Excerpted from Feel to Heal: Releasing Trauma Through Body Awareness and Breathwork Practice
By Giten Tonkov
BioDynamic Breathwork & Trauma Release System (BBTRS) is a somatic modality that relies on a suite of elements, which, when applied together, maximize the potential of trauma release, along with the return of balance and the “juice” of life. It draws from the best-researched modalities in the field—including various aspects of somatic approaches; scientifically proven mindfulness and meditation applications; anatomy, massage, and physical therapy; breathwork; sound vibrations; emotional release; and energy.
The six elements of BBTRS function naturally in our bodies, utilizing the autonomic processes of the sympathetic nervous system, physics, and energetic connections between people. In order of importance, they are:
Deep, connected breathing is done through an open mouth, which requires the use of the diaphragm. As “belly breathing” continues—with long, connected breaths, with a focus on the self—relaxation settles in, and the body becomes oxygenated. With this oxygen comes energy. It might seem counterintuitive that with more energy, the mind actually quiets, but it does. If this technique is practiced in day-to-day life, outside a session—inhale to the count of eight, exhale to the count of eight—breathing alone can have a tremendous impact on the body, the emotions, and the ability to manage stress. In the moment. At any time.
Involuntary physical movements are the most direct and fastest route for tension to escape the body. Various somatic approaches focus specifically on stimulating the tremor response—the body’s natural method of releasing tension—which is described in detail in the book. However, tremoring is not the only involuntary movement common to somatic work. Another is best described as “unwinding,” in which movement originates in the core of the body and spreads toward the limbs. Where tremoring is often fast, unwinding can be slow and measured, sometimes more like a rhythmic dance. Tremoring and unwinding movements can each trigger the other, and both release arrested energy.
Conscious touch, bodywork, and soft-tissue manipulation—directed toward pressure points, connective tissue, muscles, joints, or nerves—add a dimension to somatic work that allows a practitioner to assist another person in the physical aspects of trauma release. When we apply touch to contracted muscles in the body, we support a flow of energy to areas cut off from their own physical and energetic circulation. A supporting facilitator acts as an external, safe, and knowledgeable resource for a person, ensuring that he or she is not alone. Through loving kindness and a caring touch, the facilitator helps the person to shift attention from one area of the body to another, so energy can dissipate.
Emotion is held along with body tension, and both come to the surface during somatic work. In BBTRS, we find that a short emotional expression can be very useful, especially for people who have experienced a long period of trauma. However, somatic trauma release approaches are structured to avoid reactivating and overstimulating people, so emotional expression during a BBTRS session is carefully managed. Therefore, when emotional expression appears—sadness, happiness, anger—we support people in staying with the feeling for a moment, and then moving to the next step relatively quickly. This process usually works very efficiently. By honoring what is coming out, and at the same time remaining connected to the breath, people become masters of their expression.
Sound is a vibration, a release of energy. Sound affects us deeply—from loud, jarring construction noise to soothing, tranquil birdsong. We hear a sound when a wave caused by the vibration of an object hits our eardrums. However, the sound obviously doesn’t stop at our ears. And when we intentionally apply sound to our environments, we can assist how sound moves through our bodies. Music and other sounds can be used to evoke emotional states—and sound has different effects on different people. Therefore, BBTRS practitioners must apply musical choices with care. Still, music can be a great benefit when setting a particular mood or inviting someone into a desired state, perhaps during the beginning, middle, or completion of a session.
Meditation allows us to develop our inner witness, our inner watcher. It is used to look objectively at ourselves—our physical sensations, emotional responses, the body as a whole—without being involved. Meditation is just observing; it’s not necessarily “being quiet.” In fact, some meditations include physical movement, music, or other activities. Anything can be a meditation, such as walking or even doing the dishes. If your mind is busy, then just observe it, and eventually some of the energy will come to the observer. It’s not difficult. If necessary, start by observing the closest thing: your breath. Meditation is not a mystical experience, but it can lead to one. It can lead to something deeper, beyond ourselves. It’s a practice, like going to a gym.
Please note: When working with people who are extremely traumatized through PTSD, it’s important to first assess how resilient their nervous systems are. The foundational, efficient method of breathing used in BBTRS might initially prove too stimulating. Therefore, in these cases, we often begin with meditation or movement through tremoring as a gentle beginning; breathwork can be introduced after familiarity with the method is established.