Somatic Experiencing® is a powerful method for bringing awareness into the body to focus on its trauma syndromes and symptoms. In a very gentle way, this method works to address the overwhelming sensation that causes a vicious cycle of chronic stress. The SE® approach releases traumatic shock, which is a key to transforming conditions like PTSD toward a vibrant and peaceful life. Since I learned how to use SE for myself and others, I have witnessed powerful and amazing transformations. I have accompanied many people as they moved into wellness. Here is one such story.
I work with SE in a social project located in a marginalized neighborhood situated in the periphery of the city of João Pessoa, in northeastern Brazil. The project, known as AFYA, is a holistic healing center run by women from the nearby communities. The AFYA Center receives many people who have suffered from daily stress of domestic and urban violence, extreme poverty, drugs, alcohol abuse, etc. Our healing therapies have provided a lot of awareness and wellness for these people. To be specific, the following is an amazing story of one of the women who came to AFYA for healing— and after her transformation became a member of our team.
Maria Ausciliadora came to AFYA nine years ago at age 42 with severe and frequent epileptic attacks. She had been diagnosed with epilepsy since she was five years old. She had used medication to try to control the attacks, believing that there was no cure for this disease. When she was 33 years old her epileptic attacks started to occur more often to the extent that she was afraid to leave the house by herself. By the time she came to AFYA, her attacks were as often as twice a week, or even more depending on the stressful situations that she encountered. Maria lives in a João Pessoa neighborhood with high indices of violence, drug use, regular assaults on public busses, etc. and she told us that at night she has had a hard time sleeping because she often hears the sounds of gunshots.
We noticed that Maria had chronic muscle tensions as well as constantly being angry and irritated. At AFYA, apart from SE sessions we also have many different kinds of holistic healing therapies. We advised her to do reiki, therapeutic massage, reflexology, and mud therapy. These therapies helped her get in touch with her body. During her weekly sessions at AFYA we used SE to bring her awareness into her body's pattern of constant rigidity and tension. Eventually, Maria became more playful and started experiencing some moments of relaxation and joyfulness. She also noted that her epileptic crises were fewer.
Prodromal Symptoms: early sign(s) that might indicate the onset of a disease before more specific symptoms set in.
At this point when her body was learning how to regulate itself, I started working with pre-prodromal symptoms of her epilepsy. She was able to recognize the indications of the sensations of her body before an epileptic crisis actually happened. She became extremely tense, with tight muscles all over her body. The method we chose brought awareness to her tension, allowing Maria to notice the muscles relaxing gently and slowly.
Eventually we moved into the prodromal symptom, which, in her case, was a tingling sensation. The tingling started from the tip of her finger: a sensation that scared her if she paid attention to it. With my presence to offer security, support, and confidence, she was able to notice the tingling in her body. With the capacity to pay attention to this sensation it was only a second before she looked at me with a big smile, showed me the palm of her hand, and said: “It stopped here!” As enthusiastic as she was, I encouraged her to continue noticing her bodily sensations, bringing awareness to the fact that this scary sensation had stopped for the first time in many, many years. We spent a bit more time for the body to expand and recognize the healing process.
She went home feeling very excited about her new discovery. On her way home she took a bus where she sat next to a man who occupied his own seat as well as hers. Angry, she felt trapped against the wall of the bus: she was aware of her chest, jaws, arms, and leg muscles tightening. Remembering our session she immediately began to pay attention to the tingling that came right after the tensions caused by stress. She began to ignore the man next to her and looked at her fingertips, which were tingling, until the sensation stopped again. She became extremely happy because this time she did it on her own. She did not even notice when the man got off the bus.
When she reached home she called me to report she felt sure that she was healed. The way in which she described her sensations she had experienced in her body led me to agree. About six months later, Maria negotiated with her doctor to take less of her medication. With that doctor's permission, she eventually stopped taking medication. To this day she is doing fine without it.
A couple of years after Maria first came to me seeking healing, she asked if she could join the team and work at AFYA. Now she spends her time helping women in similar situations who come to the center looking for healing. For me, her story illustrates how bringing bodily awareness through SE can offer skills which enable people to experience a transformation toward a vibrant life.
Sister Euphrasia “Efu” Nyaki, MM, SEP— pictured with Maria Ausciliadora (right)— last blogged about her work in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. Sister Efu is a Maryknoll Sister and a SE Practitioner. She works with AFYA, a women's holistic healing center in João Pessoa, Brazil, which she helped to found in 2000. She is also a faculty member of the Somatic Experiencing Institute in Brazil.