Creating a safer space

Healing Trauma through Somatic Experiencing

Using Somatic Experiences to Heal Trauma

The sacred brew of Ayahuasca has been used for generations to address internal struggles and cosmic influences by many shamanic and indigenous cultures. The ceremonial and ancient practice of drinking Ayahuasca often leads the person to unearth unresolved experiences, which westerners frequently refer to as trauma.

Trauma looks and feels different for everyone and many people think of extreme events, like a car accident, as the only way to experience trauma. However, according to many experts, trauma is created and held within the body from unresolved experiences, big or small. Trauma can be healed.

As Atira Tan, Somatic Experiencing Practitioner, Trauma Specialist and Head of Integration at AYA Healing Retreats puts it, trauma becomes imprinted in the body, muscles, tissues and nervous system not from the distressing event but from when the experience is left unresolved. To resolve the intensity of unresolved trauma, Somatic Experiencing is a body-oriented approach that has been found deeply helpful for trauma recovery in an embodied and integrated way.

The body is the key and gateway to trauma resolution. Atira asserts that “the body needs to be involved in the process of healing…if there is no dialog with the body it is difficult for a full recovery to happen. If that piece is not brought into the conversation of healing and recovery from trauma, then it is not a holistic way of trauma resolution, and the process of recovery may be slower. (Tan, A. 2019).”

Thus, Somatic Experiencing (SE) can be utilized as a body-oriented approach to healing trauma and other stress disorders. The Somatic Experiencing® method is a body-oriented approach to the healing of trauma and other stress disorders. It is the life’s work of Dr. Peter A. Levine, resulting from his multidisciplinary study of stress physiology, psychology, ethology, biology, neuroscience, indigenous healing practices, and medical biophysics, together with over 45 years of successful clinical application.

This body-oriented approach releases traumatic shock, which is key to transforming PTSD and the wounds of emotional and early developmental attachment trauma. It offers a framework to assess where a person is “stuck” in the fight, flight or freeze responses and provides clinical tools to resolve these fixated physiological states.

Researching the powerful benefits of Ayahuasca and Somatic Experiencing (SE) for trauma survivors, AYA Healing Retreats ran the first-ever Healing Trauma Retreat alongside Elio Geusa, Atira Tan and Maestra Juana in July 2019, to bring an extended trauma-informed retreat to participants seeking a deeper trauma-informed experience. The typical Ayahuasca retreat does not integrate body-oriented therapies or mental health support. This is a gap in typical ceremonies and retreats, when not offered, can leave an individual with feelings of disorientation, confusion, and depression.

In Atira’s opinion, for many people out there, drinking Ayahuasca on its own may not enough to heal trauma in an integrated way. There needs to be extra support and integration on every level, prior, during and after the retreat. Combining Somatic Experiencing (SE) and Plant Medicine was a natural evolution in creating lasting physiological healing for retreat participants.

The marriage of these worlds provided attendees the opportunity to learn somatic experiencing techniques in preparation for the ceremonial experience. Atira provided trauma-informed workshops daily on how to work with implicit/explicit memories using somatic techniques to sustain the positive impacts on the body and nervous system before the ceremony. Once in ceremony with Maestra Juana and Elio Geusa (AYA Healing Retreats Founder) participants were fully supported in utilizing SE tools to cope with emerging emotions.

Participants in Healing Trauma: Somatic Experiencing & Ayahuasca Retreat, had varying levels of trauma but all experienced the same level of care. The trauma-focused retreat recognized that once Ayahuasca opens the portal the opportunity to heal with bodywork is amplified. This retreat included powerful ceremonies with complimenting group education trauma on the nervous system, individual SE sessions and personal consultations from the Maestra for bone setting.
Every morning, yoga was offered with somatic themes and embodied practices that supported the participants orienting to their felt-sense and resources, and the focused individual sessions allowed for integration and the resolution of trauma that may have been experienced in the ceremony. The individual sessions also provided personalized guidance and space to make sense and meaning of what happened during the ceremonial experience.

One of the purposes of this retreat is to help participants to regain hope and empowerment. As a testament, a suicidal attendee shared that he was so disassociated in a highly activated state where he did not even remember signing up or paying for the retreat. However, he is beyond grateful he arrived somehow because the retreat saved his life. His life-changing experience is what drives AYA Healing Retreats to provide the best form of mental health and trauma care to those that need it.
The power of Ayahuasca is undeniable and the somatic approach furthers its healing through gently re-establishing the natural flow of your life energy. AYA Healing Retreats team, including integration and trauma specialist Atira Tan and founder and director, Elio Geusa, galvanize the healing Maestra Juana brings through support, love, and shamanic guidance.

Elio and Atira have been spiritual and traveling partners since their synchronicity meeting in Australia over six years ago, where Elio knocked on Atira’s door. In their first encounter, both shared dreams of traveling through South America and Peru. Since then, Elio and Atira have traveled the world in 4 continents together and brought the idea of AYA Healing Retreats to life. 

Atira heads up post-retreat integration support through utilizing her 15 years of experience in trauma recovery via yoga, mindfulness, art, women’s health, psychology, and counseling. Her Master’s in Art Therapy and education in the Somatic approaches has empowered and diversified the trauma work she performs throughout Asia, Europe, Australia, and South America. She is a TED speaker and has published numerous journals on her work supporting the recovery of child sex slavery in Asia and the Pacific. For more information or to book a session with Atira, please visit www.atiratan.com.

To learn more about this special retreat and to join us in the jungle or Spain please read more

The retreat will be followed by a 3-day Trauma-Informed Plant Medicine workshop for facilitators.

Finding An Impeccable Therapeutic Container For Healing

In my years of personal and professional participation in various plant medicine ceremonies it became evident that there exists an ambiguous and questionable grey area in the responsibility and accountability of the practitioners to their participants. And vice versa. 

Discussions regarding preparation and integration (of both participants and facilitators) have been circling through communities and tribes forever. Safety is a big question on a lot of lips as boundaries are blurred and basic codes of conduct do not appear to exist. Within some traditional and modern lineages guidelines are upheld and taken very seriously, in others not so much. Safety, preparation and integration are all essential to ensure successful healing within any ‘hero’s journey’ or spiritual emergence; to touch the centre, an actualise healing. 

I have in my time encountered many participants who have confidentially shared their personal violations and retraumatization in both traditional and western plant medicine circles. I have been a front line witness to the consequences of poor screening of participants, lack of safety, boundaries and guidelines during ceremonial proceedings and non-existent support or follow through with post-ceremonial integration. A man I know very well entered a plant ceremony weekend with C-PTSD (Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), and left the same evening with fully activated and initiated Spiritual Emergency. He was not held with the therapeutic care that he personally required, which resulted in 2 months of Psychosis and hospitalisation. The facilitators and organisers of the gathering offered no practical support or aftercare and completely evaded all responsibility or accountability to him or his family. Unfortunately this is not an uncommon story.

Currently the world is in a healing crises. A global hero’s journey in the pit of its collective shadow and unconscious behavioural patterns. Trauma is being imposed on almost every living organism on this planet in subtle and extremely adverse ways. Simultaneously, we are beginning to witness a great emergence of entire fields of work that are rising to answer a call to wake up and uphold safer, more integral, and impeccable therapeutic containers for our personal and collective healing as a species; with support and guidance from natural remedies such a CBD and THC oils, psilocybin, psychedelic assisted psychotherapy, Ayahuasca, Peyote, Iboga and Kambo to name a few. It’s as though Mother Nature is taking it into her own hands, giving us the keys to our unconscious and initiating the wounded and the healers all around the globe.

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