Identifying Psychological Trauma

Psychological trauma is far more prevalent in society than once thought. Most people tend to think of psychological trauma as PTSD, officially reserved for war veterans. However, those who have been in a car accident, environmental disaster, or some similar shocking event exhibit the same symptoms. What often gets overlooked are the small daily episodes; small agitations of daily life or  violence including domestic and verbal abuse. All of these  over the course of time lead to PTSD or other similar anxiety and stress disorders. Much like the muscular system presents repetitive work injuries from its daily grind, eventually it adds up to a much larger injury and perhaps even becomes incapacitating. The nervous system will become frayed or scarred.

Studies have shown that the brain can not tell the difference between a real and an imagined event. The neural network and chemicals associated with an experience are activated by even simply imagining it. Further, brain scans show that years after a stressful event, when the memory is recalled, the same parts of the brain light up as if the event were occurring in present time.

Lets take a look at the criteria for a traumatic event:

  • The event is perceived as a threat to the person’s physical survival.
  • Their coping capacity is overwhelmed, leaving them with a sense of powerlessness.
  • The event violates their sense of expectations.
  • It produces a sense of isolation, aloneness.

(Psychological Trauma, Church 2015)

So what is the result of exposure to such an intense event or many repeated smaller events? Over the course of time, people suffering with PTSD have brain wiring that is a little different. Under real or perceived threat, the connection between the rational brain and the emotional brain goes offline. The hippocampus and the amygdala may become overactive and unable to communicate with the cortex for an appropriate context for incoming information. This results in chronic stress response. The person may overreact to small or unimportant events or become enraged at little to no provocation. They may shudder at normal physical touch.

They often perceive the world as full of threats and have intrusive thoughts. The area of the brain associated with speech often goes offline under threat and they may not be able to articulate the intense emotions they are experiencing. PTSD or internalized trauma may also show up as physical pain and/or disease later in life. Without assistance, or a method to break the pattern, because of neuroplasticity (building of more neurons associated with the memory) the symptoms may worsen over time.

The good news is the brain is always pruning old unused neural connections as well as establishing new ones by neurogenesis. Neuroplasticity can work in our favor when needing to learn a new skill or in learning intentional techniques that help build new strong neural connections oriented toward a different state of being.

Under the right circumstances even a long consolidated memory may be susceptible to change. A thorough healing may be experienced after a vivid re-exposure and reframing of the experience. It is possible it may take several refrains for it to take permanently but often permanent results may be achieved.

My favorite techniques are Emotional Freedom Techniques ( also called EFT or Tapping), EMDR- using eye movements to turn the brain on and desensitize; meditation techniques to retrain your brain to enjoy new brain waves..and breath work to induce calm.. Group sessions are a great way to experience the value of these techniques while keeping your issue private.

These safe mind-body medicine techniques keep the person safely connected in their body and brings them back to present moment while recalling a trauma, which is key to healing. If done in the proper fashion, it often clears the pain completely and has permanent results.



Meridian Scraping Therapy- Gua Sha

by Sara illig

scraping therapy

Meridian Scraping  Therapy- Gua Sha

Meridian Scraping/Gua sha is an ancient East Asian healing technique taught by only a handful of Western practitioners.  In China and Vietnam, scraping is commonly used to relieve the aches and fever associated with the common cold.  The Greeks used a similar technique in their daily massage regiments to invigorate the blood and relieve pain. Today, the Graston technique most closely resembles gus sha. In the garçon technique the main difference is they invented their own metal tool to use instead of a traditional gua sha tool, and they re-named it for modern day marketing purposes.

Scraping therapy can be used to address various sorts of conditions.  Most commonly used to treat body pain, to boost the immune system and to relieve symptoms of the common cold, this modality can also be used to generally balance the flow of chi through the meridians, to resolve certain psychospiritual issues and to innervate areas of poor circulation such as adipose tissue which can have both a detoxifying and contouring effect.

Gua sha provides lasting relief for chronic pain.  There are a variety of both western and eastern mechanisms that contribute to and explain the results.

As the practitioner strokes over muscle spasms that have become entrenched “knots”, the pain-spasm-pain cycle which keeps muscles tensed in a protective response is broken allowing the muscle to relax.

Stroking over an area brings blood carrying oxygen and nutrients to tissue that has been deprived.  The blood then carries away built up toxins like lactic acid.

Frictioning the tissue warms the underlying support structure, fascia.  Fascia crystallizes and individual strands begin to “glue” together for various reasons including misuse, repetitive trauma, overuse and deposits of toxins.  Warming this tissue returns it to its natural gelatinous state and ‘melts’ any adhesions that may have formed. Once muscular tension and adhesions are released, the body is able to realize its original structure.

Eastern philosophies recognize that exogenous factors like wind, heat, cold, and damp become trapped in the exterior layer of the body causing pain by obstructing the flow of chi and blood in the channels.  Scraping techniques are the most effective way of releasing these pathogens from the exterior and encouraging the free flow of chi and blood.

Besides pain relief, Gua sha has many other benefits. By removing meridian obstructions, gua sha promotes the free flow of chi and blood, balancing the body and addressing almost any presenting illness.

Blood stasis impedes the production of new blood.  Once the stagnation is removed, new blood will be created again.  Blood is the material basis of our minds.  When deficient of blood, an individual has a difficult time with self esteem issues, creating boundaries and emotional flexibility.  Blood deficiency will present a variety of other problems including muscular pain and lack of flexibility, lack of energy, dizziness, etc…  By engendering the production of new blood, scraping treats both the psychospiritual and the physical problems associated with blood deficiency.

Just like Rolfing or other modalities of deep bodywork, scraping can instigate emotional release.  If the muscles are “holding” emotions, as they relax, these emotions will be freed and should be accepted, experienced, and resolved.  As this happens, old issues that have been trapped in the muscles of the body naturally resolve.

Scraping acts on fascia. Every organ, nerve, vein, artery, and muscle is sheathed in envelopes of fascia.  By stroking the superficial fascia, deeper structures will be affected and their performance is enhanced.

Lymph glands and vessels are located in the fascia.  The lymphatic system is responsible for draining excess interstitial fluid from tissue, transporting dietary lipids from the gastrointestinal tract to the blood, and protecting against invasion through immune response.  Gua sha will promote the circulation of lymph and free any restrictions within the lymphatic system.

Scraping enhances circulation in general providing undernourished areas with blood to both feed tissue and remove waste products.  As an area is innervated, it will be detoxified and toned by the deep massaging action of the stroke.

A session will last from fifteen to forty five minutes depending on how many areas will be addressed.  As with any sort of bodywork, the areas treated will include both the site of pain and also areas that contribute to the condition – primarily the neck, back, legs, arms, and chest.

First, oil or lotion will be applied.  Then, the practitioner will use a smooth edged tool to stroke over the area.  Stroking will continue until the sha is released.

A red rash called petechiae will appear as the tissue releases.  The discoloration of the rash offers clues as to the nature and severity of the condition being addressed.  It will take several days (generally 4 and up to 7) for the rash to fade.  Stretching and light aerobic exercise like walking will hasten the rash’s healing.

Scraping is similar to  a very deep massage.  One moment might feel excruciatingly intense, the next overwhelmingly relaxing.  The practitioner will respond to your level of sensitivity; however, as with the rest of our existence, there are often moments of discomfort that cannot be avoided in order to bring about growth and healing.

After a session, a cup of warm water is recommended, and be sure to rest and relax.  Also, drink a large amount of water to clear all the toxins released by the treatment. If not, the toxins will settle back into the tissue causing stiffness and soreness or  nausea and lightheadedness.

For a day or so after the treatment,  avoid alcohol, caffeine and strenuous exercise and be sure to protect  any treated area from direct exposure to sun, wind, or cold.

Gua sha is an indispensable tool in the treatment of chronic pain.  In fact, it is a relevant tool in treating almost any disorder given its ability to clear stagnation, to engender the creation of blood, to release the exterior and to innervate and detoxify tissue.




Massage Cupping Therapy

Massage Cupping is a versatile and ancient tool that can be modified to accomplish a whole range to techniques from lymphatic drainage to fascial and deep tissue release. This modality uses negative pressure, creating either light suction for drainage, or heavier suction to lift connective tissue, loosen adhesions, soften tight muscles and tone attachments.

In traditional Chinese Cupping, the cups stay in place for 5-15 min, however, they may also be moved over the area.   Stationary cupping may leave circular markings on the skin similar looking to a hickey. These are not bruises , rather discoloration. The goal of this approach is to remove stagnation of blood and chi, release trapped (internal) heat , draw out toxins and treat pain, respiratory problems and other conditions.

Massage Cupping is a different approach in that the cups continually move over the area. The therapist will apply lotion or oil before the treatment to ensure smooth movement of the cups. Almost every area of the body responds well to this treatment. Tense muscles are softened quickly and adhesions loosened easily. With massage or slide cupping, generally no marks are left behind, however there may be some occasional mild discoloration.

To most people the treatment feels GREAT. It is certainly a sensation unlike any other, and may feel different depending on the area of the body and they type of condition it is being used to address. The sensation during cupping is often described as a deep warmth and or tingling sensation which continues long after treatment. There may be some discomfort in other areas that are stuck and opening up. The discomfort is temporary and will subside when the cup is lifted off.

Important:You should make your practitioner aware of any health conditions which need to be handled gently. If you are uncertain ask your doctor if it is okay for you to receive cupping.

What are those marks that cupping leaves? In traditional (Chinese) cupping the marks left after a treatment are a desired effect of the treatment. They are not bruises it is a discoloration that will dissipate and fade anywhere from a few hours to a few days after treatment. With massage cupping, the marks are less likely to occur but you may still find an occasional “cupping kiss” left behind.

What do I do after treatment? For a few (4 to 6) hours after treatment avoid exposure to extreme heat or cold, (chill or drafts, hot showers or saunas), rigorous exercise and stay sufficiently hydrated. Alcohol is not recommended for 24 hours after treatment.

Benefits of Cupping:

clears stagnation
drains and moves fluids
relieves inflammation
Sedates nervous system
expels congestion
stretched muscle and connective tissue
loosens adhesions
brings nourishing blood supply to the skin
poor circulation (stimulated locally)
insomnia and general anxiety
sluggish devitalized skin

Remember:You should make your practitioner aware of any health conditions which need to be handled gently. If you are uncertain ask your doctor if it is okay for you to receive cupping.

Sara illig is certified in Ace Massage Cupping Therapy.