Sheila K. Collins Website



August  2012  

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I'm sending this letter from Montreal where my husband and I are on "holiday" as the English refer to it. To us it's a vacation and  an occasion for us to learn more of what our bodies have to teach us. In a new city, even more so in a new country, our tendency is to see and do everything. But in checking in with ourselves at the end of the day we are reminded to go the speed of our bodies. This enables us to have some energy left for the next day.  
This month's article is about a lesser known body-wise response known as the Freeze response, which is not about what happens to us in cold weather. Check it out along with an announcement of the upcoming Play conference in Pittsburgh. 
Enjoy the rest of your summer,   


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When Our Bodies Freeze

The "fight or flight" response is familiar to most people but there's a third bodily response to stressful situations that is less well known.  The rabbits in my yard have taught me about this one. They scamper around, eating the buds off my flowers, which causes me to go into my own fight or flight response.  License Some rights reserved by Jonathan Dresner  Then when I come close the rabbits, instead of running away they freeze, becoming more like statures of a rabbit than the living breathing real thing.  I've wondered about how this can serve the organism, to "play dead" when danger approaches?

When I was talking with a dancer friend of mine about this phenomenon she began a demonstration of the freeze response while seated on a stool at my kitchen counter. Pulling her shoulders up towards her ears she compresses her upper arms inward all the while keeping her hands clutched together in her lap. She bows her head and looks up at me with wide searching eyes and I see a small, frightened child. Like the rabbit, she's hiding in plain sight.


According to Peter Levine, the founder of Somatic Experiencing this freezing or "tonic immobility" response is our most primitive one, having developed over 500 million years ago. It is a combination of freezing and collapsing where the muscles go limp. The "fight or flight" response, which has as its purpose the mobilization to action evolved about 300 million years ago. And finally, the most recently developed response is the social engagement system, seen only in mammals. In contemporary women this response is known as the "tend and befriend" response where, when women feel stressed they reach out to one or two other women and talk things through until they reach some kind of a calm conclusion.   
Origin of Somatic Experiencing??
Origin of Somatic Experiencing?
Mr. Levine's work has been with trauma survivors. He's learned that when people are overwhelmed in a dramatic way, as he himself was when he was hit by a car as a pedestrian, the energy doesn't just go away, it gets locked in the body, in the muscles. And this tonic immobility or frozen state is responsible for many illnesses and disease processes, even years later. What we need is the opportunity to re-channel the energy that appears frozen in the body into an active response, but this needs to be done in small incremental steps to avoid retraumatization. The golden route, according to Levine, is to help people have experiences in the body that contradict those of the overwhelming helplessness. And I'm thinking practices of deep breathing and shaking stuff out of our bodies like we do in InterPlay might help to gently thaw what's gotten frozen, and to reset our bodies to a neutral place, where we expect nothing but are ready for anything.

Sheila K. Collins, PhD 
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