Yes, this morning I fell down the stairs. I had put on comfy fuzzy socks, and was looking at my phone a little, and my foot slipped and I tumbled down a half-flight to the landing, bracing myself with my left hand. My forearm got bruised up and I’m still figuring out what’s going on with my neck (the chiropractor might get a visit), but I’m mostly fine.
What interested me, though, was the aftermath, once my body realized I was no longer in danger and hadn’t been badly hurt. In a few minutes, my hands started to shake, and I was buzzy and shaky for a while as the adrenaline rush left my body. Luckily, my body is pretty good at doing this; most of ours are. But for people who have experienced serious trauma, things can be a bit different.
In our training, we called it “streaming.” This is distinct from “flooding,” where a client becomes overwhelmed by an emotion and needs to be brought down from it to safer ground. Streaming is a phenomenon that may or may not be accompanied by emotion, but generally is far more physical. I’ve seen it many times in the training, a time or two in my office, and have experienced it personally once. It can be disconcerting and is certainly uncomfortable, and it’s not very well understood, but for whatever reason, Synergy really lends itself to it.
So what is it? Basically, a client will be lying on the table. The Synergist will make contact in one way or another. And the client’s body will start to shake. Often, their jaw will shake as well, as you might if you were very cold and shivering. One colleague of mine described the sensation as moving in waves down her body. For another, her eyes moved around a lot as well, and tended to fill with tears, though she didn’t feel sad. The movement is involuntary, like shivering, and tends to come up especially for people who have experienced trauma in their childhoods.
In my own experience, I became very angry during the training one year, and got caught up in some drama surrounding a fellow student. I carried the anger with me over a few days, then had a Synergy session, as we do in the course of our training. During that session, I began to process through the emotions I was having, and as I did so, my body began to shake. It almost felt like I was going to cry, but I didn’t, and instead I felt waves of shudders moving through me, top to bottom. It was bizarre, and a little frightening, and my Synergist just held my head and helped me move through it safely. It stopped after a few minutes, and I felt freer and cleaner than I had in days. And a lot less angry.
At some point prior to this, one of the faculty explained how an animal – like, say, a deer – will shudder after an encounter with a predator or some other danger that it manages to escape. In such moments, when our fight-or-flight response kicks in, adrenaline and cortisol flood our systems, and afterwards, when the danger has passed, it needs to be cleared. An animal’s muscles will spasm quickly to clear the stress hormones and move them toward their eliminatory systems more quickly.
But sometimes, an animal – usually a domesticated animal, or especially, a human – will not clear the experience right away. Sometimes the trauma is too great, or is repeated often, or for some other reason, the moment of stress becomes frozen in the body. The muscles lock around the feeling of danger and terror, and the trauma becomes imprinted. Instead of having a traumatic experience, but then moving toward healing, the body and mind develop a new loop: the experience is re-lived, fully, vividly, triggered by words, images, smells, and mundane experiences.
It’s only later, then, that the streaming occurs: while meditating, or receiving healing, or lying awake at night.
Or that’s the theory, anyway: that streaming is one of the ways the body gets triggered, an attempt to clear old wounds long after they’ve happened. For me, it was the accumulation of a few days’ rancor. For others, it seems to repeat for them, over and over, like flashbacks of the trauma itself. Over time, one hopes that it improves, as the accumulated stress is released.
I was grateful this morning to feel my body shivering as it cleared the fear: the danger was past, and I’m merely bruised and sore, not traumatized. But what happens to the child who is hit constantly by his father? Pretty soon, just the sound of his key in the lock will cause the adrenaline response; just the sound of his voice will put the child’s body on alert; just the father turning to look at him too quickly will cause him to flinch back. In such an environment, one’s guard can never be down. It’s never safe to just let the hormones clear and go on with life as normal. And, unlike prey animals, we have sophisticated mental and emotional systems: memory, pattern recognition, prediction, and consciousness. All of those flinches go somewhere; it makes sense that all of that accumulated tension might come spilling out later in life in a physical way.
RSM, among all the other things it is, seems to be a way to access and begin to clear those traumas somatically – without having to re-live the trauma, or even know what it was. We’re making contact with the body and helping it learn to feel safe again, to return to a state where calm is possible, and being constantly on alert is no longer necessary. For some people, streaming appears to be a necessary part of this process.
Here’s a pretty great article on this phenomenon, from someone who does Jin Shin Do Acupressure. I’m not familiar with the practice, but the descriptions of what I’m talking about are very useful. Bonus story about a horse, too.