Journey through Stress and Trauma

In 2006, I attended a 10-day silent meditation retreat called Vipassana, where you spend 10-days in silence meditating on sensations in the body. Having earned a Bachelors of Engineering from Ryerson 2001, spent 17 years in the Canadian Armed Forces (1997-2014), a tour in Kandahar, Afghanistan (TF03-08), but this was the hardest thing I had ever done. Those 10 days were the start of my mindfulness and journey to self-awareness. However, being able to meditate sitting still for an hour did not protect nor heal me from stress and trauma. It only helped me realize that I was suffering, all the childhood traumas, stress from school and the uncertainty of armed conflict were manifesting physically, such as muscle tension and pain.

What does a young testosterone and ego-fueled male do when he realizes this? He hides it, he numbs it and tries to fit in with all the other “normal” people. Then you notice that people are weary and cautious around you and you seem to take things too seriously, and you go to the extreme in most things such as partying with friends, driving too fast, saying hurtful things. Something needed to change; I was still too prideful to ask for help, to show weakness. On and off I was teaching my self Chi Kung (Qi Gong), a Taoist (Daoist) form of moving meditation and exercise, it helped but I was not consistent with it. In 2009, I tried hot yoga for the first time, my ego was shattered, and I was struggling to hold the poses, to breathe in the heat and could not stay present, even though I was exercising regularly with CrossFit and other high-intensity exercises.

The yoga was working, paired with the awareness of the physical and mental self through meditation, my body was starting to respond. I was getting stronger and more flexible, but the pain persisted, it lingered and whatever relief from practicing the yoga asanas (poses) was short-lived, same with chiropractic and massage therapy, none of it could get to the root of the problem. Then another realization dawned on me, there is no magic pill, no external thing or action could help you. We need to accept that there is a problem and there is a need for change.

I decided that I needed to change my path and left the army in 2014; in the summer of 2015, I attended a 500hr hatha yoga teacher training. It was a scary thing to do, to let go of routine and financial security of a government job, kind of counterintuitive to add financial stress. Change is often messy and uncomfortable, but the payoff is worth it, not financially, something worth far more and that is mental wellness.

The last method that has helped me greatly is Trauma Release Exercise ®, which is a way for the body to release physically stored tension and trauma, which was developed by Dr. David Berceli. This is a technique that allows the body to literally shake off stored stress, tension and trauma through a natural instinctive tremor, which has greatly reduced the physical pain and tension that I used to feel.

Unknowingly, I was using a bottom-up approach to healing my trauma. This means using a mindfulness technique to gain awareness of the self, of the felt sense, such as physical sensations and emotions. Having this awareness of the self enabled me to notice when I was triggered, when to self-regulate so I don’t go over the edge. Combining mindfulness techniques from Vipassana, Chi Kung, Hatha Yoga and Trauma Release Exercises ®, has helped me release the physically stored tension which in turn has changed my thought patterns.

Find a way to gain awareness of the self, that is the key, all wise men and saints have said the same thing, “know thyself”, then you can progress and make changes as needed in order to self-regulate effectively. I have been sharing these methods and techniques and many have reported a noticeable change, feeling more relaxed and pain-free. What I can say for certain is that you cannot be stressed if you are relaxed, so take a deep breath in and let it go.

By: Sean Singer, CD

“Making Wellness Contagious”

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