Surf Therapy just might be the next big--and joyful--thing in the world of therapy! When dealing with emotional and physical burdens and diagnoses such as ADHD, autism, trauma, depression, burn-out, bi-polar disorder, PTSD or anxiety, surfing is the metaphor you can use for overcoming fear, pain and blocked energy.
The sea as therapy
We at Surf Therapy Travel believe the sea is a form of therapy—a surf session can help you understand your emotions and feelings when reflected upon later on the shore. The guides, coaches and therapists of Surf Therapy Travel can help you understand the many feelings you experience out in the ocean. How did you feel when you were surfing? When were you scared? How is that in daily life? Do you often feel scared or anxious? When does fear occur? What brought you joy out in the sea? When did you become angry with the waves? When was the ocean pushing you back? Who pushed you back in your life?
If you can take a closer look at your life while answering some of these questions and sharing them with your fellow retreat members, healing takes place. This integration is essential, or your love of surfing may simply become your (next?) addiction.
Surfing as an addiction
Even though surfing is a great metaphor for life, it can also turn into a means of avoiding your true feelings and emotions, and you become a ‘surf addict’. This can happen when you use surfing as the flight response for inner pain, dis-ease or dis-comfort. Just as with any addiction, the behavior (d)evolves, be it drinking, using drugs, gambling, working, eating, partying etc. The positive things about surfing, however, are that you can get a natural high from it, it makes you feel very good and there are no side effects!
Surfing makes you feel good
When you surf, you release hormones which make you feel good, adrenaline and most of all dopamine. Surfing also requires you to be in the here and now. The ocean is relentless and will sweep you off your feet in the brief moments you don’t pay attention. Well, it just so happens that being swept off your feet often relates to things that happen in life: the moments you feel helpless, unheard or unloved. These experiences can be the cause of trauma, disorder or depression. The ocean can help you begin or continue your personal development and healing process. The ocean doesn’t judge, and she brings great challenges and great joys. She treats everyone in the same way, which in return makes it easier for you to respect, accept and love back—and in turn, love yourself.
Surf therapy for personal development
At Surf Therapy Travel, we support you in your personal development. This means there is plenty of room to give you and your insecurity, anxiety or inner pain the space it needs. It is important that you know that feelings of pain or anxiety are almost always results of trauma, whether big or small. And, almost everyone on this planet has experienced a trauma in his or her life, so you probably do as well!
Causes of trauma
But what are the causes of trauma? Trauma often develops when something impressive or hurtful takes place in your life, which didn’t get the attention it needed to release the pain from your physical and/or emotional body. Major traumatic experiences include (summarized from the book Breakthrough with Breathwork – Jumpstarting personal growth in the counseling and the healing arts, Chapter 4 Therapeutic Breathwork And The Healing Of Trauma):
- Childhood abuse
- Watching violence take place
- Catastrophic illness and injuries
- Loss of a loved one
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However, there are more traumatic experiences you can suffer from than you may think. Traumas that also become part of our lives include:
- Medical procedures such as surgery and dental procedures especially with children who need to be anesthetized. They may experience this as an attack.
- Minor accidents
- Falls and other minor injuries
- Ailments especially high fever
- Natural disasters
- Accidental poisoning
- Exposure to extreme heat or cold
- Temporary immobilization (especially for children)
- Sudden loud noises
So, trauma can be anything from not getting the comfort you longed for after falling down the stairs or off a bike when you were little, the cry for attention because you felt discomfort when you were too young to take care of yourself, to (minor) traffic accidents or the death of a family member or a close friend.
Different kind of trauma’s
All the above-mentioned traumatic experiences can be summed up in different trauma-categories. The smallest or biggest traumas (inner pain) all find their way eventually into our system, which can result in for example emotional pr physical discomfort, ADHD, depression, PTSD, burn-out etc. We give you a little insight on the various traumas and how they might be experienced.
- Physical trauma: caused through an object hitting or striking a person. This life-threatening physical injury, if survived, potentially results in secondary complications such as shock, respiratory failure, physical long-lasting pain and, when not taken care of, disorders such as PTSD.
- Stress: stress is the mildest form of (mental/physical) trauma. Everyone is exposed to stress, to a greater or lesser extent, throughout the day. The body must temporarily adapt to normal safe circumstances ("coping" mechanisms such as fleeing or fighting). When your body is often exposed to stress, there are consequences for your physical condition--think of back and neck complaints, headaches etc.
- Early-childhood trauma: experiences we often cannot remember because we were too small. An example of such trauma is being left alone in a bed whilst crying without finding the comfort of a caretaker. The baby keeps crying until it adjusts, and stops asking for help or support.
- Transgenerational trauma: stems from the family line, unconsciously passed on to the next generation. Examples are family members who have suffered from (sexual) abuse, alcoholic parents etc. that pass on symptoms and behavior to the next generation.
- Vicarious trauma/secondary trauma: caused through empathic engagement of the client by the trauma worker or helper. The symptoms align with those of traumatized clients.
- Collective cultural trauma: stems from shared societal events in tribes and populations such as war trauma.
- Compassion fatigue: emotions you cannot or will not express in a fierce situation. You "swallow" your emotions, as it were. You literally suppress them in your body. As a result, many muscle groups are contracted. When this happens, often this has a big impact on the body, and the body becomes exhausted. Everyone can be confronted with this. Risk groups include "first responders": nurses, doctors, police, soldiers, fire brigade etc.
Trauma gets stored in your body
As humans--in contradiction with animals, who perhaps shake things off more quickly--we often block (severe) traumatic experiences. However, traumatic experiences get stored in both the physical and emotional body to which your brain responds with a coping mechanism.
Bessel van der Kolk (psychiatrist) explains,: "We know from brain research that traumas can lead to changes in the brain. When we experience shocking events or feel threatened, we instinctively send signals to others to come to our aid. But if no one comes to the rescue or danger keeps threatening us, older brain regions come into effect: the emotional brain, which consists of the mammalian brain and the reptile brain. Then the linguistic part of the brain blocks and we switch to more primitive ways of survival: fighting, fleeing or stiffening. Stress hormones are the motor of those reactions. In traumatized children and adults, the stress response has become chronic. This causes the alarm system in the brain to be set incorrectly. "
How to get rid of a stress response state
We hear you wondering, “If this is truly the case, what can I do to get out of this stress response state?” Well, it’s not easy! Healing takes time and to heal means to mourn. We mourn because we lost something. A part of our heart for example when not given the love we needed or we may have lost a limb or a loved one. In our environment, we are dealing the best we can with this pain, until the point that you become unaware of it and you adapt your behavior to the painful situation you once experienced, which then becomes part of who you are.
So, your coping mechanism, your pattern, will be shaken up when you decide to walk the path of healing. And that can be very scary too, because you don’t know what you’ll find on the other side as you never experienced that side before or you simply just don’t remember it. It means though that when you embark on such an adventure you need to let go of who you think and experience is you. You can do this by:
- opening up to new experiences by letting go of convictions and control (out of your comfort zone is where the magic happens!)
- showing your vulnerability in contact with the people you spent time with (even if this is a therapist)
- meditation (so you can look at your thoughts without judgment)
- re-connecting with your body through the art of dancing, surfing, yoga, tai chi or any other sport or physical activity that suits you
- re-connecting with your breath by doing breathing exercises
Letting go is difficult to do as often you don’t know what you will get when you do things differently. So what happens when you accept you lost a person, a limb or a part of your heart because it was abused or simply didn’t get what it needed? That’s when mourning becomes part of someone’s healing tasks.
James I. Kepner states his book “The Healing Tasks” that ‘by mourning we acknowledge our wounds and losses and connect our hurt and sadness to real and important events (without which it is mis-constructed by us and by others as depression), and seek comfort and community for our healing.’
How to mourn?
Mourning comes with experiencing pain, loneliness, fear, anger and sadness. These are basic things in a mourning process. By accepting and allowing these feelings and emotions to be felt you can create space to heal your wounds in deep connection with yourself and the important others around you.
Surfing helps to change your brain chemistry
You read earlier that a lot happens in your brain when trauma occurs. Your brain chemistry can actually change after trauma, because, for example, you experience thoughts repeatedly. Surfing is a way out to create new pathways, among others things. Catching a wave causes a huge surge of dopamine, which is a natural high.
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‘Your body is a pharmacy. You can create everything a pharmacist has access to. This has been proven by neuroscience.’ - Dr. Wallace J. Nichols in Resurface / Netflix 2017.
Seemingly because the trauma lives inside your body you must involve your body in the treatment to heal. So, by taking action, by moving, you start to get rid of the trauma that your body holds so dear.
Surf therapy to grow and flow
At Surf Therapy Travel, we support you in connecting with your traumatic experiences, big or small, and we create the safe space for you to reconnect to the frozen parts in your body. We do this through the following means:
- Surf therapy: attentive guidance during the surfing sessions by a coach or a peer. Mindful sharing before and after the surfing session.
- Therapeutic interventions: examples are connective breath work techniques, energetic work, tapping, psoas shaking '(shake it off, shake it off…ohoh' - Florence and The Machine) etc.
- Psycho-education: talks about different theories to explain what you may experience (the mind needs to understand what is going on as well to support assimilation and integration of feelings and thoughts).
- Love from the guides, coaches and therapists; our main aim is to create a space for you so that you feel the safety to dive deep into the ocean of your soul.
Join our retreat!
So with the knowledge you now gained we are curious what came out of doing your own math. Is there anything to work on? Is there room for growth, for development? And are you looking forward doing that on a beautiful beach somewhere on this globe? Working on a healthy body and a sparkling mind while having an amazing time doing it? Join our loving Surf Therapy Retreats!
- Changing your world one wave at a time! -
For more info and bookings: contact us!