Hello Dear Readers,
I hope you are finding my recent posts palatable and engaging. You should know however that we are extremely busy here at massage school – think we are busy most weekdays from 7 am until 7:30 pm with two one-hour breaks for breakfast and lunch. So if my writing has seemed a little raw as of late, well, that’s because I’m a bit raw =^P
Let me just provide a little context. Because of my years of experience of doing bodywork (Craniosacral Therapy, Visceral Manipulation, Zapchen Somatics, Working with the Polyvagal System, some birth process work), I made a promise to the director of this massage school that I would keep the angels of beginner’s mind and humility on my shoulders at all times. Most days I am doing good with that. Keeping my mouth shut, keeping my head down and overall attempting to take a modest position.
With that said, I told myself that the only subject where I am not willing to keep my mouth shut is if someone starts teaching about working with babies and they are saying the wrong info or if they are causing secondary trauma to half the audience because their delivery is faulty. So let’s just say I spoke up a little today.
So today we went through a morning of learning about working with babies. A woman with 30+ years of doing infant massage came to talk to us.
Let me play the devil’s advocate with myself. She is a very well-meaning person. She does have decades of experience working with babies. And she is one of the only resources for this in the area (teaching about babies in general). Also, she is older and I suspect it would be very difficult to retire on baby massage wages alone. So I want to make certain it is obvious I have compassion for her as a fellow human being.
Having established that… I want to mention ways in which she could have taught us in a well-contained, safe, resourced, settled, integrate-able manner.
To say everything I would like to tonight would literally take 10,000 words. And I obviously don’t have that kind of time (see above). So I will touch on a few things and mention resources for you to go look something up if you want more info.
Speaking of resources, here’s a good website to look at Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy, Polarity Therapy and working with the autonomic nervous system: John Chitty’s site for somatic therapies
By the way, whenever I say the acronym PPN, that means Pre- and Perinatal therapy or birth process work. It can also refer to pre- and perinatal psychology.
Back to my topic at hand – how to present information on working with babies without leaving half your audience scarred by secondary trauma (or re-triggering primary traumas).
First I want to mention what should be a glaringly obvious fact if you want to become a birth educator of any kind: Do Not Talk About Activating Subjects without establishing serious levels of support and resource – I’m talking weeks or months or years of resource and support. DO NOT OPEN THE DOOR TO LOOK AT PREVERBAL WOUNDS without a sustainable amount of resilience in the audience’s system. This is basic information if you study with Ray Castilleno – Ray Castilleno’s site for PPN therapy training
Why do I say this – do not open the door to preverbal wounds too early? Because we want this work to be kind, relatively gentle and safe. Key word there – SAFETY. If I don’t feel safe, guess what – I hop right out of my cerebral cortices and I am suddenly in sympathetic activation – that would be the Sympathetic branch of the ANS. And that means I am wary, looking around for threats. And learning goes right out the door. So does having fun, smiling, laughing with ease, being present as my body in my body – all that goes too.
That is number one. It has to be honored and approached carefully. There is a reason that Ray Castilleno only wants people in his trainings who have taken some degree of embodiment-promoting bodywork training or therapy, etc (e.g. Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy or Somatic Experiencing).
Second, a good birth educator has done enough of their inner work such that they are able to look for, discover and easily lean into resource and health. If we are confronted with a trauma that we have not dealt with in ourselves, guess what? See above about how we hop right out of our creative intellect and jump down into reptilian instinctual threat-scanning brain. Therefore we must have done a lot of our inner personal growth work – including and especially our pre-verbal wounded parts work – to be able to present this information in a settled, safe, sustainable manner.
We look for resources in people and situations. We give the doctors the benefit of the doubt – yes some hospitals have a ways to go before they become baby conscious – but the obstetricians are doing the best they can with the evidence-based medicine they have at their disposal. We see that basically all parents are doing the best they can. We don’t blame parents unless something egregious is going on – and even then we look for ways to make repair. This means we look for the good, we look for the health, we look for ways that people are coming together – connecting, creating and innovating. We look for ways to teach that are fun, that are life-affirming and that identify the health that is never lost.
This critique is about to get heavier, so gird your loins. In other words, find your inner resources – connect with wisdom beings, think about someone you trust implicitly (if you are lucky enough to have that in your life), think about your favorite pet who you felt really close to and possibly even supported by, connect with an animal totem if you have one, etc.
Speaking of resources, one of my main teachers in PPN material is Myrna Martin – Myrna’s website for PPN training
So the educator today did not have a clearly defined intention. I’m not sure she even had a plan for what she wanted us to come away with. Then there was the fear spraying.
I don’t mean to sound judgmental or condescending or didactic, but I could have taught today’s lecture in a safer, more resourced manner. You do not mention rape, breach birth and prematurity within ten minutes of each other – period. The amount of ancestral (or direct) wounding that she might have stirred up in those ten short minutes is colossal!
Then she seemed extra focused on showing how unbonded (disorganized attachment?) babies grow up without a conscience and they are the ones who become mass murderers. Okay, saying that once is chilling – especially in this context. But then she mentioned it at least twice more – focusing on what is wrong with the situation or society rather than mentioning the dozens of potential resources out there about what is going well! Not only that, she mentioned the word serial killer at least three times and she actually named two or three mass murderers… Ugh! Serious overwhelm in the audience. Some people who are more numbed out fared better than the ones who are working on feeling their stuff arising and today’s lecture what too much to handle.
I only spoke up when it was getting particularly icy in the room or I mentioned several areas that things are better than how she was describing them. I also talked about the research on the Vagus nerve and how the autonomic nervous system can reflect wounding and how this is connected to addiction (I will write more about this soon).
All in all though, today I was left feeling that I was just ripped off. This massage school costs $8,000 in tuition for 12-weeks. That comes out to be about $135 / day. And I could have taught today in a manner that would not have left the audience lying around in comatose napping positions. It is not my job to resource, support and assist my fellow students. I shouldn’t have to!
Yet another great resource: Kate White’s site for many PPN resources Kate White is one of my teachers and she is the Director of Education for APPPAH – the North American Pre- and Perinatal Psychology organization. APPPAH’s website (so worth a glance!)
So basically this post boils down to this: First, have the Principles in place such that everyone in the group feels safe to begin with. Go slow when considering whether or not to teach birth dynamics. If you are unsure, you should not do it. If you are triggered by the current news about school shootings (in such a way that you cannot find your inner resiliency and inner resources and inner feeling of being settled), you should do your inner work first before teaching. Move through your fear, terror, anger, rage, jealousy, etc with an established efficacious modality – like Somatic Experiencing or Birth Process work. If you are able to read the energetic field of a group, then make that your benchmark – you must be able to notice if you have started to overwhelm your participants or students. If overwhelm starts to show itself, you must have solid resources already set up ahead of time to help to move people back toward resilience and supported safety.
These are my two cents. I am not an expert. I have been extremely (!) blessed with my teachers and learning opportunities. And hopefully there won’t be too many more of these bizarre days here at massage school.