Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Book Review: Walking Your Blues Away by Thom Hartmann

Walking Your Blues Away, subtitled “How to Heal the Mind and Create Emotional Well-Being,” by Thom Hartmann is an enlightening read. Though we’ve heard time and again the physical benefits of walking, Hartmann’s approach gives walking a new slant by demonstrating how to enable the brain to restore mental, emotional and spiritual well-being.

A psychotherapist, Hartmann has dealt with patients’ crippling trauma from various causes, most notably with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In World War I, postwar depression and anxiety was called shell shock; in World War II, it was called battle fatigue. PTSD, as it is now known, mysteriously haunts some veterans and not others. One reason, of course, is that some vets see harder combat than others. Still, there are many differing reactions between vets who have experienced the same event. Hartmann theorizes that individuals processes trauma differently.

Although Hartmann goes into some detail regarding how the brain reacts to traumatic events, a simplistic explanation is that the brain does not always integrate information properly. Information is sometimes “stuck” in an area called the hippocampus, known for its present-time memory, so that the event, or the trauma from it, always seems as though it is happening at the moment, rather than stored as past memory.

Bilateral intervention has been successful in treating PTSD. One such treatment is Eye Motion Therapy (EMT). Although the process is more complicated than I’ll go into here, it involves moving an object back and forth in front of the patient, who follows it only with his eyes, keeping his head still. The idea is to allow information, or the memory of a traumatic experience, into the rest of the brain to be processed, distributing the memory of an event from “present” to long-term memory.

EMT and its variations don’t always work to relieve severe trauma, but its successes do demonstrate how bilateral therapy can be applied to assist the brain in processing memories.

Hartmann goes into some detail about bilateral therapies and early therapists such as Josef Breuer, Sigmund Freud, Franz Anton Mesmer and their various theories falling into and out of favor. For me, the real meat of this book begins with the chapter, “Developing the Walking Your Blues Away Technique.”

The normal motion of walking where the right arm swings forward with the forward swing of the left leg, then the left arm swings forward at the same time as the right leg, in a back and forth motion, is bilateral rhythmic motion.

Capitalizing on this motion, Hartmann suggests consciously walking to get rid of anger, anxiety and other unwanted stresses. Consciously means to walk without distractions, such as radio, window shopping, talking with a walking partner about non-related subjects. Of course, we’re human and we must deal with some distractions. Often at the beginning of a walk we can acknowledge our surroundings and then settle into the walking session.

The book describes in detail the steps to take: Define the issue, Bring up the story, Walk with the issue, Notice how the issue changes, Anchor the new state. This method can be used in many areas of our lives, not just trauma or healing. Walking can be useful for creativity and problem solving, too.

I found Walking Your Blues Away (Park Street Press), a good, down-to-earth approach to vital mental health.


Lani said...

Great information here! Thank you for encapsulating the story ideas!

Heidiwriter said...

This is good advice! I find walking helps me overcome creativity problems at times too. It activates the brain and releases the endorphins!

Thanks, Mary.

MinaW said...

I learned this technique by accident as a teenager. When I'd had an argument with my sister or a parent, I had to get out of the cabin and go walk. Unlike going out for fun (when I'd go back into the woods), when I was upset, I'd head straight up the mountain behind us on the logging road.

I would be walking pretty fast, and talking to myself (maybe not aloud), figuring out just why I was upset, what I'd said, what she'd said, what I wanted to say or do when I got back.*

And when I had figured all that out, and only then, I'd stop being upset, and then I could turn around when I felt like it, and have a pleasant walk downhill. I recommend this technique to those of us who have to logic our way through emotions.

Nowadays I often use walking in a slightly less energetic fashion, both for stress relief and to encourage creative problem-solving, as Heidiwriter says.

*While I was walking uphill, all upset, I was really wild - feral maybe. That is, if I heard a car coming, I'd jump for the woods and hide, and be truly scared of being seen, rather than just wave at the neighbor going by. Related to the subject of this book, that sounds like a consequence of the stress - emotional arousal.

And one more thing. Temple Grandin (whose books I recommend to everyone interested in people and animals) says that, (approx) from similar non-combat traumas like car accidents, those who develop PTSD are those whose memories of the incident are in pictures, while those who don't are the ones whose memories are as a story. She compares this to animals whose reactions to a bad experience may fixate on what they were looking at at the time - a man in a black hat, for instance.

Mary E. Trimble said...

Thank you, Mina, for these interesting observations. It sounds like you worked out your solutions in a really healthy way.