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…

Somatic & Intuitive Coaching restarts September 10 & 11

Dear Beloved Friends and Clients,

Small Group Coaching has evolved into a core–and joyful–part of my work. Participants tell me they feel deeply listened to, and that my intuitive coaching approach is “magic.”

Small Group Somatic & Intuitive Coaching is:

* an economical alternative to private coaching;

* a good entry point for folks who want to get to know me and explore somatics;

* a wonderful way to build community.

I invite you to spread the word to anyone that you feel would benefit from working with me.

Thank you!




New groups begin September 10th & 11th, 2014
in Rockridge, North Oakland:

8 Wednesday nights: 7-8:30 pm [*This class is full*]
8 Thursday mornings: 10-11:30 am


8 Thursday evenings: 7-8:30 pm

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: $45 per session 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 

Are you ready to join us?

Vanissar Tarakali, Ph.D. is a somatic educator & intuitive who coaches healers and changemakers to collaborate wisely with the body to heal trauma & sustain social change. Vanissar passionately practices Generative Somatics, Intuitive Reading, Energy Bodywork & Tibetan Buddhism.           Facebook: Tarakali Education


Melting Chronic Pain & Illness

In a “how to” piece I wrote called Making Friends With Illness

I talked about how physical symptoms of discomfort and illness are not as concrete as they seem. Western medicine needs to catch up with modern physics! Quantum physics understands that all matter—including our bodies—consists of constantly interchanging particles.

In this essay, I will further explore this notion of the non-solid nature of body-symptoms, in hopes of opening up some options to readers who face chronic pain and illness.

I almost called this piece “When Mystics Get Sick,” because since childhood I have had a close relationship with visionary experiences and “non-ordinary states,” and have also experienced my fair share of chronic pain and illness.

I have found there is an interesting interplay between psycho-spiritual and physical states.

What is Chronic Pain? What is Chronic Illness?

A big question for me has always been, “What is illness?” “What is pain?” I am actually asking two questions here: “Are illness and pain solid things?” and “Are illness and pain bad?”

Is Illness/Pain a Solid Thing?

What is a migraine? What is chronic intestinal pain? Are these solid things?

Western medicine sees illness as a thing. Allopathic medicine focuses on diagnosing, labeling and treating a “condition” or “disease.” It searches for organic causes of illness and pain. A disease is seen as a free-standing, static thing. It is “kidney disease,” or “a tumor.” “a virus.” A thing.

We look to doctors to tell us, “You have X, and we are going to treat X with (the treatment for X).” This approach is legitimate, just as legitimate as it is to describe light as a particle. Viruses certainly exist. Broken bones exist.

But light is not always a particle; sometimes light is a wave. Often our symptoms and conditions mystify doctors.

So, are chronic pain and illness solid things? Maybe. But that’s not all they are.

Illness was not a solid thing for For Hildegarde von Bingen, a 12th century German nun and mystic. The grave illness that kept her bedridden was her repressed visionary experiences resisting censorship.

Hildegard had internalized the male-dominated, hierarchical church norms that forbade women and common folk from communing directly with God. As Hildegard lay in bed, God instructed her to write down her visions and share them.

Once she did this, her illness disappeared.

Pain is not always a solid thing for my clients. I have witnessed many clients’ distressing symptoms dissolve once they were acknowledged and listened to with respect.

Sometimes body contractions simply need kind attention to unwind; other times the bound up energy melts after it is expressed through tears or laughter, burps or flatulence, sighs or yawns.

For chronic conditions, this process may need to be repeated again and again. With repeated practice, more symptom relief and spaciousness becomes available in the short and long term.

Illness is not a solid thing for me. I’ve experienced migraines for 15 years. At first they were monthly episodes that began with blinding optical distortions (called “auras”), followed by two days of opaque, inescapable agony. Migraines used to terrify and defeat me.

But as I have grown and changed, so have my migraines. They are more malleable. Now when a migraine starts flirting with me, I slow down and greet it. I can feel the contraction of energy and emotion gathering in my neck and head. It wants attention and expression. So I cry, or journal, or dance, or speak aloud the angry thoughts I have been holding back. Usually the migraine evaporates.

At other times, if I am too caught up to notice an impending migraine, it slams me, and I am incapacitated for awhile (rarely for two days). But even then, it retains a fluid quality; big watery emotions float within the migraine; When I relax and surrender to the pain, I often feel strangely peaceful, and grateful.

Illness and pain are not always solid.

Are Illness & Pain “Bad”?
Are illness and chronic pain inherently bad?

Can there be a purposeful intelligence within pain and illness? 
In my experience, there can be. There is.

Hildegard’s illness was certainly purposeful. And insistent!

How about for you? I encourage you to explore this possibility yourself. When you are having a troubling sensation or symptom, try asking your heart, your spirit, your body: “What is this symptom trying to express or protect?”

  • Is this illness a message from the Divine, or wisdom from another realm?
  • Is this symptom an opportunity for healing?
  • Is this pain an opportunity to unwind trauma in the body?
  • Is this contraction in my body trying to keep me safe?
  • Is my body frightened of a change I am making in my life? Is it trying to reinforce the old, familiar restrictions of my family or the dominant culture?
  • Is there a story within my illness that longs to be listened to? A story of my childhood? An ancient story, buried under shame? An untold story of how my lineage survived oppression?

You can ask yourself these questions, or come up with your own questions. Trust that answers will come. Allow your body to respond in its own way and time. Setting aside some quiet reflective time each day creates opportunities to hear the “still, small voice” of your wise body.

Over the years, I have received some interesting answers to the questions, “Is pain bad or unhealthy?” and, “What is illness?”
Pain is both concentration and contraction. But is pain a bad thing? (Am I bad if I have pain? Have I done something wrong?)

Contraction frequently accompanies a significant shift in someone’s identity. The body/mind often contracts in familiar, chronic pain just as we are starting to expand beyond our previous limits. Contraction puts on the brakes.

Sometimes this is fear talking; it is a sign that we need some reassurance. Sometimes this contraction slows down the expansion to a more sustainable pace. Sometimes contraction is the inhalation that prepares us for the exhalation of expansion.

It is true that pain is challenging. But as we know from the birth process, pain is not necessarily a bad thing.

What is illness? Sometimes illness is transformation. Usually when I am shifting how I relate to the world, my body struggles to re-orient itself in specific, sequential ways.

For example, at a certain point I was actively shedding my old survival strategy of keeping my voice small and withholding my opinions, and “trying on” a new practice of raising my voice and speaking my truth. Audacious stuff for a girl who survived child sexual abuse and neglect by being compliant and unnoticeable!

During this time, over a period of about ten days, I experienced—in this precise order:

1) pain in my tailbone;

2) menstrual cramps;

3) extreme heartburn;

4) shoulderblade and rib pain;

5) a mysterious sore throat and severe TMJ symptoms;

6) vertigo and visual distortions; and finally

7) a fierce migraine.

At the time, I was too miserable to do anything but endure. Later I realized that my radical shift had been making its way through the each of the areas/organs associated with the 1st through 7th chakras (energy centers). By the end of this process, my vocal behaviors were thoroughly established.

How solid is illness for you? Is your pain a particle? A wave? Or both?
What intelligent patterns have you noticed in your body’s experiences of pain and illness?

I invite you to share your challenging and liberating experiences, with me and others.

Next month:

Practices That Invite Pain & Illness to Melt

The Dance of Sensation & Story: PART II

Last month I wrote about how, five weeks after a bicycle accident, I began waking every day
to terrifying, overwhelming sensations. When I came up with an “I must be excavating and
healing childhood trauma” story to explain my sensations, I was reassured.

I told myself that the accident had re-awakened my familiar child sexual abuse dynamics; this story empowered me to stay with my experience. I now share Part II of how finding the right stories enabled me to collaborate with my post-accident sensations and find healing.

*Warning* if you are a trauma survivor, what follows may trigger you. I hope that it will inspire you.


In the days that follow, my trauma healing story anchors and motivates me to keep inquiring into my somatic experience. Each morning, fresh waves of sensation drag me under and spit me out.

One morning I scrabble for air, choke on screams. My heart staggers, collapses. I can’t do this. I can’t feel this, pass this, puke this. It’s too much. A child’s voice is in my throat, panting, howling, begging for mercy, whimpering with shame. My heart moves; I weep for her. I hold her hand in hell.

Another morning. Another excruciating journey from incoherent terror and skinless despair to vast warm tenderness. I do not want to be a survivor of early age torture and neglect. But I am.

And I am a loving goddess who holds that feral child-tornado in her arms. My enormous patience extends out infinitely to everyone, including me. May this grueling archeological dig benefit others.

Another day. Story and sensation join seamlessly into an experience of my 4 year old self. She shudders. I promise her I will not turn away. I sit with this petrified pillbug-child, feel her hummingbird gasps, bristling nerve endings, indigestible grief.

She wails her heartbreak and rage. “Your voice is powerful.” I say, “You are powerful. You did it, you survived! It’s safe to cry now. Go ahead and have a tantrum. It’s okay.”

I hold her. I don’t leave her alone. When she whispers, “Nothing matters.” I tell her, “Youmatter. To me.” I drop my morning plans and give her all my attention.

I draw a bath, let the warmth hold us. Make a cup of tea. I sit quietly, letting chair, tea and journal hold me as I hold her. I need all the help I can get.

Her bottomless terror is crushing me. I call up my lioness heart and tell my little one, “I’m right here! I will face the suffocation with you.” I hold her, in the morning light, in my arms. I let her flip out. I growl; I roar: “If we die, we die together!”

We do not die. Again we travel from clawing, gibbering horror to soft, warm ocean. Rest in tenderness.


In other moments, I tell myself a story about being depressed. One might as well call it depression. Although it is not so simple. It’s more like landing at the bottom of my personal sea, arriving at age 5.

My little one shows me when she resigned herself to terror, where she gave up hope. It’s cold on the ocean floor. I am empty, crying from a wordless place.

That was yesterday. Today the “depression” is milder, but present. The grit in me sculpts a new story: from now on, I refuse to ignore the grief and despair of my young self.

I choose to stay in steady communication with her, even if that means feeling “depressed” for the rest of my life. I will not abandon her. I welcome her into my daily life.

The next day I sink into “depression,” land softly at my beginning. My defenses melt like snowbanks, revealing stark charnel ground. Machig Lapdron dances nearby; I rest my head on the soil. My tears, slow-motion drops of fear and defeat, soak into this yard of bones.

My depression story morphs again. As the earth holds me, I wonder: what is depression, anyway? I never knew it was so rich (too busy running from it, I guess). Depression offers depth, slowness, space.

Is this depression even “mine?” Can it be separate from our collective mourning for this sweet planet? Even in depression, I am not alone.


As I recall meditation retreat experiences, I find another story. While on retreat, many things arise. Odd obsessions, intense sensations. Powerful memories, tumultuous emotions.

Some dissolve immediately. Some persist for hours or days. My teacher describes these phenomena, these “nyams,” as opportunities to purify our hidden contractions.

So I try to welcome whatever appears during meditation. Often, stories emerge from my body—never the stories that I would expect. Dismayed or amazed, I watch and dialogue with them.

Sooner or later each nyam mysteriously digests, each story melts. When they’re gone, I let them go.

After my last retreat in March I kept reminding myself: “The retreat continues; nyams continue to arise and dissolve.” This retreat story has allowed me to view getting “doored” and its aftermath as a series of nyams.

I can engage each nyam with all my heart and mind and soul and strength. And I can let each one dissolve. My intention is to love whatever shows up, for the sake of all beings.


I just shared some stories that helped me navigate my challenging post-accident sensations. I marvel that my mind and body can come up with such ingenious stories!

These stories have been stepping stones across the abyss.

Any stepping stone can be a rest spot, but no stone (no story, no nyam) is the destination. Like nyams, we leave stories in our wake.

When I leave a story behind, is it still true? Was it ever true? Was I re-living childhood trauma? Am I depressed? Will the next stepping stone be true?

How can I know? How can anyone?

But here’s another story: I do not face my scariest demons just for me. My commitment is to wake up to benefit all beings, so this journey from stone to stone is not mine alone.

And so I tell my five year old self a story she has not heard before: “We do not walk alone. We walk this path held, guided and befriended by all beings.”


My dark night lasted five weeks. Thirty-eight days of despair and inertia. I once read this Ch’an Buddhist adage, “Little doubt, little enlightenment; great doubt, great enlightenment.”

The morning it began to turn, I was sitting in meditation with my sangha and teacher. I wondered, was I allowed to love what I already was? Could I love my misery and utter stuckness, even if they never changed?

What if I decided to enjoy my self, like some interesting, twisted bonsai tree? Could I just decide to be happy? Yes. Wow.

The next day, I was lying on my bodyworker’s table. As she held my head and jaw, quietly, patiently, my body remembered and showed me my head, immobilized in the ambulance that April night. My head was straining to escape.

Now I let my head struggle and fight. I felt my cheek snarl and my jaw growl. My solar plexus was roaring. My body amazed that it could fight. I got my fight back.

How did I get my fight back? Living through those five weeks. Feeling it all, facing it all. That morning beside my teacher, accepting all of it, all of me.

Since then, a little more joy each day, a little more motivation.

I am learning to fight for my life–in a new way. I am discovering effort without anger, drive without fear. Fight full of lifeforce, empty of blame.

There are still obstacles, many of them. It’s Life, after all!

But me, I am unstoppable.

The Dance of Sensation & Story: PART I


Sensation and story are powerful tools–double edged tools–for healing and transformation.

Sensations are, on one hand, a direct path to our vitality. Body sensations include temperatures, such as hot or cool; movements, such as tingling, pulsing or streaming; and impressions of numbness, stillness, emptiness, pressure, contact, sharp-or-softness, thick-or-thinness.

Sensations also show up as body-moods or images. Since sensations speak directly to the hind brain, sensory awareness a key to shifting deeply embedded behavior patterns.

But sometimes sensations are overwhelming. We may mistrust or fear certain body sensations. We cannot use a tool if it’s “too hot” to pick up.

Stories are equally complex tools. We misuse story when we impose interpretations on our direct sensory experience. Sensation is neutral.

Let’s say we feel a fluttery feeling in our chest—pure sensation. If we respond by thinking “Oh, I must be scared,” we crystallize our experience into a story.

If we take this thought seriously and make “I am scared” into a real thing, suddenly we have a problem to solve. We interpret this “fear,” diagnose it, and try to fix it. We get caught up in the “I am scared” story and never get to know “fluttery.”

But when that fluttery sensation is too overwhelming to face, stories can be helpful. The right story can be just the anchor we need to stay with challenging sensations.

This principle of anchoring is valued in both spiritual and somatic traditions.  Meditation postures are designed to stabilize us so we can sustainably expand our consciousness.  Likewise, somatic containment practices support us to risk feeling and healing.

It’s a paradox: structure invites unwinding. Working with story and sensation is one way to tap into this interplay of holding and fluidity.

Sensation is all around us, but where do we find stories to work with?


If we make the time and space to listen deeply, our bodies will offer up stories as images, impressions, and memory. I have learned to trust these spontaneous stories. Body stories can hold intense sensations and emotions safely so we can witness them.


Our minds are built to concoct stories endlessly, so we might as well make use of the helpful ones. When choosing a story to work with, you can ask yourself, “What kind of story is this? Is it a scary story? Is it a reassuring story?”

Make sure the stories you tell yourself about your situation support where you want to be. Do you want to end up scared or discouraged? Or would you rather ground yourself so you can make good decisions? We need to choose our stories carefully.


In April, life presented me with a rich opportunity to dance with story and sensation. While riding my bike one afternoon, I got “doored.” The door of the car to my left suddenly opened, flinging me and my bike to the curb.

This trip through air was quickly followed by an ambulance ride and a six hour adventure at a trauma center that involved x-rays, tests, and encounters with over twenty-five hospital personnel.

I wore a collar for nine days, received daunting medical bills and faced physical pain and limitation. Next came visits to lawyers, physical therapists and more doctors. The practical and logistical concerns eventually settled into some predictable patterns and self-care routines.

Once my physical healing process was well underway, the difficult part of my healing journey began. Stories and sensations have been essential tools for navigating this journey safely.

If you would like to know how I used sensation and story to move through my “dark night,” read on.

*Warning* if you are a trauma survivor, what follows may trigger you. My hope is that it will inspire you.




It began with mysterious, scary sensations. Five weeks after my accident, I wrote in my journal:

Waking up is a heroic struggle with intolerable sensation. At first I don’t know how I’m feeling.  I just know I don’t like it.  As if sleep has torn away my defenses, I wake up skinless. My nerve endings shudder with exposure.

All kinds of overwhelming and unpleasant sensations terrorize my stomach, my muscles, the entire surface of my body. Being alive is unendurable bombardment.

The next day I wrote:

For the last five mornings I have been grappling with overwhelming panic and despair. Every morning I struggle to gasp, to move. This sense of paralysis and deathly doom is bigger than me—it engulfs my cells.

An inconsolable grief-tornado rips through my torso, twisting my intestines. My esophagus clenches from stomach to throat; I’m choking on terror.


At first, I had no idea what was going on. I couldn’t deal. I needed something to hold onto. After a few days of journal writing, crying and reflecting, I found a reassuring story. Or it found me. I told myself that I was “thawing out” from my accident and hospital experience.

I looked back and remembered that my head and body were immobilized for six hours. (I remembered that a paramedic aggressively pressured me to consent to a “precautionary” IV in my arm. His persistence caused me to have a panic attack). I had little control over my body, and never knew what the medical staff were going to do to me next.

In the peace and quiet of my home, my body and mind reminded me of how, in the middle of my panic attack, I decided I could not afford to “lose it.” I needed to advocate for myself and maintain some control over the situation. Somehow I shut my body down and quelled my panic.

This story reframed my alarming new sensations as a positive development: I was thawing out! I finally felt safe enough to feel what I dared not the night of my accident. As they say, “to feel is to heal.”

As I listened some more, my body told me how feeling trapped and at the mercy of medical staff that night echoed my childhood sexual abuse experiences. Now I could view my strong sensations as an opportunity to heal a deeper layer of my past.

Because I identify as a trauma healer, this story gave me extra courage to face my sensations. Anchored by this hopeful, compassionate story, I was able to start using somatic and spiritual tools to take care of myself.  I trusted that my symptoms would resolve over time.

Then I remembered my teachers telling me another trauma healing story, that true freedom is the ability to face and feel what we fear the most. If I can stand in my power and be intimate with the unbearable, I can do anything.

This familiar story also gave me courage. As it turned out, I needed all the bravery I could muster, as my unsettling sensations continued to show up every morning for weeks.

End of Part I. 

Somatic & Intuitive Small Group Coaching Series

When: Thursday, June 5th to July 25th 2014: 10-11:30 AM

The next 8 week series starts June 5, 2014 in Rockridge, North Oakland.
Thursdays, 10-11:30 AM

Here is what past group members said about their experience:

“My depression has shifted, I feel happier than I have in years. I feel able to notice….stop and feel my body and what I need, and make conscious choices. It is freeing.” ~Dave B.

“What I find most engaging is being personally coached by you, and to watch you gently coach others; I like being present for others’ journeys.” ~Catherine R.

“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’m more engaged with myself because I have tools 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

Are you ready to join us and befriend your body?
Receive individual coaching from Dr. Tarakali in a welcoming group setting. Learn somatic and intuitive tools to support your personal and vocational goals.
In these intimate groups (limited to 4-5 people), a chemistry of mutual support emerges, allowing all to benefit from each person’s learning and insights.
Cost: $45 per session.
A commitment to all 8 sessions is required.

Contact or (510) 594-6812 to reserve your spot.           Facebook: Tarakali Education

DIY Heal Trauma in Your Body

DIY Heal Trauma & Oppression in Your Body

Trauma-healing principles & practices to support your personal healing process

Tuesday April 29: 7:00-9:30 pm
in Rockridge, North Oakland

Learn somatic & intuitive practices & theory that invite body & mind to collaborate.

Topics include:
* How to chart a realistic, sustainable healing journey

* Identifying the support and resources you need in place to heal

* Trauma healing principles & tools to sustain your healing journey

* Sustaining hope and motivation when the going gets tough

Space is limited

Workshop Cost: $55

To register: contact or call (510) 594-6812

Vanissar Tarakali, Ph.D. is a somatic educator & intuitive who coaches healers and changemakers to collaborate wisely with the body to heal trauma & sustain social change. Current DiversityWorks Program Director, Vanissar passionately practices Generative Somatics, Intuitive Reading, Energy Bodywork & Tibetan Buddhism. Facebook: Tarakali Education