body, mind, heart, & soul
What is somatic therapy?
‘Soma’ refers to the unified ‘mind-body’ whole, that cannot be separated into parts. Somatic Therapy works with the human ‘mind-body’ connection to improve quality of life and promote healing. Techniques vary greatly and may focus on promoting body-awareness, mindfulness practices, assessing and improving posture, working with the breath, movement, sound or having integrative conversations.
Opening to a joyful, passionate life happens more naturally, when our external lives mirror inner beliefs, values and desires. This kind of integrity leads to wellness.
Central to this work is the belief that we each hold the wisdom for our lives and that we each have a purpose no one else can fulfill. It can be profoundly painful to be disconnected from these inner resources. When ready, its possible to let go of old habits to reach for what most strongly calls us forward. In this way, we can re-member who we are, finding home.
Life Transitions, Chronic Pain, Trauma Integration, Stress Management, Intimacy, and Body-awareness
Communication, Conflict Resolution, Intimacy and Body-awareness
Kristen brings many wonderful qualities to her work. She is a deeply attuned listener who hears meaning beyond the words. Kristen’s insightful, respectful, and authentic responses supported my unfolding. I felt deeply seen and held by her. I value our work together and feel it was instrumental in supporting a transformative process I was undergoing at that time. I am deeply grateful Kristen. Thank you.
K. S. P.
Somatic Experiencing (SE) heals the impacts of overwhelming stress of all kinds. The word ‘trauma’ is used here to refer to what’s now seen as a ‘Spectrum of Trauma’* from mild to severe that includes experiences familiar to each of us (see below). The words “overwhelming stress,” “disconnection,” “thwarted threat response,” or “disregulation,” work equally well.
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*Robert Scaer, “Spectrum of Trauma”
Every living organism decides what nourishes and what threatens life. In an ideal world, things that nourish life are allowed ‘in’. Things that harm life are kept ‘out’.
In humans, this ‘boundary-making’ process is a function of the nervous system, evolved over millions of years, in direct response to the natural world.
In geological time, our relationship to the natural world has changed radically over night, while our nervous systems have not. A nervous system that remembers being embedded in nature, perceives many aspects of the modern world as dangerous, stimulating a fight-flight, or threat response.
In this way, most of us are on ‘alert’, without having ever consciously identified the danger.
Animals in the wild run, fight or freeze when threatened. These are instinctual, physiological responses which carry intense amounts of survival energy. The same is true for us.
But why do we develop symptoms of trauma and wild animals don’t? Because they metabolize the survival energy through action. For us, its often the case that the social part of our brain intervenes, recognizing how inappropriate or awkward it might be for our bodies to act. The energy of this ‘thwarted threat response’ has to go somewhere. So it binds up as symptoms of ‘trauma’—muscle tension, hyper-arousal, insomnia, difficulty with digestion, restless leg, migraines, digestive troubles, fibromyalgia, anger issues, etc. Or so says the new neurobiology.
This is a very new perspective. Trauma has been thought of being the result of repressed emotions connected to horrific events, not the result of a thwarted threat response. Exposure Therapy (ET) has been the treatment of choice. But as our understandings evolve, ET is gradually giving way to a more body-awareness approach like Somatic Experiencing or even yoga. Each helps to metabolize residual survival energy, clearing the symptoms of trauma.
Using the new definition of trauma within an evolutionary context, it might be easy to see how we all carry a ‘trauma load’. To some degree, we’re all disconnected from our bodies, each other, our communities and the natural world.
In fact, its so pervasive in Western culture as to often go unnoticed. But statistics show an underlying ‘failure to thrive’ in the U.S. Current social research has us as “the most indebt, addicted, medicated and depressed adult cohort in U.S. history”*, facing the most devastating ecological crisis of our times. If our lives were well nourished, it might look very different.
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Paradigms of thought can powerfully shape our world. For Harry Potter, believing in Platform 9 3/4 offered access to a whole new world of magic.
Currently, the scientific paradigm holds a pinnacle place in western culture, with allopathic medicine riding the crest. But even as it brings such goodness to our lives, its only a partial answer to our woes. A more holistic paradigm might begin to embrace the underlying ‘organic intelligence’ of the body, inviting us to ‘know’ with our minds as well as our hearts, what nourishes our bodies as well as our souls.
Kristen’s services provided me with an opportunity to process a life changing event from all aspects. I was able to incorporate some positive aspects to this previously viewed “negative-only” experience. I learned [how to] digest my traumatic event and release concepts/ideas/memories, allowing me to feel more whole, no longer disconnected. I developed several, soothing, coping skills that I continue to utilize.
What is mindfulness meditation?
Mindfulness meditation, as taught in the eight-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) training, is the act of bringing moment to moment awareness, free of judgment, to our lives. It’s a powerful tool for improving the quality of our lives, health and well-being.
‘Mindlessness’, it’s opposite, is when we find ourselves on automatic pilot, missing the finer details of the people, places and events of our lives. In mindfulness meditation we learn to relate directly to whatever is happening in our lives, with full awareness, letting go of the need to change “what is.” It’s a way of taking charge and doing something for ourselves that no one else can—while consciously and systematically working with the stress, pain, illness and the challenges and demands of everyday life. This process has the power to reconnect us with all aspects of ourselves, including our body, mind, heart and soul. Each MBSR course offers many different kinds of relaxation techniques.
The Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR training) program, (or Mindful Meditation, Jon Kabat-Zinn meditation, Jon Kabat-Zinn mindfulness) offers simple but profound skills, popularly thought of as “relaxation techniques,” for improving one’s quality of life, health and well-being. MBSR was founded by Jon Kabat-Zinn in 1979 at the UMass Medical Center in Worcester, MA, and popularized in the Bill Moyer’s documentary “Healing and the Mind.”
Eight-week MBSR Program Results
Thirty years of MBSR research show that most people who complete the eight-week MBSR course experience the following:
- Lasting decreases in physical and psychologic symptoms
- An increase in ability to relax
- An enhanced ability to cope with pain that may not go away
- Greater energy and enthusiasm for life
- Improved self esteem
- An increased ability to cope effectively with short and long-term stressful events
MBSR Class Structure
Eight weekly classes and one day-long class, including:
- Guided mindfulness meditation instruction
- Gentle stretching and mindful yoga
- Group discussion aimed at enhancing awareness in everyday life
- Individually tailored mindfulness meditation instruction
- Daily home assignments
- Two home practice CD’s and a home practice manual
Not sure Mindfulness is for you?
The MBSR Orientation (see dates above right) is a great way sample various exercises, ask questions, and to meet others who are also curious about mindfulness.
Individual Mindfulness Sessions
For those who find one-on-one is the way to go.
Custom Mindfulness Training
For your organization or a group you choose to convene.
Kristen was fantastic as a teacher and presenter. The MBSR course I took with her taught me that I am stronger emotionally than I ever thought I could be. It makes a huge difference in my life.
Love and Intimacy are two of the most powerful healing forces in our lives, yet regularly get deleted from the conversations on health and healing. That’s because it takes skill and a lot self-awareness to do these conversations justice.
Whether or not you feel connected to your sexuality, it’s central to who you are as a human being. We all got here because someone had sex. It happens in nature all around us. Right? It’s time we normalize our lives, making it okay for us to be sexual beings. Life flows best when we’re connected to the core of who we are.
What’s love got to do with it? One belief held at the Somatic Center, is that more than anything else, we want to love and be loved. While sex can be seen as strictly biological, ultimately, it’s not the way we’re wired. The heart is either involved, or ‘offline’, but always present.
When we consciously choose skillful, non-judgmental, loving practices for being present to the fullness of our lives, including our sexuality, it’s possible to heal the wounds of intimacy. And so too, we’re called more deeply into the joy of the lives we’re meant to live.
In the western world, there’s a surge of interest in body-awareness practices like yoga, mindfulness, bodywork, somatic experiencing and tantra. This surge is fueled by a deep hunger for balance and connection. These practices offer ways to help us re-kindle the connection to our bodies that gets lost in our modern, fast-paced, ideas-oriented world.
We’re born with brains of intellect, but also with an exquisite capacity to sense the world around us through every part of our being, including our eyes, ears, nose, mouth, skin, joints, bones, gut, loins and heart. This ‘felt sense’, or whole-body perception, is crucial to our well being. It helps us know who’s friend or foe, what’s good for us or not, and what guides our unique journey through life. In fact, an authentic, passionate life cannot be lived as fully without it.
Unfortunately, Western culture systematically trains us away from this natural physical integration. It places a higher value on what we think, rather than what we feel or sense, leaving many of us lost, in pain, or in unhealthy relationships. The good news? We can re-learn body-awareness and heal the disconnections in our lives.
Sexuality and Trauma
We all carry wounds around sexuality, even if you consider yourself a sexual virtuoso. But not everyone is called to heal. It usually means breaking through a huge wall of shame. As westerners, we have an enormous shadow around pleasure. Have you ever noticed how much easier it is to talk about pain, than pleasure?
As any survivor knows, few traumas are as deeply damaging as sexual violation. That said, sexual trauma is not limited to sexual violation. Any one of us can experience limitations in our sexual lives because of how we get sexually acculturated.
In order to fully understand the issue, try substituting the word ‘disconnection’ for ‘trauma’. Have you ever felt disconnected from your body? Your passion? Your creativity or purpose? Have you ever had ongoing disdain for your body? Felt numb or disconnected from the present moment? Have you ever found that anger and sex go hand in hand? Experienced what our culture might call ‘sexual dysfunction’? Felt triggered by your partner’s desire or attention, etc.? If so, you’re not alone. These are some of the ways our cultural ‘trauma-load’ shows up in the bedroom.
Why? Because when we engage sexually, our whole history comes with us, whether we know about it or not. The good news? These wounds can be healed, whether you’re in relationship or not.
Tantric Ground is an evolving learning community in the Pioneer Valley, where we get to demystify, learn and practice Tantra, starting with the basics and building from there.
It’s rooted in the Himalayan Tantra lineage brought to the U.S. by Swami Rama and further developed by Rudy Ballentine, M.D.
Tantra is rooted in ancient practices and philosophies that need to be grounded in one’s life and body. It helps to have done some personal work beforehand, as this is a path of personal growth and transformation that involves self-awareness, embodiment and pleasure.
Cultural Context for Tantra
Tantra in the U.S. has become a counter-cultural buzz-word for a collection of esoteric practices that promise ‘enlightened-lover’ status. As sex goes, it sells. But truth be told, Tantra is so much more.
As a 5,000 year old earth-based cosmology from the East, Himalayan Tantra (HT) is considered to be a ‘science of transformation’. By not excluding sexuality, it offers a particularly potent window on healing and wholeness that’s worth attention.
Basic principles offer guidance for whole new ways of being, that honor the wisdom of the body, intuition and soul, while healing the wounds of disconnection that run rampant in western culture.
As an Eastern tradition, Himalayan Tantra offers many parallel maps to some of the newest, body-awareness approaches to healing. It’s no coincidence that Yoga (originally a tantric practice and core to HT) and Somatic Experiencing are coming into the limelight, as body-awareness approaches to healing trauma. All three modalities share a body-up approach to healing that partners with the soma to create wholeness.
Join ‘Tantric Ground: Northampton‘ for the latest of my Tantra trainings, events and offerings.
(This is a Meet Up group. You’ll need to first join MeetUp.com, make a profile, then you’ll have what you need to join.)
I’ve worked collaboratively with Kristen — and studied under her tutelage — for a number of years on issues related to Tantric philosophies, and have consistently been deeply impressed with Kristen’s depth and breadth of knowledge and experience. Perhaps more importantly, Kristen’s approach is grounded in an ethical framework and commitment that adds nuance and sophistication to her work. I give my highest recommendation to Kristen.
Former ITP Student