Somatic Trauma Healing
October 31, 2017
This past weekend I attended a training in NYC entitled “Trauma and the Performing Artist” co-taught by the originator of Somatic Experiencing, Dr. Peter Levine. I discovered this cutting-edge approach to trauma over 15 years ago when by grace I was paired with a somatically-informed therapist who handed me Dr. Levine’s seminal first book Waking the Tiger. Receiving this revelation on the nature of trauma changed my life forever. His ground-breaking work synthesizes techniques of healing that indigenous cultures have long known, and reveals how animals -including human animals- have the instinctual capacity to return to a state of homeostasis following a life-threatening event if the process is not disrupted.
Simply put, Dr. Levine’s basic premise is that trauma is not the event per se, but how the body, specifically the nervous system, responds to what it perceives as a life-threatening situation. Trauma results when the body is not able to discharge the energies generated for fight or flight and is locked in a state of hyper-arousal. And when the fight or flight self-preservation mechanism is overwhelmed, as may happen in prolonged and severe abuse, the body may get stuck in the “last resort” freeze (playing dead) response. The instinctual animal body, then, needs to be gently awakened (hence the title “Waking the Tiger”), so that it can regain access to its own empowering ability to survive and ultimately reengage with both the pleasures and pains of life without be overwhelmed.
Whether or not a stressful experience results in trauma is highly subjective, and one need not survive a horrific event like war or abuse to have trauma. It is virtually impossible to get through life without experiencing some shock or wounding, and even so-called “minor” traumas of everyday stresses and defeats and have a lasting impact in both dramatic and subtle ways.
As I sat this past weekend, in a room of professional performing artists, coaches, and therapists, the power of this ground-breaking approach was further reinforced for me as I witnessed the transformation before my eyes of actors, dancers, and musicians increase their performance capacity as they became more able to access their inner resources and personal authenticity, thus allowing them to be more fully present in their performance. My mind was racing at the potential applications this approach has for healing and personal empowerment, and how it can be brought to different populations. While stressful circumstances are integral to being human in that, much like stressing a muscle when working out, they allow us to grow and develop resilience, what would this world be like if trauma did not become a chronic reality for so many? How many injustices and abuses that are committed in the world have underlying unresolved trauma at their root?
Trauma tends to be a word we prefer to avoid. This is understandable, because it is connected to things that are upsetting. However, it is time we normalize trauma and recognize how our culture’s general lack of appreciation for the wisdom of the body, coupled with increasing isolation from face-to-face social engagement, contributes to our inability to process stressful experiences. This is where dance can be incredibly beneficial.
When I first encountered Somatic Experiencing over 15 years ago, it clarified and validated for me one of the reasons I was drawn to the shaking and undulating of Middle-Eastern dance. Having witnessed a parent who suffered from catatonic states (the extreme “freeze” response) my body instinctively knew it needed to discharge that potential within my own body-psyche. My body needed to release through shakes, trembles and rolls. What I found here was a scientifically validated approach, incorporating research of indigenous healing practices and animal behavior, that confirmed beyond question the healing capacity of dance and human connection.
FREE GUIDED JOURNEY
I first saw Hannah dance Persian style at a party and was immediately in awe of her self-possessed beauty that comes through her style of dance. I wanted to learn that! I had gone through a tough 18 months of sorrow and grief after loosing my partner of 15 years and mom within six months of each other. Hannah choreographed a Persian dance specifically for me that would help open my heart. And she helped mend my heart and soul through private lessons and learning her dance. I would recommend h…
I just spent two days with Hannah and a diverse group of spirited women on the Spin, Shake, Sway workshop exploring whirling and the Moroccan Guedra, and the experience made me reconnect with dancing at a very deep and intense level. I felt so alive and free in the space where your body and your soul intersect, and beauty and healing naturally happen. The location was magical and the perfect setting for our group.
A week later and still relishing in the magical afterglow! Seriously, much to my surprise I am still reaping the benefits and riding the waves of such a weekend. Personally it was an end of an era, and what better way to initiate a new beginning, than to breathe in new life with ritual, spinning, baddass women, wonderful food, perfect location and gorgeous weather. Outstanding!
Hannah loves transmitting her knowledge of world dance to kids and they feel it. She engages them in both the movements and the understanding of the traditions of the dances. The kids learn to appreciate the pure joy of moving, the history of the dances and choreographing their own pieces. It’s great to see the kids enjoying the discipline of the different traditions while having a lot of fun.
Hannah radiates an inner joy, a celebration of the divine, that glows and grows inside her audience. Dancing with Hannah, one is finds herself channeled into the timeless essence of feminine grace, connecting to all women past and present, freeing us to express our true innate beauty
Hannah’s workshop was exhilarating, joyful, and educational. I felt uplifted afterwards, and emerged with a positive feeling of lightness.
The potency of sacred women’s spaces was made evident to me during this beautiful two day healing dance ritual. That experience of learning, of playing, and of connecting to our feminine power through community and the container held so humbly and graciously by Hannah will stay with me forever, and has become fuel for a new passion in my life to explore Sufi and Berber traditional, meditative dance. My deepest gratitude goes to all women of the dance, now, and throughout all of time.
For the past three years Hannah’s performance and teaching has been a highlight of my annual women’s weekend. She is a gifted, creative, expert dancer who engages and amazes the audience with her style and skill. It’s beautiful to watch her flow, bend, glide, and shimmy. Dancing with her is a blast! All my women friends loved it.