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How does self-defence help to heal trauma?

For many people with PTSD, one of the most important things is finding ways to alleviate their symptoms whilst they heal and recover. We’ve reported several times that physical activities may ease your symptoms and improve wellbeing. Things such as horse therapy, ocean therapy and yoga, but recent reports show that martial arts can be added to the list. (Kyle Atkinson, Trauma Healing Centre, Cole Harbour, USA)


Did you know there are over 220 different martial art styles and less than ten were designed by women. As a martial practitioner, I can vouch for how it builds confidence, a sense of self and strength. (Kelsay Juntwait)


Woman flexing muscle - women empowerment


Researchers who study self-defence against sexual assault notes its similarities to exposure therapy, in which individuals in safe environments are exposed to things they fear and avoid. In the case of self-defence training however, participants are not only exposed to simulated assaults but they also learn and practice proactive techniques, including but not limited to, self-defence moves. Over time these repeated simulations can massively transform old memories of assault into new memories of empowerment. (Psychologist at Harvard Medical School)


It makes sense. As women we live in a world where we deal with the continuum of assault every day. We have integrated, from time immemorial, messages of powerlessness and victimhood, even when we try not to or don’t think we did. Again, to be clear, I am not claiming victimhood for all women. Not at all, on the contrary, our resilience and strength in spite of the odds, is mind boggling. Here’s what I do claim: letting loose, yelling at the top of your lungs and hitting pads is to feel a fierce and fearless strength coursing through your body in an intense visceral way. Claiming your voice and standing in your power is life-giving for women, especially those of us who have lived through trauma and abuse. The practice of yelling and hitting in a safe space with other women who understand and don’t judge creates healing for the body and mind. This key act turns history on its head: this surge of empowerment can restore goodness and a sense of safety in places where it has been lost. When you feel and experience the power of your body, you can’t help but acknowledge that you are powerful. Internalising this empowerment leads to healing. This is the transformational potential, the magic of a good self-defence class.

(Bessel Van der Kolk)



Woman letting go - empowerment

When trauma survivors get back in touch with the fight impulse in their body in a very grounded, calm, mindful way, they can start to feel that it’s safe for them to stick up for themselves. That’s fight training coming up through the body, feeding into their brain and impacting their neuroplasticity. (Jane Clapp)


This is what we do in Physical Empowerment; support women to reclaim their power, their body, their voice.

Max James (December 2023)


Birds in a cage setting themselves free

If you'd like to talk to us, join one of our courses or are in need of our help, please contact us!


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