Sooner or later, we get to live intimately with “I don’t know.” Perhaps you are in one of those situations right now:

* You don’t know where you will be living next month.

* Finances teeter between prosperity and disaster. It could go either way.

* You have debilitating symptoms, and no diagnosis.

Periods of uncertainty can last for days, weeks, months, or years:

* The one you love is gravely ill…but they might get better.

* You are enduring an ordeal, with no end in sight.

* You are waiting for your court date. Waiting for justice.

I am not talking about situations where resolution is around the corner. I am talking about not knowing what will happen, not knowing what to do, not having enough information, day after day:

* Maybe your old vocation has fallen away, and no new one has emerged.

* Your body is covered in mysterious bites for weeks.

* Or your consciousness has changed in lovely and frightening ways: you no longer recognize, cannot even locate your “self.”

Here’s you, in limbo.

Certainly there are actions you can take to give you a focus. But you still must wait. You wait, fearful or bored, empty or peaceful.

I don’t know about you, but I do not tolerant uncertainty well. I always want to know, “What is happening? and, “When is it going to be over?!?”

Well let’s assume, dear reader, that “You Are Here.” Standing at “I don’t know.”

How to be with this? Of course, you will do whatever you do, and time will pass. Things will change. You can look back later and tell yourself, “This is how I got through.”

But what about right now?

It can be helpful to realize you have entered a new reality. Prolonged uncertainty initiates us into a realm of paradox and contradiction.

Mystics, poets, artists and physicists are the best guides through this realm.

So I am going to share some of their resources that helped me navigate those endless dark nights.

When there is nothing to cling to, we can still cling to poems, songs, our breath, our bones, the wind on our skin, sunlight on water.

Maybe a couple of these offerings will speak to your situation.

“I said to my soul, be still and wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love, for love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith, but the faith and the love are all in the waiting. Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought: So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.”

              The Dark Night (St. John of the Cross)

One dark night, fired with love’s longings—ah, the sheer grace!–I went out unseen, my house being now all stilled. In darkness, and secure, by the secret ladder, disguised,- ah, the sheer grace! – in darkness and concealment, my house being now all stilled. On that glad night in secret, for no one saw me, nor did I look at anything, with no other light or guide than the One that burned in my heart.

 [The entire poem is here: ]
Throw it Away (Abbey Lincoln)  


“And when I’m in a certain mood I search the halls and look. One night I found these magic words In a magic book. . . Throw it away! Throw it away. Give your life, give your love, Each and every day. And keep your hand wide open. Let the sun shine through. ‘Cause you can never lose a thing If it belongs to you…“


We’re Only Getting Started (Buffy Sainte-Marie)

Thumb-hand, human band
Can understand
Out among the far locations that the
Music’s Heaven-sent we can
Fly on instruments
Beyond our isolation and

That’s okay
No it’s not the way it could be but
That’s okay
Here and now it’s how it is and
That’s okay
It’s pretty good for kindergarten and
That’s okay
Come on, we’re only getting started


Tore Down a la Rimbaud (Van Morrison)

Showed me pictures in the gallery
Showed me novels on the shelf
Put my hands across the table
Gave me knowledge of myself.
Showed me visions, showed me nightmares
Gave me dreams that never end
Showed me light out of the tunnel
When there was darkness all around instead.

Tore down a la Rimbaud
And I wish my message would come
Tore down a la Rimbaud, you know it’s hard some time
You know it’s hard some time.


Hour Follows Hour   (Ani Difranco)


The Heart Sutra (Mahayana Buddhism)


The Gospel According to Thomas (Gnostic Christianity)

“Jesus said: He who seeks, let him not cease seeking until he finds; and when he finds he will be troubled, and when he is troubled he will be amazed, and he will reign over the All.”


Machig Lapdron’s Chod Practice (Nyingma Buddhism):

“I the fearless yogini who practices, in order to unify nirvana and samsara…Understanding the true condition, I commit myself to go beyond hope and fear.”



We can also find support within our own bodies.

This breathing practice helps the body digest paradox and contradiction:
As you breathe in, silently say “yes;” as you breathe out, silently say “no.”
Do this several times and notice your body’s mood and sensations.


Bones Meditations can be reassuring:



I hope you found something helpful here…

Maybe reading this has reminded you of songs, stories or practices that have helped you through your own periods of “I don’t know.”

If you would like to share them with me, I will post them next month.

As more of us learn to relax within–or at least tolerate–“I don’t know,” we increase the collective creativity that our times call for.

We members of this “thumb-hand human band” as Buffy Sainte-Marie calls us, are living in prolonged uncertainty.

Here we are in this vast desert of unknowing, watching the planetary and human climates heat up, ignite, perhaps to spiral out of control…

Many people have pointed out that we now need completely new solutions and paradigms. We need all the metaphoric wisdom we can get.

Perhaps your journey into the unknown is, even now, unearthing blessings for us all.

Much gratitude to my clients and students, who have shared their vulnerable stories of immersion in uncertainty.

Many thanks to those fellow travelers whose writings and songs about their own dark nights have kept me going through mine.




The Power of a Simple Yawn

I consider myself to be a student of yawning.
I believe we underestimate the importance of yawns.
When my coaching clients yawn, it is often a sign that something significant is happening.

It could be that a shift in perception or understanding is occurring.

Or that a deeply embedded body story is finally being heard.

Sometimes I verbally acknowledge what a client’s body is expressing.

I might say something like, “I notice your shoulders shifted–I wonder if they have something to say about _______?”

And then my client may have a moment of recognition, accompanied by a yawn.

Sometimes when a client listens deeply to their sensations, they discover something that their body has been trying to tell them for a long time.

And then they yawn and yawn.

Many somatic “aha” moments are followed by a series of yawns, perhaps to punctuate the moment, perhaps to midwife it. Or both.


Somatic unwinding means restoring fluidity to the body so that energy and emotions can move with ease and purpose.

Our wise animal bodies use all kinds of ways to unwind and let go, including yawning. We can trust our body’s natural impulse to yawn.

Sadly, yawns are considered impolite or inappropriate, especially if they continue longer than a few seconds.

It amazes me how thoroughly cultural norms of politeness in North America obstruct unwinding.

In the case of yawning, people nearby usually ask us if we are bored or tired. Maybe that is why most of my clients try to stifle their yawns.

Did you know that when you yawn, you release tension stored in your jaw, throat, lips, palate, ears, and even your chest and scalp?

A series of yawns can create profound relaxation in the chest, throat and face.

Yawning Before Talking

The practice of allowing yawns, especially full, wide-open yawns, is so rare that I have developed a slogan for my clients: “Yawning before talking.”

By this I mean, when a yawn shows up, it is time to drop everything and let as many yawns come as want to.

I have found that when we allow ourselves to yawn as many times as we need to, the jaw opens wider and wider. The eyes may water.

Each yawn becomes softer and easier. The mind might quiet down.

Over weeks or months, your jaw muscles can soften. You may stop grinding your teeth.

This is true softening, true unwinding. All this potential healing is present in our yawns, and it is free.

I encourage us all to allow the yawning process, as often as we can.


Thank goodness for my wise body.

I still “check-out” from my body at times. It is an old habit, born from early trauma. When a kid suffers every day, with no chance of escape, dissociation is an intelligent response.

Dissociation means turning off your sensations, muting your animal aliveness.

Like many trauma survivors, I tend to vacate my body when I am triggered. Sometimes for a moment; sometimes for days on end.

Recently, I endured a nightmarish 4+ hour dentist visit that regressed me to a miserable state—that bleak place where I lived as a child. Without registering it, I left my body.

At the time I believed I was in touch with my body. I used appropriate somatic and self-care language to talk to myself:

“Okay, I am triggered, so I need to restore safety to my body.  I have to do soothing things to reassure my animal body that it is safe.”

And I promised my traumatized (inner) kid:  “I will never take you to that dentist again.”

This was wise self-talk. I needed to follow it through. I needed to:

treat myself with kindness;

permit myself to feel small and scared;

take hot baths, do restorative yoga, hide in bed, cuddle with a friend;

carefully screen the input and energy that I let it into my space.

I needed to do all of the above, patiently and consistently, day after day. Week after week, if necessary.

Beyond Checked-out

Instead, I did some of it–for a couple of days.  Then I stopped.
I figured I was fine.

I was not fine; I was numb.

Completely checked out.

And stuck in mistrustful, pessimistic thought loops.

Gradually this experience became an identity:  I am depressed. I am a victim. I am snarky. What’s the matter with me?

Meanwhile, my body tried to get my attention: my jaw clamped up. My guts were in knots. A migraine. Terrible back pain. My body’s way of insisting that it had information for me.

It took me weeks to notice that I was *still* reacting to the dental experience. Underneath my “numb,” I felt trapped and helpless, invaded and alone.

I fought this realization, because I did not want it to be so. I “should” have gotten over the dentist by now!

Eventually I let go of my “should” and surrendered to the “what is” of my body. What a relief!

I took those baths, did the yoga, allowed that fear. I dropped my recovery deadline. It felt right. I grieved. I hid. Slowly, I thawed out.

We humans get lost in our thoughts. It is crucial to catch up to the flesh and blood reality. To align our stories and identities with “what is”–what actually is–in the body.

Then healing can happen. Unwinding can happen.

Once I did this, my suffering gradually softened and lightened.

And then—have you ever done this?—I got stuck again, but in a different way.

Somehow I turned that hard-won realization of my body’s truth into a static “thing.”  I created a new static identity. In my mind, I was still the person freaked out by the dentist.

Like an eraser endlessly rubbing out a pencil mark until there’s a hole in the paper, I kept re-making that identity of helplessness.

While my mind ran that program, my body waited for me to check in with “what is.”

Luckily, I am a somatic coach.

One afternoon, I modeled a centering practice for a client. I invited them to tune into their somatic “depth” by placing one hand in front and one in back of their solar plexus.

As I put my hand on my stomach, I felt a warm substance. I “saw” golden energy forming the image of a broad-pawed lioness. She was—I was—robust. Confident. Huh? Was this “me?”

Yep, this was me. Oh.


Let Your Body Surprise You

When we habitually “check-out” from the body, the return always brings surprises.

Usually we notice the unpleasant surprises first, like when my body told me that I had NOT yet recovered from the dentist.

When we finally check-in with the body, we might comment, “Wow, I did not realize my neck was so tight!”


“Huh. My body feels small and exposed. I did not know.”

These little “ahas” are not fun. They are sometimes so unpleasant that we are tempted to never check-in with our bodies again.

That would be tragic, because our bodies carry our power and creativity.

Re-inhabiting the body after trauma is like that pins and needles feeling when your foot has been asleep—quite uncomfortable, but well worth it to get your foot back.

Trauma takes away our sense of power to act and create.

The path to reclaiming that agency and creativity is through thawing out, waking up to the aliveness of our sensations.

Along the way we re-discover the reasons we fled our bodies in the first place. We face the fear or grief we could not bear to feel during the trauma.

All of this can be overwhelming. We may fear the pain will swallow us up, as it did when we were harmed and not helped.

But those truths are stale–they belong to the time of the trauma. “What is” is a fresh truth.

This is a new day, and your body has more resources than it did back then.

It is worth the discomfort to re-inhabit and reclaim your body.

There are resilient areas in our bodies—even in the most traumatized bodies–that are waiting for us to notice them:

Strong, sturdy legs;
Serene, relaxed bellies;
Curious, wiggly feet;
Kind, capable hands.

When we get close enough to explore our body sensations, we discover built-in stability in our bones. Gentleness in our gaze.

When we connect directly with our bodies, we encounter not only unpleasant surprises, but lovely surprises as well.

Have you ever purposefully touched your head? Have you ever squeezed your skull bones, gently and firmly?

The first time I did this. I was amazed at how fine-boned and small my skull actually was! My mind’s picture of my head was completely different.

As I held my round, compact skull, as I pressed my jaw and cheekbones, I felt appreciation and tenderness. What a delicate creature I was!

Suddenly the “annoying” lifelong hypersensitivity of my body and temperament–to foods and environments, to people and their energies–made so much sense!

I felt the vulnerable and solid “critter-ness” of my body. Fondness arose in me toward that critter.

And I realized how often I disconnect from the basic reality of my body.

Maybe my body is suffering, and I am trying to avoid feeling that.

Maybe my body is relaxed, and that does not fit my picture of myself.

My mind chatters away, telling its stale, day-old stories and missing the truth of the moment, the truth of this ever-changing body.

I hear similarly surprised observations from my clients when I invite them to really be with their sensations–not just to “think-feel” but to “feel-feel.”

They say things like, “Wow, my hip bones are really strong! I think of myself as a “pushover,” but my hip bones do not feel that way at all! They want to stand their ground!”

Wallace Stevens wrote, “Let be be finale of seem. The only emperor is the emperor of ice cream.” I do not claim to know what he meant, but to me it says,

“Let what is—what actually is—melt the illusions we project onto our bodies and our selves. Let’s trust our senses over our stories.

And not just trust, but enjoy our aliveness.

Otherwise, we miss so much!

While I told myself I was still depressed, backsliding, resentful, hopeless, etc., blah, blah, blah…

…my solar plexus was busy being sunny and substantial; my head was fine and sturdy, my bones were precise and graceful.

And when I sat in silence, I felt a canyon of peace open beneath me.

Wow! I had no idea.

I had too many ideas.

This body, this being called Vanissar carries on, a mystery.
An unknowable mystery.

All of us are mysteries, no matter how much we try to cram ourselves into narrow lives with our narrow stories.

I invite you to discover the living truth of your body, here and now. Look at your hands and really see them. Close your eyes and move your hips. Really feel the movement.

Touch your head. What is the texture? Instead of thinking about what the texture is, be in it. Now listen to your breath or your voice as you hum or whisper. Let the vibrations brush your ears,  your throat.  

Surprise yourself.


Zee HH

Those of you who have experienced my Somatic and Intuitive Coaching work know I believe that a sense of safety in the body is the foundation both for healing trauma and practicing new ways of being.

Somatic safety means giving your body experiences of feeling protected and/or able to take care of itself.

My avian assistant Zee has taught me alot about the “containment” or “holding” aspect of somatic safety.

Containment means giving your body a feeling of being held, of having a sense of boundary. With containment, emotions and sensations have a somatic beginning and end. They shift from “overwhelming” to manageable.

You can give yourself this experience with or without props.

With Props: you can use blankets, pillows, eyebags or sandbags, a wall, the floor or water to give your body a sense of being held.

You could put a sandbag on your chest, or hide under a pile of pillows, get in a warm bath and feel the water holding your skin, or wrap yourself in blankets.

You can wear a thick scarf or hoodie and feel the coziness. Notice which parts of your body like being held the most, and notice how you feel when you allow yourself to really rest inside that holding.

Without Props: you can push your arms against your sides; push your legs together; cradle your arm(s) around your head. Do each of these gently but firmly for five seconds, then pause and repeat.

Or you can lie down and push your feet against a wall, noticing your length from head to toe, feeling where you begin and end.

Certain breathing practices, such as counting the length of your inhalations and exhalations (ie. “In, 2, 3, 4. Out, 2, 3, 4.”), or silently labeling the “beginning,” “middle” and “end” of a breath cycle, can also support containment.

To see if a containment practice works for you, try it out a few times, and pay attention to your body’s feedback—is it a “yes” a “no” or a “maybe?” If it is a yes, invite yourself to practice it every day.

My baby parrot Zee has shown me how essential a sense of safety is for healthy development. 

Here Zee is demonstrating his favorite “With Props” containment method: hiding in his fuzzy “happy hut.”

Sometimes Zee feels exposed, like when a big seagull or crow flies by our window. Parrots, like all prey animals, are ever-vigilant of predators.

Zee can also be timid when he meets a new person. He needs to gather his courage to explore a new object or area (such as his tree-playground).

Often during these vulnerable moments, he darts into his cozy “happy hut.”

Zee has so far lived a trauma-free life. It is not trauma that makes him cautious about new experiences. It is natural for him to hide, peek his head out slowly, retreat, and eventually emerge and explore.

Exploring includes many “happy hut” interludes. When Zee has had enough, risked enough, he returns to his refuge to rest and digest until curiosity draws him out again.

Parrots’ heads—especially their ears–get itchy. They can scratch their heads with their feet, but it is not as nice as having another bird preen them.

The first time I saw Zee scratching his head, I reached out to scratch it for him. He chittered and snapped at me, ferocious as a mini dragon. He did not yet trust my hands.

But later, he scurried into his fuzzy hut, poked his head out and nudged my fingers. This was my cue, and he let me scratch his head a little bit. Zee felt insulated enough by the happy hut to risk me touching his vulnerable head.

As the days passed, he allowed me to scratch his head more and more. Nowadays, he lets me give him “cuddles” out in the open, far away from his happy hut! He just needed to take his time.

We are biologically similar to Zee and other baby animals. We need a baseline of safety and holding in order to explore and risk and trust. 

All of us need to take it slow, and sometimes retreat. The dance of two steps forward, one step back is integral to healthy development.

This holds true even more when we are healing from personal or social trauma.

Our bodies have a natural need for steady holding, and a natural rhythm of retreating and exploring, contracting and expanding.

When we respectfully collaborate with this body rhythm, we are able to sustain each little victory of growth and healing. Our once narrow world expands–sustainably.

Zee reminds me of this every day. If I try to push him past his safety zone, he gives me a big “No” by acting out, or hiding in his hut.

When I drop my agenda, I am more able to notice when he has “had enough” and when he is ready for adventure.

I can respond appropriately and support his growth. With this foundation of safety and trust, his confidence—and his world–expands. As does mine. We bring each other joy.

Zee reminds me that I, too am a biological animal; I also need to nurture and challenge myself: What do I need right now? How much is enough? How much is too much?

Am I having a “happy hut” moment, or am I ready for a new adventure?

How about you? How are you treating your animal body?






Many of us start the new year with new resolutions and intentions. Meanwhile, social and environmental crises continue to emerge. We have ample reasons for our bodies to get “revved up.”

As we load up on too many activities, respond to a dizzying array of injustices, responses to injustices, and commentaries on those responses, our reptile brains (our fight-or-flight hind brains) inevitably become activated.

The reptile brain’s knee-jerk reactions have been essential for humans to survive as a species.

Whether in the distant past when predators leapt at us humans, or in the present when armored police throw teargas at protesters, there are times when we must act instantly to protect ourselves.

These are not times to think. These are times to duck, run, hide, fight, struggle or freeze. Whatever survival requires. If our actions are successful, we will have plenty of time to think later! Reptile brains are pragmatic that way.

Let’s celebrate the beauty and efficiency of our animal bodies, which know how to—on a dime,  without our conscious choice–freeze like a rabbit, run like a deer, fight like a rooster, blend like a chameleon, pretend-die like a possum, placate like a dog, or daydream like a child.

Such ingenious, wondrous bodies!

Yet, in a world full of trauma, oppression, and too much information processed too fast, it is easy to get stuck in constant crisis mode, where we react and “rev up” over and over again.

We may add to this by over-caffeine-ating and over-working ourselves to match the unrelenting pace. We can burn out our adrenals this way.
“Revved Up” Body; Relaxed Body
If we would rather cultivate a more sustainable, relaxed way of being, it is helpful to learn from our bodies.

First, we can notice what our bodies do when they “rev up.”

What I have noticed so far is that “revved up” is indeed “up.” The body’s energy moves up and forward, becoming extremely focused.

We can also observe specific areas of the body and notice how they change.

For example, if I observe my eyes in “revved up” mode, I notice they are tight. My field of vision narrows, and I see only what is in front of me. Or my eyes tense up and scan my surroundings. All of this is efficient for running, fighting or spotting danger.

What are your body cues that let you know that you are “revved up?”

Second, we can notice what our bodies do when they relax.

For me and many people, the energy of “relaxed” moves back and down. Slowly.

When I observe my eyes in “back and down” mode, I notice they feel softer. The gaze is restful, and I am able to take in more nuances in my environment.

What are your body cues that let you know that you are relaxed?

You might also notice that the “revved up” mode activates your body quickly.

By contrast, the “back and down” mode unfolds slowly, layer by layer. Body contractions melt gradually, like ice.

We cannot rush this process by telling ourselves, “Hurry up and calm down!!” or “Stop being so reactive!” or “Why am I still not relaxed!?!” If you find yourself thinking this way, it means you are still in “revved up” mode.
Contraction and Expansion
Another way of looking at it is that “up and forward” is contraction, while “back and down” is expansion. This holds true mentally as well as physically.

The contracted bodily state is accompanied by a contracted mental state. In this mode, nuances are lost. We think in absolutes, make snap decisions, speak without thinking, and jump to conclusions.

The expanded body is accompanied by an expansive mental state. In this mode our thinking is nuanced, creative, and receptive to options and other perspectives.

Biologically we need to access both modes: rapid, hyper-alert, energized contraction/action, and slow, reflective restfulness.

But most of us could use alot more “back and down.”

What does the movement from “revved up” to relaxed feel like?

Imagine that your body is a spiral that suddenly tightens inward and shoots upward—that is the feeling of contraction.

Now imagine that intensely alert spiral starts to uncoil and soften. This is a much slower process; we won’t experience the results right away.

Nothing about “back and down” has anything to do with “right away.”  If you feeling impatient, you are not there yet.

Most of us could use more practice at slowly, softly, unfurling, unwinding, expanding, and dropping into deep restfulness.

Restoring ourselves regularly keeps us resilient during times of intense action.

You can find some “back and down” promoting practices here


and here:

Remember, you can speak your truth and take care of yourself. Wishing everyone a restful, resourceful month.


A Psychology of Unlearning Racism

Hi Friends,

Inspired by the vibrant racial justice movement, recently re-vitalized by‪#‎blacklivesmatter, I have decided to make my dissertation “Towards a Psychology of Unlearning Racism: A Case Study of a Buddhist Unlearning Racism Course for White People” accessible to anyone that wants to read it.

Here it is:

Should be useful to any individual or group wanting to understand the psychological obstacles to white anti-racist solidarity and action, and how to work skillfully and compassionately to dissolve those obstacles.

Much love,




Small Group Somatic & Intuitive Coaching

New groups begin January 7 & 8, 2015

in Rockridge, North Oakland:

8 Wednesday nights: 7-8:30 pm
8 Thursday mornings: 10-11:30 am

Are you ready to befriend your body?

Receive individual coaching from Dr. Tarakali in a compassionate group setting.

Learn somatic & intuitive tools to support your personal& vocational goals.

This intimate workshop creates a chemistry of mutual support where everyone benefits from one another’s learning.

Pre-registration is required.
Limited to 5 participants.

Cost: $360 for 8 sessions.

Find out more or register at or (510) 594-6812.


“I appreciate your ability to understand and intuit what people need, and to offer us ways forward…My depression has shifted, I feel happier than I have in years. When I am (about to act blindly or compulsively), I can stop now, feel my body and choose. It is freeing.” ~Dave

“I’m more engaged with myself because I have tools (knowing how things feel in my body, check ins to see what is ok or not ok with me, etc.) to move through the pain and trauma/triggers. I feel confident and stronger with myself.” ~Kotori

“What a warm and open environment. I felt safe from the very first day. The practical tools to assist me in staying aware and engaged with life have been powerful.” ~Samsarah

“This coaching series has taught me ways to be kind to my body and to decipher the messages it is trying to give to me. I am managing my health challenges much better.” ~Elena

“I love the way you hold the group process…I never feel left out or not held even when your attention is on others.” ~Ryan

“I have learned little activities that I can integrate into my daily life and be more connected to my body quickly. I feel calmer, more grounded, and like the world is bigger, more vibrant.” ~Ari

“I feel significantly more able to love and take care of my physical and emotional self. I feel more able to stay with difficult feelings. I am so excited, and I definitely want to take more of these workshops.” ~Laila

“Vanissar’s fundamental trust in the body is riveting, and so different from what I’ve practiced my whole life. I now have more options for how to be with my physical sensations/symptoms, less anxiety, and hope that I could get to a really different place in my relationship with my body.” ~Kate

De-escalating Reactivity at Work: Practices for Individuals, Teams & Groups

When humans come together in organizations, mutual triggering and reactivity is inevitable, especially if members or staff are passionate about the work and/or the community being served. Here are some practices to reassure your lizard brain when it feels threatened at work.

Grounding Practices

*Feeling Held

Notice where your body is being physically supported. Pay attention to the sensations of your feet on the floor, your sitting bones on the chair, your back on the wall or chair. Keep bringing your attention to what your tissues and nerve endings are feeling with this contact. Notice what it feels like to have the floor/chair/wall, etc. consistently holding you.

*Bone Meditations

Your bones are your body’s reliable scaffold. Directing your attention to the bones can be very reassuring. Here is a bone meditation:
Using your hands, squeeze all of your bones, one-by-one from toe to head. Notice the shape of your bones, and notice how when you squeeze, your bones push back. Notice how dense and reliable each bone is.

*Grounding Breath

Inhale slowly and deeply, then exhale down towards earth, making a sound or sigh that matches how you feel. Repeat this at least three times. Notice how you feel afterward. Try adding this practice to your staff or community meetings. Doing this as a group enhances everyone’s ability to ground and settle.

Restoring Practices


Write down or speak aloud a couple of things you feel grateful for. Make sure you pay attention to the sensations that show up in your body. This is powerful to do in pairs.

*Stand with one leg slightly in front of the other and gently sway forward and back for at least 3 minutes. As you sway, pay attention to any places in your body that feel warm or cool or neutral. Try doing this as a group: As you sway, you might want to call out appreciations of each other and the group. Feel your body sensations as you take in the appreciations. Notice what shakes loose. Allow yourself to yawn, laugh, shake or cry.

Presence & Awareness Practices

*”Draw” a line down the center of your body: Place a finger tip or the side of your hand at the top of your head, and maintaining contact, move it slowly down the center of your face, throat, chest, down to your belly button. Then using both hands, draw two center lines down your legs to your feet. Do this 2 or 3 times, and allow yourself to feel the sensations during and after. This practice can help you feel in alignment with yourself and the earth. It can be powerful to draw a center line down your back body as well.

* Get in the habit of tuning into your sensations. (Notice any tendency to analyze or interpret your sensations versus simply inhabiting them; thinking about your sensations is different from being immersed in them.)

*Scan your body feelings of exposure or vulnerability; this will clue you into when you are in fight-or-flight mode, and help you notice where your body needs safety practices.

*Periodically check in with yourself by asking, what is the mood of my body? You can start and end staff or community meetings this way to build everyone’s awareness and reduce reactivity.

*Have everyone in your group practice being present with their body’s mood and sensations for a few minutes. Then each person switches to being present with the physicality and moods of the people near them. Bring the attention back and forth between your body and the other bodies. It may help to close your eyes when you tune into you, and open them when you tune into others. After a while, see if you can pay attention to your body and the other bodies at the same time. This practice enhances your ability to stay centered in yourself (and your truth) while empathizing with others.

Safety Practices

*If part of your body feels exposed, give it a safe container: cradle your arms around the top of your head for a few minutes; cover your chest with a cat or hoodie or your hands; bundle up your body with blankets or pillows. Let yourself steep in the sensations for several minutes.

*Find an area of tension in your body and imagine drawing a “yes” around it. Thank this part of your body for “holding things together.” Appreciate its efforts. Pay attention to your sensations.

*Make space for yourself: Push your arms out with your hands facing forward as if you are stopping something. Do this 3-4 times in every direction: above, below, in front, behind and to the sides. If you want to, say aloud as you do this: “Go over there.” or “This is my space.” or “No.” Repeat this until you feel a clear sense of space around your body. Clearing your space reprograms your body to send clear non-verbal boundary messages to others.

Practice this together as a group and notice the effects on everyone. Claiming space creates room to reflect and respond mindfully. As you begin to own your space, your sense of spaciousness and safety will increase. Your reactivity (any tendency to auto-appease others, freeze, get defensive, attack, “check-out”, bail, escape, shut down, etc.) will decrease.

*To create a sense of group safety, have everyone sit side by side in pairs during difficult or shame-stimulating discussions or when sharing painful or challenging experiences. This practice builds a biological sense of safety and allyship, and relaxes the reptilian brain.

You can add some of the other practices to these dyads, such as grounding breaths, feeling held by the chair/floor/wall, or gratitude sharing. This will increase mutual trust and group resilience.


Endings deserve our attention.
Birth is sacred and momentous; death is equally potent. Beginnings and endings–mini-births and mini-deaths—shape each day of our lives. Yet many of us enter new jobs, projects and relationships with more care then than we exit them.

Often we “check out” entirely during goodbyes. It’s no surprise: traumatic losses can leave us gunshy about endings. It can feel scary or painful to say goodbye to familiar people and situations, even when we have outgrown them; even when we know it’s time.

Nevertheless, we need to practice conscious completion. This means being present, to the best of our ability, with the sensations, thoughts and emotions that arise during endings.

When we “show up” for endings, we invite others to “show up.” 

During my last visit with my dying mother in 2010, she insisted that she was “going to fight this,” even though it was painfully clear that her body was winding down. I wanted us to speak honestly about this, and about our relationship. I had things I was longing to say, and questions. And I wanted to hear whatever she needed to say to me. All that.

Her refusal to admit that this was (likely) our last visit prevented that conversation from happening. I had to insist. Eventually, she agreed to talk, as long as she could have a nap first. So she did. When she awoke, she said, with steely resolve, “I’m ready.”

For about an hour, we had the most truthful and focused conversation we had ever had. We actually connected. It was, for me, a miracle. I felt satisfied, complete. She was utterly exhausted afterwards, and immediately had another nap.

I felt a bit guilty for having “worn her out,” but I found out later from her friends that she had repeatedly mentioned that talk, saying that we had had “such a good visit,” and that she felt close to me for the first time in decades.

We both were nourished by that conscious goodbye.

Conscious endings give us a fresh start for new situations.  

A client of mine who had changed jobs noticed he was wary at work, anticipating the worst. He realized he was projecting the awful interpersonal dynamics of his old job onto the new one, even though the culture at the new organization was emotionally intelligent and responsive.

I took him through a somatic closure process, and he was able to acknowledge, express and let go of the emotions and dynamics of the old job. Afterward he felt relieved. In the following weeks, he found himself able to engage more wholeheartedly with his new coworkers.

I want to share this somatic closure process with you. It’s a practice I learned from Denise Benson, a brilliant therapist and somatic coach.

You can practice this by yourself as a journal exercise, or you can speak it aloud.

You can also practice this with your therapist or coach, or with a supportive friend or group.

Somatic Completion Practice 

First, choose which ending you want to attend to. It might be a job you recently left, a loved one who has passed away, or a painful breakup. It could be a familiar aspect of yourself that is falling away.

Even if you are happy about this ending, it is important to complete it. Conscious completion frees up stuck energy, giving you momentum for your next steps.

Next, speak aloud or write about each of the following four categories (in whatever order works for you) as they apply to your ending:

* Resentments

* Appreciations

* Regrets

* Learnings

For example, for the “Resentment” category, you can say (or write), “I resent that________” or, “One resentment I have about_____is: ______.”

You can do this “stream of consciousness” style by naming one resentment after another without pausing. Every once in a while (maybe every 3 or 4 resentments), tune into your body sensations and hang out with them for a bit.

Write them down or describe them aloud to help you stay with: 1. what they are (are they a temperature, a texture, a sense of movement or stillness, a “mood”, etc.), and 2. where they are (your big toe? Deep inside your chest? Floating just above your head?).

Or, you can do it this way: express one resentment, pause, and then complete a long, slow inhale and exhale. Feel your sensations.

Then move on to the next resentment. Follow it with another long, slow deep breath. Continue until you have expressed all the resentments you can access at the moment.


Now, switch to the next category (Appreciations, Regrets and Learnings) and follow the same process.Notice when you have “had enough” for now.  Don’t push through. If you feel “done,” stop.

If there are more Resentments, Appreciations, Regrets or Learnings to be expressed, you can repeat this practice later on as much as you need.

Don’t forget to check in with your sensations! Being wide awake in your senses is the key to conscious, embodied endings. Experiencing your bodily sensations of ending frees up your somatic energy to fully engage in what comes next.

If during this process your body starts unwinding, let it! 

Your body is literally “letting go” of the old, making room for the new.

You might need to repeat the closure practice several times to feel complete, especially if what is dying or ending has been a significant part of your life.

Authentic endings help us forgive ourselves and one other.

You can use the somatic completion practice in a group or organizational context.

A pastor-friend of mine brought a version of this practice to the final board meeting for their community’s youth empowerment project. The project had gone bankrupt because of financial miscalculation. It was being closed down.

Everyone involved had put their hearts and sweat into the project. Each member felt some degree of grief, guilt or bitterness. They needed to have an honest discussion, free from acrimony.

My pastor-friend invited each participant to express: two resentments, two appreciations, two regrets and two learnings. The group listened to one another without interruption, and gradually the atmosphere lightened.

My friend observed that the combined structure of clear limits (“Tell us two–and only two–of each category.”) plus full permission to express “negative” feelings (resentments and regrets), created a safe container that allowed difficult feelings and opinions to be expressed without ugliness or blame.

The group was able to access gratitude and mutual appreciation as well as grief and disappointment. By the end of the meeting, the general atmosphere was surprisingly peaceful (as well as deeply sad, etc.).

I invite you to try out this practice with your endings:

When your dog dies.

When your last child leaves home.

When you finish your diploma or degree.

When you retire.

Let me know how it goes…

Practices to Melt Chronic Pain & Illness

As I wrote last month, matter is not (merely) solid, and neither are our bodies. Our bodies are mostly water, which, given the right conditions, can be a solid, a liquid or a gas. A healthy body is a mixture of stability and fluidity, an undulating dance of contraction and expansion.

Ongoing pain and illness are contractions—initially useful or purposeful contractions–that have become stuck. But no matter how stuck things feel, the distance between contraction and melting is slight. Under the right conditions, change can happen on a dime.

Practices That Invite Contraction

There are many influences on our bodies that we cannot control. But we can consciously practice attitudes and behaviors that cultivate contraction or fluidity, illness or wellness.

Which practices invite contraction?

1. Attitudes Towards Your Self, Your Body and Your Symptoms

Attitude is about how you treat yourself/your body. Attitude shows up in the internal “tone of voice” you use to speak to yourself, what you tell yourself, and how you treat your body and your symptoms.

Here are some attitudes that invite contraction:

  • Impatience/pushing/efforting (We might say to ourselves: “Hurry up and get better!” or “I gotta fix this!”)
  • Judgment/blaming/self-punishment (“what is wrong with me?” “I hate this headache!”)
  • Disrespect, disregard (“I don’t have time for this!”)
  • Dissociation, minimizing, numbing (“I am not going to feel this.”)
  • Objectifying your body parts or your symptoms (“My body is so uncooperative!” or “My stomach is ruining my life!”)
  • Turning illness or chronic pain into a static identity (ie.“I am chronically ill.” And sometimes when we say we have an illness (“I have fibromyalgia;” “I have IBS”) we are subtly telling ourselves we arethat illness.)

I want to say a little more about this specific attitude.

On one hand, it can be healing and liberating to claim an identity of “chronically ill” or “chemically sensitive,” etc. Owning chronic pain or illness as an identity can mean finally giving yourself permission to take your situation seriously, treat yourself with tenderness and care, seek out supportive community, and access dignity and resilience.

On the other hand, turning any aspect of our experience into an identity always runs the risk of inviting contraction and stagnation. So it’s good to hold your identities lightly. Give your living body room to breathe, and be willing to laugh at your ideas about yourself. Remember, you are a mystery. You are a profoundly fluid, changeable being.

It is a good idea to notice—with compassion—whenever you practice the above attitudes. Neutral awareness will allow these attitudes to loosen their grip on you, and become less automatic.

2. Telling Yourself Scary Stories

The stories we tell ourselves about our bodies and about reality, matter. They can shape the “matter” of our bodies. Unfortunately, many of us have internalized scary stories from our families and the media. We can scare ourselves by repeating stories like, “Oh, my heart is racing, I must be having a heart attack.” or, “Oh, my stomach hurts. What if it’s cancer? What if I am dying!”

Repeating scary stories to ourselves about specific parts of the body can cause us to contract and reduce the blood flow to these areas.

Do practices 1. and 2. sound familiar to you?

We become what we practice. The more we practice contraction producing attitudes and scary stories, the more we reinforce fear, pain, and powerlessness.

Practices That Invite Melting

Here are some practices that invite melting:

1. Attitudes Towards Your Self, Your Body and Your Symptoms 

  • Patience and gentleness (“What do I need right now?”)
  • Self-compassion (“Wow, this is really difficult for me.”)
  • Respectful listening (“Hey stomach, I am listening; is there anything you want to tell me?”)
  • Friendly collaboration (“Hi painful joints, what are you up to? How can I support you?”)
  • Hold yourself (and your symptoms) lightly (“My body hurts, and it is a beautiful day.”)
  • Playfulness/curiosity                                                                                                                   (You can bring the attitude of playful curiosity (as well as deep listening and patience) to TMJ pain, and start a playful dialogue: “What is it like being so clamped up, jaw?” You may unearth a long-buried time capsule of anger in your jaw. You may find this anger has been waiting months or decades for permission (from you!) or a safe environment to finally speak of an old injustice, or a violated boundary. Acknowledging and expressing that anger—playfully, or seriously—might soften or dissolve your TMJ symptoms.)
  • Your body is an adventure                                                                                                         (You can view your body as a moment to moment adventure. Notice how your pleasant and challenging sensations can stream and contract and change throughout the day. With an attitude of adventure and discovery, even familiar sensations of pain and illness can take you on healing journeys. I find gratitude is my ally here. Like many people, I deal with chronic ailments and pain on a regular basis. Sometimes I am bedridden or housebound for a day or two, and yet, my life feels sweet and full of surprises. I am grateful to be alive. Even being incapacitated can be an interesting adventure, if you permit yourself to approach it that way.)

2. Telling Yourself Comforting/Reassuring Stories

Sensations are not good or bad, they just are. So why not tell yourself reassuring stories about them?

Let me give you an example. I have food sensitivities that are tricky to manage. Sometimes I eat a food that I believe is safe for me, and my body reacts badly. Or I forget to check ingredients and accidentally eat something I am allergic to.

It happens. I get sick with severe stomach and/or intestinal pain, and full recovery can take two days. In the meantime I cannot eat or function well. This is obviously a situation I try to avoid, but sometimes I cannot.

When this happens, it is easy to get caught up in a vicious cycle of telling myself mean and scary stories that make me panic: “Oh that hurts! And the pain is probably going to get worse!”

Or I might worry, “I have important things to do, and I will not be able to do them!” “I am losing too much weight; my immune system will be compromised!” (My scary stories are usually punctuated by exclamation points.) “How will I get through the next couple of days?”

I also tell myself blaming and shaming stories: “I should have known better than to eat that! Why am I so stupid?” It is easy to endlessly, obsessively rehash what I “should” have done differently.

Telling myself such scary stories is cruel: I am already suffering, and here I am scolding and scaring myself. Perhaps my stomach responds to these stories by clenching even more.

What my body needs at times like these are comforting and reassuring stories. Stories that are merciful and forgiving: “Oh, stomach, I am so sorry you are hurting! I tried my best to avoid this, but it happened anyway. Or, “You poor thing! What do you need?” I can tell myself: “This is not forever; within two days I will feel ok.”

Finally, I can forgive myself for being imperfect, for not having control over everything. Self-forgiveness always helps me feel better, sooner.


3. Giving Yourself a Steady Container

Giving yourself consistency and steadiness can soften contraction, and minimize pain and illness.

Once you know which self-care routines work for you, try to maintain them. For example, no matter what the latest dietary theory claims, if you get cramps every time you eat gluten, it is best to trust your body’s direct experience, and consistently avoid gluten.

When you suffer from painful or challenging symptoms, you need steadying practices to reassure you and help you feel safe in your body. You can do comforting things for yourself, like drinking chamomile, crying, bundling up in fuzzy blankets, or taking a bath.

I invite you to practice melting your contractions. Try out some of the above suggestions, and pay attention to which ones your body likes. Nurture your body by doing them, over and over again.

We become what we practice, so why not practice fluidity, self-compassion, options and agency?

Let me know how it goes…