According to Babette Rothschild, one of the most respected trauma authors, body awareness is a most practical tool in the treatment of trauma and PTSD. When we are more aware of our bodies, we enter the present moment, separating past from present. We do not get distracted by our mind and we gain control over unpleasant somatic memories.
Our brain has different ways of remembering events: explicit memory and implicit memory. Explicit memory is what you normally remember happening to you in a narrative. It is what we usually call “memory”. It is mediated by the hippocampus. Implicit memory includes all automatic processes that you remember, like knowing how to tie your shoelaces. They are unconscious processes because you don’t need to think about them to remember them. They are mediated by the amygdala.
When faced with a danger, your body will activate the fight or flight response. In those circumstances of high stress, the stress hormones suppress the activity of the hippocampus but they don’t appear to affect the activity of the amygdala. This is the reason why traumatic events are more often recorded in the implicit memory. Your body remembers the trauma, but your mind cannot make sense of it because your hippocampus was not working when it happened. Remember that your hippocampus managed the explicit memory (narrative of the events).
You may not remember a traumatic event, but you may feel the signs of fight or flight when something triggers the event: a smell, a certain look, a thought. You may not recognise the triggers, but you may feel your heart racing, a cold sweat, shallow breathing, or any of the signs indicated in the image. You can recognise these signs as fear. With body awareness, you are able to slow down and stop this hyperarousal. Body awareness allows you to stay in the present and helps you to feel more empowered regarding your body responses and emotions.
Body awareness has been cultivated for centuries by the Eastern practices of meditation, yoga, tai chi or qigong. But you don’t need to be a yogi to become more aware of your body. Your counsellor can help you. Body awareness can become a precious tool when processing past trauma with the help of a professional counsellor.