatment for prostatitis and chronic pelvic pain syndromes

Recommended to me by: a client

As is clear from the subtitle, this book is written by and for men, or at least people with prostates and penises. The book is focused on physiology rather than gender, and a lot of the information applies to everyone. They do include a chapter on the physiology of people with vaginas as well.

When people go to the doctor with pelvic pain, they are most often given antibiotics. If the pain persists, they are sent to psychologists, or recommended for surgeries that usually don’t help either.

The Stanford Protocol addresses chronic pelvic pain through a combination of trigger point release and conscious relaxation. Their model is that most pelvic pain is caused by chronic tension, similar to a tension headache. Trigger points in the muscles are released through a combination of external and internal massage by physical therapists trained in pelvic work.

The book carefully covers other causes of pelvic pain before turning to the Stanford Protocol. Pelvic anatomy is illustrated in detail, with common locations of trigger points.

Paradoxical relaxation is taking time to be with tension, without avoiding or trying to change it, and also separating tension from pain, even when they are occurring in the same place. It is similar to Inner Relationship Focusing in its attitude of warmth and acceptance toward exactly what is so right now. In this space of acceptance, muscles can begin to relax and the nervous system can calm down overall.

They note that the same trigger point can cause more or less pain depending on the overall level of nervous system activation and anxiety in the body.

The authors also recommend briefly checking in with pelvic tension and inviting it to relax many times during the day.

Their method is “inconvenient” since it takes a long time and requires hours of physical therapy and relaxation practice. They teach people paradoxical relaxation and self-treatment for trigger points in 6-day intensives. They claim their method works for about 80% of people who try it, most of whom are desperate after running out of other options.

Recommended as a knowledgeable, practical, compassionate approach to pelvic pain.

I also skimmed through “Wild Feminine: Finding Power, Spirit & Joy in the Female Body” by Tami Lynn Kent, which is about pelvic healing for women from both a physical and spiritual perspective. Unfortunately it completely ignores the existence of trans, intersex, and nonbinary people who may have vaginas and not identify as feminine, or vice versa. It contains a lot of practical advice for getting to know the pelvic region and rituals to balance the energy there.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The Spark in the Machine” by Dr. Daniel Keown

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Subtitle: How the Science of Acupuncture Explains the Mysteries of Western Medicine

Recommended to me by:Tracy Andrews, LAc

This is a fascinating look at how acupuncture channels correspond with fascial planes and embryonic development. The author is a medical doctor as well as an acupuncturist, and includes vignettes of using acupuncture in the ER.

Unfortunately, as part of the correspondence with yin and yang, he emphasizes the “yin” passivity of the egg during fertilization. That has been debunked since the early 1970’s, as this article in Discover Magazine, June 1992 points out.

When he doesn’t have that basic fact about fertilization correct, I wonder how much poetic license goes into the rest of his information about fetal development. The book is still an interesting read though!

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The Educated Heart” by Nina McIntosh

book coverSubtitle: Professional Guidelines for Massage Therapists, Bodyworkers, and Movement Teachers

Recommended to me by: Ethics and Boundaries class in massage school

I re-read this book because I’m planning to write about dual relationships. Nina McIntosh writes lucidly about the need for clear boundaries as a bodyworker.

The book is filled with guidelines and anecdotes from her own practice and from extensive research and interviews with other bodyworkers. “Being professional is an educated way of being kind.” A strong framework around scheduling and fees helps clients feel safer and keeps practices running more smoothly. Attention to the daily small ethical and boundary decisions helps avoid big disasters.

Highly recommended for practitioners who use touch, and for clients who want to better understand their responses to different practitioners. This book is dear to my heart and had a big influence on how I run my practice.

This blog post by Laura Allen talks about meeting Nina McIntosh, and sadly, about her death from ALS in 2010. Laura Allen put out a 4th edition of “The Educated Heart” in 2017.

“Nurturing Resilience” by Kathy L. Kain and Stephen J. Terrell

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Subtitle: Helping Clients Move Forward from Developmental Trauma, An Integrative Somatic Approach

Recommended to me by: Taking a class from Kathy Kain

I took a 3 day class from Kathy Kain last year and learned techniques that I use every day in my practice, so I was excited about this book. It turned out to be dry to read and only talked about a couple of techniques at the end, which I had already learned in the class. On the positive side, the extensive client examples include gay parents and genderqueer clients.

The first part introduces attachment, polyvagal theory, and neurological development. Interoception is perception of our internal state. Exteroception is perception of the external environment through vision, hearing, touch, etc. Neuroception is the perception of safety and threat. Interactions with parents and other caregivers help an infant make sense of incoming stimuli and assess safety vs. threat. Without playful and caring interactions, the infant develops a strong sense of what is a threat, but does not develop a sense of what feels safe.

They discuss the ACE study and the health effects of early trauma. The Window of Tolerance is the nervous system’s comfortable, functional, social state. Threats result in hyperarousal (fight or flight) and hypoarousal (freeze, immobility). Someone with a dysregulated nervous system has a very small window of tolerance. They may have a faux window of tolerance, where they manage to function despite being under physiological stress.

The second half of the book more directly discusses clinician interventions for clients with developmental trauma. The emphasis is on teaching the nervous system how to stay more regulated, and to offer co-regulation, where the client’s nervous system is steadied by the clinician’s regulation. The authors emphasize that developmental trauma is largely non-verbal, patterned in the body, so interventions need to address the body directly.

Interventions they discuss: gentle touch on the kidney area of the lower back, and helping the client practice noticing same/different around their triggers.

Recommended if you want a lot of information about developmental trauma, and don’t mind a somewhat uneven presentation.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Dynamic Aging” by Katy Bowman

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With: Joan Viginia Allen, Shelah M. Wilgus, Lora Woods, and Joyce Faber
Subtitle: Simple Exercises for Whole-Body Mobility

Recommended to me by: Amy Bennett

This is a kind, gentle book aimed at “goldeners” – also known as senior citizens – who don’t move much (anymore, or yet) but it can apply to any of us, since we’re all aging, and few of us move fluidly in all our joints. Katy Bowman is the teacher and main author, and four of her longtime class members, all in their seventies, contribute their experiences.

The first lesson is that fear and negative expectations can contribute to stiffness and immobility, which is why the people in Katy Bowman’s class choose to step away from the usual language for their age group and invent the new term “goldeners.” If we can’t imagine ourselves in motion, or we expect that motion leads to pain and injury, then we don’t move.

The book has easy, gentle exercises for each part of the body, starting at the feet, moving through knee and hip alignment and hip mobility, rib alignment and shoulder mobility. Balance, rising from a chair, confident walking, and movements needed for driving are emphasized. Line drawings help clarify each movement.

A note: Just because these exercises are simple and gentle, doesn’t mean you can’t overdo it. Start a little at a time!

The book is set in larger than usual type, double spaced, for ease of reading by older eyes. First the exercises are presented as part of a narrative about how they can fit into your life. Then a whole exercise routine is shown. Then each exercise is illustrated and described in a reference section. It’s a quick, enjoyable read, and has a lot of material for further exploration.

Recommended for anyone who wants to move more easily for more years, and especially for older people who need a reassuring re-introduction to movement.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Pain Is Really Strange” by Steve Haines, art by Sophie Standing

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Recommended to me by: reading Trauma Is Really Strange

This is in the same format as “Trauma Is Really Strange,” a graphic “novel” (although it’s non-fiction) or comic, or graphic medicine book. Each page is divided into panels with drawings and word bubbles, sometimes with additional explanations in tiny red print at the bottom of the page.

Most of the book talks about the complex neurology of pain as a lead up to saying that long term chronic pain is almost entirely unrelated to gnarly looking bone bumps or torn muscles on MRIs. Pain is the brain’s way of signaling danger, and our bodies each interpret danger in different ways. Tissue damage usually heals in 3-6 months, so most chronic pain that lasts longer than that is due to a sensitized nervous system.

Cancer pain is an exception, since tumors continue to physically push on body structures. I suspect there are other exceptions for chronic infections, etc.

Telling ourselves stories about pain that allow room for change is more functional than telling ourselves stories that have no hope, like “I’m just getting older,” or “I have arthritis.” Choose metaphors with hope as well. Pain as protective rather than pain as punishment.

Getting in tune with your body, feeling what is happening in this moment, and gradually adding gentle movement can all help the brain feel safer and thus reduce pain.

Paying attention to what feels good not only feels good in the moment, it can reduce overall pain over time.

Much of the information in the book is in tiny red print at the bottom of the pages under the cartoon panels. The cartoon format helps defuse a difficult topic, but also simplifies its complexities. I like the overall message, and at the same time the topic doesn’t quite fit into this format.

Recommended if you need a gentle introduction to the ways chronic pain can improve.

Available at Powell’s Books.