Nearing the end of trauma recovery: confidence and agency

One aspect of recovering from PTSD is not knowing when or if your trauma response will be activated again.

(Some people don’t like the word “triggered” and prefer to say “activated”. I’m using that term now to be more neutral. If a gun was involved in someone’s trauma, to say “triggered” in itself could be activating.)

I recently had an experience that really showed me how much progress I have made in trauma recovery, and I want to share it here in case you or someone you care about is struggling with PTSD recovery. It may give you/them confidence in the healing process.

But first, some background.

I’ve had an extreme stress response activated several times years after doing a lot of work on trauma recovery, which was many years after my childhood trauma.

These stress responses always seemed to happen out of the blue…as once again, the rug was pulled out from under my feet, and I lost my ground and was sent spinning, not knowing which way was up or down.

It’s pretty miserable to be flooded with stress hormones just because something happened in the present that in some way reminded me of the original trauma. The threat seems very real at the time.

However, I’d like to make it clear that each time I went into a stress response, I learned something. I wasn’t entirely helpless.

The most important learning was to check the situation out: just because my body and mind were all jacked up in response to an apparent immediate threat to my safety doesn’t mean there was an actual immediate threat to my safety.

I did some simple critical thinking. Am I safe in this very moment?

I was safe. No one was directly threatening me or my loved ones.

My perceptions played a trick on me because the original trauma was wired into my nervous system. That’s what PTSD is.

Even though I was grateful to be safe, I still had to deal with the cascade of stress chemicals.

When that happened, I tended to hole up by myself because I felt toxic and didn’t want to spread the toxicity. I did more self-nurturing than usual, taking soothing baths, skin brushing, giving myself manicures and pedicures and facials, listening to soothing music or recordings (Pema Chodron is great, also anything funny), taking naps and getting plenty of sleep, wearing soft fabrics, eating healthy, drinking endless cups of camomile tea.

I listened to guided meditations because it was so difficult to calm my monkey mind down when I tried doing my usual silent meditations.

My acupuncturist at the time said I had adrenal fatigue and recommended taking rhodiola and ginseng. After the first few times of being activated, I sought a Somatic Experiencing practitioner who helped me a lot.

My usual behavior was more go-go-go, hmmm, must be nice to have time for that stuff.

Was I addicted to stress? Did that make my stress response worse? I don’t know.

I made time to slow down and nurture myself and came to appreciate these activities when not activated.

I noticed that each time my trauma response was activated, it took less time to return to normal than before. The first time I was activated, it took three full months. The second time, about six weeks. The most recent, about a week.

And then just a few days ago, this happened:

I woke as I often do about 4 am. I laid in bed, in the dark, and my mind made its way back to a memory associated with the original trauma.

I started to feel activated. My back felt prickly and I felt agitated and a little panicky, like I need to do something! Now!

I realized I was at the beginning of a stress response. For the first time, it happened mildly and slowly enough that I was conscious of it beginning.

I did not want to go into a full-blown stress response.

I stopped thinking about the original trauma and brought my attention to my body, curled up safe in my bed, under the covers with my favorite pillow in the dark, in the present moment.

And the agitation and panic and chemical cascade just stopped. It seems like it took less than a minute to feel fully back to my safe and healthy self.

It seemed marvelous to me that I stopped being retraumatized simply by using my mind constructively.

I later told this to my colleague who’s helped me with trauma recovery bodywork, and he said I had agency.

Yes. I was not helpless, which seems to be a hallmark of traumatic experience. I could do something about it because I was conscious of the onset, able to distinguish present from past, able to direct my attention, and I knew what I wanted — safety and peace, not activation.

Also, there may have been some energetic guidance helping, but I don’t know for sure.

I do recall recently voicing what so many trauma survivors experience: How does one ever know that one has fully recovered from a trauma? How can one know there are no more flashbacks, no more activations?

I can’t know for sure, but this feels like a huge step forward in the direction of being free from reactivation.

Post-COVID changes: distance healing, TMJ Relief via phone and Zoom

Dearest readers, how are you doing? I hope you are well and that you are experiencing some renewal related to the decline in COVID and the onset of summer. I sure am.

Here in Austin, TX, I’m noticing more people (including myself) dining out, more stores making masks optional (but still urging the unvaccinated to wear them), and an increase in traffic as (I suppose) people who had to work from home are returning to the office or just getting out more.

COVID put an end to my plans for a trip to London and Scotland, another trip to Taos, New Mexico, and a trip to Costa Rica in 2020. I spent more time at home than I ever have as an adult — I made my Spartan trailer home more comfortable and started gardening again, using the Square Foot Gardening method.

I didn’t work from March to September 2020, when I started working one day a week, wearing masks and using an air purifier and new screening procedures.

In April 2021, once I was fully vaccinated (Pfizer), I began working two days a week and added a third day in May. The stress of the pandemic created high demand for craniosacral therapy and TMJ Relief once more people were vaccinated and felt safe coming in for sessions.

(I now require people receiving intraoral work to rinse their mouths with a 1% hydrogen peroxide solution before I work in their mouths, since both vaccinated and unvaccinated people can still unknowingly have and spread COVID, and I let my clients decide whether they or I need to be masked.)

And so here we are in June 2021, and nationally it seems we are coming out of the pandemic. I feel sorrow for those who lost someone or who suffered/are suffering from long COVID. I’m extremely grateful for the decline in cases. Seeing full faces again is sweet.

And…I need a break, and a beautiful opportunity has arisen. I am taking time away from my practice in Austin to partake of the refreshing air, the high-altitude light, the mountain-desert-river views, the small town life, and the much cooler summer of Taos, New Mexico, and environs.


I’ve applied for a New Mexico massage license but haven’t heard back yet if I meet their qualifications, which are different than Texas requirements.

I do love working, so I plan to offer distance healing sessions by phone. These sessions are hands-off energy work and don’t fall under the definition of massage therapy, so no license is needed.

I studied this modality with a master teacher, Suzanne Scurlock, last summer. It is not craniosacral therapy, but it does have some similarities, in that it helps your system release stress and strain patterns to optimize your functioning.

The way I do distance healing is dialogue-oriented — between you and me and between you and your body-mind system. Interestingly, I can feel energy in my hands like when I do hands-on work.

Several clients have had amazing results, exploring an area of their system that seems to be holding on to a previous strain and feeling it release in real time.

This type of session is especially helpful for those who could use some guidance in how to have a compassionate dialogue with your parts.

I’m also offering TMJ Relief sessions via Zoom. This has been a clinical bodywork specialty of mine for years. These sessions focus on whole body alignment, the neck, the external jaw muscles, and the internal jaw muscles.

The latter takes special training. I’ve been studying and practicing this since 2013 and taught a Zoom class last fall.

These one-on-one sessions are private, we work at your pace, and I can meet you where you are comfortable in terms of language (anatomical or layman’s language).

Sessions are 75 minutes, and it’s really fantastic if you schedule a free 30-minute TMJ Consultation via Zoom beforehand so we can go over your symptoms, history, co-factors, and primary goal.

The biggest bonus is that having someone guide you through this self-treatment teaches you skills you can use the rest of your life. Zoom also allows recording sessions so you can refer to that if needed, or schedule another session.

I will available for these sessions starting Tuesday, July 13.

If interested, please email me at wellbodymindheartspirit at gmail dot com with your phone number and a good time to call.

Hello from the deep freeze that is Austin, Texas.

Some years, the temperatures never get below freezing in Austin. In the years when it does freeze, it doesn’t last longer than a few hours. We’re accustomed to 70 degree days in January, not consistently, but warm enough that some younger men don’t even seem to own a pair of long pants.

Not this year. We are breathing Arctic air, experiencing ice, snow, and prolonged below-freezing temps, and many are without heat and water due to the Texas electrical grid being overloaded and shutting down in many places for several days, so far.

I’ve been extremely fortunate that my power has stayed on the entire time.

My central heat is struggling to keep up. I’ve had a large pot of bone broth simmering on my stove day and night, dipping into it for an occasional cup of warm nourishment.

I discovered that a weighted blanket is even better than a sleeping bag at keeping me warm because I can sprawl out underneath it and it holds my body heat in just as well.

It’s chilly at home, but it’s a fun challenge, like winter camping. So far, anyway!

It started when it rained on 2/11 and froze on the bare limbs and twigs of the trees and bushes around my place.

On 2/12, the temperature briefly rose above freezing, and the ice on the branches slowly started melting.

On 2/13 I covered my Meyer lemon tree with a quilt and 3 tarps to prepare for temps in the teens. They’re supposed to be good down to 20 degrees F, but seeing as it’s 6 degrees as I write this on 2/16, I’m pretty sure it’s not going to make it.

We got five inches of snow overnight on Feb. 14-15. It’s the most snow I’ve ever seen in Austin in my many years here, and it’s definitely lingering the longest. The forecast changes slightly from day to day, but it looks like we may get above freezing briefly Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.

My four square-foot gardens are covered in snow. Not sure which plants will make it.

From my long-ago experience of an entire January spent below freezing in Oklahoma, it will melt the roads just enough to be passable for a few afternoon hours, and then slick over once temps drop at night. Saturday night will remain above freezing, or so it’s forecast.

It was 4 degrees this morning, and more snow and freezing rain are forecast.

My bird feeder has been super busy with puffed up birdies getting nourishment for all the energy they need to stay alive in these temps.

~~~

Well, at nine am, I ran out of propane. My daughter is coming to pick me up, and I’ll stay with her until this cold front is over, probably on Friday.

MELTing and staying hydrated to reduce pain

I posted this on my business website’s blog and then thought my wider readership on this blog (more about wellness in general) might be interested too.

Some of you have been following my posts about the work I did to recover from a sacroiliac joint injury and may find this of value.

Shall we all become as pain-free as we can?

New offering: Self-Help for Jaw Pain, an online course, starts soon!

Besides blogging here, I have had a private bodywork practice in Austin, Texas, USA, for years.

One area that I specialized in was relieving jaw pain. I developed a 5-session protocol (done over 4-6 weeks) that helped hundreds of people over the years. That work included working in people’s open mouths to release tension in the small, hard-to-access internal jaw muscles.

Well, COVID put an end to working in people’s open mouths in a small room, in a office suite that treats medically vulnerable people.

I thought about giving it up.

But when I thought about all I’d learned over the years about treating jaw pain, and how much pleasure I got when people felt the difference between tense jaw muscles and spacious ones, I looked for a way to continue to offer the revelation of a spacious jaw that so many patients experienced.

Plus, at this unusual time in history, stress levels are high, which translates to more clenching, grinding, tooth damage, and pain.

So I put together a 5-class course, Self-Help for Jaw Pain, that I will teach over Zoom.

The first class starts Thursday, Sept. 24, and will be a small class. A few spaces are left.

If you’re interested, please check out my business website. There are multiple options available for your participation:

  • A jaw pain quiz
  • A Facebook group for people with jaw pain (and those who treat it), Word of Mouth
  • A free phone consultation
  • Sign up for the class

Self-Help for Jaw Pain class on Zoom

Dentists are seeing more people coming in with cracked teeth during this pandemic. People are clenching and grinding because of stress.

Doing manual therapy in people’s mouths is risky at this time.

Here’s an alternative.

I’m offering an online course on Zoom, teaching people what it takes to create lasting relief from jaw pain. (Sadly, it’s rarely a quick fix — it’s more like changing habits and tension patterns.)

Anyway, if you have jaw pain and would rather not, check it out here: maryannreynolds.com.

You have better things to do than suffer.

Half a shade safer

Anxiety. It’s more contagious than the coronavirus. Are you feeling it? I am.

I came up with a strategy to relieve it.

And it’s working.

Because anxiety, which I think of as prolonged, low-level fear, isn’t healthy for human beings like you and me.

There’s a sort of warp in our evolution as human beings.

Once upon a time, our autonomic nervous systems sent us into fight-or-flight mode when we perceived danger — often before our conscious minds were even aware of a predator. Because there’s part of our brain that’s always scanning for danger. It’s there to help us survive. It’s instinctive.

On perceiving a threat, our bodies would tense up. Our vision would narrow. Our hearts would pound. Our blood would flow to our limbs. We would fight or we would flee.

And when we weren’t in danger, we felt safe. We relaxed. Our hearts slowed down. Our breathing slowed. We could see widely again. Our blood flowed to our organs. We rejoined the tribe.

Our bodies then had the resources to recover, repair damage, restore our metabolisms to healing mode.

I don’t recall the source, but I read somewhere that the early members of our species spent about 4 hours a day hunting and gathering. The rest of the time, they were hanging out in groups or tribes, playing, talking, taming wolves, preparing food, making clothing, making weapons, watching the clouds and the stars, praying, doing rituals, bonding with their community on whom they all depended.

Yet their lifespans were shorter. Many more infants and children died than now. They faced floods and famines, as well as predators and warring tribes.

Their lives were filled with more uncertainties and threats to survival than ours.

I have a hunch that people who were that close to survival felt gratitude for each new day. Gratitude for having food and fire and a good hunt and each other. Gratitude for the times when they were safe, for peace.

Fast forward to today’s times. We’re not out in the sunshine all day, walking around and soaking up Vitamin D. We’re breathing conditioned air inside buildings, looking out windows. We work twice as many hours as our early ancestors. We have a money economy, modern medicine, cars, Social Security.

The threats to our survival are not hungry predators any more. (Well, except when they are angry or terrified or numb human predators, especially those with guns.)

Our nervous systems weren’t built for prolonged fear, a constant sense of not being at ease, anxiety. This leads to adrenal exhaustion, which saps our energy and is exhausting without any truly restorative rest.

Maybe what we teach ourselves now about managing our own anxiety will help our species as a whole evolve past fear-based reactivity and toward a caring kind of responsibility, for our own well-being and that of others.

What makes you feel anxious? The virus? The economy? The wildfires? The election? Conspiracy theories? Race-based violence? Armed white supremacists? Antifa? The news? Karens and Chads? Maskless people? People whose anxieties have gotten the better of them? People who don’t see we’re all part of one tribe, humanity? People so anxious they can’t listen or reason?

There’s a lot OUT THERE to feel anxious about. And anxiety means we experience it IN HERE.

Take a moment to check in. Where are you? What are your surroundings at this very moment?

Are you actually SAFE in this moment?

If you have the leisure to read this, I’m guessing you are.

How does being SAFE feel in your body?

Here’s what I notice in my body.

I feel my body weight sinking into the mattress. I feel my back and legs pressing the mattress, and the top part of my body feeling cooler air. Also, that one foot that’s outside the sheets feels cooler.

I notice my chest and abdomen rising and falling as I breathe.

I hear my fingers on the keyboard.

I see my hands, the iPad keyboard and screen, the pillow they are sitting on, the tangled sheets and foot beyond that.

I see windows on either side of me, a mirror and shelf across the room, and an open closet door, and my tea on the nightstand.

I hear cicadas droning, cardinals chirping, keyboard sounds, and distant traffic.

I feel safe.

~~

The other night, I woke multiple times. My mind was thinking anxious thoughts. It was hard to get back to sleep.

Some nights are like that. Maybe it was the caffeinated tea I drank in the afternoon.

It’s not like I live in a bubble. I take precautions to prevent getting and spreading the virus. One of my family members had it — thankfully, it turned out to be a very mild case. I’m on social media. I check the news. I abhor the violence and hatred I learn about. I worry about the presidential campaign, the election, the aftermath, climate change, the possibility of a really bad economic crash.

These times are filled with uncertainty.

And a good night’s sleep means so very much in terms of having the ability to manage well.

So I tried something different. When an anxious thought arose, I said to myself, “This is just an anxious thought.”

I’d feel how it felt in my body. The tension, the unpleasantness.

Then I’d take a deep breath and let my THINKING mind take a little break by turning my attention to SENSING.

I’d feel my bodyweight pressing into the mattress and pillow. I’d feel the rhythm of breathing. I’d recognize that I was in my home, in my bed, and that there were no immanent threats to my safety. (Except those anxious thoughts.)

And I’d tell myself, “I AM SAFE.”

A few rounds of this every time an anxious thought arose, and I finally went back to sleep.

Since that experience, I’ve really been honing in on what it’s like to feel safe.

It feels good.

I am grateful.

(Apologies to David Whyte for a play on the title of his latest series, Half a Shade Braver.)

Using “energy hands” in a distance healing session

When I started doing distance sessions at the beginning of the COVID lockdown in March, I would feel energy pouring out of my hands just as I would when doing bodywork with someone in my office, even though the receivers were sometimes in other states.

I didn’t know what to do with it at first with no body in front of me, but I definitely understood it was an indication of me being in a resourced state for healing.

In the 27-hour intensive course I just completed in Long Distance Healing, the instructors called this phenomenon “energy hands”.

Courtesy of namastest.net.

It’s fairly common for bodyworkers to experience this energy flowing out their hands, especially when the type of bodywork they practice includes deep listening with their hands, as do craniosacral therapy and Reiki, or if they are also trained in some types of yoga or meditation that cultivate this kind of awareness.

(By the way, distance healing is not craniosacral therapy, which always includes physical touch, and some craniosacral skills transfer over to distance healing.)

With my distance receivers, I started placing my energized hands on the area of the body the receiver had identified as wanting attention.

Paying attention is the most basic and profound expression of love.

Tara Brach

Usually an identified area is experiencing some form of disconnect from the healthier parts of the body. It’s not necessary to recall the original reason for disconnecting, and in fact the mind may get in the way, but it may help to understand that your intelligent body-mind system was working to protect the rest of you when something happened (physical or emotional or both) in that area, and you may not need that protection any longer. The energy involved in keeping the identified area separate and contained can be freed and returned to the whole system.

Receivers said they would begin to feel changing sensations in the identified area: for example, the area would change shape or temperature, pain would lessen or disappear, tension would soften, and sensations would become more diffuse, possibly move to another area, or even bounce around (“Hey, you’re finally looking at me! Yippee!”).

Although our bodies are constantly healing themselves below our level of awareness, in these sessions, receivers often sense the healing as it occurs.

To be clear, I don’t heal you. Your own cellular intelligence is the healing power. I show up for you in a resourced state (built on years of yoga, meditation, and studies in how healing works), which your system can entrain to. I show up with presence, curiosity, and support, as an ally and a witness, with an intent (shared with you) for healing to take place, but no agenda about how that will happen, because it’s your body, your history, your awareness, and your healing. I just facilitate.

I have not yet worked with anyone who did not experience a change for the better. I’ve worked with people trying their first energy healing session after Western medicine was unable to explain or treat their issue without drugs, and I’ve worked with people who are deeply aware somatically.

Courtesy of psychiclibrary.com.

We practiced with partners during the training, placing energy hands on our partner’s shoulders and having them say when they felt them and whether they wanted the touch to be more intense or diffuse, and then disconnecting and switching partners.

We also did this with the adrenals, which pump stress hormones into our systems, since most of us are feeling some stress and anxiety because of COVID, the economy, our culture, the future, etc.

When my partner held my adrenals, after about a minute, I felt my autonomic nervous system down-regulate into a deeper parasympathetic (rest and digest) state. That’s another benefit of working with energy hands. I can put my energy hands inside your body, not just on the skin.

I want to do more distance healing sessions. These sessions are collaborative, empowering, use a lot of dialogue, and are based on consent. I cannot do anything to you that you do not allow.

If you’re wondering what it’s about and would like to try it, I’m offering sessions on a donation basis for a limited time. Look at what it’s worth to you, what you can afford, and donate accordingly.

I know some readers are skeptical. After half an hour, if you don’t think it’s doing anything for you, we will end the session without your donation.

Click here to schedule a session.

If you’d like to talk first, you can schedule a 15-minute phone consultation.

Click here to schedule a phone consultation.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Distance energy healing sessions

I have been doing some distance energy healing sessions since it’s not safe to do hands-on bodywork during the quarantine, and I like working. I’m not sure when I will be going back to doing hands-on work in my office.

I did practice sessions on a couple of friends to gain experience and come up with a general process, and then I let my bodywork clients know I was offering them.

I’ve been getting good results!

Today was the first day I worked on someone I’ve never met. She was referred to me by a former client who moved away.

Sometimes it’s even more powerful to work at a distance than it is to work in person.

Image courtesy of Massage Magazine.

I work from my home, sitting on a meditation cushion next to a yoga mat on which I visualize the recipient. I encourage recipients to lie down comfortably in their homes and to set aside the 60- or 90-minute session time to be uninterrupted.

We use our phones (on Speaker mode) to communicate verbally.

It’s interesting that my hands are as full (or even more full) of energy in these distance sessions as they are working in person.

I have a big toolbox that I can draw on, as needed: empathy, compassion, curiosity; training and experience in craniosacral therapy, somatoemotional release, the healing process, Reiki, Zero Balancing, anatomy, physiology, psychology, and Neuro-Linguistic Programming; long-time practices in yoga and meditation; experience receiving distance sessions; and years of doing bodywork (of which energy work is always a part).

Each recipient and I create a shared field of intent focusing on healing. The body-mind system wants to heal! We stay in this field throughout the session. Although each recipient has their own issues, the process is similar: finding a focus, exploring, allowing change to occur.

If you should feel moved to experience this, these sessions are available on a sliding scale basis: $30-100 for 60 minutes, and $50-130 for 90 minutes. Pay using PayPal or Venmo.

If you are interested, you can schedule online by clicking one of these links: Book a 60-minute session or book a 90-minute session. My “office hours” are Tuesday through Friday, noon to 6 pm, Central time.

May we all be well.

Checking in

Love in the time of coronavirus

Today is Day 2 of sheltering in place in Austin, Texas. We had 119 known cases as of last night (but no deaths so far), and we know the virus is being transmitted in the community. No one I know has it so far, that I’ve heard, but friends and relatives of friends do. The number of cases will almost certainly go up over the next two or three weeks. The hope is that then the number of cases will start declining because of first, social distancing, and now, sheltering in place.

For me, this means staying home, which I have been since Saturday, and for the week before, my outings were rare. I’ve ordered groceries online and picked them up. I have a wonderful daughter who can pick items up and bring them to me. I have groceries enough to last for at least a week, and I’m keeping a list on the fridge door of the items I run out of that I can get next time I shop (which will probably be online to be delivered or picked up curbside, but I do have a mask and gloves in case I need to venture inside a store). My fridge, freezer, and nonperishable shelves are full.

I feel pretty good about my chances of getting through this without getting sick, or of being mildly ill if I do get it. I had a cold in October that was mild and lasted two days, and I couldn’t remember how long it had been since I’d previously had a cold. My immune system is robust.

However, it’s unpredictable. I’m in the 60+ population and therefore considered at risk. I do yoga and dance regularly (now doing these online), I eat healthy (organic unprocessed food mostly), and I meditate, which helps keep my nervous system more balanced rather than going into stress, which is hard on the immune system. I’m working on improving my sleep, getting more deep and REM sleep according to my Fitbit.

I take really high quality supplements from Premier Research Labs and Wellevate. (I have practitioner accounts with both that you can order through if you wish.) I have homeopathic remedies on hand too. I have health insurance should I need it, and I hope that if I do, the health care system isn’t overwhelmed and can tend to me. I’m very very fortunate and grateful.

Y’all, no one is immune. This virus targets humankind. It’s a great equalizer. It doesn’t respect fame, power, talent, or riches. Movie stars, professional athletes, famous artists, royalty, and politicians have come down with it. Because it’s novel, no one has immunity, except those who have completely recovered from it.

I’m hearing people say things like “What a year this past week has been” and “there are many days in a day.” We’re in a time of rapid change.

I believe when this pandemic is over, some aspects of our lives will not go back to the way they were. This will influence people living through it for the rest of our lives. We will not take our health for granted. We will better understand the relationship between lifestyle and health. We will require that our governments take actions that support our health over corporate profits.

Dead people don’t buy stuff.

I hope the biggest takeaway is that we humans are ALL connected through our humanity. We are all dependent on this planet for our lives. Maybe we will treat each other, and our home planet, much better.

Blessings for health, immunity, resiliency, resourcefulness, and connection. 💚🙏🏽