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What is Somatic therapy? How can we begin to recognize that the body and mind are interconnected and by working with the body, we can achieve emotional healing?
MEET Maira Holzmann
Maira Holzmann, LCSW, is a body-based, somatically trained trauma therapist specializing in helping adults heal from childhood trauma. Committed to the vision of ending the consequences of trauma from being passed on to future generations, she understands the importance of including the body as an ally in the healing process. Maira is passionate about a therapeutic touch modality called Coregulating Touch that deeply supports healing the nervous system and healing relational trauma. Maira runs a group psychotherapy practice called Somatic Therapy Partners (STP) whose focus is on healing the nervous system, nurturing resilience, and increasing a client’s healthy connection with their body.
IN THIS PODCAST:
- What does it mean to be embodied? 3:38
- What role does physical touch play in mental & physical wellness? 8:47
- What are the benefits of co-regulating touch? 13:30
- What are the ethical considerations when using touch in therapy? 18:26
What Does It Mean To Be Embodied?
- The importance of listening to the information that your body is trying to give you
- How to help clients come more into their body
- What is Joyspotting?
- Learning how to feel our positive lived experiences
What Role Does Physical Touch Play In Mental & Physical Wellness?
- The importance of understanding the early impacts of trauma
- Creating safety when using touch with clients
- What is co-regulating touch?
- How to help clients understand how their nervous system functions
What Are The Benefits Of Co-Regulating Touch?
- The importance of self-compassion
- What is attunement?
- Helping your clients to identify what is “safe enough,” for them
What Are The Ethical Considerations When Using Touch In Therapy?
- What are consent-based exercises?
- The importance of asking your clients for consent every time
- Recognizing what your client’s body language is saying during session
- What are some of the misconceptions about somatic therapy?
- What is somatic tracking?
Connect With Me
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Sign up for my free email course: www.holisticcounselingpodcast.com
Resources Mentioned And Useful Links:
Chris McDonald: In a world filled with constant chatter and distractions, have you ever wondered how to truly connect with yourself? In today's episode, we embark on a journey of self discovery through the lens of somatic therapy. Join me as we explore the fascinating realm where mind and body intersect, where unresolved emotions and traumas find their voice and physical sensations.
Somatic therapy isn't just a therapeutic approach, it's an art of tapping into the body's innate ability to heal. Let's jump right in on the Holistic Counseling Podcast. This is Holistic Counseling, the podcast for mental health therapists who want to deepen their knowledge of holistic modalities and build their practice with confidence.
I'm your host, Chris McDonald, licensed therapist. I am so glad you're here for the journey.
Welcome to the Holistic Counseling Podcast. In today's episode, we'll uncover what is embodiment, how co regulating touch can be a powerful practice in healing. And how can we as clinicians bring the body into the therapy room? Today's guest is here to guide us on this journey towards wellness, Myra Holzman.
She's an LCSW, a body based medically trained trauma therapist specializing in helping adults heal from childhood trauma. Myra is passionate about a therapeutic touch modality called co regulating touch that supports healing the nervous system and healing relational trauma. Welcome to the Holistic Counseling Podcast, Myra.
Maira Holzmann: Chris. I'm so excited to be here and be chatting with you. Yeah. And I was so
Chris McDonald: excited with our conversation already because we have so much in common with, uh, somatic therapy, but let's start from the beginning. So how did you get into all of this?
Maira Holzmann: Yeah. Yeah. So it started in, well, two ways. So one is I was doing my own personal work as I think that clinicians are prone to doing.
And when I left graduate school, I had a colleague who was like, you know, you might want to check out Peter Levine's somatic experiencing program. It might be a good approach for you to be working with and as well as to get some information about working with clients. So I started taking his beginning courses and one thing led to another within the somatic Experiencing schools, so to speak.
There's lots of different offshoots of things that you can explore. Many different somatic experiencing practitioners that offer things like coagulating touch or you know, working with, not working with trauma because that's what somatic experiencing is for. But it started that way and it was also, I started getting into somatics because I really needed to do that.
for my own personal work. So that's how my love for somatics began.
Chris McDonald: Yeah. Okay. So did you feel like for you just to do talk therapy wouldn't have been enough for, for you to work it with your
Maira Holzmann: issues? And you know, I actually didn't know that there was anything different. Yeah. I just didn't like at the time.
And I mean, I was a brand, I was a baby clinician, so I was maybe a year or two out of school when, when that friend of mine that we, I went to grad school with. introduced me to the idea of somatics. And even I remember when I was doing somatic experiencing sessions with my clinician, I couldn't understand what she was asking me to do, which was basically track my body and learn how to listen.
And I remember being like, why are we doing this? Like, what's the point of this? Yeah. I I'm thankful that I got introduced to it because it has radically changed my life. And. As you know, it's definitely running my business because somatic therapy partners, which is the group that I, the group psychotherapy practice, I run out of out here in Denver, Colorado.
The namesake is that's all we do is somatic approaches. Yeah. It's been a big part of my career and my life for sure.
Chris McDonald: Okay. So what does it mean to be truly embodied? Because you hear that term a lot and I think it's kind of thrown around, but what is it? Yeah.
Maira Holzmann: Yeah. You know, it's so funny that you bring up this question because in the process of writing this.
ebook that I'm sure we'll talk about later, I asked a lot of people, I was like, what does embodiment mean to you? And the answers were everywhere. I mean, sometimes people were talking about being present with yourself. But for me, the, the definition that I go by in terms of embodiment is the capacity to live in my body and to be able to attune to what's happening on the inside of my system, meaning less about my thoughts and more about.
What's happening in terms of my musculature, my physical expression, my physiological things like breathing and heart rate. So it's just, it's another way that I might talk about it as being able to deeply listen to the information that my body is giving to me so that I can act and respond more effectively.
That's another way that I would define embodiment.
Chris McDonald: And how, how do you help clients? Cause I know a lot of mine are in their heads and live from the neck up. And that's the struggle and a lot of them are fearful and understandable with the trauma response that many are hesitant or they have protector parts that are just like, nope, we're not going.
Maira Holzmann: absolutely. Well, you know, socially we live in a culture that, that thinks that the mind is king. So that's one contributor to, I think, why people get so disconnected. right? And then if you've experienced any kind of trauma and it hasn't been resolved and that trauma continues to live in your body, then for the most part, consciously or unconsciously, those folks will not want to come into their body because it will feel out of control or it will feel scary.
They don't know what's going to happen. So the way that I often start, because if I ask a client to simply. Notice what's happening in their body. What they're going to do is they're going to tell me all about the pain and the constriction and how they can't breathe because the orientation often to the body is one of defensiveness.
Meaning they're looking, it's, I call it, what's wrong attention. What's wrong that I need to fix? Oh, I'm not breathing well. Oh, I've got pain in my foot or I've got a headache. And so the way that I really start this work with clients is by introducing them to the idea that pleasant things, good feeling, experiences, and pleasure are all things that are felt within the body.
So the homework that I always assign to every new client is, this is what I tell them. I say, at the end of your day, I'm going to invite you to just pick out one positive enough experience. And the reason why I say positive enough or good enough is because sometimes when I ask clients to look for a good feeling experience, they're and unicorns and cupcakes.
And it's like, well, we don't have access to that all day, but we do have access to a really pretty sunset or feeling really heard and cared for by another person or even just snuggles with a pet. So I'll have them identify a pleasant enough experience and I'll have them replay that memory in their head.
And as they're replaying that lived experience of goodness, I'll ask them to then send their attention south into the body and notice how their body and their physiology might be starting to change. Are they suddenly breathing a little bit better? Are there brace patterns like shoulders coming up by your ears, relaxing?
Are they able to sit back instead of sort of scrunch forward? So this is like literally one of the basic building blocks of how to come into your body, in my experience, how to come into your body in such a way that you can befriend your body and befriend your nervous system so that you can start to do some of that deeper, more courageous work of healing from trauma.
So that's how I start with clients.
Chris McDonald: So positive enough. That's perfect. Uh, I do have a lot of clients with, um, perfectionistic tendencies and, and I could totally see people being like, Oh, well, nothing really that good happened or they're minimizing and they're waiting for that moment of something so awesome.
Maira Holzmann: That's right. It can be really black and white. Right. Like it's got to be really, really good or it doesn't count. And I watch people all the time in conversation in session, literally gloss over the good enough experience that they had in favor of, well, let me tell you all the things that are going wrong and all the ways that my body hurts and how hard this work is, et cetera, et cetera, which is all legit and practicing.
I'm calling it joy spotting, practicing finding. Yeah, practicing finding a good enough experience that's moving towards the experience of joy, which is something that we're innately wired to experience, starts to change the way that a person orients to themselves, their body, as well as the rest of the world.
So that's really what I'm doing is encouraging them, like, just find enough joy or enough. If joy is too much, just goodness, right? Because especially for our clients that are really perfectionistic, you know, they might have this whole idea of what joy is supposed to be like and feel like it's like, no, when When you're, when you saw your friend and they hugged you and they brought you soup because you were sick, that's potentially a really joyful moment of feeling cared about.
And now the practice is, can we learn to attend to it? Not just notice it with our thoughts, but also feel that lived experience in our
Chris McDonald: body. Isn't that amazing when you have a client that finally can feel that change and there's, it's just like so
Maira Holzmann: powerful. It's so powerful. It's so clinician. I mean, that's one of the.
That's one of our values here at Somatic Therapy Partners is joy, and it's a value that we live by in terms of working with my, you know, my other clinicians, as well as a value that we really want to instill in our clients.
Chris McDonald: And what role does physical touch play in mental and physical wellness?
Maira Holzmann: Yeah, it's a great question.
So the. The thing that we really focus on here that we specialize in and somatic therapy partners is working with client adult clients who have struggled with the impacts of early trauma as well as anxiety and early trauma is defined as adverse conditions that occurred between the ages of zero and five when your nervous system is really early Exponentially developing and growing the role of touch in those early years is pretty much everything.
I mean, touch is the first sensation that comes online in utero is that little as that little growing baby is getting bathed in all of mom's amniotic fluid. And then coming out of the womb after the baby's born, my teacher calls it coo behaviors, like coochie coochie coo. Like it's one thing to, for example, to change a diaper and then put the baby back in the crib, but it's another thing to pick up the baby and say something like, Oh, sweetie, you're wet.
Okay. Let's change your diaper. Oh, does that feel better now that you're dry? And the baby's kind of gurgling. And all of that is about how you touch that child. So when I'm working with my clients who all. Most of them struggle with the impacts of early trauma. Touch is one of the main ways that I support them in learning to feel safe enough in their bodies, have an experience of regulation without having to work for it, and also to experience safe enough touch.
You know, I don't think that touch, touch is so taboo in our society. And for the most part, what we hear about is, you know, violent kind of touch or abusive touch, especially with the clients that I work with. And for them to have a lived experience of touch that is safe enough, and that also helps their nervous system regulate.
It really rewires that early patterning where there wasn't enough safety in the nervous system. And then that client had to grow up with a bunch of, we call it survival physiology or survival patterns in order to just try to keep themselves safe. So my world touches everything. It's, it's what I do with 90 percent of my clients.
I actually don't take clients that are not. willing to experience co regulating touch because I know how powerful it is both personally as well as professionally.
Chris McDonald: And let's dive into that because I was reading about that on your website, I was so excited that this sounds like an amazing way to get into the body and to allow things and I'm guessing how it works.
I don't know, but I'm guessing that that allows and opens up more sensations in the body connecting with past trauma. I'm guessing. I'm guessing, but. Tell me more
Maira Holzmann: about it. Exactly right. So co regulating touch is a passive form of touch. So unlike, cause I'm not a body worker, I'm a trauma therapist trained in therapeutic touch and that distinction is important.
So when I'm holding a client's kidney or a brainstem, and I'll talk about that here in a minute, I'm not actually trying to manipulate anything. I'm not trying to make the tissue do anything. I'm not moving my hands to physically act upon the system in that way. What I'm doing is, is I'm holding the kidney and the adrenal system and the brainstem, which are two points of contact.
because there's kidneys on each side and then the brainstem that support regulation. And what I'm doing is, is the client is laying down on my massage table fully clothed, they're fully clothed for the entire session and they're laying face up and I slide my hand under their back. Typically I start with kidneys and then go to brainstem as the body sort of gets acquainted with this.
And what I'm really doing is I'm inviting the client into a specific form of connection where there's enough safety and plenty of attunement so that whatever's happening both that I can feel in my hand and that I'm also observing from the client is going to get attended to in a really kind, loving, and compassionate way.
And the way that I often talk about it with clients new to my practice, I'll say things like, so your nervous system was built. Your nervous system right now is totally functioning as evidenced by the fact that you're in my office. You made it here, you filled out all the forms, et cetera. But your nervous system is kind of like a house built like a house of cards.
It's not super solid and stable. And so the wind could blow the wrong way and then things are going to start to unravel and this is when you feel dysregulated. And so what co regulating touched? does in terms of the building metaphor is every time I'm able to hold the kidney or the brainstem and support the system and coming into regulation, it's like replacing those cards that the house is built on with like steel beams and good concrete and better windows so that over time we're strengthening the architecture of the nervous system to be able to be more regulated.
So that's the way that they understand what we're doing. And then I also invite them, of course, to notice themselves. Like what happens differently after our sessions? And then of course, after a significant amount of time, like maybe three or six months, what's happening differently in your life? What do you have more capacity for?
Cause that's really what we're trying to do is widen the window of capacity for clients to be able to live a life worth living. What have
Chris McDonald: you noticed with clients as far as the benefits?
Maira Holzmann: Yeah. So one of the. One of the things I noticed the most is they have an experience of feeling relaxed in their body, oftentimes for maybe the first time in a very specific way.
So they now have this lived experience of feeling calmer and more relaxed in their body without having to work so hard for it, without having to go on vacation, without having to, you know, do all these breathing exercises or get really tired from doing exercise or yoga. So that's one of the first things is a.
is a state of settledness and calm that is somewhat new to them. And then the other thing that I really love that I see is not just more ability to track what's happening in their body, especially pleasant, uh, experiences in the body, but the biggest one is a greater amount of self compassion. I mean, I'm sure you know this, but what we know about trauma is that shame and trauma are.
always go together. Like there's never a time that shame and trauma are separated. If you've experienced trauma, you've probably got shame embedded in your nervous system. And so for my clients to be able to learn how to naturally be more self compassionate goes such a long way because kind of like you mentioned your perfectionistic clients.
I mean, clients who struggle with perfectionism are deeply self negating. They are super duper hard on themselves and that creates stress and tension within the body. And then if you imagine living like that all the time, you know, Stephen Porges, who wrote the, um, the polyvagal theory talks about this as the high cost of doing business in the body.
And people who have had early trauma, their, their bodies are already working more hard than it needs to be. They have to overcome so much in order to get to a sense of safety. So
Chris McDonald: I know you mentioned is co regulating. So what does co regulation mean?
Maira Holzmann: Yeah, I love this question. So, kind of like that example that I was giving to you about picking up a baby.
So that baby's crying and I'm picking up that baby and then as soon as I pick up the baby, the baby stops crying. So that baby has just adjusted their behavior to our connection. And then I'll say, Oh, okay, you need to, you know, and I'll talk to them and then they'll sort of respond. So co regulation is really where when you're in a relationship with someone, the little adjustments you make to attend to that relationship.
So part of really healthy co regulation, what it needs is attunement and ability to be really present and tracking what's happening in between two people. So in co regulating touch, technically I'm the one that is supporting regulation, but what's really happening is that when I'm touching my client or holding their kidneys, they're also touching me back.
And that. you know, they're getting, one way that I think about this is they're, they're getting a sense of regulation because I'm already feeling it and they kind of get to like be in that energy field, if you will, and experience a similar kind of thing. So co regulation is just the back and forth in a relationship.
Chris McDonald: reminds me of a
Maira Holzmann: dance, right? Yeah, it's a little dance. It's like, oh, you do this and then I do this. And when I do this, you do this, but it's a dance where there's. connection, right? There's meaningful connectedness, not just like, I don't know. I mean, one form of co regulation is if I yell at my 14 year old daughter because she hasn't done her chores and then her shoulders go up by her ears and she stops breathing.
That's co regulation as well, but it's not the kind of co regulation that leads to healing because that's a fear response. Right. So co regulation part of. how I define co regulation is that the relationship has to be safe enough that we can do this work together. A client has to trust me enough to get on that table that first time and just be willing to try something brand new or something they've never heard of before.
I know you
Chris McDonald: mentioned safe enough a few times. So is it because sometimes it's hard for people to actually feel safe? Yes. So safe enough is more of a, I guess, a way to describe how they might be
Maira Holzmann: feeling. Well, and also, if I, you know, something that makes me feel safe might not make you feel safe, right? So, for example, this is a common thing I do with clients.
I'll say to them, so I'm going to invite you to do this somatic tracking practice, and I want you, I'm going to invite you to close your eyes. If that doesn't make you feel safe enough, then keep your eyes open. So, if I'm dictating to somebody else what I think is safe, then that, that's the first misattunement.
right? But if I'm like, okay, what's safe enough? Is it, is it better if I look away from you or I look at you? Is safe enough if I move farther away from you or come closer? And so we spend actually a fair amount of time in sessions helping clients identify, well, what is safe enough? And how does that feel in my body when I feel safe enough?
And then that moves the needle towards like a true embodied sense of safety. And I think that's an important piece of healing from trauma, especially early trauma. It's almost
Chris McDonald: like the body is the barometer to just kind of a
Maira Holzmann: thousand percent. I love the way you said that the body is the barometer and most people I think don't really know how to listen to their bodies, right?
So once you figure out like, Oh, this experience with Myra helped me feel heavy in my body in a good way. And my breathing was fluid and she didn't judge me or hurt me in any way. That starts to embed that new pattern of safety in the body from a lived experience versus a conceptual one.
Chris McDonald: Okay. So from the lived experience, that can really help with healing too.
And so what about the ethics liability with touch with a therapist with touch and session? Cause I know a lot of listeners are probably thinking the same thing that we couldn't touch
Maira Holzmann: clients. Well, that's, I know. I mean, I really appreciate you bringing this up because that. is, it's so taboo in the therapeutic and mental health world to touch your clients.
Like even hugging a client, I've had colleagues be like, Oh, you do that. Is that okay? And I'm like, well, it's not like I'm hugging them without their permission. Like everything is consent based. So when I got my touch training through somatic experiencing, as well as with Kathy Kane and Steven Terrell, who are the founders of co regulating touch, if you will.
And they write a book called nurturing resilience. We spent. at least a day or half a day talking about the ethics of touch. We, you know, it's just really important. And one of the statistics that I found really interesting is that what they've found through the Zurich Institute, which is a big ethical, it's not an ethical board, but they do a lot of ethics trainings for clinicians, is that when you talk about.
touch and what you plan to do and you incorporate consent based exercises, which to me should just be part of all trauma informed care. But when you talk about it with your client, what they see is actually less, lower percentage of people who are likely to sue their client, because that's what everybody's worried about.
It's like, Oh my God, if I touch my client inappropriately, they're going to sue me. But we have a whole different, we have a whole consent form. And part of my practice in working with clients is asking for consent every time, because consent is granted in the moment. It's not a blanket consent. So if a client just like, yeah, it's really important.
I can't just assume that because they said yes,
Chris McDonald: or you sign a piece of paper,
Maira Holzmann: that's right. And that's not empowerment based either. So I have to be like, okay, let me know when you're ready for me to slide my hand under your back so I can, you know, basically hold your kidney. And it is an every time kind of thing.
And even that one practice of doing these, we do a consent based exercise where basically I'll tell the client with their permission, I'd like to put my hand somewhere on your It can be on your arm, it can be on your hand or your forearm, and within three to ten seconds, I want you to say stop or no, so that they have the lived experience of saying no to a clinician, saying no to someone who might be considered an authority figure.
And then we just keep practicing that consent. Never doing anything in terms of touching my client without letting them know first and making sure I've got consent before I go do the thing. And I think that's another piece of feeling safe. If you think about how many of our clients have been hurt and touched in ways that they never gave their consent for.
This one act of like, let me know when you want me to stop can be a really big deal in rewiring that pattern so that touch can be more available to them. Because it is when it's when it's healthy, therapeutic, loving touch. It's really, it's deeply healing, like cellularly in the fascia, like in a deep way versus just something that you, like an affirmation that you say in your mind.
Does that make sense, what I'm trying to say? Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
Chris McDonald: But I love how you talk about having them practice. To say no to I think that's what makes me think I have a lot of people pleasers in my caseload too. And I'm just thinking, would they say no? Would they say no? Yeah. So having them practice, that's
Maira Holzmann: amazing.
That's right. And that's one of the things I have learned over my career to track is like, cause I have clients that say yes. And meanwhile, they're kind of frozen on their body and not breathing. Yes. and their chest is really still. I'm like, I'm going to back up out of here because I know you said yes, I could touch you, but your body's telling me no.
So I'm just going to remove my hand and I just want you to notice what might happen when I remove my hand. And I watch them, they literally settle back down on their table, their breathing returns. And I'm also saying things like, remember that no means no. And I'm always going to follow that without any judgment or any pressure on my part.
And sometimes I have to keep reaffirming that for clients so that they start to get that lived experience of, Oh, when I say no, Myra's going to listen to me. Yes. Right. And especially for sexual assault survivors, this is a really big deal. I mean, sometimes we practice, sometimes the whole session is just doing the practice where I'm putting my hand on their hand or their arm and they're saying no for 30 minutes and just processing what shows up in their body as a result of that.
Because again, especially you've been hurt in those early years, you don't have access to no, you don't have access to a defensive strategy to get you out of there. So it's important.
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Chris McDonald: Yeah. So what are the misconceptions that you've heard of as far as somatic therapy?
Maira Holzmann: Yeah. Well, one of the biggest misconceptions I hear in my practice, particularly with me is people want to know what this is.
They want to categorize it. So they'll say like, is this energy work? Is this Reiki? And my response is I'm not trained in Reiki and I'm also not trained in energy work. But I am trained to help your nervous system get regulated. So that's one misconception is that I'm doing energy work. And certainly I think that that's true, but that's not the lens with which I was given.
And then the other thing I think, and this is more from clients, is that as far as working with the body or incorporating the body as an ally in the healing process and therapy, the concern for clients who don't know about somatic therapy is that if they have to feel anything that's happening, they're never going to stop feeling it.
They're never going to stop feeling the rage or the depression or the despair or the loneliness. And so, you know, one thing I say to every single one of my clients that walks through the door is it took a lot of courage for you to get here, right? Like how long have you been living with these symptoms and these issues and now you're ready to do some somatic therapy?
Like that's really a big deal. So that's another misconception is that if I feel what's happening in my body, I'm going to get stuck there and never get out. Those are probably the two main ones I run into when it comes to the somatic approach to psychotherapy.
Chris McDonald: And you've never had a client get stuck there and never
Maira Holzmann: come out, right?
I've never had a client get stuck there and not come out. That's true.
Chris McDonald: Yeah. Exactly. I think that is a big fear. I see that as
Maira Holzmann: well. Yeah. I mean, that's. That's what it's all about. I mean, part of what the work is about is not just helping clients to identify, feel good experiences in their body that maybe they've never actually tracked or felt.
But the other thing is helping them to practice tolerating uncomfortable experiences in their body. And we need that contrast of like, Oh, I can breathe like breathing feels really good. It's so nice. I can feel my chest expanding, contracting when I don't breathe, that feels really bad. So what do I need to do somatically or otherwise to help me come back into that flow so that my lungs can expand and contract with every single breath.
So that contrast of feel good experiences in the body also contributes to the healing process. Yeah. So I
Chris McDonald: know you mentioned somatic tracking. Uh huh. Can you talk more about what that is?
Maira Holzmann: Yeah. So somatic tracking. So the fancy word for it is called interoception. And all that it means is an ability to notice what's happening in your body and speak about it.
So I'll give you an example. So always before I get on any podcast, I get a little activated. My chest gets a little tight up here before I actually talk to the host. You know, once we get going because my head is running like, okay, am I going to sound smart? Am I going to, you know, am I going to do the right thing?
Is the host going to like me? And then once I get going, I start to really settle down. And so what I feel then is my chest opening up and my shoulders dropping away from my ears. But I think that in general, people don't know how to listen to the language of the body because it's not the language of the body is not thoughts and cognitions.
It's imagery, it's sensations, it's changes in your physiology, like heart rate. breath rate, brace patterns, all kinds of different things. And once clients learn the language of the body, they can then learn to take that information and do something with it much more effectively. Right? So I have a client who when I met her, didn't breathe.
I mean, it was, I never saw the, her upper body move and she even recognized that she couldn't breathe. And. The thing that she's, so that's one of the things we focus on is like what happens when you allow breath into your body because your body knows how to do that and she has over time been able to use that as an anchor for her to get back into present time and be really grounded.
It's like, okay, I'm not, she notices she's not breathing and then she starts to take these long, slow, full inhales and exhales and it changes her outlook, the way she relates to herself and how she shows up in the world and breathing is something we all have to do. But most of us, I think, don't breathe very well.
We breathe ineffectively or shallowly, or we're just breathing in these like little sips, which is not enough to power the body and, and also bring the system out of a survival kind of experience. Right? Yeah,
Chris McDonald: exactly. The more shallow breaths.
Maira Holzmann: Yeah. So it's a, it's a slow process. Not always slow, but you know, it.
It requires some training and some education about the nervous system and also about here's how your body talks to you, right, and sensations and all of these kinds of things. And then I'm in session with clients, especially when they're feeling better, and I'll reflect it back to them. I'll say, Oh, did you notice that you lean back in your chair after we were talking about that great event that you had over the weekend?
Did you notice that you're suddenly giving me eye contact and I can actually see your breath? And most of the time, especially in the early work, clients will be like, no, I had no idea. And I'll say, well, just see if you can feel that you're sitting back, maybe your belly's a little softer, etc. And they're like, Oh, Oh, and then I'll say, yeah, this might be an experience of calm or settledness.
So if you want to go ahead and savor that. We don't savor good feeling experiences. That's not the negativity bias of the brain that's looking for everything that's going wrong. So I'm constantly encouraging my clients to savor good enough feeling experiences in their body so that they have this as their new baseline.
Chris McDonald: I think that's so
Maira Holzmann: powerful. Yeah. It's really cool. I love, I love watching clients like discover themselves in their body and how their body's speaking to
Chris McDonald: them. Would you be able to take our listeners through some somatic experience? What would that be like? Sure. Okay, great. So if you're listening and you're driving, please pull over or do this later.
Maira Holzmann: Make sure you're in
Chris McDonald: a safe place. Yeah. Safe enough, right?
Maira Holzmann: Yeah. So be in a safe enough place where nothing bad is going to happen to you if you were to shift your attention inward. And what I'll invite your listeners to do is just come into you. So one thing about this practice. So if what I'm telling you to do doesn't work, then find something else that works better for you.
That's part of this sort of consent based thing, because I can tell you something, but since I'm not interacting and can't see the people that are listening, I don't. I don't really know. So what I would say is, and this is a really basic skill that I teach clients, and it's called finding a body anchor.
So one thing that your listeners could do right now is just start to do a scan from head to toe. And if that feels too overwhelming, then what I would say is just come into your arms and your legs, because sometimes tracking the whole body is too much and too overwhelming for people. So, as you send your attention inward and south into your body, whether it's your arms and your legs or your whole body, one of the things I want you to start looking for is the most solid feeling place in your system.
A place that feels maybe alive and well, or flowing, or grounded. And if you find a place like that in your body, I just want you to kind of linger your attention there. I don't want you to glue it there. I don't want you to try and hold on to that grounded feeling place in your body, but just linger your attention in that area.
And the nature of mind is that you're going to get distracted. So if you get distracted, you can just gently bring your attention right back to that place. So right now, my attention is particularly on my right foot, which is on the ground. And that's the most solid feeling place. And then once you find that place, I'm going to invite you for maybe one to four breaths to simply savor how solid that place in your body feels.
And as you do that, as you savor, notice how the rest of your body might already be starting to do something different. And joining that solid or settled place in your body. Your breath might be flowing a little better. Your shoulders might be feeling softer. Maybe your jaw loosened up, but notice what happened when you were just lingering your attention in that solid place in your system.
That's it. So what I'm noticing, Chris, as you're doing this, which I love that you're doing it, it looks like you're breathing a little better. Like I can suddenly see your shoulders moving and then I'd love to hear what else you may be like, where was your solid place in your body? And what's happening now after having done the
Chris McDonald: practice?
The space, like, above my knees and both, both my thighs, just notice that they're just more solid.
Maira Holzmann: That's right. Yeah, good.
Chris McDonald: Just picture, like, turning into a tree.
Maira Holzmann: Solid. There, right? So, in somatic experiencing, that image we call imaginal channel, right? And so, just note, as you notice that image, Chris, notice if that tree feels good to notice in your mind's eye.
Yes. And also notice how your body tells you that maybe seeing that tree feels good, right? Like I heard the yes, right? It was a specific
Chris McDonald: way of saying yes. My flowy leaves. There it is.
Maira Holzmann: Yes. That's right. That's it. And what you've basically just done is you've maybe interrupted a known pattern where you're You don't seem like a very anxious person that I can tell from the, you know, little time that we've been together, but maybe you're just feeling a lot more here now, right?
Or maybe you're just feeling a little bit more fluid. And you did that for about two minutes, just for about two minutes short. I mean, and this is the thing I want all of your listeners to really hear is these somatic skills you have access to anytime, everywhere, all the time. But it's just a question of knowing how to do it and also when to do it.
Right? So I invited you to do something that I think is pretty easy, but your level of activation was also not super high. If you were crying or sobbing or you were super angry, you know, I might try this anchor piece, but I might also try something else because he, the skills that I teach with clients in a lot of ways are tailored specifically for their somatic pattern.
Right. So I have this belief that everyone has a default survival pattern. So the most basic survival patterns, as you know, are fight, flight, and freeze. So my default pattern is fight. So if I'm in fight mode and I'm moving outside of my window of capacity to be present, trying to find a body anchor is probably not going to work for me.
But pushing against a wall or like bawling up my fists and letting them go and bawling them up again and letting them go is going to help me sort of expand some of that vital fight energy of my system trying to protect me from whatever the threat is in the environment. Is that making sense? Yeah,
Chris McDonald: yeah.
Yeah, so, so it's kind of meeting them where they're at too with their nervous system and exactly,
Maira Holzmann: exactly where they're at because, you know, you can't tell someone that's angry to like, in my experience, sit down and meditate, all that's going to do is spin them up because what's happening when someone's angry is a whole bunch of adrenaline.
Which has an eight minute action time in the body is coursing through my whole system, forcing my, it's called a motor program, right? So if I'm under threat, my fight response is I'm going to put up my Dukes or I'm going to put my arms in front of my body so that I can defend myself. And if I'm asking someone to settle down and breathe deeply and meditate.
That goes against what the body naturally wants to do. So yes, meeting clients exactly where they're at is really important, especially if you know where they're at on the nervous system map. And also I teach my clients, like, what's your default response? And I can track it from, you know, the time they come in.
It seems like you tend towards freeze. Okay, so these are the skills I want you to use if you're like deep into freeze. So. We have to just sort of keep attuning to the client and just like you said, meeting them where they're at so that the skills that we're teaching them are much more effective in flipping or shifting that survival pattern in their body.
Chris McDonald: So I know you, you mentioned mapping. So can you just talk, what do you mean
Maira Holzmann: by that? Yeah, so part of the nervous system education that we give to our clients is we explain to them what their nervous system is and the nervous system that we is basically so the nervous system is comprised of the brain and the spine and then all of the nerves that extend out from that main physical structure.
When I talk about the nervous system map, what I'm trying to teach my clients is one, do you tend towards fight, flight or freeze? Right? Because if you tend towards fight or flight, then you are in the sympathetic nervous system. So the sympathetic nervous system is the action nervous system. It's the get up and go.
It's the fight flight response versus the parasympathetic nervous system, which is in charge of restorative functions in the body and rest and digest. So when I have clients that. dissociate or fall into depression, they're usually in that they're stuck in their parasympathetic nervous system. You don't have quite enough energy.
And so when I'm talking about the map, I'm asking my clients, are you in your sympathetic arousal system right now? Or do you feel kind of shut down, barely breathing, kind of spacey or dissociated? Because that would be your parasympathetic nervous system. And once clients start to understand that when you're in those, and it's not either or right, a healthy nervous system actually has a balance of the parasympathetic and the sympathetic working in tandem.
together. That's what we call the middle range or the place where a client is really regulated. But when I ask a client to identify where they're at and I tell them, here's all the physiological things that you're going to experience if you're in an upstate, if you're at an arousal state, your mind is going to be racing.
You might be clenching your jaw, you might be feeling anxious or aggressive. What I've noticed is the shame of the feeling out of control in their body start to dissipate because they're like, no, this is simply my physiology doing exactly what it's supposed to do to try and keep me safe. So I'm not a bad person because I'm not angry.
I'm not doing anything wrong because I'm sobbing. This is just the way my body is trying to support. So that's what I mean by the nervous system map. As are you more sympathetic? Are you on the sympathetic side of things or are you on the parasympathetic side of things? And then sometimes I have clients often with, especially with early trauma where the break, so to speak of the parasympathetic nervous system and the accelerator of the sympathetic nervous system are on at the same time, right?
That's definitely a form of. trauma where the nervous system can't quite figure it out. So that's what I mean by the nervous system map. Yeah,
Chris McDonald: I got you. Yeah. So what's the best way for our listeners to find you and learn more about you? Ah,
Maira Holzmann: thanks for asking. So our website is somatictherapypartners. com.
That's a great place for people to find me and also just see what we do. They can learn all about co regulating touch and we've got a bunch of free resources on the website. Um, so that would be the main way for clients to come and find. where I am and also the practice in general. And you
Chris McDonald: have an ebook coming out.
Maira Holzmann: Yeah, I'm really excited. So I have an ebook right now. The working title is what's happening in my body, learning to track somatically for personal growth and healing. It's something like that, but this ebook that's coming out is basically a guide on the language of the body and also how to listen to the body and education on the nervous system.
And I'm really excited about it because, you know, as a somatic clinician, when I ask clients to track, especially clients who have maybe never heard of somatic therapy or new to therapy, they'll be like, I don't know what you mean. What are you talking about? Track what? And I'll say things like, okay, so somatically tracking means like tracking sensations.
People don't know that certain sensations go along with certain emotions. Emotions are part of the thing they track. How their physiology is changing. So the book outlines all the different ways and it's not comprehensive. It's as comprehensive, I think, as it can be, but it's, it's basically a comprehensive guide of things to start looking for in your body so that you can learn the language of the body and then start to, again, be more effective and in self regulation and healing in particular.
Chris McDonald: And we'll have all your information in the show notes so listeners can access that. But thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Myra. This has been so helpful.
Maira Holzmann: Thank you, Chris. It was a pleasure.
Chris McDonald: Yeah. And that brings us to the end of another episode. If you're a new listener, I want to say welcome. As a listener of access to my free nine part email course, how to build confidence as a holistic therapist and this course, you'll explore different holistic modalities, how to boost your confidence and how to manifest your holistic practice.
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