Trauma Training Tip:
As the weather becomes colder, trauma survivors who have repeatedly needed the freeze response to help them cope with life threatening situations may experience more vulnerability.
Freeze, also called collapse or dissociation, is a physiologically brilliant and life-saving solution in certain circumstances. When too much electricity is flowing into our home, a circuit breaker shuts off the power to prevent it from burning to the ground. Similarly, when life presents an overwhelming challenge, we may freeze to prevent our heart/mind from imploding.
While the freeze strategy is brilliant in the short term, the damage that ensues when it is used repeatedly is the root of many of the complex symptoms our patients bring to us for help with.
In Chinese medical terms, when a person is presented with a threat and the Liver gets the message to mobilize the fight or flight response, a shut down or freeze message is automatically sent across the K’e cycle to the Spleen and all the Fu. All energy and blood is directed to the limbs to carry out fight or flight. Digesting our food, while critical for long-term health, is irrelevant when we are under immediate life threat.
As you can imagine, a freeze in the Fu makes it hard to “process and move impure substances” on the physical as well as the emotional or spiritual level. In this season of Metal, the function of the Colon to let go of what no longer serves, may be compromised.
A freeze state leaves our patients more vulnerable to future threats. The good news is that acupuncture is a fabulous modality for restoring balance and regulation to the self protective response.
Fortunately, Five Element diagnosis can help us find order in the midst of dis-order. The Correspondences offer clues to creating a multi-faceted, whole-person, and coherent approach to caring for our patients. They can inform our presence, the nature and location of our touch, and the ways in which we engage the emotions and the spirit. They can help us design effective treatment strategies that go beyond pulse reading and point selection. If you are unfamiliar with this approach, consider reading Five Element Constitutional Acupuncture by Angela Hicks, John Hicks and Peter Mole.
Tip: Last month I taught the first module in the year-long series entitled “Restoration & Balance After Trauma.” In that class, students explored the sensate function of the Po/Animal Soul in awakening arousal to threat. They practiced hands-on approaches to restoring regulation in the skin as a prelude to needling; and for working with the breath as it moves through the diaphragm system. Jump in for the second module in December where I will be discussing ways we can support the Kidney/Adrenal system as a key player in building resiliency in this signaling center for threat.
Check This Out
This video of “playing possum” is a great description of the life-giving nature of the freeze response. We humans use our freeze response similarly to this opossum. Victims don’t look as tasty or as visible to predators when they are “frozen” and they secrete opiate-like substances that mitigate pain and may help them succumb to the predator more peacefully. Designed to be short-term, problems arise when the sense of life-threat doesn’t turn off and we remain in long-term freeze.
Where is your clinical curiosity carrying you? Send me a question or two and I will explore them with readers in this corner next month. Here’s one that recently came to me:
Q. “What about using a heat lamp for my patient who is deficient yang and constantly cold?”
A. “Our patients with long-term freeze experiences are fortunate to have found an acupuncturist! We have so many ways to bring comfort to their cold, thaw their freeze and restore their vitality.
A heat lamp is one solution. It brings warmth and comfort, relaxes muscles and supports flow of Qi. Moxa, however, can bring so much more. It has both herbal and warming qualities that build and move Blood, Qi, and Yang, and can help transform damp accumulation.
Challenges with using direct moxa for trauma survivors include the fear of being burned, or the startle/arousal that may come when it becomes hot. Some survivors have trouble with their sensate awareness and may not notice the warmth of the moxa until it is too hot. We want to do everything we can to mitigate the startle response and support experiences of safety.
I recommend using indirect moxa. There are many products available that will mitigate these challenges, and still provide the many gifts of moxa to your clients. You can use moxa sticks, Tiger warmers, ibuki moxa cones, ku pun burning bowls, or place moxa on needles and send its warmth down the shaft of the needle.