The mind sends instructions to the body, making it respond and decide when it feels something. But there is also a process where the body sends experiences to the mind and it then makes a decision as a response. Cervical correction makes sure that these processes are not interrupted. But when they do, trauma work specialist Galina Denzel explains to her patients the biology that is happening and what they can and should do about it. Learn how she makes sure that the Atlas and its axis are in alignment so that the structure of the nervous system is working and able to make accurate decisions that the body needs.
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Trauma Work: Important Concepts And Implications with Galina Denzel
I’m really excited to introduce my speaker. My friend, Galina Denzel, is a Restorative Exercise Specialist and a Nutrition Coach as well as a cookbook author, wellness speaker and educator and a personal trainer. She also does this incredible thing called somatic experience and trauma work. She’s going to be sharing some interesting facts about the work that she does and how it integrates with the Blair work that I do and how we, together, are a team working to help people move in the direction of healing. I can’t wait for you to hear what she has to say. I’m so grateful that you’re here, Galina. I want to welcome you to the podcast. I feel like it’s an honor for me to be able to host you because several years ago, you had me as a guest on your podcast. You are one of my closest friends and there’s such a history between you and me that I could spend fifteen minutes just telling everybody how much I love you. I’m just going to tell everybody, I love this woman and I’m so grateful to have her expertise literally at the same building where I practice.
I remember one day when we were training in our early friendship, she had me run up this hill in Central Park in Rancho Santa Margarita and I was mad at her because I didn’t want to run up this big, old hill. It wasn’t big, but to me it was a mountain. She stood on top of that hill and she said, “Do you understand that God brought me out of communist Bulgaria to meet you on this hill?” I was like, “Who am I to argue with that?” Obviously, we’ve come a long way and your practice has come a long way. Physical therapy is such a blanket term. You’re such an expert and you’re so much more qualified. I want to talk about the trauma work that you do because you’ve moved into that and it’s something that you have transformed and morphed your practice into. Can you tell me how you even got into such work?
I’ve always been very passionate about helping people out of pain. Not just the physical pain, but the emotional pain and the true suffering that people feel when they are in pain. Whether it’s acute because they just had a bump or sprained an ankle or had to stop playing their game or it’s more chronic. We share a patient load and you know some of the people that have come to us have been in pain pretty much their whole life or they get out of one kind of pain and they go into a different kind of pain. My passion has always been to support people in their healing in a way that is not just lending an understanding shoulder or being a professional friend to talk to because they’re suffering, but also in a way that brings science and love together. We can’t help our people until we fall in love with them. We also can’t help them if we’re not up-to-date with what’s happening in the world of science, in neurobiology, in neuroscience of pain. I found myself in my early 30’s ill-equipped for the kind of patient load that I was getting from you.
Which is because I attract people who are like me and I come with great deal of baggage emotionally. I would come to you and I’d just be out of my mind suffering from some anxiety. You’d look at me with these eyes and you’re just like, “Okay.” Then not just me, but all of the people that you’ve encountered, you’ve spent probably 30 weekends a month training and traveling and studying to become this incredible trauma worker.
I found myself both in my personal life suffering from some pain that despite incredible therapies and both more of the traditional therapies like what I would receive from amazing physical therapists and doctors of physical therapy, people with PhDs in physical therapy and I’ve been with some of the most amazing people in the field. I’ve found that even though I had an amazing support, there were certain things that were not getting better or that would not go away. After a very mild car accident and you know because of your work that people underestimate those motor vehicle accidents that are at low speed get so overlooked. There’s a particular kind of nervous system that responds what we would consider outside of the physiologically normal range to a little bump. To me, something like getting bumped by someone behind you in the Starbucks drive-through is a very traumatic event. To someone else, it’s like, “I got bumped. The guy behind me was an idiot,” and they don’t have any physiological response. It takes me a month to recover from this because of the kind of nervous system that I have and because of the developmental history that I have.
To get the kind of help that I needed with my pain, I ended up working with someone who specializes in somatic health and someone who was a Somatic Experiencing practitioner. I literally had two sessions with her and I was like, “I need to bring this to my clients.” Through some incredible fate and I think God has a path for all of us, because I’ve had the fortune of learning everything I know from the person who’s created the modality, which is amazing. If I had gotten interested in something like Feldenkrais, he’s been gone now so you can’t study with him or Rolfing, I couldn’t have studied with Ida Rolf. Everything I’ve been deeply interested and attracted to, I’ve been able to study from the person who started it. It’s just amazing. I don’t think it’s a coincidence and I’m not saying this lightly.
I think it was probably a week after I started my own somatic therapy that I was like, “I need to get interested in how to get more training.” Those of you who know me know how excited I am about life, so I have this tendency to jump into things before doing a lot of research. By that time, I was starting to get a little bit healthier and I was like, “I can actually take my time with this.” I read two of Peter Levine’s books. Peter Levine is the person who created Somatic Experiencing and started with it about 40 years ago and has trained tens of thousands of people by now, which is amazing. There are a lot of us out there. I found myself crying through all these books. For the first time in my life feeling like I wasn’t crazy on the inside. I think you have a similar response when you were reading Bessel van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score. You’re like, “All these syndrome and common symptoms or behaviors that I’m experiencing, they were normal.” They’re normal when you look at them in the light of our developmental history.
That’s the thing that I want to highlight. When I would do my work with you, I would come back and talk about what had just happened in my day. You would say something and then it would relate back to something that I had no cognitive memory of. Then my body would tell a story and you would be able to work with it. All of a sudden, I’d have this incredible emotional release and you’d tell me, “You’re not crazy. This is normal.” When I read that book, The Body Keeps the Score, it gave language to the way that I process things. Just like you had mentioned the example of being in a Starbucks parking and getting a little tap, that set your nervous system off in such a way because of the developmental history that you had. There are developmental histories in all of us, which we had no control over because in utero and before we could learn to walk and talk, things happened around us that our nervous system had to account for. Doing the work with you and learning more about the early trauma and just the nervous system, it makes so much sense to me why I process the way that I do, why I think the way that I do. I’m able to then give that same information to the people that I refer to you so that they understand that this is a normal thing. It’s not unhealthy that you feel this way. It is what it is. To be able to then process it in a way that allows your body to integrate that information and give you the ability to have conscious thought about it, it’s so incredible.
When you have first-hand experience of it, you can see it easily in others. Someone who looked like they have been fired by fifteen chiropractors and twenty physical therapists, now you have tremendous compassion for the fact that person’s physiology is not equipped to handle the cookie cutter approaches that we have or that the medical system within which we function has approved. That approval can be coming because of administrative or financial or legal or whatever other considerations that has absolutely nothing to do with how human beings actually function.
I know we’ve had that fight when I referred a client to you that was in a car accident. We have to produce all these med legal documents that show that they were injured, show that they’ve made improvements and that they still have issue. The work that we do isn’t necessarily recognized by that world. It’s frustrating but at the same time, the patients know that they need to come.
The whole thing with recognition, we have to recognize that all these fields are very young. Without going down a rabbit hole to talk about it, how old is physical therapy? How old is biomechanics? If we didn’t have the First and Second World Wars, we wouldn’t be that good with prosthetics. This is a very young field that I think I have compassion for the systems that have to be put in place and for ourselves as we’re trying to do our best despite the limitations that we’re under. We have a lot of freedoms as well. There are other countries where things aren’t like that. Even though there are shortcomings where we are, there are also a lot of tailwind that we get because of where we are, because of access to information and freedom of speech and the ability for me to write whatever the heck I want on my website and say whatever the heck I want on your podcast, and that not being banned by someone. That’s an incredible freedom. I respect that greatly.
Back to how I got into all of this was on the intersection of my own personal healing journey that needed both Somatic Experiencing and NeuroAffective work. Feeling that what I was given by my psychotherapist and body workers and other people who were trauma-informed was something that I felt almost like I had a new compass to what was right and the truth that I needed to bring to my clients. Oftentimes when we sit, I would say, “I’m just going to be very transparent and honest with you and try to explain the best way I can to you how the body works and how pain works.” We have so much science that shows that patients understand the new models of pain and the biopsychosocial model and they understand that there is biology that’s driving it like inflammation or a vertebra that is pushing on a nerve or on your brainstem as it is in your work. They understand the biology. They understand that when you eat an irritating food that’s going to create cramps in your belly, it’s clear there’s often a biological cause to pain.
Then there are psycho-emotional causes like your mother-in-law coming over. What do we see around the holidays? Tremendous changes in symptoms like neck pain that hasn’t been there is now back. Then there are the social things, things like loneliness, things like work satisfaction. How are things going on at home? Do you have a son who has a chronic illness? All of these things matter in how your body is going to manifest these pain symptoms. People get it. They just don’t know what the heck to do about it. Then we need people who are skilled in doing the work that I do, that you do, that many other great professionals are doing in this matrix that we have formed in our networks where we can do the work effectively and we can do it somewhat quick.
I think when someone comes to me who has been in physical therapy for eight months and their physical therapist didn’t go, “We’re not seeing a shift in symptoms here. Let me see who I can bring on board to help us. Let’s get another set of eyes here.” When we don’t have a patient and client-focused work and we’re living in this still ego-driven because we’re humans, like pulling the rug your way, we’re not serving people well. We should be really honest with ourselves. With the internet that’s gotten so funky because everybody is showing their great success stories and there are all these modalities that are like, “I did this and I did that.” In chiropractic, there are all these internet chiropractors that have YouTube followings and they’re showing how they’re fixing this and fixing that. That creates an unrealistic idea of what it really looks like because healing doesn’t look like that. For chronic pain, if you have pain that’s been going on for more than three months, it absolutely doesn’t look like that because now the brain is involved.
That’s interesting because obviously, one of the reasons why I have this podcast is so people can know about the benefits of having a Blair Upper Cervical Chiropractic adjustment. I’m going to bring on success stories that, “My low back pain got better. My psychological pain got better. My neck pain got better.” Every time I produce an episode with the success, then that is an expectation that somebody listening who has neck pain that has had neck surgery and it failed, I’m going to be their answer. It isn’t that simple. I always say structure dictates function. Having an intact nervous system and having a spine that’s structurally intact is going to be a good solid foundation to start from, but I am not the answer to all of your ailments. I know that I’m a component to it. That’s why I so heavily refer to you because most of the people that I come into contact with, as soon as I do their trauma history, I recognize very quickly that it’s more than just your back pain. That there were 50 or 100 things that may have caused that back pain to happen that I think you could integrate with me and co-treat with me. From some of the people that I’ve referred, how do you know that they’re making improvement? How do you know that, “They’re intact neurologically,” then I take them? What is your sign post that say, “They’re making an improvement with their care?”
It also depends on what we’re working on. People want to see their symptoms lessening. Sometimes in more complex cases, if chronic pain has been going on for a long time and if there’s a lot of developmental trauma, even the symptom changing is a huge, huge shift. When we say early trauma, don’t imagine abusive homes and alcoholic parents. That can definitely be it, but that’s what people imagine when they hear trauma. Anything that was an overwhelming event to the little system that didn’t have enough support to get processed. It can be living in a home with four other siblings where you didn’t get enough care. It can be having a mom or a dad who was ill or missing your primary caregivers and being neglected by someone or just not having what would have been ideal in some way.
Also early medical trauma, birth trauma, hospitalizations, anytime that the little one has been away from parents can get recorded as traumatic. Any sort of anesthesia, very high fevers, falls for little kids, a lot of falls off swings, slides, concussions in sports, falls on the sacrum which now we know that impact to the sacrum is almost like traumatic brain injury, it’s very complex. There can be a lot of these things that we consider minor or normal for little kids that can be recorded as trauma, especially if epigenetically, somewhere in the ancestral line there’s history of people being refugees or there have been wars. There are a lot of studies being done by Yehuda on children of Holocaust survivors. We have all this data that shows that what you bring to life, you bring as soon as you come out of the womb. You already have predispositions to record things that someone else wouldn’t record as trauma. Trauma doesn’t make you weak, but it puts a little check there to maybe bring more compassion to those challenges that you have.[Tweet “Trauma doesn’t make you weak. “]
We want to see a symptom lessening or we want to see a symptom shifting or we want to see things like, “I used to have a migraine every day and now I only have a migraine once a week.” That’s a shift in symptoms. We want to see something that is meaningful to that person. We want to see somebody who was isolating and not going out starting to go out. We want somebody who was afraid to play with their grandkids play with their grandkids.
I know for me, the way that I knew that I was making progress is that I was able to confront situations that were once utterly terrifying to me. I would never go and confront somebody that said something to me in a way where I felt it was going to affect certain aspects of my life. I was finally able to, without fear, without reservation, say, “That was unacceptable and it hurt me. This is how I feel about what you said or did.” It didn’t even matter if they apologized or not. It was just simply the ability to do that act. I felt like a whole new life has opened up for me because I was so afraid of the consequence of me speaking what my truth was. I told you one day, I came and I said, “This is what happened. This is what I did.” You said, “I’m proud of you. You’re healing.” I was like, “Holy cow.” It wasn’t like one day I woke up and said, “Today, I’m going to be strong.” I just did it. That was profound to me. Recently, I was a part of this incredible group that you do every other Monday night with different people that come in. We sit around and we learn different techniques on how to check in with our body or notice what’s going on outside or focus on something. We learn all these techniques that you are training us. Over the holidays I realized, “I don’t think I even need to come to the group anymore because I’ve done such good work that I think I don’t have to be there every other Monday anymore.”
What’s it like for you to feel that?
It feels empowering. You’ve known me for seven, eight years now and to know where I’ve come from, and I thought that I was put together back then and the perspective we have.
We all think that. Then ten years from now, you’re going to think that about today. That’s the coolest thing about being human.
To have that reflection and that view from behind being like, “That was funny that I thought that I was good then. Look at how far I’ve come,” and the fact that you have a mind to want to continue to help people go along their path. I know that I’ve had some amazing success with the trauma work that you’ve helped me with and you’ve had an incredible time with all the different clients that you’ve worked with. I know that we share a lot of clients and I refer you them because your work essentially takes the structure and integration of the nervous system that I’ve provided through the Blair Chiropractic work, then you run with it. You also noticed that when people aren’t in alignment, the work maybe isn’t as productive as it can be. Tell me why you feel like Blair has been so efficient and so effective in helping your clients.
Something to understand is that the way that we sense ourselves and how we are, whether we’re healthy or unhealthy, whether we’re at peace or not at peace, whether we’re safe or not safe, whether we’re tense or not tense, when people come to us, they don’t ask, “I wonder how my nervous system is functioning today.” They come and they’re like, “My shoulder hurts and it’s been hurting for 25 years. My neck’s been tight since my car accident.” They want those symptoms to go away. They could care less how their nervous system works. They just want to get better. One thing to know is that sometimes there are top-down or from the brain down or from the mind down if we look at more of a separated understanding of the body, there are instructions that are coming down towards the body. There’s also this bottom-up process where your body is constantly generating experiences that are traveling up to your brain for processing and decisions need to be made. We need to make sure that information is as accurate to present time as possible.
You can picture it as the first digital cameras that we had. They were really pixelated and crappy and you would print your photos and be like, “This is my new digital film,” but you look pixelated. Now we don’t look as pixelated because our cameras, even our phone cameras, have this incredible power and accuracy. If you print a picture off your phone, it actually looks good. You’re getting a lot more accurate information. There are many ways in which the accuracy of that information can be influenced. Say that there’s some information coming from my stomach or from my intestines or from my kidneys or from my ovaries up towards the brain, we want to make sure that it’s traveling up pathways that are uninterrupted. Otherwise, that information might come up just like in the very early pixelated photos and now my brain is acting incomplete or inaccurate information. You know that very well.
What you do working in the cervical area is making sure that one of those really, really big interruptions isn’t happening because our brainstem is right where you work. The brainstem is that part of the body that’s also involved in regulating heart rate and breath rate and heart rate variability and our digestion and all of these very basic unconscious processes. What happens where the area that regulates all of these has a structural issue around it? We want to make sure that the atlas and the axis and all the guys downstream from that are really in alignment so that the very structures of the nervous system that we need to carry accurate information up towards the brain to make decisions and then we can carry the decisions down and the regulations down are working, which is why people have such diverse and sometimes miraculous outcomes from a Blair adjustment because God knows what your brain wasn’t processing. Maybe it’s a hormonal issue. Maybe it’s depression. Maybe it’s digestion. Maybe it’s something around the function of your knee. If you talk to all the feedback from patients, oftentimes they’ll be like, “I came for my shoulder. My shoulder still hurts but my digestion is better, my sleep is better. I’m not as anxious. I’m calmer and I’m happier.” That’s why it’s so important to educate people about the fact that the body is a complex system. Each adjustment or each intervention, whether it’s a Blair adjustment or acupuncture or whatever it is, is an invitation or it’s a question to the body. It’s saying, “Here is this input. How are you going to organize it now?” Blair allows that.
What I tell people, especially younger people that don’t really want to know the science behind it because it’s boring and they just want to get better, is imagine that with Blair work you have this garden hose and someone’s just turned on the water. There might still be kinks in the hose we need to clean up, whether it’s with somatic work or with movement work or with acupuncture or with nutrition. There are all these complementary therapies that can work together very well because if you’re eating a quick meal somewhere that someone else prepared and you’re getting takeout for dinner, you don’t have the appropriate materials to create healing in your body because as we’re talking right now, our bodies are making cells. We need to make sure we have the right materials to rebuild and restructure the body. It’s so important to have an intact nervous system. If somebody’s not honing their adjustments, then we know that there’s more going on and there are different other parts of the system that are pulling the rug or the tablecloth in their direction.[Tweet “None of us is a magician but the body is magical. “]
If you’re running traumatic stress physiology, you’re less likely to hold your adjustments. We see that. You can see there are categories of people who get particular outcomes. Your average athlete comes and gets adjusted and you’re a genius. The average person that’s not an athlete that’s had 25 surgeries won’t think that you’re a genius because there are other things happening in the system that also need to be in line. That’s why patient education is so important. None of us is a magician but the body is magical. We can come in and bring these invitations at the right time so that the body can come and self-organize.
I love that because it’s true. Blair Chiropractic is incredible, but it isn’t the answer for everything ever.
It is an important checkpoint. I will tell you that I want every single person to come in and get evaluated. I would be happy to see they don’t need an adjustment. How often have I referred someone to you who didn’t need an adjustment?
One thing to know is people oftentimes will be like, “How come our ancestors didn’t need chiropractic?” Or my mom will say, “Tribesmen didn’t need psychotherapy,” but we lived in nature. We were a part of nature. We had tribes. Our tribes healed us. Connection healed us.
It’s absolutely correct because we live in a culture that even though social media and everything supposedly gives us a sense of more connection, we’re more isolated than ever before.
Connection has a heartbeat. I need to sit with you here and be in your field and feel that your heart rhythm is variable, and feel that you’re digesting your food. When I can feel that and I can feel your breath at the rate that it is, I feel safe with you. Now I can breathe and I can digest my food and my heart can do its thing the way it’s supposed to and we can both feel safe and move towards healing. We need people and we need community. We’re people who are all searching for their tribe. In our isolation, we can join as many Facebook groups as we like and we know how Facebook groups sometimes are an amazing way to touch base between real, actual life connection, but nothing replaces live interaction. Live interaction is very healing.
It’s like that sense when you walk into a room and you can feel within yourself, your gut feeling, “Is this room accepting of me? Do I feel welcome? Is there something off?” There’s an energy sense and that’s your nervous system giving you a clue. If you have a disconnect in your ability to have an intact nervous system because of a structural issue at the top of your neck, you’re going to have a skewed view. I know for me that I lived with a lot of paranoia and I lived with a lot of anxiety because I misperceived my environment because my nervous system wasn’t intact. Once I got that Blair correction, my head was literally on my body straight. All of a sudden I could see that, “The girl in the corner who looked at me funny, it wasn’t because she had an issue with me. It was because she just read a text message that she got really terrible news. It wasn’t about me at all.” Having that sense of being able to fit into the community that you’re in in that moment is so vital. I love that you teach this, that you practice it, that you help enact this sense in the body because many people have I sent to you and I don’t even know how to describe you often. I literally just say you’re a miracle worker. I know that you do somatic work and I know that you do movement work. I know that you’re doing trauma therapy and scar rehabilitation. All of those things add up to this incredible practice that you have where you physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually can meet people where they are and take them from where they are and move them into a direction of healing.
“Healing wants to happen,” that’s not something that I said, someone else said it. In craniosacral work, they talk about the physician on the inside of you who’s doing the work. Our job is to get out of the way and try to intervene as little as possible and to support as much as possible, but also to create the environment that’s going to allow the physician as much space to work as possible. When you adjust someone and you have them rest in the resting area and I’m going between my studio and the kitchen and I see somebody on their phone, that’s not creating an environment for healing right after you’ve been adjusted. I think we are so disconnected from our environment that we don’t even know. What I want to encourage everyone to know is that healing is possible and it is wanting to happen. You just need to stay open and curious and excited that it wants to happen because you don’t want to put frustration and disappointment in the room.
Galina, this has been a delightful conversation. It just encourages me all the more to look for ways to allow people to get to know you and your work. Maybe if you’re not here in Southern California and you can’t get to Galina or you can’t get to me, do some Googling on trauma therapists or somatic experience.
You can go to TraumaHealing.org or you can just Google Somatic Experiencing and the Somatic Experiencing Trauma Institute will come up and you can find a local provider. For those of you who even don’t consider that you’ve had trauma, know that the definition of trauma is very broad. Any event that was not processed with enough support can become traumatic. Having had a traumatic event doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong, that you were weak or in some way you didn’t handle life well or you’re not tough enough or whatever. It’s just a biological reality that we no longer live in the structures and communities that support healing. You need to find your tribe so that you can create the environment for your inner physician to do the work and for healing that wants to happen to happen.
I just want to encourage you to do that and to find your health tribe and to not give up if you don’t find your people immediately. It takes a long time and lots of research. Find practitioners who are hearing you, who are listening to you, who are sharing up-to-date contemporary information, who are well-read, who give you resources so you can educate yourself. Do not look for someone to fix you because no one can fix you. You are a miracle that can heal from the inside-out. You do not need fixers. If anybody tells you, “You have pain because of this,” be very vigilant. Anytime anyone has a theory that they’re very serious about and certain about, be very vigilant about that because you’re way more complex than somebody coming from the outside and giving you a miracle cure. That’s not how we work.
Galina, how can people find you?
They can just come to MoveWellStudio.com or you can go to GalinaDenzel.com. Both of them have all my information. If you’re at Dr. Hoefer’s office, one of the doors is the massage room and the other one says, “Move Well” and it has me and my name and my number.
I am so thrilled that you are my guest. Thank you for coming on and sharing your vast knowledge. You won’t be a one-and-done guest. I want to invite you back. If you want to investigate a topic, email me. Let me know what you want to work on and I will create a podcast just for you. I can’t wait to hear the feedback from you. Thank you so much for listening. I look forward to finding out if your head’s on straight.
- Galina Denzel
- Galina’s podcast
- Peter Levine
- The Body Keeps the Score
- Blair Upper Cervical Chiropractic
- Find a local provider
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