This list below shows the benefits of a very simple hand pushing exercise to help restore health to those impacted by traumatic incidents. As a Tai Ji practitioner it helps to understand the many benefits of Pushing Hands. The article is from the Somatic Experiencing Blog on work done in Haiti with earthquake victims.
The first obvious benefit of the hand-pushing exercise was that it helped to re-establish grounding and a connection with the earth, as long as our clients were able to maintain an awareness in their legs and feet while pushing with their hands. The sense of grounding would often increase as they gradually pushed with more force.
By establishing some appropriate eye contact with the client during this exercise we were able to help re-establish a disrupted orientation response, another benefit of the hand-pushing exercise.
The exercise also helped to restore a sense of equilibrium in clients’ bodies. This happened as they sought to maintain their balance while pushing.
For clients who had previously found themselves short of breath, we found many were able to help restore breathing regulation. This came about by bringing our clients’ attention to their breath—and encouraging them to exhale completely while pushing.
Clients were able to develop “interoception,” an increased sense of their bodies’ physiological state. This was achieved within the exercise’s potentially activating circumstances by simultaneously holding awareness of internal bodily sensations along with external consciousness of what was happening outside their bodies.
Another benefit was that clients were eventually able to feel the strength, physically, in their own bodies while pushing. We sought to restore a broader sense of empowerment in their lives, asking clients to identify where they felt the strength in their bodies and to allow the awareness of this sensation to expand and spread.
Many clients struggling with “survivor guilt” at losing loved ones were able to surface intense, unresolved feelings. Participating in rescue efforts (such as digging survivors out of the rubble) had allowed some to discharge a good amount of healthy aggression, but being unable to help so many others added a source of potentially overwhelming conflict and anger.
By adapting the exercise to not just be a linear pushing exercise—allowing the arms, legs, and the rest of the client’s body to begin to gradually move and become more fluid—we were able to help restore some flexibility to the body. This was particularly effective where clients had become rigid through a freezing response to the trauma.
Engaging clients’ arms and legs to push in this exercise proved to be an effective means of helping to complete defensive orienting responses. Clients could feel the power of their strength in their limbs. This was particularly important for victims who found themselves helplessly trapped and immobilized in the rubble of the earthquake.
Finally, a tremendous amount of energy was discharged through this exercise. The gradual, titrated nature of this discharge was important so that the client was not overwhelmed or re-traumatized by the experience. We often observed this discharge as trembling in the arms and legs while pushing, as well as heat discharge and sweating originating in the core.