• Flowly

Health Talk 01: Trauma in our mind and body: How we can learn to acknowledge and then manage it

About Health Talk


Living with a chronic condition can feel isolating. Health Talk by Flowly was born from wanting to bring often isolated voices into the fold, and connecting different ideas, experiences, and tools to your own health journey. 

We talk to health practitioners and chronic health patients to deconstruct the chronic condition journey— from how many have managed the challenging diagnosis experience, to new tools and tips that might help you. We cover conditions including chronic pain, anxiety, autoimmune diseases, and more.

Hosted by Celine, the founder of Flowly, this weekly podcast will dive into conversations with world class researchers, practitioners, and even more importantly, chronic condition warriors themselves.


Search “Flowly” on Apple Podcast or Spotify to find our Health Talk!



This week Celine sits down with a world class mind-body practitioner, Pierre-Etienne Vannier. In this wide ranging conversation, they touch on different manifestations of trauma, methods we can employ to begin to acknowledge and manage trauma, and the challenges we still face in recovery. 

Pierre is a program development specialist for trauma recovery and resilience building through nervous system regulation. Pierre has done this work at Huntington Memorial Hospital, UCLA Center for East-West Medicine, USC oncology, etc. Pierre has worked with cancer patients, pain patients, and is currently a co-investigator in clinical research focused on fostering post-traumatic growth among cancer survivors. 

You can also find Pierre at Healing Studio Online (www.healingstudioonline.com) for live classes for self-healing, using a wide range of approaches and modalities.



*This transcript is auto-generated


Hey y'all, my name is Celine and I'm the

founder of Flowly, your host today

for Health Talk.

As some of you might know Flowly is a

mobile platform for chronic pain and

anxiety

and mental health management. We use

biofeedback for relaxation training and

even virtual reality to teach you how to

manage your nervous system

so in our Health Talk we invite everyone

from chronic pain patients

chronic illness patients, people with

mental health, challenges and

advocates to talk about what tools help

them with their daily living

but we also invite industry

professionals practitioner

health experts to really share with us

what are tools and techniques and their

experiences that could help with this

community

I'm really looking forward today with

our guest

because he is a world-class mind body

practitioner Pierre-Etienne Vannier

Our team has

actually worked with Pierre

in designing some of the intro sessions

you guys have experienced

and we really respect his work in this

field.

Besides being a mind body practitioner

Pierre is a program development

specialist for trauma recovery

and resilience building through

nervous system regulation.

We're going to get into all of like what

that actually means later.

Pierre has done this work at

Huntington Memorial Hospital,

UCLA Center for East-West Medicine,

USC Oncology, etc. And Pierre has

worked with cancer patients,

pain patients and is currently a

co-investigator

in clinical research focused on

fostering

post-traumatic growth among cancer

survivors

Welcome to Flowly's Health Talk, Pierre.

Thank you, Celine. It's good to be here.

So my first question is a little bit

about your background because

I think one thing that really fascinated

me when working with you is how you

came to be working in the trauma space.

Because I remember when we first

spoke, you came from a background

of working with

low-income populations who have been

affected by HIV and AIDS

and then even worked in Cairo in

somewhat of an adjacent field.

So could you share a little bit about

your background and how you came to be

your background and how you came

to be working on this?

A little bit of the background,

long story short,

You mentioned I used to work in

Cairo, Egypt

I lived there for about 10 years

and I used to work for the

United Nations working with people

living with HIV supporting people

living with HIV, through with

Socioeconomic Empowerment

Program with leadership skills, etc etc

About seven eight years into it

I could see that the most profound

transformation that we were seeing

was when people had an opportunity to

really connect

at the emotional level. It was not so

much about the technical information

that was being shared with them rather

than the opportunity

to really feel right, what they were

feeling in a safe space

and so I started to try to understand

how to promote this

and I was hearing a lot people telling

me you know what

this great challenge

in my life is actually one of the best

thing that happened to me which was

very confusing

because that's not what i was expecting

to hear and so I started to look into it

I started to

learn about post traumatic growth the

learning that may occur

when we're dealing with challenging

experiences in life and try to

understand how can I help

people grow from their experiences

from the pain, from the suffering

This is when I started to study

hypnotherapy, this is

when I started to study different type

of somatic practices

which as you mentioned earlier was

really about

bringing our nervous system back into

balance

so 11 years later I finally went into

private practice because I found it

absolutely fascinating, started to work

with different organizations that were

focusing on

helping people to build resilience

and like you said today I'm working

primarily

I'm working with people who are

dealing with trauma which is let's face it

100% of the world population. We're all

dealing with it, right

we may let's not think about trauma as

that big thing that can happen but that

can also be an accumulation of small

things what we call small traumas

so all of us are experiencing

difficulties and all of us have an

experience to learn skills and tools

to learn from it to overcome and

to bounce back

and even to bounce forward, right?

That kind of leads to

one question that we've been grappling

with which is

I think also to do with your work in

managing the nervous system which is

exactly what we want to do under

Flowly as well right

and in the context of what's happening

in the world now

a lot of experiences with trauma are not

necessarily

physical but how can or do we

experience trauma in the body even if

the trauma wasn't

physical to begin with and then how can

it manifest?

To answer this question, I think we need

to understand that the the separation

between

the mind and the body I think is a very

simplistic way to view things because

Yes, the trauma may not

be physical yet there

are physical consequences

and implications to a traumatic

experience

right so if I experience something that

is fearful to me

and we can't even you know at some

point, look into what's going on

right now with

with covid with

uprising with social unrest with

whatever's going on in Washington,

here the question is that may not be

something that bumped or scraped

or hurt my body but the stress the

anxiety

that my nervous system is going in the

stress response

my nervous system is going to trauma

response saying

what do I need to do to keep myself safe

and so I want to say your body

our bodies are always impacted

by what's going on

and there are a lot of literature out

there what i'm saying is not even

closely, you know, close to be

controversial I think right now we

understand

very clearly that when we're going

through

emotional adversity we there are

physical consequences to that

when I will go in a stress response a

fight or flight freeze response there

different types of stress responses

there will be physical implications

I may find myself

having difficulty sleeping having

difficulties to digest, I may find myself

experiencing increased pain increased

anxiety etc etc etc

right

So all of this eventually translates

and manifests

in the body and so it's important for us

to acknowledge that

and to allow ourselves to

and create a container.

Safe container for us to say, okay,

What's going on with me? Let me

connect

to my body because your body is really

just

your body's talking to you. Our bodies

are talking to us and they're saying hey

let's, can we do something about that?

I'm personally dealing with

back pain I've been dealing with back

pain for many years

when I start to get a little tidal

stressed out

I know this back pain will start to

you know

say, hey, should we slow down here?

and the pain maybe

may not be that great but it's there.

If I ignore it

my body will start to talk to me louder

and say hey

okay I told you two days ago we're

getting tired

and I manifested just a little

pain you're not hearing me

you're not doing what needs to be done

right now to come back

to give me an opportunity to heal and

rest so let me

speak to you a little louder and this is

why sometimes I'm like oh this is

becoming you know

so amazingly painful and that's when I

have to listen to my body

so what I'm saying is that here it's

important for us to listen to our bodies

to listen to the cues

of our body so that we can take the

necessary steps and measures

to bring ourselves back to a place where

we can heal we can rest

we can recover and you know

and we can deal with life.

Does that makes sense?

That makes a lot of sense

and I think what I'm

hearing is that

the first step to learning how to manage

the trauma in your body the nervous

system activation is to a

acknowledge it and then to spend the

time and give it the space to listen to

your body.

Am I interpreting that right?

Yes

and having said that there are times

when it's okay for us to connect to the

body and there are times when it's

totally appropriate for us to maybe

just kind of disconnect because we may

not feel safe to process

it may not be the time for us to process

right and i'm saying that as a

as a call for self-compassion to the

people viewing or listening to us

because a lot of people are like how

come you know how come i'm not

able to

relax more and not able to feel better

and sometimes recognizing that well

right now it's just

the situation may be overwhelming and

i'm in a state of overwhelm

and that seems like at times to be a

space that is appropriate

that's normal for us to go there what we

want is not get stuck there for too long

because again otherwise there will be

physical

implications physical mental emotional

you know implications and consequences

so i'm saying let's not judge our

own response when we get stressed out

this is a protective this is a defensive

mechanism to use the words of a

of a mentor of mine that

response is well intentioned

it's just that sometimes the timing may

be a little off

so we want to adjust the timing, right?

Yea that resonates so strongly with me

becasue even remember when we were

first talking to you about designing the

intro sessions for Flowly

like we knew that we had to approach

it in recognizing that not everybody was

ready to confront their bodies or ready

to acknowledge what was happening in

their bodies and

there needs to be a way of

gently kind of coaxing people into like

hey

let's start to listen to it but we don't

definitely don't want to force you into

it

and i think that even leads into my

um and i think that even leads into my

next

quite a few questions because I had

the opportunity to actually ask

people in our Flowly community on

the app in the community but also on

social media

what are some questions they might

have for you and

our community is pretty widespread as

you know like we have people with

severe chronic pain to people that are

just kind of stressed out

and one of the questions that came

kept coming up and up which is

what are some tips techniques

methods we could self-employ

to manage symptoms around trauma

and a specific question came up is

how to manage an

oncoming anxiety flare-up or panic

attack?

That's a big question and I wish

I wish you know I had a magic

wand for you

So let's break it down here.

Because as a reminder what I've

mentioned earlier which is sometimes

it is okay for us

we feel safe enough to check in with

ourselves to notice what's going on

so we're working on improving that

body awareness

to be connected to ourselves

and so oftentimes i want to say that the

first step

to deal with these challenges the stress

the anxiety

the pain often starts with

and the word that you use earlier is

very important gently

gently come back home gently we connect

to the body we disconnected to the body

from the body for a reason

there is there is a wisdom there right

and so

we have to acknowledge that wisdom to

respect that wisdom and ask ourselves

okay

is it okay for me right now to go back

and check it with myself and reconnect

with my body

gently and here

when i say gently i mean the place at

which you're gonna reconnect to the body

is even more important than how you're

going to reconnect to their body

meaning the tools they have many tools

out there there there are many

practices there are many models

some people will meditate some people

will do some more somatic practices

there are a lot of things out there but

it's really important to understand that

regardless of what you do

you have to be gentle in this process

because when you come back to your body

and let's take the

the example of

people will

a lot of people took on meditation

recently

and they would sit with their

discomfort

for whatever amount of time being told

to just be okay with it and

and here I, it can be actually

counterproductive

because what may happen is that i will

not

i'm disregarding you know what my body

is telling me

and so when i talk about feeling

safe feeling gentle

this is crucial here maybe i need to

sit with it for just a few moments for

just a few minutes

and when it becomes too uncomfortable

maybe i need to listen to my body and

start to move around readjust my

position

do something so working with your body

not against your body

and this is crucial what when

it comes to healing

it is about integration it is about as i

mentioned earlier like coming home

how can i be with myself

feeling

okay and so here that's

that's the number one right feeling safe

gentle pacing yourself

because bringing things up is not

necessarily the most difficult things

right when you checked out you sometimes

people will go see

some practitioners and the practitioners

will help them to get things

out this is not exorcism right you a lot

of people will get overwhelmed because

they will be connected to just

too much of what was actually being

suppressed in the body

and so here pacing yourself is

crucial now when it comes to

tips how can i manage if i notice myself

going into a

state of anxiety having a panic attack

this and that

as i said number one the earlier you

catch it

the easier it will be for you to manage

it

meaning if i'm more in tune with my body

if i'm not paying attention if i know

what are my cues again just to give the

example of my personal back pain

if i was to not pay attention to it for

several days eventually at some point i

will find myself paralyzed on the floor

but there's there were a lot of

opportunities for me to engage with my

body before that

so paying attention to the early cues is

very important that panic attack

will have most of the time

initial cues it is about it's coming

it's about to come

what can i do and what can you do

oftentimes is

there maybe i mean some simple

practices may consist

potentially maybe breath focused

i know some of the different models i'm

working with and we can look into

some resource we can talk about

resources later on today

or later on during this interview

the simple fact of just making sure that

you exhale

long enough to give an opportunity for

your nervous system to start to

settle to deactivate that stress

response when we breathe in

our heart will speed up when we breathe

out our heart will slow down

and so knowing that panic attack is

a sympathetic activation it's you going

into that stress response

and just working with your body to say

no actually

let me slow down my heart rate let me

send a signal straight from my body to

my body

saying no actually here i don't have

to engage into that

that state of mobilization

i can slow down my heart rate as i slow

down my heart rate

i'm gonna start to mitigate

right what's going on with that state of

activation

something else that can be helpful when

your body is actually bringing up

that state of that all that energy or

that stress

could be to also start to move

because a lot of people will just sit

there

understandably because they feel

overwhelmed by what's going on

when sometimes starting to just move

around starting to diffuse some of this

energy right as the energy is being

mobilized in your body

saying no actually may try to shake it

off a little bit

maybe try to maybe push against the

chair

push against the wall the primary target

of that

that stress response will be your limbs

everything will be affected but the

primary target will be your limbs

your legs and your arms and so using

these arms in these legs

will help you potentially to kind of

diffuse that energy

as the energy is being mobilized from

inside. Is that making sense?

That makes a lot of sense and i think

that's counter to i think what a lot of

people would

respond and so that's a really good tip

because i think it would help a lot of

people to know

that's another strategy they could

employ a lot of people will say

employ a lot of people will say

themselves

I'm calm, I'm calm

or calm down. my favorite meme

on facebook is that nobody ever calm

down by being told to calm

why is that? right it's because we

we get stuck in that conscious mind

which is about five percent of who you

are, five percent of everything you are

when 95 percent

of you is saying ah what's going on so

we have to engage with that 95%

of us we have to engage with the body

right in that process of

of reclaiming that sense of safety

and saying okay

right here right now let me engage with

my breath

let me engage with my environments right

let me reorient to my environment

instead of going into that

that tunnel vision instead of getting

stuck there

then it expands right

yeah i love that

the idea of like

focusing on something outside of your

body to get back in tune with your body

body to get back in tune with your body

because

because

i mean that's essentially all our work

based around the vr

biofeedback things that we do is just

we're giving you an access point into

your body

that doesn't start inside it starts

external which in a lot of ways i think

is especially helpful for people that do

have trauma and i think

one other thing i wanted to highlight

about what you were saying that i think

is so important

is that timing and understanding what

triggers or cues that might be coming up

for you

to trigger whatever trauma response or

anxiety or panic attack

it's really important you start to

recognize when those cues or triggers

might be coming and to address it

beforehand

because i think in our case studies when

we were at hospitals

people would tell us like in the

afternoons i get really bad pain

flare-ups and then

i'll take a bunch of medication at the

point of my flare-up to chase it away

but that's just using medication to

chase away pain whereas you could even

use medication or any other approach or

technique

beforehand so that you're mitigating a

lot of the effect instead of trying to

chase it away once it's already hit you

so and i think that's really not a

lot of people realize that

you're raising a really important point

which is

i hear from a lot of clients telling me

for example this week i didn't

experience any stress

so i didn't practice any of my

tools and my skills

and what i'm hearing is it's something

similar to saying well

i didn't exercise because i didn't

notice that i gained weight

right and and here it's really the

question of the conditioning

and that's a much bigger issue

around like how do we approach

healthcare

in this country right, are we

managing symptoms

or are we looking at the person

holistically and

and are we being proactive

because again when we talk about giving

agency giving

power to people because that's

power to people because that's that's

that's

what i do what you do this is how i see

it. It's about

empowering patients and clients in their

own journey of healing

what are the skills what are the tools

that they can acquire so

they are in control of their own

experience so they have more agency

so many clients and patients i'm working

with are telling me

i feel like a project i feel like you

know people working under my body and i

don't know what to do

and my message is there's so much that

you can do

there's so much that you can do and

maybe you've been told indeed that just

leave it to the doctors and i'm

saying that you know with a lot of

respect god bless them

doctors nurses you know thank god for

them

but i'm saying let's be proactive in

this process

because if i'm waiting for the pain to

be excruciating before i do something

there's gonna be so much more work i'm

gonna have to do

but like you said if i'm if i'm catching

the cues if i'm

training myself to pay attention to the

cues early on

or if i even like make a habit

of practicing wellness

on a regular basis without waiting for

me

to experience that pain it's just you

know it's just like a professional

basketball player is not waiting for the

day of the game, before he or she's

practicing hoops

right, there there's practice and so

That's one i was very excited

when you first started to work together

because Flowly

is offering an opportunity for people

here to say okay let me practice

being healthy let me practice wellness

what is it what does it feel

not only for me to be able to manage my

pain

but what is it for me to be able to be

aware when i feel good

and that's that's the thing here right

it's like how do i know

when i talk to people they maybe have

such an amazing awareness of their

stress response

but they've forgotten what it feels like

for them when they're not stressed out

when they're not in pain and these

moments may be fleeting

but it's still important for us to be

aware of these moments

and work towards expanding these moments

right, because again we're amazingly

flexible that body of ours is a

remarkable machine

we're amazingly resilient but resilience

is a skill

it's something that that is to be

practiced right?

Even when we were

looking at this technology early on we

were like

oh all these like olympic athletes

get access to all these ways of managing

their nervous system and health but

really the people that really need it

the patients

they're not giving they're not given

this access to learn about their bodies

right and like we

I come from a family of doctors

like we respect doctors but it really

should be a two-way conversation between

you and the doctor right you and the

health care system

it's not just one way so i think that's

really important

and you also brought up something that i

was going to ask later on but i think it

just

it beautifully segues into that concept

of

you're saying okay we also should focus

on the times we do feel good

we do feel comfortable relaxed because

often we're only focused on the negative

experiences

and one thing that we are incorporating

to Flowly and we talked about early on

is doing body scans

of pinpointing where you do feel

uncomfortable but actually doing

another body scan where you pinpoint

wait where do i feel comfortable or just

neutral and i love that concept i would

love

for you to dive into that more and

what's the idea behind that

yeah and i remember that conversation

early on that we had

and again it's going back to the

concepts

and here i'll mention another mentor

i'll quote another

mentor of mine because when we

we have a negativity bias

we will naturally pay attention to what

hurts

what's wrong with us so in case we need

to take care of it right

for survival purposes but

by doing so we get conditioned

and we forget

again these moments of or we forget

to pay attention

to what doesn't hurt as much what or

what may even feel neutral

when my back doesn't hurt i don't feel

amazingly relaxed in my back but

the absence of pain is in itself to me

an amazing relief

so being able to acknowledge that

and to see that oh indeed in that space

there is more flexibility

there is more spaciousness when i talk

about spaciousness

i'm talking about the ability to the

ability to breathe

the ability to think more clearly to be

more creative

not only in regards to you know

decisions for your health but

maybe even for your job for you know

i've been stuck at home with my

kids what to do with kids, how to

you know change the way we work with

what's going on lately

so here the question is when you pay

attention to your body

you may notice something that may feel

tight a little tense

you may notice some discomfort you may

notice some pain

the question is, are you able to expand

that awareness to notice

what else is true

what else is true we're not saying don't

pay attention to what hurts

we're not saying pretend it's not there

we're saying respect it

acknowledge it and ask yourself all

right

this is true is there anything else

that's true because

when i work with people dealing with

chronic pain i teach pain management at

huntington

to nurses to healthcare workers to

patients

there's often a phrase that comes up

which is like everything hurts

and that may be true

but that may also be a conditioning

that gets us stuck in that loop and

sometimes when we like well

let's break it down this and this and

this and this may hurt

what about this and this and this and

sometimes we may go down to like

earlobes say

okay my earlobes right now they're not

they're not in pain

the tip of my nose you know is not in

pain my fingertips may not like

we may be able to identify a few things

in the body

that are kind of creating space in that

experience

right this is this is what we're making

even in the name Flowly for me

that flow that space is important it's

like

okay let me see if i can regain some

flexibility

and i'm not necessarily just talking

about flexible physical flexibility i'm

talking about

mental flexibility saying i acknowledge

this i

also acknowledge that and and by doing

so

this is my whole experience i can say

that i can acknowledge and respect the

truth this is my body telling me

something that i have to deal with and i

have to acknowledge and work on healing

but there's also potentially some things

that can be a place

that become kind of these islands of

safety that became

this place where like okay i may be able

to go back there

every now and then that may be a place

for me to

focus my awareness on and interestingly

when we expand

when we focus

where we

where awareness goes energy flows right

and so when we when we take a moment to

really pay attention

to this area of the body without trying

to make

the pain go away ironically

or paradoxically this is when the body

is saying oh yeah

something else is true. I'm able

to focus

on so I'm whole I'm able to hold

both experiences at the same time

and that creates space for people to

oftentimes to feel better

and to feel more hopeful

Yeah i know and

i even remind myself when i'm speaking to

someone some people that may be

listening in the community that aren't

necessarily chronic pain patients i

think this applies to

you know just if you're trying to

focus like in moments of even a moment

where i feel relaxed or i'm not feeling

anxious or i'm feeling not stressed i

try to remind myself like hey right now

i feel okay like i feel neutral and then

that kind of balances out the truth of

your day where it's not

all focused on the negative part but

rather you're also acknowledging the

neutral the comfortable the positive

parts of it as well