I thought I'd break up the festive cheer with a review on a book primarily on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. Christmas can be pretty traumatic for some so maybe it's more appropriate than I originally thought.
'The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma', by Bessel Van Der Kolk is for anyone with an interest in trauma. Armed with a large number of case studies and many years of experience in the field of PTSD, Van Der Kolk details the discoveries of trauma, what happens to the brain, what happens to children, the overall effects and most interestingly for me, the paths to recovery.
The biggie for me was I think the book really should come with a warning. I would say I'm not overly sensitive to events, but I was nearly in tears and really struggling to read an awful lot of this book. In fact, I started this in the summer and have only now finished it over Christmas. It is HEAVY GOING, mentally and emotionally. The book goes into quite horrific detail of numerous sexual abuses and other traumatic experiences. I was shocked by how open it was with that, which for myself was just a horrible read. But for those that may have had to live through such things I cannot begin to imagine how the book would make them feel. I would've thought that a large number of readers of the book would be those living with PTSD in order to find things to help, so why are they not warned of what they may read? If you believe yourself to have PTSD I would suggest skip most of the book and go straight to 'Part Five: Paths to Recovery'. You've been living the experience so you don't need to read what it's like; you know too well already!
This book will make you think about trauma in general in a new light. I've always tried to think of how everyone in this world is doing their best, and fighting their own battles. Now I think that if you've had a childhood, and a life you are going to be living with some degree of trauma. PTSD is the extreme case of course, and the way the body deals with it is truly remarkable. I've an ever higher level of awe for the body's intelligence now, in the way it responds to protect us. The difficulty comes when the body continues in this mode after the event and one has to return to 'normal life'. The biggest takeaway from the book if you are not dealing with trauma (as a patient or practitioner) would be how when we pass someone in the street, we truly have no idea of what they've been through or are continuing to fight through.
The reason I read the book was to learn more about the body, but also because one of the ways to recovery mentioned is Yoga. There is also a woman in the book who used Pilates for the same purpose, which was to slowly learn to inhabit the body once more. Trauma sufferers can use disattachment from their body as a coping mechanism, but to become healed it is important to become one with the body once more. It's always amazing to read and see the remarkable effects of these movement forms, and backed by evidence not just the words 'ancient wisdom says...'. Admittedly I now feel a huge sense of responsibility as a teacher, but also deeply privileged to be able to help people in this way.
The book will also help me think a lot more about what I am teaching in regards to possible triggers for students. I was already shying away from 'assists' in classes. In our Pilates examination we HAD to give assists or corrections to people and demonstrate our hands on ability. I already felt, particularly as a male teacher, that this could be a little intrusive so rarely did it. But after reading this book it's a case of being even more careful as you know nothing about someone's past and what may act as a trigger in regards to sexual abuse trauma; the body can go to the degree of totally wiping the memory of the abuse out of the brain as it is too horrific to comprehend. Something seemingly tiny can one day be the trigger, causing a flashback of an event that they had never even realised occurred.
This is even to the degree of different poses, particularly in Yoga. The exert below gives a good example.
'The Body Keeps the Score' is a must for anybody who works with humans, to deepen your understanding of why people may respond in a certain way. If you know someone with PTSD in their life, again read this to gain an understanding of their daily battles and you will quite possibly be in tears a lot of the time. If you are living with PTSD then the section on paths to recovery will be really good for you to read. The rest of the book I would suggest not to read, or wait until you feel you're along the road to recovery and maybe what to get a better understanding.
If this review has raised any questions for you, please go and see someone who specialises in PTSD. There's a huge amount of help out there for you. I can provide the Yoga and Pilates, even an ear now and then, but this is not in my field of expertise.