Acupuncture treatments can provide a safe and effective outlet for the release of traumas that have become lodged in the body. I know this because a significant number of clients who come through my door for acupuncture are folks who identify as trauma survivors. And some of them have experienced a release of trauma in a very physical way, as a result of acupuncture. I’ll tell you of one such instance in just a minute. First, I have to give a shout out to Michael Given who recently posted over at Deepest Health. In his article he said:
classical holism is a dynamic interplay between function and matter, internal and external, time and space. It is based on the concept that matter follows energy, and energy follows consciousness…
Thanks, Michael! Those words got me thinking about writing this post. I would just add that consciousness sometimes follows energy, just as energy sometimes follows matter. The interplay is bidirectional! The example I’ll give in a minute illustrates this.
Before giving the example of a release, here’s my take on how trauma gets lodged in the body in the first place. Trauma, broken trust and boundary violations cause (imaginary but nonetheless energetically strong) boundaries in the quiet spaces of the heart –the netherworld of dream, myth and archetype, where the lively, constantly changing, evolving and engendering energies between form and function naturally “play,” or “interplay.” Perhaps those boundaries are an instinctual attempt at protecting what in Chinese Medicine we sometimes call, the Emperor–the heart (without which we do not live). The energetic effect, however, is to prevent some of the spontaneous interplay of form and function. Thus, integration of experience in the life-blood of being becomes an enormous challenge. The life-blood which should carry that wisdom of integrated experience to the rest of the body, carries instead blood that is stagnant with non-digestible energy.
I always imagine that blood burdened by the non-digestible energy of trauma is “sticky,” almost as if it contains little velcro-like points looking for another sticky surface to grab onto. This is how I imagine trauma gets stuck in the body. Sticky blood! Now, I confess, I completely made up this term–I’m not using the language of Chinese medicine here, as I think most clients don’t get that much out of it; instead I’m using images that my clients seem to respond to. When sticky blood is carried through the blood stream it either finds a sticky spot to which it is naturally attracted just as velcro attaches to itself. The sticky spot is an area of the body that may already have been weakened by some sort of a pathogen (and trauma can be an example of a pathogen in this sense). It there are no sticky body points (or sometimes even if there are, if there is an abundance of this sticky blood, it can travel in a circuitous loop of negative emotions and thoughts, and never become resolved or integrated. What follows such a state of irreconcilable energetic information is, inevitably, illness.
Here I have to give another thanks to a writer at the Helfgott blog, Michael McMahon who posted an article about an English country doctor who believed that the nature of illness was related to a person’s inability to find ‘confirmation of oneself in’ the outside world. The book about this doctor, which Michael quotes, is called “A Fortunate Man,” and a book I definitely look forward to reading. That beautiful quote just brings to mind that unending circuitous loop of emotion and thought I’m talking about. The loop is a closed and exhausting circuit which could be interrupted by “confirmation” of one’s self in the world. That confirmation is not easy to find for traumatized people.
That doctor lived in the 60s, a traumatic time for our country, war time, and a time of great upheaval and change. I think the cultural phenomenon of identity politics, which arose in the 80s, arose out of a deep need within individuals for “confirmation of self” in a world that had not regained it’s equilibrium since the widespread unrest of the 60s. Identity politics was exemplified on college campuses by the diverse identity-oriented groups that were popping up all over the place. I was in college and living in Northampton Massachusetts at the time, where there was an explosion of Gay and Lesbian groups, followed soon by Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual Groups, followed a little later by Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered groups! These groups played a large part for many people in interrupting a closed circuit of isolation–however, the identity groups (I believe) often became an albeit larger, but nonetheless still closed circuit– which failed to find confirmation of itself in the outside world. Some of the groups were in fact somewhat based on keeping out the outside world. I think identity politics (at its height in the 80s?) is giving way to a cultural politics more comfortable with sharing space and dialogue among people of vastly different experiences– a healthier, more open system, in my opinion…but I digress.
Oh-oh, reign me in…OK, I’m back…Here is the example I promised to give:
A few years ago I had a client who, among other noncritical ailments, suffered from constipation. On one day in particular she felt her “midsection was blocked.” I did a very simple treatment (St 25, Cv 4, CV 6, Liv 3, Liv 14) and the client experienced an unexpected phenomenon–whole body trembling. She asked me not to take the needles out but to sit with her while she described to me the memory that had suddenly flooded her consciousness the moment the shaking began. I will always remember the gist of what she told me about her experience. When she was a very young woman, a teenager, she became pregnant and received an abortion in a manner that can only be described as cruel and unusual punishment. Saline was injected into her womb, and then she was left alone in a room, experiencing excruciating physical and mental anguish, for 18 or more hours. She wept as she spoke but again asked me not to remove the needles as she felt that they were facilitating a final exodus of this trauma from her body.
As in this example, the potential exists for acupuncture treatments to spontaneously dislodge stored trauma from the body without requiring the patient to undergo lengthy sessions in which she holds the trauma in her consciousness, as is required of many psychological approaches to healing such as psychoanalysis and other talk therapies. Nothing wrong with those therapies, and if fact in the given example my client not only had engaged in significant therapy in her life, she was also a therapist by profession; who is to say if the combination of therapy and acupuncture is not what lead her to the readiness of that moment to release the trauma. But it is also true that it was the release of the trauma in her case, which brought the trauma to consciousness. It wasn’t the other way around. The body, not the mind was the initiator in the letting go process. The consciousness that followed was accompanied clearly (as described by the client) by a new sense of the trauma as something exiting the body.
The realization that this sort of healing is possible with acupuncture led some acupuncturists to New York City after 9/11, to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and to Southern California after the recent wide-spread fires. These compassionate acupuncturists have been on the scene to provide stress-relieving auricular acupuncture treatments to survivors and aid workers alike. For more information about the work of one organization dedicated to this sort of service, and teaching other acupuncturists how to set up mobile acupuncture clinics visit Acupuncturists Without Borders. According to the AWBs home page,
Acupuncturists Without Borders’…vision is to foster the creation of stable, peaceful global communities through its community-based acupuncture services and training which interrupt the cycles of unresolved trauma.
I went to one of their trainings in Portland Maine. They do good work. If so moved, please donate to their organization (Besides attending one of their trainings I am not affiliated with AWB). Peace!