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  • Writer's pictureMaria Alda Gomez Otero

Adult trauma & tai chi

Updated: Mar 24, 2020

Adult #trauma can be understood as a traumatic event that happened during your adulthood and changed your sense of self. It is opposed to developmental trauma which happens during your childhood and adolescence. After being impacted by adult trauma (a car crash, a divorce, the death of a loved one), many things change in your reality. Your sense of who you are can be different, you may experience more #anxiety, including #panic attacks, or impulsivity than before the traumatic event. Or you may become numb and have little or no feelings, being compliant and passive, finding it hard to say no. Trauma can leave you feeling overwhelmed by your emotions or totally numbed to them. You might feel that you are going mad because you are suffering from panic attacks, #nightmares, flashbacks. You might also feel that there is something not right with you because the feelings that used to be present and colour your life have suddenly disappeared. You feel empty, dead. In any of these cases, #tai chi can be a great help. Please be aware that tai chi is not a substitute for #counselling. It can be used as a complement. You can find a counsellor in Devon who can help you process your trauma while you gain some strength from your tai chi practice.

Tai Chi and your Prefrontal Cortex

Tai chi is a set of gentle exercises that can be done by any person irrespective of age and physical condition. It emphasises internal self-awareness. By increasing your body awareness, this can become a resource in your journey of recovery from trauma in counselling. Please be aware, however, that some trauma survivors may experience distress and reminders of their trauma when being more connected to their bodies. Becoming more aware means being more present, more mindful of what is happening in your environment and inside. That will engage your prefrontal cortex. Why is the prefrontal cortex important? Because it is the area of the brain that helps you to make sense of your reality and make informed decisions. The prefrontal cortex is like a responsible parent. On the other hand, the amygdala is the part of your brain responsible to start the fight or flight response when you feel under threat. Or activate the freeze reaction that makes you feel numb or depressed. The amygdala is usually on a lot of the time in survivors of trauma. That is why finding a way to give the amygdala a break will give you a break too, as you will stop feeling so anxious and experiencing panic attacks, or you will stop feeling so empty and depressed. While the prefrontal cortex is active, the amygdala is switched off. Tai chi can help you to increase the activity in the prefrontal cortex and take a break from your anxiety and depression. Regular practice of tai chi can increase the times in which your amygdala “takes a break”.

Tai Chi and Grounding

Tai chi exercises are always done with your knees slightly bent, hips relaxed. The aim is to relax your upper body and create a strong lower body. You would be guided to pay attention to your feet on the ground and let go of your tensions towards your feet. You may also feel guided to feel as if you had roots growing from the sole of your feet into the Earth. That will bring you a feeling of being grounded, supported by the Earth. Grounding is a wonderful tool for survivors of trauma. Many trauma survivors have experience feelings of powerlessness and feeling grounded can feel powerful, helping you to recover a sense of power in your daily life. Again, grounding alone may not heal your trauma. You will probably still need the help of a skilled trauma counsellor. But bear in mind that tai chi can and will help if practised regularly.

Tai Chi and Hyperarousal (Anxiety)

If you have experienced trauma, you may have a tendency to have a hyperaroused nervous system. If that is the case, you probably act impulsively, take risks, are usually anxious and fears can be uncontrollable. Tai chi can help you to relax by gently moving your body. Anxious people normally find it really hard to sit down for meditation. Tai chi is a moving meditation so it can be ideal for anxiety. You will feel relaxed while keeping on moving. If it is too slow for you, you can start by doing some other exercise. For example, you can combine a brisk walk and a tai chi class. The brisk walk will lower your activation to allow you to do tai chi. Tai chi will then calm you down completely.

Tai Chi and Hypoarousal (#Depression)

If you have a tendency towards depression, you know how debilitating this feels. You feel defeated, collapsed, numb most of the time. If you have feelings, they are about giving up, not being bothered with things, shame, inability to do things, or passivity. Any exercise may help you get out of that mood. Tai chi consists of gentle exercises, so it may not seem like a big challenge if you have a low activation. While you are doing tai chi, your prefrontal cortex will be active, as we said before, so you will have a break from your difficult feelings or lack of emotions.

Tai chi is not a magic wand, but it can help as a complement to trauma counselling. If you are already working with a counsellor in Devon, you might want to consider starting a tai chi class to help in your recovery. If you are indecisive about counselling, you can start by practising tai chi. That may give you the strength you need to start attending counselling sessions.

Copyright 2019 Alda Counselling – Exeter and Teignmouth

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