Trauma: Resolution through the 5 phases
In Acupuncture and Asian Medicine, the body is considered yin, and the mind is considered yang. Yin can never be considered out of context with yang, and so it is with the body and the mind. When something afflicts the mind, it necessarily impacts the body and vice versa. A traumatic event can be powerfully destabilizing, and even if we have psychologically “moved past” an event, the body can still be reverberating with trauma. Neurophysiology and Acupuncture and Asian Medicine neatly agree in how this happens and how to return stability to the body.
Dr. Peter Levine, who studied predator and prey behavior in animals, first noted that there are 5 stages to a traumatic encounter and that the stage where the cycle gets stuck leads to characteristic physiological and emotional consequences. He also noted that the body must be addressed in therapy in order to allow for psychological breakthrough and return to homeostatic balance. Dr Alaine Duncan L.Ac, who has successfully helped thousands of veterans through trauma with Acupuncture and Asian Medicine at the VA hospital since 2003, noticed that the stages of the Peter Levine’s traumatic experience cycle exactly correspond to our elegant 5 element system in acupuncture.
A stressful encounter begins with a startle and pause phase. We pause, assess the situation and hold our breath. The sympathetic nervous system is put on alert, heart rate speeds up, breathing quickens and we become very alert. This corresponds to the metal phase in the 5 element system.
The next phase is defensive positioning, in which we experience fear and we rally our internal resources. The adrenals are engaged so that we can release cortisol and make glucose more accessible to our muscles and brain. This is the water response in 5 element system.
Next, we protect ourselves, with either interpersonal collaboration (mediated through Ventral Vagal Nerve activation), fight or flight (through Sympathetic Nervous System Function), in which mobilization is the key feature if we are to survive. Alternatively, we fail to mobilize, and we freeze (mediated by Dorsal Vagal Nerve activation), which in some cases can save our lives. This is the wood stage in 5 elements.
If we resolved the threat and are now safe, our heart rate can slow down and become more synchronous. This is completion phase or the fire phase.
Finally, we integrate what we have learned, our body can move back into a rest and open state. This is the earth phase in 5 elements, and our bowels regain function, and we can now continue on with our lives.
If any one of these phases is not completed, normal physiology is not restored. Wide ranging conditions such as autoimmunity, IBS, digestive complaints, headaches, insomnia, asthma, anxiety, hormonal imbalances and cardiovascular issues can be complications of the trauma induced dysregulation in the nervous system. Acupuncture is a safe and effective therapy for removing blockages in each phase and restoring the self regulating and generating capacity of the 5 phase system and the peripheral nervous system.
Do you or someone else you know have experience with trauma? Contact Om’echaye to set up a free consultation to see if my skills and knowledge can help bring you closure and restore your entire system to homeostatic balance
B. C. Fortner L.Ac. Dipl. O.M.