How to Use Physical Exercise to Deal with Emotional Trauma
I am writing this article purely from my own experience and observations and not from a more rigorous scientific point of view, but I am sure that you will see the logic and common sense behind what I am suggesting. Healing from trauma to a large degree is achieved by long periods of sustained inner work. It requires having to face some pretty awful stuff on a daily basis without running from it.
If you watch certain professional athletes the way they fall apart emotionally in high pressure situations, it should be obvious that they need time off to heal their childhood traumas before returning to high intensity training. High intensity work, which seems to be something of a fad to lose weight right now, is about the worst possible thing you can do when healing a trauma. If you watch a professional athlete’s temperament under pressure, you can see the ones who have suffered childhood trauma. You can almost predict the timing of their next injury. And the nonsense of a show like the “Biggest Loser” shows just how little we know about healing as a culture. A person with huge obesity obviously has childhood trauma, so sure they can go ahead and lose a lot of weight quickly, but it is going to come back just as fast unless the emotional healing work is done in a sustained way over a considerable period.
What does high intensity work do? It shuts off the mind completely so that you will learn how to forget the pain. It is what the Navy Seals do so that when they go into combat they will not feel pain. When you are healing, you don’t want your mind to shut off and forget pain. You want the opposite. You want to be able to have access to the pain rather than forgetting it. Trying to forget your emotional pain is what obese people when they obsessively eat.
The kind of environment you need to heal childhood trauma is one where you can constantly look at your pain without it getting the best of you. It is usually done with a lot of supportive and competent people who know what they are doing in the healing process.
What kind of exercise do you need? You need low intensity exercise that you can sustain for a long time, and you need to avoid competitive situations until the healing cycle is complete. Low intensity is exactly what the therapeutic community is doing to heal the trauma. They keep you safe and calm, but really focused and alert. What does that look like? Usually people start with walking. Walking is good because it raises the heart rate to a degree and as you are moving you are still able to process while at the same time dissipating the build up of negative energy in your body. As your body strengthens you can add elevation and speed, but you can not sacrifice distance and time. Repeated 100 meter sprints will teach you to forget the pain and throw you right out of process. Walking or running will allow you to keep the pain and process it, but at the same time let go of the toxic build up in your body from the trauma patterns. If you can talk and process while you are running with a partner, for instance, then you are doing something positive for yourself. If you are just training at fast speeds to compete, then you are throwing yourself out of the healing mode. It is not bad that you do performance training, but not when you are doing trauma work.
With other types of exercise like strength work it should be with low weights and a lot of reps. Holding yoga positions in a comfortable positions for a long time could also be beneficial. You can use yoga and strength work to help heal, but you need a qualified person to take you through where you are weak and frozen in your body so that you can process the emotional pain as it happens. You probably shouldn’t play team sports in competitive situations until the trauma is healed to a large degree.
Don’t look at anything to do with weight loss until you have done the trauma work. It will be fruitless and will make your body worse.
Please feel free to add what you have found helpful while you were healing in the comment section or it you disagree wildly.
When you have a lot to process, go slow and long. When you have a lot of positive energy, you can train with intensity. You should be able to do both because of how much healing work you have done.
It’s so funny. Just last night when I was out running I was thinking about the way you train and wondered about a few things. You answered them in this post which I am just reading now. Thank you.