A therapeutic rowing class for survivors of trauma.
RBC would like to offer Learn to Row classes specifically designed for trauma survivors. With the presence of a skilled, seasoned rowing coach and a trauma therapist, who rows as well, in a group setting, the intention is to provide a safe, supportive group experience for trauma survivors. Here, each participant will learn the physical skills of rowing. Our hope is for each rower to experience the joy of rowing in the beauty of nature, on the Erie Canal. Rowing can have positive and healing benefits physically and emotionally. Each will also experience the benefit of group work, including a sense of belonging and being a part of community, with support and care for each other….all set in a confidential, nonjudgmental, accepting and compassionate environment.
Trauma is an experience we have that overwhelms our capacity to cope.” D. Siegal
“The single most powerful aspect of trauma is “Inescapability- the inability to change things around, the feeling of paralysis. Paralysis is “Oh my God, there’s nothing I can do. I’m done for. This is it.” It’s a feeling of total helplessness.” B. Van Der Kolk
When faced with what is perceived as inescapable or overwhelming threat, we use the immobility response. Levine
Trauma is something that happens in the body. We become scared stiff or, alternately, we collapse, overwhelmed and defeated with helpless dread.” P. Levine
During the inescapable trauma, the brain and body will respond in adaptive ways, for the sake of survival. This is not a conscious choice, it is involuntary.
“The physiological mechanism governing this response (of immobility) resides in the primitive instinctual parts of our brain and nervous system, and is not under out conscious control.” P. Levine
A psychological response of adaptability to the overwhelm of trauma is dissociation, where the person cannot stay present with affect…they separate from the pain in an attempt to protect. Thus survivors will often report a feeling of disembodiment…not feeling like they are in their body…”I’m besides myself.”
What locks this experience and responses in place in one’s neurology and nervous system is the lack of internal and external resources at the time of the original experience as well as afterwards. What results is an experience of PTSD, which can include symptoms of: a sense of physical immobility, physical constriction, dissociation, emotional reactivity, startled reactions, anxiety, depression, intrusive images or flashbacks, sleep disturbances, maladaptive beliefs about one’s self and social isolation.
The key to healing traumatic symptoms is in our physiology.
Therapeutic physical exercise, such as rowing, can provide new experiences that offers the body the felt experience, that viscerally contradicts the helplessness, immobility or collapse that resulted from the trauma. This exercise can offer the Rower the opportunity to begin to experience a restoration of agency within. Agency involves a felt sense of being in charge of one’s life, being in control of self and owning one’s personal power. Our hope is to offer experiences where the Rower will get a sense of being in control of their body, feel their power physically and emotionally, experience their courage and strength, increase positive self regard, and decrease any psychological and emotional distress and improve social involvement and sense of belonging.
Exercise can be an excellent form of behavioral activation and could be incorporated into overall goals for therapeutic gains and healing. It is an excellent adjunct therapy/supplement to psychotherapy to enhance positive and healing outcomes for survivors of trauma.
Why is exercise important as a component and intervention, in the recovery process from trauma?
BENEFITS OF EXERCISE:
Shown to reduce symptoms of PTSD, which include: a sense of physical immobility, physical constriction, emotional reactivity, startled reactions, anxiety, depression, intrusive images or flashbacks, sleep disturbances, maladaptive beliefs about one’s self and social isolation.
Exercise /physical activity…participating in sports/physical activity enhances a sense of well-being, improves coping by reducing symptoms…establishes, renews, and/or improves sense of determination and hope, helps gain a sense of mobility and achievement, increases quality of life, cultivates a positive self regard and identity.
Develops a pathway to embodiment, which is an awareness of bodily sensation, sensory, body-based feelings….builds this awareness…to know what we feel, physically and emotionally is part of the healing process. Embodiment is an experience of living in your body, “being in your own skin”, a feeling of being at home in one’s self. Often trauma survivors report feeling disembodied, dissociated from themselves.
Exercise helps participant to focus on the present moment and be more present in the moment. Rowing is a wonderful activity that helps a person practice mindfulness. This practice can help to reduce rumination and negative thought patterns.
Develops self awareness, to safely recognize and track our sensations and feelings.
Exercise significantly reduces depression symptoms, provide tension relief, stress reduction and improve cognitive strategies. It can have a positive impact on one’s mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, reduction of PTSD symptoms. It can increase one’s motivation, energy levels, and desire to connect with others.
Exercise is beneficial to the brain structures and nervous system that are impacted by trauma…helping increase the brain’s healing ability to reduce fear in the amygdala and limbic system…and calm and regulate the nervous system.
Exercise stimulates the release of endorphins, hormones that are responsible for producing feelings of well-being, and improve mood and relaxation. Endorphins can affect an improvement in social skills, increase self confidence and help decrease negative thoughts.
PSYCHOSOCIAL BENEFITS of the Group experience:
Group exercise is a means to experience physical activity with others as a healthy coping resource.
Group exercise can be a treatment option as it activates our social engagement system
The group experience offers participants positive social interaction and reinforcement of belonging and community, which improves mental health.
The therapeutic group setting offers support, encouragement and safety.
The group experience of Rowing can also give the participant the sense of pride, contribution to the whole, mattering.
Group support and belonging can increase motivation as a result of the positive social interaction among participants.
The group process provides normalization and a reduction of stigma.
The group process and experience can work to create and strengthen the internalization of new resources for support and self regulation.
The group experience can offer a sense of triumph over trauma. It is a powerful experience to be supported, cheered on, believed in by fellow members of the group!
The group experience creates a sense of relief in helping participant realize they are no longer alone and isolated…so often the experience a trauma survivor experiences. The group can provide a safe place where members can give voice to their experience with the support of empathetic and non judgmental members.
The group can offer a mirror of sorts to reflect to the participant that they are valuable…and more than their deepest pain and trauma.
*It is important to acknowledge that often trauma survivors may avoid exercise because it can increase bodily arousal of symptoms associated with trauma, such as shortness of breath or increased heart rate. These physical experiences or others, can elicit the fight, flight or immobilization response, as they may be associated with body memory, fear and anxiety. It is understood that this arousal from exercise might cause their hyper/hypo arousal symptoms to worsen. The benefit of the therapeutic setting is that the therapist will work directly with the class member if this happens. Adjustments will be made and attention will be given to meet the individual’s needs, to bring her back to an internal place of regulation, connection, calm and safety. The design of the class allows for the group to support this process as well.