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Sources of Inspiration

People often ask where this work arose from.  The honest answer is that it came from following the path of my lived experience.  In my bio, I talk a bit about growing up in a body that was highly sensitive neurologically.  My body and its neuro-sensitivity has been the greatest teacher of my life.  Listening to my body’s wisdom and being privileged to work directly with thousands of other people and their diverse bodies over the past 28 years has provided a wealth of vital information. So really, Nervous System RESET has been an intuitive unfolding that gradually evolved into a living, breathing framework that continues to empower and uplift individuals on their healing journeys.

And along the way, I have been deeply impacted by the work and insights of many others.  Among those who have inspired me are the following:

Indigenous wisdom practices from all around the globe that center the body as a source of wellness and healing:

Anyone working in the field of wellness, particularly somatic wellness approaches, must acknowledge that most of our understanding of the body as a source of wellness and wisdom comes from indigenous cultures around the world who have traditionally centered the body in healing practices and who recognize the body as a gateway to an expanded sense of self.  From Asia and Southeast Asia, to Africa and the Americas, indigenous wisdom has laid the foundations for all modern, “alternative” healing approaches.

The field of ACE research and embodied trauma-informed care:

The original ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) study (conducted by Vincent Felitti and Robert Anda) and subsequent research has unequivocally impacted our understanding of how early adversity and overload changes the neurological development of a child and can lead to disruptions in their physiological, emotional and behavioral regulation throughout life.

For more information about ACEs, you can check out Childhood Disrupted:  How Your Biography Becomes Your Biology and How You can Heal by Donna Jackson Nakazawa who has written an informative, accessible book chock-full of good references to sound research in the field of ACE impacts, child development and epigenetics. I always recommend this book as a resource for folks wanting to know more about the impact of ACE’s.

And the field of ACE research and trauma-informed care are at the heart of how I work with people and why I developed the Nervous System RESET process to begin with. Because we know that early adversity is prevalent in our society, we must assume that trauma is more widespread than we might have imagined. We cannot afford to work with the body or the nervous system or the psycho-emotional self without first putting into place certain safeguards that support us doing that work in a gradual way so that we make sure the client is working inside of an authentically comfortable and accurate window of tolerance at all times.

The way that I accomplish this is to teach people how to track body sensation and cues of safety / lack of safety that are registering at the body level as the basis for any other work that we aim to do. This is the foundation that the Nervous System RESET process gives people: helping them learn to track and monitor body cues signaling safety and settling or lack of safety and activation, while learning to work with those very same sensory pathways to gradually down-regulate hyper-arousal in the autonomic nervous system.  In this way, clients are taught how to become active participants in the process of their own well-being.

For more information on Donna Jackson-Nakazawa, visit www. donnajacksonnakazawa.com

For more information on ACE’s, visit www.acesconnection.com

Stephen Porges and Polyvagal Theory:

Distinguished university scientist at the Kinsey Institute and a Research Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, Stephen Porges and his Polyvagal Theory has been essential to our understanding of how the nervous system and its adaptive responses work.   Porges has completely transformed our understanding of how we respond to obstacles, adversity, stress, and trauma, and his insights have transformed our approaches to treating everything from trauma to autism. Porges provides us with a foundational, neurophysiological understanding of what constitutes safety (i.e., safety as it is registered in our body and not just at a cognitive or conscious level), and demonstrates that when we have better physiological state regulation or autonomic regulation, other therapeutic interventions can have improved outcomes.

This idea of a cultivating a neurophysiology of safety is the core component of what I am teaching in the Nervous System RESET approach. Having an understanding of how to read our nervous system responses (through tracking body sensations) allows us to work with these adaptive responses and shift them over time.

Dan Siegel and the field of Interpersonal Neurobiology (IPNB):

IPNB is a working model that looks at human development as an interwoven dynamic between body and mind in the context of social relationships. Rooted in attachment theory, this approach is often thought of as relational neuroscience.

As with Stephen Porges’ Polyvagal Theory, the tenants of IPNB inform the relational component of my work with clients. With all clients, there is a foundation of mentoring that starts with co-regulation:  I am helping them to learn how to manage and negotiate their body sensations and nervous system responses of activating or settling while they are simultaneously learning how to safely do that for themselves. The whole goal is to help clients gain mastery of tracking and negotiating their body sensations, what we can call an ability to accurately self-regulate, so that they come into an empowered relationship with their bodies rather than feeling like they are at the mercy of their body responses or dependent on a professional to help them manage those experiences.

Peter Levine (Waking the Tiger, In An Unspoken Voice, Healing Trauma, etc.):

Peter Levine and his body of work (Somatic Experiencing) have been influential to my approach working with clients over the years. His first book, Waking the Tiger, was published just as I was starting my bodywork practice, and his recognition of the physiological responses that underpin trauma resonated deeply with me and what I was seeing in my work for people. He was the first person to talk openly about the fact that the body has a natural discharge or release response which kicks in when the nervous system is settling and recovering from past danger or arousal signals embedded in the body.  He helped us begin to understand that trembling or shaking are not signs of pathology, but rather a healthy reflex of healing and release.

Levine reminds us that awareness of body sensation and the ability to safely track sensation (interoception) is a key component to supporting a hyper-aroused or overwhelmed physiology gradually returning to balance. He recommends working slowly with building awareness of body sensation, working in small doses (what he calls “titration”), moving toward sensation and then back away again (what he calls “pendulation”) as a means for increasing awareness of the felt sense and the internal landscape of our body (“interoception”).  

These are all core principles of how I work with clients, gradually teaching them through what I call “neural” exercises, simple somatic practices that invite the exploration of body sensation in small amounts and always orienting back towards a baseline of anchoring in the present moment towards safety.   Some of the tracking practices I teach are adapted from Levine’s orienting exercises, but they have been modified to be as simple and streamlined as possible.

Eugene Gendlin and Focusing Work:

Anyone working through a somatic lens owes a debt of gratitude to Eugene Gendlin’s concept of bodily “felt sense.” Felt sense is the word Gendlin coined to refer to the experience of something within the body even before we can name or explain what that experience is. In his research assessing which therapies are most effective for clients, Gendlin found that the single variable that was the most essential in determining a client’s success in therapy was whether or not clients were able to reference experiences and shifts happening in their bodies.

Gendlin’s approach advocates learning how to hold space for the felt sense experience and allowing that sense to guide the client’s process of gentle self-exploration. The body is never wrong, and we can remain open and curious to what the body is revealing to us as a source of wisdom and inspiration. Although I am not a therapist and do not offer psychotherapy, this approach has been a founding principle for me in my work with clients over the years. It allows a gentle and safe container of exploration meant to empower the client in their self-discovery and self-awareness.

For more information about Gendlin and his work, visit www.focusing.org

TRE®:

The 4 year period I spent as a Certification Trainer and Certified Provider for TRE® was formative to my evolution as a practitioner. In this period I honed my skills of working with the body’s natural stress release response of “tremoring,” and expanded my theoretical basis of neuroscience. Although ultimately my methodology around working with the body’s natural tremor response is very different than how TRE® approaches it, I believe the greatest gift that TRE® has brought into the world is that it introduced us to the possibility of being able to access the tremor reflex as an intentional pathway of healing. This reflex lives inside of all of us and can be used as a gateway to health and wellness as long as it is balanced with good body awareness and the ability to accurately track and monitor our physiological markers for staying inside a window of comfort and safety.

Besel Van Der Kolk (The Body Keeps Score):

Besel Van der Kolk is a psychiatrist and respected research scientist noted for his research in the area of post-traumatic stress since the 1970s. His research (especially through the use of functional MRI) has shown us that trauma is embedded in the body and that if we are not addressing the physiological shifts that occur, we cannot effectively recover from dysregulated states.  His book, The Body Keeps The Score:  Brain, Mind and Body In the Healing of Trauma, is an excellent resource.

 

In gratitude to all of these sources of inspiration,

 

Jessica Schaffer

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