Somatic Healing, Nature and Empowerment: An Interview with Maira Holzmann
Somatic Healing, Nature and Empowerment: An Interview with Maira Holzmann
“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.” ~John Muir
Introduction by Molly Boeder Harris
Have you noticed the ways that trauma shows up in your body – however sharp or subtle – whether through your breath, physical sensation, or in the vast web of your mind? What resources around you have you utilized to support connecting with or discovering that space within you that remains spacious and grounded, that can feel deep joy alongside tremendous pain, and has the capacity to be totally open, receptive and present? Can spending time in nature – whether in a majestic national park or simply paying attention to the foliage and fauna – however small – on the city street where you live actually support your healing by nurturing your ability to connect with yourself?
In this interview “Somatic Healing, Nature and Empowerment” with Maira Holzmann, we discover how body-oriented therapies like Somatic Experiencing (SE), wilderness immersion and a mindfulness practice can support embodied healing. In her Denver-based practice, Maira draws on somatics, nature and empowerment to facilitate inner connection and a return to pleasure for those on their journey of healing and re-integrating their mind, body and spirit.
The Breathe Network: Maira you have such a variety of ways of working with people and their bodies, their minds, and their spirits – as a survivor of sexual violence I deeply appreciate the range of options and choice you create for your clients allowing them to enter their healing in whatever way feels most accessible or meaningful to them. I am wondering if you could tell us a bit about how you use both mindfulness and somatic awareness within a session?
Maira Holzmann: I am passionate about mindfulness and somatic awareness or what I like to call “bodyfulness!” They absolutely go hand in glove with one another and create boundless healing opportunities for clients. In my work with clients, I tend to push the somatic awareness side of things, which can be extremely difficulty and does create enormous amounts of resistance, especially where there has been violence and/or abuse in someone’s history. Through my training with Peter Levine’s Somatic Experiencing approach, I am finding that the best way to help a client come into their bodies, which historically has been a place of great pain, hurt and suffering for them, is through helping them orient to pleasure.
What I mean by “pleasure” is broad and can range in experience from relief, a moment of lowered anxiety, feeling solid, a sense of inner peace all the way to joy, pleasure, ecstasy etc. Orienting to pleasure is about taking a pleasurable experience and moving it from an idea and even an emotion, and helping the client register how that pleasure shows up in the body through sensation (tingly), changes in physiology (breathing slows), noticing impulses (an urge to hug someone), actual behaviors (smiling) and postures in the face and body. Helping clients slow down enough to really savor the experience and let it register in an embodied way has been an amazing tool for helping clients to unravel the wounds of trauma, as well as mitigate their resistance to wanting to be in their bodies at all. I work a lot with clients who struggle with eating disorders so this whole approach is a positive tour de force in the therapeutic relationship for those open to it.
My simple message is “Go South”. Let’s drop out of the story in your brain and let’s instead track and attune to how that story lands in the body. An example would be when my client says, “I had a great time out with friends yesterday” and I might reply with, “So how in your body do you know it was a great time? What in your body, through noticing sensations or impulses tell you that it was fun?” I love the quizzical looks I get at first, until they really drop into the question and then it’s like lightning – they have suddenly connected into their bodies and realized that they have an innate capacity to feel “pleasure.” This awareness becomes an amazing jumping off point for trauma to being to loosen it’s grip.
Lastly, (I could go on about this for ages!), I also use simple, therapeutic touch and experiential activities to deepen their body awareness and to support the discharge of bound up energies in the system that occur at the time of a traumatic event. Of course, everything goes at a pace dictated by the client. For me, this approach of somatic awareness and experiencing has positively and profoundly affected my work with clients as well as my own personal growth.
TBN: I love that you define yourself and your work as an Empowermentor. What does it mean to you to serve in that capacity? Is this how you always saw your work, and if not, what lead you to conceptualizing your role as such?
MH: Empowermentoring means supporting a client’s innate capacity to feel empowered and to express themselves from this place. It means that I already believe that the person in my office has an inner, powerful, connected self that needs remembering.
EmpowerMentor came from years of weaving threads of my life and getting to the idea that it is the wish I have for everyone, to feel a sense of empowerment. Paradoxically, later on, I realized that I had the same wish for myself after years of feeling quite disempowered in my life. This “aha” was such a vulnerable moment for me, a tender place where acknowledging this truth in my experience became a catalyst for further self-acceptance and self-love instead of a continued place of shame. The re-membering of this place of pain actually became a foundation for my strength and is what drives me to do the work that I do.
TBN: You have such vast experience guiding people in the wilderness, from Outward Bound to other work mountaineering. Can you share with us your thoughts on the healing power of nature and spending time in the wild? How can those people who don’t have that immediate access to nature connect with its power and beauty?
MH: Oh my goodness! The mountains and the wild saved my life for sure! The mountains are where the first seed of empowerment began and I can remember the moment distinctly. I was on my first 7-day backpacking trip with a friend out in Washington state. It was Day 2 of the trip and we were off trail winding our way through the high country when I began to fatigue – my pack was heavy, I was hungry, I didn’t know what to expect and my body was really tired. I remember starting to cry because of this intense negative self-judgments about how I wasn’t tough enough, fit enough, etc. When the tears began to subside, I looked up at the vastness and beauty of the mountains and valley that lay before me and though, “Nothing right now is judging me, not the mountains, the rivers, the valleys or the grass. So what the hell am I doing?” Almost like that, I could let go and lean into the beauty, let myself be held and contained by the simplicity of just being present with the gorgeous surroundings and – really let it touch me. Every time I think of that trip, I can feel a pleasant fullness in my belly and I start smiling with giddiness!
Now, folks out there don’t have to go to those lengths to access the healing power of nature, but I really recommend it! It can be literally as simple as allowing one to feel the wind on their face, listening to leaves rustling or noticing the sensations of bare feet on early morning grass. Accessing the curative powers of nature is about allowing our senses to awaken and enliven and to be able to slow down enough to fully deep dive into the experience.
TBN: Thank you Maira for sharing your experiences connecting to yourself with the support of nature and the wild, and importantly, for believing in and nourishing the capacity of all of your client’s to find that space of empowerment, pleasure and release within their own shapes!