The protective patterns of trauma - Mihael Mamychshvili

Our pain is such a great teacher and suffering can either eat away at you or propel you to move towards a different path.

“A traumatic experience—we might think of it as a volcano that erupted or a lightning bolt that struck—it is surely an experience that overwhelmed the capacity of our Qi to remain within the boundary of the easy rise and easy fall of a healthy autonomic nervous system. It creates a massive disruption in the organization, flow, function, and vitality of our Qi.” - Tao Of Trauma

Going through my trauma work in my early twenties was Intense, to say the least. One of the first things I learned through meditation and the therapist that I went to who was a practicing Buddhist, Is to Identify the two states that I was operating under not fully realizing they were different.

One state was fear-based, full of anxiety, blind spots, pain, distorted perception, negative thoughts, darkness and all the habits that fueled and sustained it.

The other state was grounded in connection - heightened awareness that came with ease where I was able to attune to my Intuition and common sense. A space where joy was present and positive thought patterns flowed mixed with embodied trust.

I will never forget these words and they have now been incorporated into my practice not just life:

“All you have to do Mihael is to learn the two states intimately and discern when you are operating in the negative state that is fueled by fear and supported by control mechanisms. Once you discern, use tools to change that and you will change with time.”

When I came to the other side of healing my traumas with the help of my therapist, Intense meditation practices and spiritual guidance, having a purpose seemed to be the priority. It seems to be crystal clear that that’s why I had to go through everything that I had to go through.

What Is my purpose? 

When I discovered that working with Trauma was my purpose, Shiatsu therapy was the vehicle that I chose. I had to climb a tall mountain (metaphorically and figuratively) to find It through my healing journey.

Like many of us, Shiatsu gave me the feeling of “coming home” and discovering a language, a world although abstract initially, but with time, it made so much sense. 

The more I understood in my healing journey into relationships, how we relate to ourselves, others, nature and the spiritual; Shiatsu gave it a template, It was that missing piece. A way through which I can express myself so honestly in all my layers of being.

Upon Immersing myself into the path of the therapist and self-employment, and starting my practice, luck/destiny came in the form of my first case of a frozen shoulder.

The client suffered for years and tried everything with no success. She was a known journalist in my city and the editor of that newspaper who was in my hiking club referred her to me. After a a few sessions, the Issue was resolved to my great amazement after she had an emotional release. Needless to say, she was so grateful and appreciative that she wanted to write a “little story” about me. I was excited of course, she sent a photographer to the clinic I worked at and he took pictures and said look out for the story to come out in a few weeks.

After a few weeks went by, I was coming out of the wilderness on a hot summer weekend my cell phone was full of messages from the clinic owner wondering where I was as the clinic phone was ringing constantly with people looking for “Angel Hands”(My nickname and business name at the time).

He said, “Go read today’s newspaper you are in there with a picture”.

I drove so fast back to town and bought a newspaper opened it and there I was on the second page a page description of her personal experience with me and a quarter-page picture of me.

When I got back to the clinic and listened to all the messages from that day everybody with a bad shoulder called me. This continued for a couple of months after the story came up, so for months I was working on people with shoulder issues.

Shoulders are complicated to treat, in particular, frozen shoulders (adhesive capsulitis - read article) that have different degrees of the “freezing state”. After examining many clients in that period and thousands ones years later, I started to see the pattern that I call the John of Arc Syndrome. 

The John Of Arc Syndrome

When you think of the historical figure, she was a general a leader and a great fighter—a sword on one side and a shield on the other.  Seeing so many people with shoulder issues I could see the sword gesture was on the right and the shield on the left.

It started with noticing that if 10 people came to me with a frozen shoulder 9 out of the 10 would have it on the left side. Once hearing the story underneath the pain you could understand that the person is overwhelmed ( or freeze state). A state of self-preservation and self-protection where Innate resources are limited and can be accompanied by depressive episodes.

The person that had the frozen shoulder on the right side, hearing their story was always a type A personality that only knows how to fight and can be very vigilant, hyper achiever, hyper-attentive, hyper-aroused, hyper-focused hyper-determined and so on. They don’t know what giving up is! They will fight until they break! Or a break will be sent their way by life.

This later was useful as Polyvagal theory came to mass awareness with the fight, flight and freeze states of the nervous system. As the right shoulder for me is the Fight, the Left shoulder is Flight and the freeze brings curvatures to the upper back and a depression in the chest.

Working traditionally on frozen shoulders the way most therapists, doctors and specialists work could be more effective. At times the treatments are even detrimental and re-enforces the state of self-protection and the condition; as the nervous system interprets it as invasive. Even though I found that doing traditional Shiatsu therapy although more effective than all other therapies, still was being translated by the body’s nervous system as Invasive too.

Hearing what the body says and holding that space where people were able to share what’s underneath is one of the gifts that I had even as a young therapist. Trauma always played a role in their state and revealing/releasing their traumas brought on Improvements. Based on these experiences working with complex trauma I had to come up with a sequence that would bring down the alarms of the body and reset the nervous system. 

Revealing the Shen

In Shiatsu therapy we learn that the Shen (the spirit) resides in the Heart and the Pericardium Heart protector is there to protect it. From my experience, all trauma clients and all clients with chronic conditions hide aspects of self-consciously and unconsciously. This is where the inner conflict, the friction is felt between who we are, our essence and how we adapted to protect ourselves from pain and continued suffering. As soon as there is that command to protect oneself and fear a threat, the pericardium constricts around the heart.

As Shiatsu therapists we are trained to do Hara Assessment (abdominal diagnosis) when people first come to us. I don’t do that for the first few sessions again for the same reasons, that it be interpreted as “Invasive”. Working with victims of abuse, childhood trauma, violence and trauma caused by medical procedures and diseases, creates layers of protective barriers and fear. In addition from my clinical experience, when you remove the protective mechanisms and reset the nervous system you can get a more accurate assessment of the Hara.

For example, a common Jitsu Liver or Pericardium /Heart can have a completely different reading after resetting the nervous system. So what do I do Instead you might ask? 

I assess the Shen and start to release what I call the Alarm System of the body. There is something really powerful in touching the heart (of course always with the permission of the client) and a very specific part of the sternum CV 17 area (but not always) a point that will be acutely sensitive to the touch. At times It feels like a “knife stab” going deep even with the most gentle pressure/touch. You let the client know that it is there and it’s important that we find it and release it for them. 

Once it is found tuning into the information through that point starts the assessment. Feeling the 4 layers of the heart I saw Clifford Andrews do in a workshop I attended in Vienna. Where we focused on the physical heart, the psychological heart, the emotional heart and the spiritual heart. This enabled me to focus my Intuitive skills and start to “see” the pictures of the conflict. 

What’s more important there is a release that can be done for the pericardium and therefore the heart that does not necessarily require steady and prolonged work on the meridians associated (even though of course it’s helpful).

The release is so done with such subtlety that the client is astounded especially if there was severe sensitivity before. Also the areas in the chest, solar plexus, throat, shoulders upper back completely start to unwind.

When we work with trauma we always involve our clients in what we are doing and why we are doing it. It’s imperative to restore trust and create - healing experiences, empowering them that change can come with ease if we are doing it together consciously and intentionally.

With some very easy and comfortable transition moves that open up the chest I move to the most famous nerve in the body and now the world. Have you heard of it? Have you guessed it?

The Vagus Nerve

Also known as the Wandering Nerve, I call it the Master Nerve! Why the master? 

Because it can master you and after some time It is very hard for people to master it.

Besides being the line of communication between organs and the brain and vice versa, it also can affect respiration, digestion, Inflammation and Immunity. Blood pressure and lymph flow disrupt the endocrine system.

There is a branch of the nerve on each side of the neck right in line with the Scalene Muscles (which are chronically tight for most of your chronic clients). When the Alarm System is on the Vagus nerve is always a part of it and the scalenes will feel like “uncooked pasta”. Tight, wiry and pulse at times very rapid through the carotid artery.

I educate the client always about the Vagus nerve and how It’s a culprit in what they are experiencing and the tension, anxiety, pain and symptomology that they complain about. I have them involved in resetting It and use again very, very gentle maneuvers that I ask the client to do with the guidance of my hands. 

I emphasize the movements must be easy, as a trauma client, or even a chronic stress client will tend to create fast and hard movements even though they are instructed to do it slowly (meaning they habitually only know one speed). 

Once the sequence of movements is completed on both sides and in the systemic way the vagus nerve completely relaxes. The scalene muscles will feel like well-cooked pasta, the jaw will start to relax and they start to move into an alpha state, a deeper state of relaxation to their pleasure and relief. You always emphasize how well they did and how easy it was.

Once the alarm starts to subside we remove the SWORD and the SHIELD.

The Shoulders - the shield, the fight and the freeze

Pericardium and heart are relaxed, the chest is open, vagus nerve is reset you’ve succeeded in moving them to a healing state in the brain and body and Alpha state.

 The next move in the sequence - Rolling them to a side position and starting with the left shoulder the Shield = the Heart.

When working in a side position the shoulder supporting the back with your body is so powerful. You are entering now not just another part of the treatment but continuing a conversation and in this part, you are asking them to take the burden of carrying this shield for so long. 

With your touch and gentle, slow movements you are saying to them that It is safe to take it off, you are there for them to be able to take it off, you have their back and they can trust.  For most people, the left side feels always heavier than the right side. 

More rigid, more unable to relax, more restricted but gently and slowly with not a lot of effort and very little manipulation it starts to let go, unwind and expand.

On the right side and shoulder, the sword = the fight. You will notice and learn that good fighters always have problems on the right side. Especially those that will say, I never give up. Be again in a side position very supportive as you are asking this shoulder and part of the body to drop the sword because there is no need for a fight, a war they are safe. Working with mercenaries, soldiers, special unit forces, police officers, and first responders is very hard for them to let go of this side.

Once you managed to negotiate with the sword and the shield and assisted in the continual letting go as far as you were allowed to. We transition to the 2 most Loyal Soldiers.

The Illiopsoas Muscles

Are the Fight and Flight Muscle, ready to run away from a threat at any moment. It gives us the power to do so and the ability to jump out of threats. 

They connect the spine, pelvis, hip and leg and are very close to the Kidneys where they are inserted in the back. I always imagine them to be the two most loyal soldiers standing as the gatekeepers in front of the gate to the king, or the queen who resides in the palace (the heart). 

They absorb the shock that we experience and many of our traumas before we’ve come to understand and orient ourselves to what has happened. They store together with our Kidneys and Bladder our fears and our terror. When we disassociate from our bodies the psoas takes the brunt. As we are disconnected from our centre, or sense of safety the most loyal soldiers will step in to try and make you safe. I’ll hold the fort until you feel safe, or like yourself.

Most therapists heard of the psoas muscles but few know how to release them properly, safely and non-invasively with the help of your clients. The release methods need to be accurate, gentle and with the client as opposed to overriding the tension and trying to force a release. 

You create enough awareness with your touch and movement to enable the client to do the release. To release to the extent that they can handle and take for themselves. Once the psoas relaxes subsequently to all the other releases that are part of the Alarm System there is an overall deep relief and emotional releases start to move. The momentum and volume of the history is allowed to move.

I can breathe now - The Diaphragm 

Last but not least, the mediator of the bodymind (read article).

The hardest worker in the body never gets a break.

The diaphragm, through its rhythmic contractions during breathing, has a direct impact on the Autonomic Nervous system (ANS). When we inhale, the diaphragm contracts, creating a negative pressure in the chest cavity, which draws air into the lungs. This action primarily engages the PNS, promoting relaxation and calmness. Conversely, during exhalation, the diaphragm relaxes, and the SNS becomes more active, preparing the body for action.

The Diaphragm and Stress Response

Stress is an inevitable part of life, and how we respond to it can significantly affect our physical and mental well-being. The diaphragm plays a pivotal role in modulating the body's stress response. Shallow, chest-based breathing, which neglects the diaphragm's involvement, can lead to chronic stress and anxiety. 

In contrast, deep, diaphragmatic breathing promotes a more balanced activation of the ANS, reducing stress and promoting relaxation.

Diaphragmatic breathing enhances the Peripheral nervous system (PNS) activity, leading to decreased heart rate, lowered blood pressure, and improved digestion. It also stimulates the vagus nerve, a critical component of the PNS that helps regulate various bodily functions, including inflammation and emotional responses.

Releasing the diaphragm is done together and gently again with the client. They are always told what you are about to do and why and how you need their assistance to do it. 

That’s why using metaphors is so effective and powerful.

For example:

"It’s like me knocking on your door and from inside you look through the peephole and you see me (the therapist) who by now you trust. All you have to do is allow me to come in because you know I won’t hurt you, create pain, or make a mess". 

Usually, they smile here, or giggle and there is a release. Once the release occurs 3 pumps to the ribcage with strong inhales . Followed by 3 more pumps to the sternum with 3 inhales and 3 to the upper chest with strong inhales. 

Why do that you might ask?

To fill them up with new life, strong Lung Qi to infuse them with power, hope and renewal.&nbsp;</span><span>The effects are powerful of these gentle sequences you have just enabled them to release all the main protective mechanisms of the body and the alarm system. I can emphasize how relieved they feel and how well this works on so many levels. 

“The proof will have to be in the pudding”.

 I invite you to investigate and learn the techniques and their specifics in my workshops.