India has only recently begun to experience Somatic Experiencing as an accessible form of trauma healing. Like many other countries, India has a long history of transgenerational trauma – from war, religious conflict, British colonization, and the displacement of people after the British partitioned India into two independent nation-states when they left. It also has a long cultural tradition of a sensitive and deep approach to the body and spirit and of resilience through ancient wisdom.
Rashmi Ajay, a psychotherapist, massage therapist, and craniosacral therapist born and raised in India and living in Bangalore, worked to expand her practice and her understanding of healing and felt that there was something lacking. “All I had learned until then pointed to trauma’s quiet presence in our lives,” Rashmi says. “I knew I needed a deeper understanding of trauma to be able to support myself and help my clients in a more effective way.”
Through her search for a more trauma informed approach to healing, Rashmi learned about Somatic Experiencing when she read Waking the Tiger, by Dr. Peter A. Levine, in her craniosacral therapy training. She knew SE felt like the perfect solution, but it was inaccessible to her; there weren’t trainings in India for her to attend. “So, I marinated on the possibility of SE in India for about a year,” Rashmi explains. “And one day, while meditating, I felt a calling to reach out to Peter Levine.” That’s exactly what she did and, incredibly, within a week Rashmi was established as the coordinator for the first ever SE training in India. “It all just fell into place,” Rashmi says.
The SE trainings in India have been very successful, maintaining strong numbers in three cohorts consistently and with very few dropouts. Rashmi believes that the strong numbers are a clear indication of the need for SE in India, as she made very few efforts to advertise. “I didn’t have the time to advertise and I’m not a tech savvy person . . . People just came.”
Through three cohorts, all held in Bangalore, the trainings have been taught by Ursula Furstenwald, SEP, Efu Nyaki SEP, MEd; Berns Galloway, SEP, MEd, CCC, and Glyndie Nickerson, SEP, MA, PhD and the attendance numbers continue to grow, with the current cohort starting with 51 participants. Already, SE has made a positive impact on those it has reached in India. Students are seeing substantial progress with their clients.
Kusum Dhar Prabhu, a Jungian analyst and SEP who attended the first cohort, says “Bringing SE into my work has rejuvenated it. Integrating depth psychology practices with SE practices has brought deeper and long-lasting healing to those I work with.” Shally Khedkar, a current student from Mumbai, says, “Today I integrate SE in my coaching along with breath work, TRE® (Tension and Trauma Releasing Exercises) and yoga practices, with personal and corporate clients alike. My colleagues and clients have remarked on the shifts they have noticed in me and in themselves when they use the SE tools. In fact, some of them have enrolled in the next cohort in India.”
This growth of SE in India brings with it a sense of hope as well: hope that the trainings continue to flourish, that SE becomes more accessible, and that more generational and racial trauma is resolved. Kusum explains, “SE culture is a much-needed therapeutic modality in India, bringing compassion and non-judgmental energy to psychological distress. In India, our very sensitive and deep approach to the body and spirit was deeply disturbed by our colonization experience. But along with our ancestral trauma is equally powerful ancestral wisdom and cultural memory that has been informed over generations by eastern philosophy, meditation, yoga and Ayurveda. If SE enters India in a ‘non-colonizing’ way, it has the potential to offer healing for intergenerational colonial trauma.”
Rashmi, now an SEP, says that SE has had substantial impact on her own practice. “It was a relief,” she says, “to be able to help clients in this way. My work is anchored in the intention of providing a safe space that honors and supports every person's journey to finding hope, ease and comfort in their lives. SE has given me the ‘language’ to do this.”
Although the COVID-19 pandemic transitioned the trainings to an online platform, Rashmi continues to organize trainings in India and continues to see growth despite her lack of “tech-savvy advertising.” The SE community in India is thankful to Rashmi and her efforts in pioneering the SE trainings in Bangalore. “Rashmi has brought in SE with great sensitivity to the larger field,” says Kusum.
According to Rashmi, very little credit is due. “The work is so much bigger than me and the SE community is growing and coming together to focus on a collective intention to heal trauma.”