What Does Surrender Mean in Trauma Recovery?

Trauma can result from various occurrences: accidents, physical or emotional abuse, abandonment, neglect, war, natural environmental disasters, loss and its accompanying grief, birth trauma, or any conflict.

Surrender is the moment when we tell the truth. We realize we carry past hurts, pains, abuse, shame, guilt, anger, and sadness. And we recognize that we are done with trying to deny or resist our experience of these burdens.

Dr. Peter Levine helps people heal from the trauma in their lives. Part of his method involves teaching them to surrender safely and at the right time.

Surrender in trauma recovery is not about giving up

In the context of trauma recovery, the word ‘surrender’ has nothing to do with giving up.

Levine states, “Surrender means being able to experience whatever we’re experiencing without judgment.”

Dr. Peter A. Levine has developed a therapeutic system called Somatic Experiencing, whose approach is from the perspective that a specific event does not cause trauma but is the result of the mind and body’s failure to process and release our reactions to adverse experiences. Our brain gets “stuck” in the fight, flight, freeze, or collapse responses because the stress response gets out of balance.

Finding balance with the stress response

The stress response is designed to rebound from high-energy survival states. We also tend to override the natural discharge of excess survival energy when processing a stressful event. Through rationalizations, judgments, shame, cultural conditioning, and fear of feeling our bodily sensations, the human nervous system may not reset like that of other animals after a highly charged stressful experience.

Leveraging conscious breathing to surrender to our experience

When we feel threatened, we tend to hold our breath and clench our muscles – the opposite of surrender. We are holding on for dear life. To better process the experience of not feeling safe, we can use a long exhale to help the body relax. This is not giving up but a coping strategy to help return the mind and body to normal more quickly. We can leverage the breath, using it consciously and in a targeted way to help ease our automatic guarding patterns and dissipate stress. Here, we are using the body’s resources to build our capacity for resilience and better manage the challenges in our lives.

How to use breathing to surrender to your experience and find ease

Consider for a moment what happens when we are startled or stressed. Our breath moves from a relaxed state’s easy, long, deeper breathing to a shortened breath. We often hold our breath altogether when we are surprised or fearful. We can become what is called “breathless.” It’s not as if we are literally without breath, but our breathing gets so shallow and irregular that it feels like we have lost our breath.

When we are stressed, we may experience a feeling of not being able to breathe easily. We may also feel tightness in the chest. Our anxious reaction to this stress can also result in hyperventilation or rapid breathing. We may also feel dizzy or disoriented from such irregular breathing. When these patterns continue, it makes us feel more and more uneasy and anxious.

Surrender to Even Inhale – Exhale Breathing

Bring your attention to your breathing. Exhale fully. Next, take a slow, full inhale, and fill your lungs to the bottom. Allow your abdomen muscles to relax as you inhale. You will notice the abdomen expanding.

Pause for a moment.

Exhale a nice, slow breath, using your abdominal muscles to push against your spine and help you fully empty your lungs. In this way, you expel all the waste products in the lungs and become ready to receive a full inhale of new oxygenated air on the next round.

Continue breathing slowly, making sure your inhales and exhales are even. Repeat this breathing sequence for 3 – 11 minutes.

Find Surrender through Left Nostril Breathing

Breathing through just the left nostril stimulates the calming center of the brain. This breath technique helps to relieve activation in the nervous system and helps it regulate. Cover your right nostril and breathe long, slow, deep, and even inhales and exhales through your left nostril only. Continue for 3 to 11 minutes.

Eight-Stroke Breath to Surrender

Eight-Stroke Breath is a powerful technique to calm anxiety and the clear brain fog and confusion we experience in trauma.

Make sure the length of your inhale is the same as the length of your exhale. Even though the inhale is done in eight segments, make sure its entire length is the same as the exhale.

Sit comfortably with a straight spine, tuck your chin in just a bit to flatten the back of your neck, lift your chest slightly, and bring your shoulders back. You can sit cross-legged on the floor or in a chair as long as your back is straight, and your feet are on the ground.

Close your eyes. Focus on your breathing.

Inhale through both nostrils in eight equal portions or segments. Exhale through both nostrils in one deep, powerful breath.

Repeat, continuing for 11 minutes.

To end, inhale deeply and exhale fully. Repeat two more times. Relax your breath.

We have this beautiful tool of the conscious breath to help us release the extra energy we carry when we experience trauma. It can help us keep the stress response in balance by allowing us to surrender to our energetic reaction to threatening experiences.

By finding our balance when stressed, we can easily surrender to our experience and face the truth. By consciously surrendering through targeted breath techniques, we can move through challenging times more quickly and gently yet effectively recover from trauma.

Heal. Here. Now. Mindfulness and Trauma Recovery Course

On the second Monday of every month in 2023, at 6 pm ET, join Elizabeth Kipp for her 12-part course Heal. Here. Now. Mindfulness and Trauma Recovery, a donation-based flex course offered exclusively with The Wellness Universe as part of the Wellness For All program.

If you’re interested, please register here.

Elizabeth Kipp is the author of The Way Through Chronic Pain: Tools to Reclaim Your Healing Power. She is a Stress Management Specialist, Trauma-Trained and Yoga-Informed Addiction Recovery Coach, and Ancestral Clearing Practitioner.

Connect with Elizabeth Kipp on The Wellness Universe and walk away feeling better!

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