Watch or listen to the inaugural episode of the Mindfulness & Grief Podcast to learn more about how to navigate the intersection of trauma, grief and mindfulness with David A. Treleaven, author of Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness
Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness with David A. Treleaven Overview
During this in-depth interview, I spoke with David about our preference for the breath as an anchor, and how that can impact a person experiencing trauma. Additionally, I was curious about how a person with trauma can know when they are in "the window of tolerance," a term David references that stems from the work of Babette Rothschild. Here is one of the many insights from our conversation:
But the basic signs are, at the upper level of the window of tolerance, one becomes hyper-vigilant, super anxious and has physiological reactions like sweating, flashbacks. It's basically that feeling of it's too much energy in the system. On the lower end, it can be more dissociative like, "I'm super tired. I can't remember. My cognitive processing becomes a little bit disorganized." So that's ... Those are the thresholds, and at either end, you start to notice like, "Whoa. I'm either chucking out or this is too much," and that's what you can track.
And in light of that, because of the trauma and the overwhelming experiences we might have, the breath...the breath can sometimes, for some people, actually not be a neutral place to bring one's attention back to. And this gets into the interplay between the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous system, where sympathetic is the accelerator in many ways, allows us to really mobilize energy, and the parasympathetic is the brake. And usually, these are moving together. When we have trauma, these get a little bit out of whack, and the breath is a key place that we are actually modulating that.
So for people that have experienced trauma, traumatic stress, often ... I mean, and a perfect, a good example would be, if something that was really scary, we do this, right? Like, "Huh." Would catch in. Or if we're freezing or we're trying to just contain, the energy the breath is a great way to do that, and there are these imprints and markers, like you said earlier, that happened in the body when we have an overwhelming experience. All to say, when you ask someone to pay attention to the breath in a very consistent way over, say, 15, 20, 30 minutes, that can often elicit some of the older traumatic responses that were connected to an overwhelming event."
Mindfulness & Grief Episode 1 Description:
Heather Stang interviews David A. Treleaven, Ph.D., author of "Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness," for an closer look at the intersection of grief, trauma and mindfulness, so you can understand the benefits and pitfalls before you practice. Mindfulness meditation is highly praised for helping people reduce physical, emotional, and psychological suffering. But when trauma is involved, mindfulness needs to be handled with care, modified, or outright avoided.