I'm standing next to the book shelves in the small library of my current education provider. I've been wandering around, picking up titles and putting them back, when I am struck by a book on the top shelf. The image leaps out at me and I grasp it with excitement. There are a few books that have changed my life and I don't yet know that this will be one of them.
That book was titled 'Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma', by Peter Levine. My memory of that moment is that it literally leapt off the shelf. At the time, I was studying transpersonal art therapy. I was personally grappling with some weird physical stuff when I was in heightened emotional states, and the book helped to name and give some context to my experience. Around the same time, I serendipitously started working with a Somatic Experiencing practitioner, and through regular individual sessions, was able to learn skills of self and co-regulation.
My therapist guided me in first co-creating safety through orienting to the present moment using the senses, finding experiences of comfort or pleasure in the body, to resource me for trauma work. Then very slowly and gently attending to difficult sensations, feelings, and memories from that place of safety.
It was a revelation to me and I was more than a little shouty about trauma theory! I wished that I'd been taught this stuff in school... it seemed such a foundational set of skills and knowledge for being human.
Over the years since, I've participated in a range of trauma-informed trainings for group and individual therapy. I'm currently engaged in Cathy Malchiodi's 'Polyvagal Informed Sensorimotor Expressive Arts Therapies' training, and loving being immersed in Stephen Porges' Polyvagal theory. It's a wonderful thing to observe my practice of art therapy through the lens of Polyvagal Theory, and to discover new practices to support others in learning to work with and love their nervous system.
I also follow some awesome practitioners online. Am a huge fan of Trauma Geek (on FB) and have learned so much through Janae's clear storytelling and infographics. Absolute legend!
One really simple thing you can do to support your nervous system to return to safe and social, is to lengthen the out breath. I love using a breath counting technique where I breathe in for the count of six, hold for three, then breathe out to the count of nine. Another wonderful tool for supporting the ventral vagal is to let yourself gently hum... Simply play with the sound in ways that feel good for you. Give it a try and let me know what you experience!
If you'd like to discover how art therapy can support your nervous system, please feel free to reach out. I offer free 15 minute phone consults so we can get to know each other and see if we're a good fit.
Image: A physical representation of polyvagal ladder, depicting humming, breathing and singing as supporting ventral vagal tone, and cold water bringing a sympathetic response.
Chelle is a practicing art therapist, researcher, and multi-modal creative. She regularly dives into the unknown to discover what is ready to be born, deepening her trust in the abundantly creative source. For Chelle, art is a means to inquire, express, and transform. If offers the capacity to soothe, making space for new perspectives and ways of being.