In this final contribution to the series of What Works, we will focus on modalities utilized at Clear Recovery that integrate the mind and body connection. We often hear the term mind/body used in various wellness, medical and healing platforms. What this means is that there are powerful and complex interactions that take place between our thoughts, our bodies, and the outside world and these factors can directly impact our physical and mental health. Let’s begin by exploring the adverse impact of the pandemic on our brain and our body. Then we will look at the Clear path to recovery.
With nearly 40% of the United States population now vaccinated and restrictions being lifted, we must consider what “going back to normal” really means for us. The pandemic has disrupted our mind/body connection, and we are all in need of strategies to bring ourselves home again.
The nervous system effect of this pandemic has been profound. As we have discussed in this series’ previous article, our autonomic nervous system (ANS)—although not at the level of our conscious awareness—has been exquisitely designed to keep us safe. When there is an acceleration of threat activated in the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) our body’s natural reaction to the perceived threat is the fight-flight-freeze response. As our body is absolved of that threat, with the help of a neuro brake, the parasympathetic branch of our nervous system helps regulate our internal organs to maintain equilibrium, bringing the body into the green light zone of a rest and digest state. Here we are most integrated and creatively aligned with ourselves and connected to others.
The collective trauma of the pandemic alone has shrunk our optimal zone of rest and digest and the ANS has been at a consistent heightened level of arousal. Here we are, more than a year after the pandemic, and the threat never went away. We have had many chapters of incredible losses and stresses, but we kept going. The central nervous system is triggering the fight or flight response for very long periods of time causing us harm; including digestive problems, anxiety, sleep problems, memory and concentration issues, depression, etc. We are not aligned with ourselves within the optimal zone of arousal. Many people have found themselves responding to that continual activation with aggression, rigidity in thinking, being myopic in perspective, without cognitive flexibility to explore other perspectives and ideas, and a massive loss of empathy.
For many, the reserve necessary for fight or flight was exhausted and as the sense of loss of control persisted, and the central nervous system’s defense response was to freeze or shut down. Although this is a natural variation in our nervous system, it is a scary place to be. The symptoms of this shut-down response are apathy, detachment, disembodiment, dissociation, and numbing. Underneath it all is the arousal that the body has tucked in. The body’s shut-down response is a challenging state from which to “go back to normal.”
In our discomfort, we have tried to instinctively work out solutions to make us feel better in the short-term that cause downstream problems; alcohol, drugs, eating disorder behaviors, gaming, Netflix, etc. The symptoms of stress on our nervous system create impulsivity, moodiness, and lashing out behaviors. We take on more negative beliefs about others, ourselves, and the world. Not to mention the terrible effects of social isolation, and the need to belong catapulting people to the extreme of othering. Nervous system dysregulation is the source where all of these behavioral manifestations are coming from. We all entered into the same state of uncertainty and fear. Our nervous system responses depend a lot on our patterns and history of trauma and how we learned to meet stress.
In the past year, we’ve tricked ourselves into believing that our Zoom and online connections are sufficient. However, as much as we have tried to create meaningful connection, we see how inefficient it actually is. In the widespread trauma of this pandemic, the things that protect and soothe us have been taken from us; closeness, connection, a hug. The very thing that keeps us human—physical connection to other people—was the cost of keeping us safe. Furthermore, there has been the lack of seeing and being seen in a world of masks. We became a danger to each other by virtue of our breath. It is an enormous loss to not be able to do these things when people are in pain and there is tremendous grief.
We are conditioned to turn away from discomfort and suffering. We are not very good at allowing for grief. As we adjust and reenter life as we knew it, there is apprehension, anxiety, fear, and grief. We may tell ourselves we are “back to normal,” but even that phrase is flawed. We cannot go back, and if we trick ourselves into thinking that is what we are doing, it is a recipe for pattern repetition. We are moving forward, and it is important to recognize the grief in what we are leaving behind. We must pause to acknowledge the loss and the gratitude in this passage and to embrace what we choose to take with us. This is not going back to normal, but rather moving forward in life and love and community with conscious awareness and intent.
One thing we want to underscore at Clear is that whatever the feeling, it is a normal response to uncontrollable and unpredictable circumstances. We begin with compassion for others and ourselves for all that we are feeling, sensing, and doing to get out from under the numbing behaviors. At Clear Recovery Center we begin the process of reconnecting to ourselves and our sensory experiences, increasing our window of tolerance and create resilience that stabilizes and equalizes our central nervous system. This is the goal of our effective mind/body treatment modalities of meditation, yoga, breathwork, and sound bath utilized in recovery at Clear. Let’s go on to explore the benefits.
On a very basic level, people have known for at least several hundred years that yoga helps quiet the mind. By focusing on the breath and movements, it lowers the volume of the brain’s endless chatter during the practice and also helps increase focus and attention throughout the day.
Scientists at Harvard Medical School have recently shown that practicing yoga helps reduce the symptoms associated with major mental health challenges such as depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Studies have shown that a consistent practice of yoga helps reduce the quantity of cortisol—a hormone linked to stress and depression—in the body. Researchers have discovered that doing yoga can help people relieve stress and handle stressful situations in a much more positive way. Furthermore, Yoga movements and poses help the body develop strength, flexibility, and balance, as well as improve respiration, energy, circulation and cardiovascular health.
Meditation, a practice of focused awareness, is a mind/body technique that can mitigate the effects of stress on our bodies by bringing calm to our bodies through calming our minds. Through mindfulness meditation, we are essentially deactivating our sympathetic nervous system (letting go of the accelerator) and turning on the parasympathetic branch (apply the brakes), resulting in decreased heart rate, blood pressure, stress hormones, and muscle tension. Recent neuroscience research assessing the effects of meditation on the nervous system suggest that regular meditation practice can, at least partially, reverse this harmful imbalance of the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems, resulting in a larger window of tolerance and increasing self-regulation. Studies have found that over time this practice can help reduce pain, depression, stress, and anxiety.
It is difficult to accept some aspects of the present moment when things are not so pleasant. One of the benefits of mindfulness meditation is being able to disengage with something that’s stressful, without numbing.
Calming our sympathetic nervous system through meditation can decrease emotional reactivity, allowing more pause and decreasing reactive behaviors. “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” – Viktor Frankl.
“Breathwork is a simple breathing technique that assists in processing trauma, developing healthier thought patterns, and creating a new perspective on old behavior. This two-stage rhythm helps calm the brain and allows clients to experience a more tangible connection to their bodies. This practice allows clients to become more aware of buried emotion and deep-seated trauma while identifying the necessary steps toward healing those wounds. Because breathwork doesn’t depend on conscious thought, it is able to successfully circumnavigate the defense mechanisms and roadblocks typically encountered during conventional talk therapy and, often after just one session, clients are able to see and feel the nurturing effects.” -breathworkforrecovery.com
Unlike meditation, where we are aware of our mental chatter, breathwork allows us to disconnect from the mind and reconnect with our body and energy.
Breathwork describes a group of exercises that teach you to manipulate your breathing rate and depth with the goal of bringing awareness to your breath and ultimately providing the same benefits you might get from a meditative practice. People who practice breathwork describe feelings of clarity, alertness, increased mind-body connection and even emotional purging.
Lauren Jarema, Clear Recovery’s skilled trauma-informed certified breathwork facilitator shares her personal breathwork experience,
“Early on in my recovery, breathwork became a healing tool that helped me get out of my head and into my body. Breathwork helped me move forward in places I had been previously stuck. Through this breathing technique, I became able to break out of negative thought patterns and I learned how to feel safe in my body. This is a tool that can be used outside of the group setting once the client is comfortable with the technique. Each person is in charge of their own experience and does the work to heal themself. This is a personally empowering form of healing, that is why I enjoy guiding clients through this experience.”
In general, a sound bath is a meditative experience where those in attendance are “bathed” in sound waves of soothing, echoing sound from traditional wind and percussion instruments, such as gongs, singing bowls, percussion, chimes, rattles, tuning forks, and even the human voice itself. Each instrument creates a different frequency that vibrates in your body and helps guide you to the meditative and restorative state.
The use of music for healing is not a new phenomenon. Music has been used for its therapeutic effects for thousands of years. The ancient Greeks used sound vibration to aid in digestion, treat mental disturbance, and induce sleep, and even Aristotle’s De Anima detailed how flute music could purify the soul. At end of the 19th century, researchers began to focus on proving the correlation between sound and healing. These studies proved that music could lower blood pressure, decrease pulse rate, and assists the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for digestion and some metabolic processes.
David Romero, a highly respected and favorite group facilitator at Clear, a Lecturer of Yoga and Stress Management at the University of Southern California and the owner of The Yogi DR™, describes his experience teaching Sound Bath,
“This practice is such a joy to share. Essentially the underlying theme is that everything is vibration and frequency. Physical matter, mental matter, the breath, it’s all a frequency that gives rise to experience.
A sound bath practitioner gives participants a particular opportunity to re-ground and visit the present moment. For many with addiction and mental health issues, the mind is stuck in the past or future. By easing the frequency in which one can remain in the present (or take their attention away from negative thinking), an opening is created and it gives them a window of opportunity to see that the present moment is not something to be afraid of.
Sound baths are a powerful practice in learning to listen from within and to observe without reaction. Ultimately, the practice teaches us to be a witness and is intended to help re-root ourselves in the heart.”
Clear Recovery Center has integrated a number of effective treatment modalities for whole health individual needs. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction and/or mental health issues, we are here to support you. Let’s move forward together.