Guide for Practitioners #2: Insight into Trauma-Aware Bodywork & Body Signal Awareness
The article below is written with an intention to give a non-trauma-aware bodywork practitioner an insight into a trauma-aware approach, and a gift of better understanding body signals during a treatment session.
The article offers inspiration on how to meet the client in a way that results in a rewiring in their nervous system through creating a safe imprint and an opposite experience from the traumatic situation they encountered in the past.
The inspiration for these suggestions is based on the principles of The Pleasure Temple Method & Arts.
Why is Trauma-Awareness Important for Bodyworkers?
It is safe to assume that almost all people on the planet have experienced trauma in some shape and form. In all treatment spaces that are designed to bring more alignment, balance and restoration into the client’s body, it is absolutely essential for the practitioner to assume that each client that walks in the doors of the treatment room has experienced some sort of trauma. Because of that, it is necessary that the bodyworker is able to provide a safe, healing and supportive environment for the session while approaching the client through the lens of compassion, warmth and empathy.
Not only should today’s practitioner be trained in different types of trauma and how it manifests on an emotional and physical level, they would ideally also have training around the nervous system and how their specific line of bodywork can provide a healing environment for people who have experienced trauma. A high integrity bodyworker that truly wants to make a change in their c
lient’s life, should not only apply trauma-informed principles in the session room, but also in communication with clients as well as during integrative support.
General Trauma-Aware Principles to be Guided by as a Bodyworker, Therapist or Spaceholder of any kind:
It is of the highest ambition that we assist the client to feel safe, supported and not alone, so that they can feel met, heard, empathized and attuned.
It is important that clients have choice in the session as much as possible, so as to prevent re-traumatization from happening.
In any way, do not force an experience on a client or shame them. Avoid speaking to the client in an authoritative, patronizing or superior way. The client needs to be recognized as an expert on their body and experience. Stay open and curious about their experience and ask them the right questions, through an attitude of compassionate inquiry and invitational language, while empowering their inner guidance.
main aspects of how TPT Tantric De-Armouring Method & Arts differs from other types of bodywork:
We work holistically, with deep awareness around trauma and the nervous system
We surrender to what is and create space where the body will open by itself like a flower. No push, force, method or goal orientation.
We aim to create a sacred imprint and a new experience that a woman never had before, so that she can start to act from a different and more aligned place inside of her. This is the true re-wiring.
In a bodywork session it is highly important not to re-traumatize the client, but instead create safe experiences that are the opposite from the event that caused the client a trauma response in the first place, so that a deep life-changing rewiring can happen in the client’s nervous system. To do so, it is essential as a bodyworker to practice the above mentioned trauma-aware principles and to maintain high attunement to the client, their spoken boundaries as well as the signals that the body sends during the sessions, to support the client in the safest way possible.
When it comes to trauma-aware bodywork, then in a way more important than the technique itself, is the cultivation of safety and letting go of any ego-based goal or agenda. It is important to go at the pace of the client's natural body opening without forcing anything. It is important to go slow when that is needed. Equally high importance lies in communication with the client, so they feel empowered and know that they are at all times in charge of the session.
Regardless of the extent to which the client is aware of their traumas, the body’s intelligence is superior to the mind. It is likely that during a bodywork session, the client’s body sends us signals that can indicate that the client experiences resistance towards going deeper into a memory of trauma and allowing it to release. That often happens because some part of the client feels unsafe either in their body or in the space. If these signals emerge, it is absolutely essential to notice these in a good time to avoid the client entering a freeze, fight/flight or fawn state of the nervous system. The most important thing to be aware of when noticing unusual, yet common body signals is remembering
to communicate with the client, asking about their experience and cultivating even deeper layers of safety in the space.
Below are some common body signals that may arise during a bodywork session in a client, accompanied by guidance on how to approach each situation through a trauma-aware lens. * The examples below are inspired by common occurrences in de-armouring sessions on women. Regardless, this insight can as well serve as inspiration for all other types of bodywork, performed on all genders.
The client freezes - Talk with the client and invite them to breathe. If the freeze response arises whilst you are on a de-armouring spot (or when implementing a specific bodywork technique), then often the best thing is to let go of that spot and return to relaxing their nervous system even deeper and aim to create more safety in the client. If you have previously calmed her nervous system, then remind yourself what worked very well on her and go back to
that. Assure your client that you are there with them in your full presence, and that this is a safe space. Cultivate eye contact with the client and invite them back into the space and into their body. Go very slow. Let go of any agenda and goal for the session. TPT Method & Arts is all about cultivating safety and going at the pace of the client's natural opening with no push. More important than the client having big releases, is to provide the client with a positive imprint of safety.
Ringing of the forehead - This response is usually an indicator that there is something going on inside of the client that they are not expressing. It may indicate pressure or pain tensio
ning up in the client. Ask what is happening in their body and mind. You can say “I can see that your forehead is ringling. What else is going on? What is this about? Where else can you feel it in your body?” When the client is not answering this question, it usually means they are about to enter the freeze response of the nervous system. If you are on a de-armouring spot at that moment, let go of the point so that the client would not go further into a freeze response. If on the other hand they do answer and express how they feel, then ask further into it. If you are on a de-armouring point at that moment, then ask the client if you can stay on that point, and if they can stay there with you. The forehead will usually naturally relax as the client starts to express. Remind them to breathe, while staying w
ith whatever comes up.
Breathing Stops - Something always happens in the client before they stop breathing. When that response occurs, it can often indicate a moment of dissociation. Ask the client why they stopped breathing and what is going on. When you notice this body signal arising, it is important to act fast and ask about it. The longer the client is not breathing, the longer they are on their way of going into a freeze response. It is important to catch the client in a good time, as otherwise it would take much more effort to bring them back into the present moment. Remind your client to stay with breaths deep down into the belly. Invite the client to breathe with you, and remember to stay connected to your own breath, as that also serves as a reminder for the client to breathe. Follow the suggestions above and tune into whether it is a good idea to remove your hands from the client’s body or offer them supportive calming touch instead of staying on the de-armouring point.
Shaking of legs - Ask the client what this shaking is about. “Why are your feet moving? What do you feel in them? Do you feel anything else in your body? Is there anything specific that is coming up in you right now?” Sometimes shaking of legs can be the body's way of shaking out and moving energy. In that case encourage the client to move whatever part of
her body that wants to move. Affirm to the client that their body is wise and intelligent. Other times this response can also be an indicator of the client wanting to “run away” as a response to not wanting to go deep into a release or an avoidance of going deeper into pain or a memory of trauma. It is important to create safety in the client and tell them to allow their legs to move, and even encourage them to move the legs even more. State to the client that you are there with them, and that is a good thing that their body reacts by movements. If you are on a de-armouring point, then communicate with the client and ask if they can stay there with you and if they want to go in deeper. Ask them to breathe deeply into her belly and to bring her full consciousness into that spot, reminding her to deepen her awareness in that spot with each breath. If the client does not want to go deeper into that point, then return to calming the nervous system and offer them a soothing touch instead, until the body feels safe again for a deeper process.
Making puking sounds - This response is often an indicator of stuck energy moving in the client's body in a form of suppressed emotions, anger and the energy behind unspoken words wanting to be released. Without assuming anything, ask the client what it is about. Normally you as a bodyworker feel the purge sensation arising in yourself. Allow the energy to move through your body and release together with the client, while also using words to encourage them to release it and let it all out - may it be energy, sounds, screams, voi
ces of any kind, or words that were unspoken and can be safely expressed now.
Rolling of eyes & dissociation - When dissociation happens, it is often due to the client not feeling safe in their body and that they have resistance towards going deeper into the memory of trauma. The most important thing is to make the client feel safe and soothe their social engagement nervous system by cultivating eye contact with them. Make the client feel safe enough to open their eyes and see you, and bring her back into the present moment. You can for example tell the client “I am here, we are here, you don’t need to go anywhere. I am here with you”. It is absolutely essential to be 100% authentic in that expression. In these moments it can be the scariest thing for the client to open her eyes and see that the practitioner is not there, or the fear that they will be left. Offer the client loving words and soothing gentle touch. Talk into their inner child and cultivate safety in them with your full presence. Cultivate a sense of love and a sense that you will be there with them and for them, at that no matter what you will not leave at any cost.
In the case of emergence of the above-described body signals, it is good to have a general sense of what these responses indicate. At the same time we as bodyworkers should never make assumptions, shame the client, or make them feel wrong in any way. It is all about communication, empowerment and offering advocacy while cultivating deeper layers of safety for the client. We must remember
that our client is an expert on their body and experience.
In trauma-aware bodywork (and therapeutic sessions of any kind) it is our highest ambition that our client feels safe, supported and not alone – that they feel met, heard, empathized and attuned. Therefore, rather than strictly following a method and having in mind a specific goal of an outcome of the session, remember that true rewiring happens by offering our clients an imprint of safety, sacredness and empowerment through compassionate communication, slowness, and honoring of their boundaries.