When the strands of the many cultures of Mexico are woven with the threads of a new spirit of healing and transformation, the resulting garment is like a huge brilliantly colored shawl (rebozo). This shawl extends between Mexico and the United States as an embrace, bringing warmth and comfort to those it touches. In the little town of Fortin de las Flores, near the Gulf of Mexico, Americans and Mexicans gather to weave this rebozo for themselves and for all the people they know. One particular gathering a year ago stands out as a shining example of the tapestry of healing.
It was a diverse assemblage — many psychologists, massage therapists, occupational therapists, educators, social workers, movement therapists, mothers and their children. Some spoke only Spanish, some only English. They came to live, eat, play, work and learn together for a week. They came to share their lives and their vision of a future free of shock and trauma.
They journeyed from Minnesota, from Colorado, from a tiny village near Puebla. They came from Mexico City and New Mexico, from Chile, Cuernevaca and Vera Cruz, Calif. But from another perspective, they all came from one place and they all spoke one language. The place they could all name as a point of origin was called “suffering,” and the language they all could speak was the language of “healing.”
Amy came from Boulder, near Littleton, Colo., where the Columbine tragedy had stunned her. Ofelia came from a village whose roads had been destroyed by the floods and storms in southern Mexico. It took her three days, by bus and foot, to get to Fortin de las Flores. Ignacio had taken shelter in Mexico from Chile, where he and his friends had been tortured by the armies of Augusto Pinochet, the dictator who oversaw a brutal slaughter of his people and their freedom.
Sue was recovering from two severe car accidents, which forced her to use a cane to walk. Mary wanted to stop smoking and find a new direction in her life. Dorasita wanted to make a career for herself as a healer and a dancer — how would she manifest this unique vision? Maria Christina wanted to create a training program for occupational therapists and include an understanding of shock, trauma and energy. Juan Carlos wanted to offer his clientele — the street children of Mexico, and their families — the opportunity to change their patterns of abuse. Since the old ways were unsuccessful, he sought to include the loving aspect of touch and the clarity of a greater understanding of the cycles of shock and trauma.
Shock and the Body
“For so well is the harp of human feeling strung that nothing but a crash that breaks every string can wholly mar its harmony.”
– – Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Roosters crow. From the school in the village comes the sound of the band practicing. Trucks barrel down the highway to Corboda, tooting their horns, racing their motors. The earthy smells of coffee and tortillas fill the air. The group meets on the terrace where Mimi, Eugenia and Salome (a group tending to the meals and childcare tasks) have laid out a sumptuous breakfast of assorted fruits (papayas, pineapple, the delicious bananas of the region), and the traditional Mexican breakfast of eggs, beans and tortillas. For bebidas (drinks), there are juegos naturlezas (natural juices), agua (watermelon water or almond water) and teas made from freshly picked herbs (chamomile, cinnamon), as well as the coffee, which is grown and roasted next door.
Some words come easily: “Buenos das.” “Good morning.” “Hola, amigos.” “Que tal?” “How are you?” “How did you sleep?” The long breakfast table is soon the center of a scene of laughter and talking as dreams are exchanged and everyone celebrates the marvelous food, the breezy, warm weather and the pleasure of being together. The ground of friendliness and safety is laid, in these simple ways, for an investigation into shock and its impact on health and structure. Though many of the participants in this workshop have never seen each other before, they enter each other’s lives easily. They share a mutual commitment to end the lineage of shock and trauma in their personal lives, in their communities and in their countries. The task seems great, but in community, the task becomes simple human inspiration.
Safety and Trust
Unbeknownst to the students, they have already put into place two fundamental resources for this investigation: safety and trust. Every therapist, but especially those who work with the body, must provide these resources in their practice. Safety and trust must be uniquely established through presence and attention to contact made with each client. Anyone who comes for healing may well be a survivor of shock.
While the issue of violence is ageless and ancient, the world has never known the degree of violence which (and this is perhaps most frightening of all) has become commonplace to us. Very few lives have the luxury of being without violence, shock or trauma of some kind. Everyone who works with people, whether as a massage therapist or a teacher, a parent or a counselor, needs tools to identify and evaluate shock and trauma. Interventions that proceed without safety and trust, and the fully acknowledged, clear permission of the client, run the risk of reactivation. Frequently the therapist remains ignorant of this reactivation and the client does not communicate it. The very absence of this dialogue is a by-product of shock.
Nothing is more suited to the treatment of shock in the body than energy medicine. Furthermore, nothing blends more easily with all kinds of bodywork. But what, you may well ask, is energy medicine, and what is shock?
The Role of Energy Medicine
Energy medicine (sometimes called “energy healing” or “energy work”) to address muscular aches and pains or structural misalignments, dares to explore the origin of these conditions, particularly when they are chronic. It is usually subtle in its administration, employing a lighter touch and evoking delicate sensations. Reiki, Jin Shin, Healing Touch, Therapeutic Touch, Polarity and sometimes craniosacral therapy are categorized as energy medicine, along with many other systems. Energy medicine evokes awareness in the recipient of psychological, emotional and spiritual causative factors. In the deeply receptive state initiated by energy medicine, hidden or buried feelings such as resistance, resentment, contained or repressed fear or anger, dispiritedness or prolonged grief surface. Energy medicine can surprisingly and thoroughly change dysfunctional patterns in our bodies by giving us the space to see deeply into ourselves and the historical antecedents to pain or injury.
Energy medicine directs its attention to the etheric body, or to other subtle bodies, which frame and border the physical body. Energy medicine also directs itself to the chakras and meridians. These energetic pathways or structures were identified by ancient healers and were considered causal for illness and disease as long ago as the second century B.C. in many different parts of the world (Egypt, Greece, Rome and Japan). In Oriental systems, as well as in Western esoteric traditions, these fields have been recognized, seen and even tested. The recent recognition of the effectiveness of acupuncture by the National Institutes of Health in the treatment of pain and headaches is but one example of how these systems are becoming viable modalities in the West.
Because of its gentleness, its sensitivity, its non-invasive administration and its slower pace, energy medicine is the most appropriate treatment for shock. Shock is the result of experiences that completely overwhelm the nervous system, attacking when it is most vulnerable. Almost everyone has experienced shock, whether in an accident, at birth, during a natural disaster or as the result of developmental events. Abuse and violence, of course, are shocking. Touch often evokes memories of shock in the body. For this reason, people who work with touch and with the body have a responsibility to educate themselves about shock.
The health care professionals who gathered in Fortin de las Flores just prior to the millennium, all had agreed to this education and to prevent the further replication of shock and trauma. Through the use of energy medicine and the language of healing, they would repattern their own lives as they reconfigured their approach to working with others.
Sexual Abuse, Parasympathetic Shock and Sciatica
Dinner was served and the students gathered as a large family after a day of study and practice. Nourished, they adjourned to the sitting room where a fire roared. Seated in a circle, some in big chairs, some on the floor, they presented their questions, looking for a practical understanding of how to include energy medicine and shock resolution in their work with their clients. One of the Mexican students, a massage therapist, told his story.
A young woman came to him with a painful and chronic sciatic condition. The therapist interviewed her about her history. The client admitted her father had sexually abused her, but she could not confront him or her family about this. This simply was not done in Mexican culture. The client was torn between her love for her family, and even her love for her father, and her need to speak up. Not speaking up made her feel secretive, deceptive and ashamed. But the thought of revealing the abuse thoroughly frightened her. She could not move forward, neither could she retreat into denial. She constantly felt held back. Not only did the sciatica weaken her and make her feel powerless, but her situation with her father did as well. She was sad, lethargic, depressed and passive — all signs of parasympathetic shock, that is, the withdrawing or holding back response of the nervous system to shock. The way to shift parasympathetic shock is through empowerment.
How does a massage therapist empower a survivor of sexual abuse who has asked for help with painful sciatica? After all, a massage therapist is not a psychotherapist.
Holding intention simply means to contain an awareness of a possibility for someone. Such containment offers confidence, faith, assurance and a belief in process to the client. It creates an ambiance of stable courage and grounded hope that nourishes the client in silence.
Using intention, the therapist simply sees, in their mind’s eye, a picture of the client as strong and capable, calm and supported in moving ahead on their path. In this case, the client could be envisioned as having overcome indecision. Without saying a word, the therapist can have faith in the client’s capacity to know right action, and hold that picture of the strength internally. The client will feel the containment and relax because the possibility of a positive outcome and transformative change has been validated, albeit without words. The client usually is holding this hope, but is afraid to live in that confidence. The very wordlessness of the intention makes it less threatening.
The silence, the internalization, and the subtle, invisible nature of this intervention is what qualifies it as energy medicine. These same qualifications, however, have often caused people to discount the power of energy healing.
The second possibility for a massage therapist in such a situation came to light as the group acted out the case in question. An American woman played the client and a Mexican woman played the role of the massage therapist. The rest of the group observed and noticed their feelings and thoughts. Later, all would brainstorm the possibilities for healing.
The intervention that arose is simply called identification, or education. The therapist can speak directly to the client about the dynamics of the body. What happens when the hips are held rigidly, or one hip is hyperextended, as was the reality for the woman in the case study? How does such a physiological restriction play out in the rest of the body? What happens to the tissues, the joints and the ligaments around that rigid, perhaps inflamed, hip? What is the relationship between the hips, the pelvis and action, or movement? This education is as important to the massage session as the massage itself, especially for someone who is aware of the unquestionable interaction of life, feeling and the body. Such an education is both enlightening and healing.
In the play-acting, the “client” listened to the “therapist,” and as she did so, her face turned a pasty white, which is one of the signs of parasympathetic shock. Even though the “client” was acting, she felt the inherent emotions of the story.
Continued in Part II tomorrow . . .
By Stephanie Mines, Ph.D., the founder and director of The TARA Approach for the Resolution of Shock and Trauma, a nonprofit organization, to build a bridge between survivors of domestic violence in Mexico and the United States. To participate in these intercultural programs, or to make a tax-deductible contribution to their continuity, contact Mines at 303/499-9990, or e-mailing her at Taramines@Tara-Approach.org. Visit her Web site at http://www.TARA-Approach.org. Mines is also the author of Sexual Abuse/Sacred Wound: Transforming Deep Trauma, The Dreaming Child: How Children Help Themselves Recover From Illness and Injury, and We Are All in Shock: Treatments for Healing the Silent Epidemic.
Originally published in Massage & Bodywork magazine, February/March 2001.
Copyright 2003. Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. All rights reserved.
- Therapeutic Touch (poshcaresupport.com)
- Energy Medicine Course Added to HealthForumOnline’s Continuing Education (CE) Resource Library for Health Providers (prweb.com)
- Energy Medicine – The Importance of Everything (hofholistichealingcenters.wordpress.com)
- Energy Healing as the Future of Medicine (boydswellnesscenter.wordpress.com)
- The Power of Yes: Affirmation and Intention – Energy Medicine (hofholistichealingcenters.wordpress.com)
- The Power of Self-Healing – A Client’s Journey to Wellness (hofholistichealingcenters.wordpress.com)
- Energy Medicine: A Field of Potential – Part II (hofholistichealingcenters.wordpress.com)
- The Mind-Body Spa Experience (hofholistichealingcenters.wordpress.com)
- Energy Medicine: A Field of Potential – Part I (hofholistichealingcenters.wordpress.com)