(For the ancestors)

no-one from no-where whispers, ‘what does it mean to matter?’



Welcome, You Who Were Not Allowed to Matter

Welcome, neglected children. Ghost children.

Welcome, you who knew no limbic rapport with mom. No steady eye contact to nourish your constancy, nurture your: “I exist. I matter.”

Welcome, precious Black Lives.

Welcome, survivors of neglect, of abuse, of attachment trauma.

Welcome to the ghost people, slipping by unnoticed.

Welcome, you who were marginalized, invisible-ized, genocided, institutionalized. Welcome, you who were enslaved.

Welcome, you without a home; welcome, you who are not home in your body.

Welcome, autistic people, borderline people, dissociated people.

Welcome, communities that never knew collective limbic rapport, warm eye contact from outsider-oppressors. Your humanity, unacknowledged.

Welcome, children of parents too pressed by life and death struggles to give their babies limbic rapport, nourishing eye contact.

Welcome, disembodied ones; forever denied your matter.

Welcome, all. Let us begin.


What Would You Like Me to Know About You?

I am quick to despair.

It seems I do not leave a trace:

I phone and my call is not returned;
I text into a void;
I email but my no one responds.

Long, pervasive silences.
People are busy, overloaded, overwhelmed, forgetful– I know that.
Still the silence erases me.

Without frequent contact, without memory cues;
I forget who I like;
who likes me.

When my voice is not heard;
my eyes are not met;
my touch meets no resistance;
I leave no trace.

I forget myself, my accomplishments.
The sounds I make, the words I write, the work I do.

No legacy is built.
No home, no security.

Nothing sticks.


Nothing sticks.

Our actions leave no impression, not even on us.

We forget our history, forget what we won;
Forget what we lost.
Forget how we shaped the world.

We stand on the rooftops, holding handwritten signs. Waiting for mercy. Or death.

Our voices are not heard, our eyes not met, our touch meets no resistance; We leave no trace.

Why bother?
Why not give up,
settle for less than nothing?

Thank you for telling me your truth, your struggles;
your *What.*

Next, let’s look at your *Now, what?*

What Do You Want To Take Away From Our Work Together? 

What Do You Want to Feel, to Be, to Do That You Cannot Yet?

What I Want to Be:

“I want to be real.
I want to exist.
I want to matter.”

What We Want to Do:

Complete something

Love and be loved
Meet and be met
See and be seen.

What I Want:

I want to want. I want to know what I want.
I want vision. I want eyes alight with vision.

Welcome! Hooray!
Such good things to want!

I am here to be your ally.
I want you to have all this–become all this.

The first step is to visit your story/stories of origin.

Beloved Ghosts, Tell Me How You Began  
Tell Me Your Ghost Stories/Stories of Origin


We were the disembodied hands, attending your every need. 

Oldest daughter, family drudge, I existed to serve.

We were kidnapped, taken to residential “schools,” where they erased our words, our selves.

I cried, but no one picked me up. 

We called 911, but they never came to our neighborhood.

I did not bother them, hoping for some crumbs of love.

We were put away in camps, far from anyone’s eyes. 

They never saw my gender. No matter how clearly I revealed myself.

We were put away in reservations, far from anyone’s eyes. 

My father wouldn’t meet my eyes. Unseen, I did not exist.

We were put away in prisons, far from anyone’s eyes. 

I stopped breastfeeding; I could taste her resentment. 

We were put away in institutions, far from anyone’s eyes. 

They told me I was a burden. So I made myself small, transparent, silent.

They could not see the unique beauty of our minds.

My mother could not reflect me back to me. 

Everyone saw the video, but it did not matter. Not one cop was convicted.
Did no one see him or hear his cries? 

[Those uniforms contained bodies, bodies that bruised his body, stopped his breath. Why didn’t those bodies perceive his flesh–his matter?
How did they lose their senses? What makes an ear, an eye, a nose disregard another being’s matter?

My father could not reflect me back to me. 

Economic refugees, climate refugees, we sought mercy. The only refuge you allowed us was to hide for the rest of our lives.

When I made myself invisible, I didn’t get hit.

Colonizers could not reflect ourselves back to us.
(The land they colonized was “uninhabited.”)

A whisp of myself, I make no matter.

Immaterial ghosts, we do not matter.

And now, here we are (here we are not).

Thank you. Thank you for letting me witness your truth.

Now it’s time to name the adaptations, the survival strategies your ancestors developed. Claim the superpowers you birthed in your personal hell.



How Did Trauma Shape You?

How Did Neglect/ Attachment Trauma/ Exile/ Solitary Confinement/ Cultural Genocide/ Existing-only-to-serve-others Shape Your Body/Behavior?

I learned to serve, to appease, to erase my self.

We answered to the names you thrust on us.

I learned to pretend, to pass, to blend in.

We learned to perform, to entertain, produce.

I learned to ask for nothing;
to ask most gently, charmingly, most patiently for food-air-water-space—

–We never asked for space;
we learned to do without.

We met our needs with sawdust and imagination;
We dreamed other worlds.

I learned to wait ‘til my mom got home; wait for scraps of food and attention.

We taught our own babies to wait.

I taught myself not to cry.

We mourned, we honored, we buried our dead far from your desecrating eyes.

How we made it.

How I survived.

How our children came to be.

Thank you for telling me your stories.

Thank you for letting me see you.
I see you. I hear you.

I sense your body asking, “What does it mean to matter?”
Such a good question, body! We will set about finding out.

Next month, Part 2: Honoring & Befriending Our Survival Strategies.

You can schedule an in-person or video Somatic Coaching session with Dr. Vanissar Tarakali through



(written in October 2017, during the Northern California fires.)

Are you living, ever more intimately, with uncertainty?

As the climate crisis hits my home, I write with lungs aching from wildfire smoke.
With fear for my parrot-in-a-coalmine.

Grief as I witness Sonoma County, my future home, gasp and reel with unspeakable conflagration and loss.

There have been many days of helplessness and confusion. Many nights of soul and internet searching.

You, too?

As more of us join the ranks of house-less folks, climate change refugees, economic refugees, housing refugees, healthcare refugees;

As more of us lose the abundance that we were accustomed to: reliable shelter, possessions, healthcare;

As order gives way to chaos;

Uncertainty is our collective dance partner.
[She always was.]

Who knows what her next move will be, in a minute, in an hour, in a week?

What can we hold onto, how do we dance this ever-shifting, emerging dance?
I have more questions than answers.

Here and there, answers show up, some written by a wiser, calmer me.
Answers in the form of Resources, Practices and Mood-Mindsets.

My Heart asks,

What can we do in these times?
How can we trust ourselves and the universe?


Question: What Can We Do in These Times?


Befriend Uncertainty 

Living with “I Don’t Know”

Embracing a Vast Perspective

Prepare to Lose Everything

Become a Nomad

It’s time to get skilled at fold-up-my tent, pack-up-my-stuff and go. On a moment’s notice.

Shed the Unnecessary

In synch with this time, it feels urgent to shed what is unnecessary, including:

  • Any non-essential possessions that possess me;
  • The need to be right. The need to let everyone know I am right.

For example, I am weaning myself from the subtle/unsubtle bickering on social media about who is right, who is the most correct, who is the kindest, most thoughtful, most inclusive, most sensitive person or group of people.


Let Go

Take Good Care of You

Emotional First Aid

Get Unstuck

Love Yourself (& Your Body)

Offer Refuge; Be a Refuge

Offer Refuge to Others

It is urgent now, and will continue to be necessary to provide refuge.

A place for folks to rest, and eat, and be clothed.

To tremble and unwind from trauma.

It’s not just time to offer a place of refuge.
It is time to BE a refuge, wherever you are, whatever your circumstances.

Each of us can be a refuge of kindness and patience and generosity.

What can you share?

Do you have an extra respirator mask?

Can you listen kindly and patiently to someone who is distraught, confused?

Someone who has less composure, less serenity than you have (at the moment!—you may be distraught tomorrow!)

You can provide clothes or shelter if you have them to share.

But if you don’t, you can provide prayers, eye contact, a steady voice.

Any of us be an expression of generosity and kindness, wherever we find ourselves.

If you find yourself in hell, look to your left, to your right.

Who is here with you? Are they scared, like you?

You can be a loving presence that says, “we are in this together.”

Question: How Can We Trust Ourselves & the Universe?

Trust Ourselves

Finding Home in Our Bones

You Are a Force Of Nature

Trust the Universe

Welcome Triggers as Your Spiritual Practice

View Disruptions as Sacred

Can we live, ever more intimately, every more tenderly, with Uncertainty, our ancient, brand new dance partner?

Can we follow and lead, lead and follow?
Can we create beautiful new forms and ways of being?

I believe we can.
I believe we are.

May fire, air, earth and water transform and heal us all.

If you would like to experience Somatic & Intuitive Coaching with Dr. Vanissar Tarakali, email to


This article is a repeat. Two repeats, actually.

With a twist.

The twist is that I am offering two articles together to highlight a compelling

The articles are:

You Are Worth Fighting For: Autoimmune Disorders and Self-Love


10 Ways Shame and Blame Hurts Social Justice Efforts.

As I re-read them both, a metaphoric question arose:

Are social justice movements suffering from collective autoimmune disorders?

Autoimmune diseases are characterized by the body attacking its own cells, tissues and organs.

Are we attacking ourselves?

Is “calling out” culture a symptom of a social justice autoimmune disorder?

Do we mistake activist community members for the enemy, and ruthlessly dispose of them?

Is a hostile internal atmosphere alienating precious community members?

I believe social justice projects and movements are at risk for all of this.

From Micro to Macro, Love is the Antidote

When I struggle personally with autoimmune conditions, the antidote that best supports my wellness is the consistent practice of self-gentleness and self-love.

I am inspired–and relieved–to witness several social justice projects embrace collective versions of this antidote:

Movement Strategy Center chooses to Lead With Love:

Black Lives Matter embraces self-loving Guiding Principles:

“We are committed to embodying and practicing justice, liberation, and peace in our engagements with with one another.”

Sins Invalid commits to Principles of Disability Justice, such as

Commitments to Cross Disability SolidarityInterdependenceCollective Access, and

“Collective Liberation…where no body/mind is left behind.”

We can nourish our social justice community members, and call in our allies.

We can cut ourselves some slack and give up perfection.

Alexis Shotwell endorses this in her book Against Purity: Living Ethically in Compromised Times.

For Shotwell, letting go of personal purity means cultivating “an attitude of self-forgiveness” and liberation “from feeling like we have to do everything ourselves.”

In this moment of political and environmental crisis and dis-ease, I find both my blog articles to be timely and relevant:

Our bodies are being stressed and pressed like never before.

The need for sustainable, love-based social justice movements has never been greater.

But if one of these paths to healing calls you especially today, trust that.
Take care of it.

We need you. We need us.

Wishing us all ever-growing love and wisdom,


You can schedule Somatic and Intuitive Coaching appointments with Vanissar through 


In the last installment of Trauma Survivor’s and Spiritual Awakening,


I wrote about how my old traumatized identities of Fragile, Isolated Victim-Body and Urgent Hypervigilance were shifted by the catalysts of my animal companion and chronic exhaustion.

One Last Trauma Identity Shift

I have one final traumatized identity shift to describe, and then I will take the discussion beyond trauma identities.

I will try to describe the spiritual possibilities that opened up once my body knew how to find its way back to safety.

Old Identity: I am a damaged victim.
Identity-Shift Catalyst: Long term trauma healing work.

This identity was so immersive that it took decades for me to acknowledge it.

Since childhood I had a default sense of myself as damaged and subject to endless suffering.

Frequent experiences of physical pain and discomfort have even led me to feel oppressed by my own body.

Identities co-arise with worldviews (“I am like this; the world is like that.”). My co-arising worldview was that life is merciless.

While many things have conspired to shift this identity, decades of trauma healing work have been key.

My trauma healing journey has involved establishing healing relationships with animals, somatic practitioners, therapists, spiritual teachers, herbalists, bodyworkers and acupuncturists, engaging with learning communities.

Discovering which healing practices work for me.

Grace—Life as trickster–has also been integral to this identity shift.

Upsets such as car accidents, deaths, loss, illness and unexpected difficulties of all kinds unearthed my hidden traumatized identities.

Grace has given me ample material to apply my practices to!


A Paradox of Trauma Healing Work

While every part of my journey has been valuable, identifying as a trauma survivor is limiting.

The paradox is that years of intensive focus on trauma healing subtly reinforced my victim identity, the sense that I am someone who needs rescuing or fixing.

A significant layer of victim identity dissolved when I declared that I would no longer victimize myself with self-criticism.

This declaration cleared some shame, and revealed inner spaces of energy and opportunity.

New worlds beckoned.

Identities co-arise with world views.
When worldviews appear, new identities arise:

I can now see myself as resilient and adventurous, more curious and contented. I am quick to notice the safety and goodness in my life, to feel joy and gratitude.

It’s possible to simply enjoy breathing, moving, playing with zee, taking a shower or reading a novel. I find myself letting go of effort and struggle.


What Lies Beyond Traumatized Identities?

Once we are confident that we can soothe our reptilian brain when it gets triggered*, the journey is not over. Our adventure has just begun.

New Identities

What lies beyond traumatized identities? More identities, of course! We humans perpetually reconstruct our sense of self.

One post-trauma identity which emerged for me was “I am attracted to silence and contemplation; meditation comes naturally to me.”

This new identity thrills me.
Yet the spiritual journey is all about releasing all identities, even this one.

To go from a victim identity to a healthier/happier identity certainly builds positive momentum.

But even the “best” identity must eventually yield to either (depending on your philosophical perspective), identification with the Divine or no identity at all.

Infinite Inner Adventures

We never arrive. We never stop. Identities are shed as we go.

The relaxation that comes with trauma healing yields to even deeper relaxation: a relaxing of the sense of self, a relaxing of worries and fears.

We rest more, ground more, expand more. No arrival. A deeper relaxation awaits; there is always more ease to embody.

The “enlightenment” that many seek could be described as bottomless, infinite relaxation.

What else lies beyond our traumatized identities? New possibilities.

For me, recent identity shifts have been accompanied by capacity shifts that support deeper dreams and inner adventures.

When I lie down to rest, when I sleep, inner vistas appear:


I am tiny enough to slip into a rough rose quartz crystal. Welcomed into its coarse softness, I enter its molecular structure. Further in I find an exquisite rose-pink cloud.

Within that lies an even finer essence. Then, how lovely! this innermost essence dissolves.


Emerging from an instructive dream about the translucent eye/gaze that has been “under construction” in my forehead for decades (but that is another story).

“Look,” whispers the dream, “whatever this gaze rests on—be it a thought, negative or positive, an object–wherever this gaze rests, within or without– it penetrates. Merely gazing at something dissolves it.”

I wake with a sense of simple, direct liberation.

Waking Adventures:

Lately, a waking phenomena. If I am quiet enough to pay attention, I inhabit a gaze that is kaleidoscopic, penetrative.

A hushed, inquisitive energy peers into the particulate structure of the objects of my gaze.

A soft tumble into these objects; they delightedly display their inner qualities, and…melt.

This relational gazing-dissolving is wonderfully quiet and quietly wonderful.

This tumbling in, falling in (love) also happens in the presence of other beings.

When I spend unhurried time with my parrot companion Zee, a peripheral awareness beckons, inviting me into Zee’s senses and her experience.

When I relax and answer this invitation, time slows, matter diffuses. I am a sensitive being, intimately relating with a subtler world.

Zee’s perception is rich, substantial. Sequential time unfolds within expanding moments.

As I join Zee in her space/time, her shoulders relax; she rests against me.
Wordless communion.

Often now, my eyelids close as I sit with clients. Ease. Restful gaze, seeing wholeness.

Mary Oliver’s poem, Wild Geese, says, “The world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–”

Inner worlds— wilder worlds than I ever imagined, call me in and in…

Catalysts for Trauma Identity Shifts

I suspect that none of this would have flowered without the–unasked for, unwanted (!)–free time and extreme fatigue that seized my attention.

Exhaustion forced me to give up my entrenched survival habits of external focus, struggle, hypervigilance, hyped up adrenaline-cortisol as a way of life.

There has been a development process, midwived by fatigue, Grace, etc., further nourished by sufficient space, time and stillness for me to *notice* opportunities for new capacities to fledge.

I look back on my life and see the enormous pain and difficulty I have carried, and my narrow, miserly worldview. Somehow this worldview has morphed into a surprisingly generous perception. How did this happen?

Wonder asks, “What is good? What is bad, what is misfortune when all that has come to pass has led to this sweet gaze?”

This multiply betrayed, heartbroke, freefall-of-a-woman has landed on clouds of trust.

Trust in the innate goodness of what is.

Trust in what unfolds, what I am drawn to, what my soft animal body loves.

Trusting vastness to hold me.

*The goal of Phase One of the trauma healing process is to become confident that we can soothe our reptilian brain when it gets triggered.

Would you like to receive 1:1 Somatic & Intuitive Coaching from Dr. Vanissar Tarakali, you can contact her through:



This unsettling time is a perfect opportunity to learn exactly how your body gets stuck; and to discover which “getting unstuck” tools work best for your particular temperament.

I call this process Befriending-Your-Body. I have broken it up into steps:

Befriend Your Body Steps

1. Befriend Your Triggers
2. Practice Safety

3. Befriend Your Somatic Temperament
4. Create Practice Routines

5. Embody Your Routines
6. Improvise!

In this final article, I cover steps 5. and 6.

  1. Embody Your Routines

Neuroplasticity is a thing! Repeatedly attending to something builds new neural pathways and abilities.

The good news about living in a time of crisis is, the more you turn to your self-care routines to get extra help, the more you embody their fruits.

This means that over time you will get unstuck faster.

Two Insomnia Routines

One thing that contributes to me getting stuck is insomnia or interrupted sleep. Fatigue renders me more vulnerable to being triggered in daily life.

With peri-menopause, I often wake too early in the morning (sometimes with heart palpitations) and cannot get back to sleep.

Insomnia has given me an opportunity to learn how my body finds safety and relaxation.  Applying steps 1. to 4. to this problem, I tried on various practices, and gathered my favorite getting unstuck tools.

From this experimentation I developed two helpful routines for insomnia. My routines include pelvic breathingrestorative yoga,  Trauma Release Exercises, and Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT).

Once you have your routines, practice them until they become embodied. “Embodied” means you are so familiar with something that it becomes automatic.

Here are the two insomnia routines that I call Turn it Down and Turn it Up.

Turn It Down

I have three favorite restorative yoga poses that I return to again and again, because my body loves them. They require pillows, blankets and a bolster. I keep these props near my bed so it is easy to set up my pose.

I combine these three restorative poses in a sequence that usually returns me to sleep within forty minutes or so.

During the first pose, which I do for twenty-forty minutes, my mind is quite active. I have learned to welcome it: “Hello, mind that gallops like a horse.” I let it wander around.

But sometimes I obsess about something so much that I get riled up. As soon as I notice this I tell myself, “Hmm, this line of thought is making me wakeful and agitated.” I try to observe this without fighting with myself.

I may take a few deep breaths; I may marvel at the power of my wild-horse mind. Most of all, I pay attention to how good it feels to have my body held by the props: “Here I am, resting, watching my wild mind run.”

Sensations Are Key

Sensations are the language of our brain stem, our fight-or-flight brain. To engage and influence it, to reassure it, we need to use its language.

So when I do child’s pose with a bolster, I notice the bolster beneath my belly, holding it firmly. I notice the comforting feeling this gives my belly.

When I do a supported upper back backbend, I notice the bolster under my neck, the blanket under my chest. I invite my body to sink into the support.

When I feel “done” with the first pose, I move the props to set up the second pose. I frequently fall asleep in the middle of the second pose.

If not, the third pose almost always works. Hooray! Even if I don’t get back to sleep, restorative poses are still restful.

When Turn It Down Doesn’t Work

Sometimes, depending on what I ate, where I am in my menstrual cycle, or who is president, restorative yoga doesn’t cut it. My body refuses to settle.

Self-observation has taught me that this signals an urgent communication from my body. In the quiet of the night, my mind is raw and open. My body insists: listen to me!

It is difficult to listen. I worry about being wide awake, dread that I will be unable to function in the morning.

This vicious cycle of sleeplessness plus panic about sleeplessness is not a recipe for going back to sleep.

After I fuss for a bit, eventually I remember my other insomnia strategy.

Instead of moving towards the five components of a restorative yoga pose (quiet, warmth, darkness, motionlessness and support), I move towards expression.

Instead of Turning it Down, I Turn it Up.

Turn It Up

This routine is the best choice when I am triggered or “stuck.” It is all about getting active and expressive.

I turn on the light and journal.  If I am too tired, I lie in the dark and talk or sing aloud, narrating my sensations and emotions.

With pen or voice, I complain, worry, rage, argue, philosophize or grieve.

Sometimes I do the TRE exercises, and let my body tremble and shake how/where it wants to.

If I am especially stuck, I may use EFT to “loosen the soil” so I can unearth what is bothering me.

With this process it is crucial that I not direct the movement or expression. I simply allow my body to tell its story.

Usually it turns out to be something I was too busy to catch during the daytime. Usually it is a big deal.

This process can lead to sobs or roars of terror, grief or rage as I uncover and utter truths I have been avoiding.

Again, sensations are key. When I journal or mutter to myself in the night, when I let my body tremor or howl, I participate in the sights, sounds, textures and vibrations.

I feel my aliveness. I take my animal body seriously and give it respectful attention.

Turning it Up is uncomfortable, but it deepens my relationship with myself.

This routine often takes longer than my restorative yoga sequence: somewhere between forty-five minutes to two and a half hours.

When it’s done, I am at peace. At this point I tend to fall asleep. If not, I can easily put myself to sleep with a simple practice such as fingerholds, deep breathing or a restorative pose.

Turning It Up doesn’t just get me back to sleep. It helps me reclaim my dignity and courage. It brings new energy, clarity and purpose. This more than compensates for any sleep I have lost.

After much curiosity, experimentation, and practice, I trust my Turn It Down and Turn it Up routines. I am confident that I can find my way back to sleep.


  1. Improvise! 

It is good to have two or three routines or sequences that are well-practiced and familiar. Then you can add or subtract practices as needed.

Even when you cannot access your favorite routine, you can use your knowledge of your triggers and your somatic temperament to create new routines on the spot.

While traveling recently, I had nothing on hand to serve as restorative yoga props.

Instead, I did two practices that did not require props: pelvic breathing and TRE. I practiced them one at a time, alternating between the two for about an hour.

Mixing things up can be effective. TRE is very active and expressive, while pelvic breathing involves slow, gentle movements.

Eventually my body settled. If it hadn’t, I could have added in EFT or fingerholds, two more practices that do not require props.


I hope this series inspires you to befriend your body, one step at a time. Just like making friends with humans or animals, befriending our bodies is a rich adventure.

When you practice the getting unstuck routines that work best for you, you expand your personal reservoir of resilience.

Above all, these times call for self-aware, resilient people.

For the sake of all, let’s make a commitment to replenish ourselves each day.

Let’s build robust psycho-spiritual individual and collective immune systems to get us through this long political flu-season.

Blessings to you.

Let me know how it goes.                               


to schedule an appointment or workshop:
Contact Dr. Tarakali at
or on Facebook: Tarakali Education


Dear Friends,

Here is my interview with Sarah Holmes, co-director of the Blue Otter School of Herbal Medicine:

Interview with Vanissar Tarakali – June 15, 2017

Sarah invited me to talk about how I became a somatic practitioner, and what led to me create the Taken Under Wing Bird Essences.

We also talked about the wisdom birds have to offer us humans, and how to use specific Bird Essences to support Trauma Healing, Social Justice work and Befriending our Bodies.

Thanks for listening.




With our planet in peril, we live with enormous uncertainty and pressure. Yet each of us has limits. We need to sleep, rest, and play in order to sustain our efforts to save the world.

Likewise, no single individual can solve our collective problems. We need many of us acting together to preserve life and love. Each one of us needs to be kind-to-themselves so we can all keep showing up for the long haul.

In this Getting Unstuck series, I hope to inspire you to learn exactly how your body gets stuck; and to discover which “getting unstuck” tools work best for your particular temperament.

I hope you will then use this self-knowledge to be kind to you and do what you can in collaboration with others.

I call the getting unstuck process Befriending-Your-Body. For this 3 part article, I have broken it up into six steps.

Befriend Your Body Steps

1. Befriend Your Triggers
2. Practice Safety
3. Befriend Your Somatic Temperament
4. Create Practice Routines
5. Embody Your Routines
6. Improvise!

I will now cover steps 3. and 4.

3. Befriend Your Somatic Temperament

(be more than a foul-weather friend) 

Last time we discussed what to do about triggers and feeling unsafe.

But sometimes you will not be in crisis mode. Hooray for you! Now is a good time to get to know your somatic temperament.

The purpose of this is to be able to habitually love and care for yourself, and to lower your body’s baseline level of fear and reactivity (anxiety, hypervigilance, etc.) over time.

To more easily restore yourself after life throws you off balance. Learning to work skillfully with your somatic temperament can prevent you from “getting stuck.”

What do I mean by “somatic temperament?” It’s not necessarily about being introverted or extroverted, neurovariant or neurotypical, “highly sensitive” or not, etc., although such self-assessments can enrich us.

I view somatic temperament on two levels. One level is your body’s personality, with its affinities and sensitivities. Your soma’s receptivity to certain interventions and modes and its aversion to others.

The second level is discovered intuitively, by inquiring into your body’s deep wisdom and suchness. It is about making friends with your body, as it is.

Your body’s suchness is difficult to put into words, but it can be approached by affirming and acknowledging your body’s senses and sensations.

In what follows, I will be asking you questions to help you become acquainted with your somatic temperament.

Your sensations and your imagination are your best guides. Invoking an attitude of curiosity and respect for your body will yield helpful information.

I suggest you journal or sing or speak aloud the following questions and your answers. Or ask a friend to join you, and take turns asking each other the questions.

The first list is long, so pace yourself. Skip any question you want.

It can be good to hang out with the questions and the answers for awhile, and then set them aside. Let them percolate. You can pick them up again later, and see what “ahas” unfold.

Your Body’s Unique Temperament Questions

(Suggestion: Pick a few questions to answer in detail.)


* What animals or plants or landscapes are you drawn to? Which ones show up in your dreams or daydreams?

* If you found a wild animal that was hurt, how would you want to approach it? What animal(s) showed up first with this question?

* Which of your ancestors or ancestral lands do you have an affinity for?

* What words or sounds are you drawn to?

* What textures do you like?

* What kind of motions or movements feel good to you (rocking, hopping, shaking, swaying, undulating? Fast or slow movements? Rollercoasters or kayaking? Do you like tai chi, or yoga, or dancing)?

* If you like dancing, what kind do you prefer (bellydance, hip hop, slam dancing, tango, ballroom)?

* What “tone” of voice does your body respond to [ie. gushy, low-key, humorous, patient, kind)?

* What lyrics or poems come into your mind?

* What colors make you feel good?

* What are your favorite shapes (circles, triangles, spirals)?

* What kinds of light please you: (candlelight, sunlight, morning light, starlight]?

* What elements (earth, wind, water, fire, air/space) are you drawn to?

* What substances (rock, metal, wood, clay) do you have an affinity for?

* What scents or fragrances do you like?

* What kinds of silence or stillness do you prefer?

* What social environments work for you? Private spaces, such as intimate gatherings, one-on-one conversations, house parties? Public spaces, such as concerts, parks, trains or cafés? Do you prefer to be alone or with strangers or friends nearby?

* What are your favorite forms of water? (Lakes, rivers, or oceans? Ice, steam, or liquid?)

* What weather suits you most? Which seasons? Times of day?

* What kinds of touch do you prefer, and when?

* What is your relationship to time? Space?

* Do you prefer structure or open-endedness?

* Are you built for comfort or speed?

* Do you prefer surprises or predictability?

Other questions to ask yourself:

What makes me drowsy?  What comforts me? What makes me smile or laugh? What relaxes me? Inspires me? What makes me thankful?

What restores or reboots me? What/where makes me feel like I belong? What connects me to something beyond myself?

Spend some time asking and answering these questions–not just with your mind but with your body–notice your sensations…

…temperature, texture, movement, stillness, emptiness, fullness, numbness, visuals, smells, sounds, tastes, pressure, contact, internal feelings, imagery, mood.

When you can, find your answers by trying things out. Put yourself in the appropriate situations and notice how your body feels.

Be open to learning something new about you.


4. Create Practice Routines
Gather & Combine Elements that Suit Your Somatic Temperament

Hopefully out of this inquiry you will notice patterns and preferences that resonate with your body.

Start gathering those beings, places, objects and activities together:

* Make a list on some special paper. Write it in a font you love, or with colored ink.

* Make a collage that gathers your preferences in images and words.

* Make a song about your favorite things.

* Collect objects that embody what your body is drawn to, and add them to an altar or cozy place in your home:

These could include beverages, photos, real or imaginary places, words, symbols, pieces of fabric, fragrances, or representations of elements or movements.

Think of what you have gathered as your raw materials for creation: Your palette. Your spice cupboard. Your seed packets, pots and soil. Your pen and paper, your cast of characters, your collection of found objects.

Now you are ready to experiment and create!

Create some simple practices.
Find out your body’s “Yeses” “Nos” & “Maybes.”

For example, choose a beverage by applying what you have discovered from the first list:

If you like warmth and substance, if your body likes variety, diversity, then think of a beverage that has all of those qualities, like flavored coffee or spicy tea.

If you like coolness + subtlety + surprises, then try out a beverage that embodies all of that, such as fresh squeezed lemonade with lavender.

Go ahead and make or find that beverage and drink it. Savor the taste, temperature, texture. Be aware of the effect it has on your mood.

Drinking the right beverage with attention and sensory awareness can be a rejuvenating ritual, a spiritual practice.

  • For soft textures, wrap a fuzzy blanket around you, or wear silk.
  • If your favorite movement is undulation, gather evocative sounds or pictures and videos that show ocean waves, serpents, tree roots, or plants growing via time lapse.
  • Find a live web cam and check in with your favorite animal or bird.
  • For elements such as water or fire, take a bath, footbath or shower. Swim in a pond. Light candles, sit by a fireplace or watch a video of lava.
  • For fragrance, burn incense, resin or rose petals or chamomile, or diffuse essential oils into the air. Crumble fragrant dried herbs or spices (pine needles, sage, rosemary) around the room.
  • Make a tea of cinnamon, rose petals, or lemongrass.

Notice which practices are strong “yeses” for you.


Pick 3-5 Things to Practice

Once you have tested them out, choose 3-5 of your “yeses” as the practices to perfect. Your personal somatic temperament tools.

Try them by themselves. Try combining a few of them at once, or one after another.

Practices can be brief and simple. If you like the texture of velvet, wear some, and touch it from time to time, paying attention to the sensations.

Put a picture of a favorite animal by your bed; gaze at it and feel your emotions and sensations.

You can also combine favorite elements to create your practice.

If you like water, fire, warmth, a feeling of being completely held, and certain scents, you could take a bath by candlelight.

Add some rose petals or lavender to the water.  Get in the tub and feel yourself held by the water. Breathe in all the sights, sounds and smells.

It is good to have at least 3-5 easy-to-do practices in your toolkit to mix and match, and to use in various settings.

I like to think of these somatic temperament practices as daily or weekly nourishment for our bodies–a way to fill up our reserves.


With practice, you can become skilled at befriending your unique somatic temperament.

Repeating these practices frequently will enrich your life and help you cultivate an internalized sense of safety and well being.

And an added bonus is that when you are in crisis, some of these practices will come to mind, or your body will spontaneously remember and repeat them.

End of Part II

Next month:

Getting Unstuck Part III:
Embody Your Routine and Improvise!

You can schedule a free 20 minute somatic coaching consultation with Vanissar here.

New Service: Trauma Survivors in Love Coaching for Partners


By appointment over Skype, Zoom, Hangouts or in-person in Oakland, CA.

Intimate relationships are our birthright. But the neurobiology of relational trauma (neglect, attachment trauma, abuse & oppression) can hijack our hearts & derail mutual trust. 

Dr. Tarakali will help partners identify their TSIL issues, offer somatic & intuitive tools & provide opportunities for partners to practice mutual trust-building & support. 

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Read theTSIL blog

Getting Unstuck (Part I)

The current social and political climate is poking our most sensitive wounds and hurling us—individually and collectively– into scary places. Many of us are getting stuck in old patterns we thought we were done with. Sound familiar? Yeah, me too.

The good news is that we can get unstuck.

When big jolts come, our bodies automatically revert to our earliest survival patterns. We can “go there” so fast that we don’t even realize it, and we can get stuck for days or even weeks.

The reappearance of those familiar patterns means that our reptile brain’s survival arsenal of fight, flight, freeze, appease or dissociate has been activated.

Having a survival mode is essential, but it’s no way to live. We need to access our agency and creative power.

But how do we do that in such tumultuous times? When outrage after outrage assails us, and everyone around us is on high alert?

It’s a challenge.

Yet this time of shocks and crises can be a gift and an opportunity. It can motivate us to transform our lingering patterns of reactivity and victimhood.

Now is the perfect time to learn exactly how your body gets stuck; and to discover which “getting unstuck” tools work best for your particular temperament.

I call this process Befriending-Your-Body. I have broken it up into steps; this first article will cover steps 1. and 2.

Befriend Your Body Steps

1. Befriend Your Triggers
2. Practice Safety
3. Befriend Your Somatic Temperament
4. Create Practice Routines
5. Embody Your Routines
6. Improvise!

1. Befriend Your Triggers

When life shocks us, our bodies can get stuck in repetitive movements and contractions that reflect the reptile brain’s repertoire of fight, flight, freeze, appease, and dissociate survival strategies.

From this universal reptile brain repertoire, each individual adapts their own strategies in response to the recurrent traumas they encounter.

When triggered, we automatically revert to these strategies.

These trigger responses can look like withdrawing from the world, or compulsive eating, spending, TV watching, working, or compulsive anything.

They can also look like getting depressed, numb, immobile, irritable, trying to please everyone, experiencing negative thought loops for days or weeks on end, or picking fights with others.

How to Befriend Your Triggers

Get Triggered

The first part of befriending your triggers is to get triggered. We all do, and it is something we can make use of. At some point, we realize that we are triggered.

Befriend Your Trigger Sensations

The next part of befriending your triggers is to befriend your trigger sensations. This involves i) feeling them and ii) appreciating them.

i) Feel Your Trigger Sensations

Next, we observe ourselves, looking for the specific somatic (body) sensations that accompany our reactive (triggered) states.

These somatic cues are unique to each of us. Here are some examples of how trigger states show up in the body.

Fight responses can show up as clenching our jaw and/or fists/arms. In conversation, it can look like defensiveness, or argument.

Flight responses often show up as physically leaving the room, or our muscles subtly pulling away from a perceived threat. In conversation it can look like avoiding certain subjects.

Freeze responses can show up as silence, holding the breath, or feeling stuck or paralyzed. To others, we may seem poker-faced or extremely calm.

Appease responses often show up as smiling, submissive body language, or yielding our personal space to others.

It can look like caretaking, “making nice,” or trying to smooth things over by asking sympathetic questions or cracking jokes.

Dissociate responses can show up as “checking out” from our experience and not noticing our sensations and feelings. To others it can seem like we are “not all there.”

Dissociation can also show up as emotional detachment, forgetfulness, or a drive to “figure out” everything.

Try to notice the specific sensations present in your body when you are triggered.

What areas of your body become hot or cold? Tense or slack? Where does the energy go, out your arms, up and out of your head? Or does your energy withdraw, implode?

What places in your body contract? Does your heart suddenly feel small, or your breath tight? Do you lose awareness of your legs or back?

Let yourself be gently *curious.*

ii) Appreciate Your Tigger Sensations

Next, slow down and deliberately welcome your trigger sensations and thank them for taking care of you.

Do this for at least two of your sensations, giving them your full attention. What happens to your body’s mood when you say thank you?

Repeat these two steps over and over.

Practicing self observation and appreciation is essential groundwork for being able to calm yourself and access your creative power.

2. Practice Safety

Now we want to find out how to guide our body back to calmness and safety by inviting the sensations of safety.

Try On Some Safety Practices

Somatic safety practices are designed to invite your body find a sense of safety.

You can find many somatic safety practices to try on here:


De-escalating Reactivity Practices

Emotional First Aid Practices


Finding Home in Your Bones

Befriend Your Body Part I

Befriend Your Body Part II

Befriend Your Body Part III

Befriend Your Body Part IV

I recommend that you try out several practices, repeating them a few times
to discover which ones your body responds to best.


Choose Some Practices to Combine

Once you have found at least three that you like, try combining them in sequences.

Here are a few sequences to try:
(you can find instructions for these practices in the above articles and videos):

  • 3 Breaths (3 minutes) + Squeeze your feet/leg bones (5 minutes) + Stand and sway (5 minutes);
  • “Draw a Yes” (5 minutes) + Containment with props (5-10 minutes) + Gratitude practice (5 minutes).
  • Head containment (3 minutes) + 3 Breaths (3 minutes) + Fingerholds (5-10 minutes)

Practice Your Sequence(s)I recommend that you spend 5-20 minutes each day practicing a sequence you have chosen or one of the ones above.

Repeat frequently. Before you know it, you will get really good at your sequence, which will come in handy!


We are likely in for quite a few more collective shocks, so now is a good time to learn exactly how your body gets stuck, and which “getting unstuck” practices work for you. 
Whichever tools you pick, remember that the more often you practice, the more automatic a practice becomes.When practices start to take on a life of their own, you no longer have to think about them, you will simply find yourself automatically doing them.End of Part I

Next month:

Getting Unstuck Part II:
Befriend your somatic temperament and embody your practices.

Would you like Dr. Tarakali to help you Get Unstuck?
You can make a coaching appointment through


Last month I discussed the importance of making spiritual guidance accessible to trauma survivors, and the relevance of the trauma survivor’s spiritual journey for us all.

This month I continue the inquiry into trauma survivors and spiritual awakening with a look at how we shed our traumatized identities.

All spiritual awakenings involve the shedding of old identities. This is both good and bad news for trauma survivors.

On one hand, trauma survivors tend to suffer so much that we are eager to discard the old “me.” On the other hand, identity shifts can be uncomfortable and disorienting.

People who have somatic bodywork often emerge with an altered sense of their body’s size, shape, or density: “I feel much taller/wider!” or “I feel denser/lighter.”

Their experience of standing or walking is different. Even micro identity shifts such as these can be unsettling.

A certain amount of unsettledness is unavoidable. The whole point of healing is to heal, right? This means going beyond our victimized identities to live with more freedom and fluidity.

Still, those miserable identities are cozy, like a worn out sock. As your healing process unfolds, you will lose old familiar “yous” and once-/essential survival strategies.

This can feel scary and sad. You may need reassurance. You may need to grieve.

What Helps Us Shed Old Identities?


Relationships can be catalysts. Long or short–term relationships with friends, mentors/therapists/spiritual teachers, animal companions, children, lovers, and chosen family.

Learning communities and spiritual communities can catalyze identity shifts.


Practice is a powerful way to shift our identities. Anything we do again and again is a practice, whether it is brushing our teeth, creating art, meditating or exercising.

Repeatedly practicing the same things over months or years eventually, inevitably changes our sense of self. If there is something new that you want to feel, be or do, you can set it in motion now.

Grace (The Uninvited Guest)

Grace is the queen of catalysts! By Grace I mean the unexpected, out of the ordinary disruptions that show up in our lives. Grace is not always fun, but she is always transformative.

All these catalysts are illustrated in the following stories of my own trauma-identity shifts.

Shedding Old Identities: Two Personal Stories

Old Identity: Fragile, Isolated Victim-Body

Identity-Shift Catalyst: My Animal Companion

For me, early childhood attachment trauma, neglect and violence/violation all shaped my body to identity as fragile and always-in-danger from others.

My body’s default mode became a constant anticipation of assault or invasion, without expectation of physical protection or kindness.

As a result, my body has often experienced touch initiated by others as a threat.

I have worked a long time to overcome an automatic flinching or withdrawal response when people touch my back or hug me without permission.

Over the years, I have learned to recover more quickly from unexpected touch.

But my bird companion catalyzed a quantum leap.

Notes from my journal:

My body has been claimed by a bird. A bird who does not know this body was invaded and tortured.

She walks deliberately up my arm, without hesitation or reverence. She claims my shoulder as her home and tree.

A parrot wriggles into my shirt cuff. Her muscular, velvet body massages my arm, burrows into my sleeve.

Hidden now, she chortles, creeps further; a gleeful green face pops out of the top of my shirt.

Zee doesn’t fear the trauma memories in my belly; she is blasé about my “private parts.”

When I nap, She clambers up and slides down my pants ‘til I wake up, giggling. I am her personal sandbox/teeter-totter/blanket fort. The perfect playmate for hide and seek.

What mothers of small children find out: this body is no longer my own. This body is not its history. It is safe haven, playground, reference point.

After her shower, she dives inside my bathrobe sleeve to preen herself dry. Appearing at my armpit, she offers her head for a scratch, mutters contentedly.

This new body, claimed by a bird.

My feather friend wants my company: near, very near or at some distance when she needs solo time, exploring time. But always wanted.

When I walk, she hangs from my sleeve, watching the world upside down .

When she naps in the cave of my shirt, my chest is her happy place.

My new body is beloved, not appropriated. Needed, but not exploited. Wow.

I begin to see myself through her eyes, feel myself through her senses. To her, this body is not a site of trauma. Her body leans against me, insisting: I am her refuge.

And this body is no longer fragile–

–Not when she flies at me ferociously. Not when she growls and charges like a dragon defending her hoard. Her beak is sharp! But she chuckles. It is all in fun, Klingon-style fun!

This body can handle boisterous play. This body can take a joke.

This body can do and be new things, because a small, green body has changed my body. Changed its meaning, mood, and purpose.

This bird knows me as flock and kin. She has transformed me into mother, protector, sparring partner.

She does not care about my history. I belong to her now.

Old Identity: Urgent Hypervigilance

Identity-Shift Catalyst: Chronic Exhaustion

When I was a child, peace and safety were fleeting and unreliable. Unpredictable menace set a physiological tone of low grade terror; produced a habitual state of vigilance and heightened adrenaline/cortisol.

I first noticed how anxious I was at fifteen. I could not “let down.”

I got student massages at a massage school, and learned “relaxation response” techniques. I pursued this path for decades, and grew skilled at relaxing.

But Grace asked me to go deeper. Grace showed up as a debilitating fatigue that arose over the past two years.

I was forced to go to the very root of my bone-deep habit of urgency.

Perhaps the bike accident and the extended bug infestation in my building wore me out. Perhaps it was peri-menopause.

It got so I needed two naps to get through the day. I tried to get a diagnosis. I got my blood tested. I inquired into adrenal fatigue. I learned how to manage my low blood pressure.

But it did not shift. This mystery was not ready to be solved. And now I was too tired to worry about it.

At the same time, my new landlord brought in tenants with seven dogs and two toddlers.

My sleep was disrupted like never before. I faced exhaustion every day.

And then sugar and caffeine stopped working for me.

Thanks but no thanks, Grace!

So there we were; me and fatigue. I had no other choice; I decided to befriend it.

I let myself be curious. I wondered, what is this fatigue? Is it really “fatigue,” or is my body trying to teach me a new way of being?

Surrender started with a decision to trust my body’s fatigue instead of trying to fix it.

I followed my body’s lead: sleeping when I could, laying down or doing restorative yoga when I couldn’t.

I allowed my body to be supported by the mattress or props, by earth and by gravity.

I felt glimmers of gratitude. I knew that whatever we repeatedly practice, we start to embody.

Having to rest quietly and free up my schedule was a blessed opportunity to embody rest.

To be honest, this shift in attitude was neither instant nor easy.

Being tired terrified me; all my life I fought it off as hard as I could.
But now I was too worn out to fight.

As fatigue and rest permeated my daily life, my identity shifted:

I learned to sit while tired, meditate while tired, walk while tired, even work with clients while tired. And…nobody died. Nothing bad happened.

One day, after a short, sweet nap, I was engulfed in unshakeable slowness. I was dismayed.

I got up anyway. Exhausted. I took Zee out for a walk anyway.

It was sunny, and besides, why not?
With this thought came the exhilaration of a rebel breaking a stuffy rule.

We got as far as a nearby park, where I found a sunlit bench. I felt a delicious heaviness, a fatigue that I rather…enjoyed?!? What?

The thought came, “I have been waiting all my life to surrender to fatigue.”

One sleepy morning I remembered that the me that I used to be (the me subjected to random nighttime assaults) was afraid to fall asleep.

Now, as Zee dozed in my lap, I wondered. Could tiredness be a friend, a warm lap to doze in?

This emerging me asked interesting questions, like “Why shouldn’t I feel tired and lazy and nap intermittently throughout the day?

Why does that have to be a problem? Why can’t I just enjoy it?”

With these questions came a sense of permission and ease. The tightly coiled wires in my solar plexus unwound; my breath softened.

This re-tooling of my identity from hypervigilant/hyper-worried to being able to rest deeply is a work in progress.

The old habit of terror and vigilance still kicks in. When it does I scan my surroundings, use my senses to verify my safety in this moment.

I make a point of noticing, with my eyes, my ears, my nose, my nerve endings, that I am not starving, not being assaulted. I can close my apartment door and be alone, safe and warm.

In this moment–the only one there is—there is no danger. I am doing fine.

This identity shift is still underway.
But it is well underway.

I am pleased. Deep rest and relaxation is my birthright.
I reclaim it.

Recap: What Helps Us Shed Old Identities?

Identity shifts vary. Some identity shifts seem effortless, like my bird-friend’s influence on my body. Some are knock-down, drag-out fights, like my wrestle with fatigue.

Identity shifts can be quick, but most are gradual, and some seem to take forever.

What helps us shift old traumatized identities?

Relationships Help.

  • Loving Relationships Help.

Before I loved Zee, I loved other birds. Before I loved birds, I loved animals. The animals that I knew as a kid were sources of resilience and allyship.

I have loved birds since I was thirteen, and before I loved birds I loved my grandpa.
My grandpa, who loved birds, loved me.

  • Trusting Relationships Help. 

My restorative yoga teacher has earned my trust over the years.

Her no-nonsense authority holds the class space. She stands in between me and the door so I can let down my guard.

Her pose-adjustments are respectful, matter-of-fact. She offers support with no strings attached.

Her deep, steady drawl comforts me. Her very presence permits me to rest.

Repeated Practice Over Time Helps.

Repeated practice.

Attending restorative yoga classes for eleven years has strengthened my ability to rest.

Loving and trusting birds for thirty years has made bird-love almost effortless.

Grace Helps.

Experiences I would never ask for. Unwanted, unexpected allies took me places I never dreamed of.

Grace wears us down until we can let those tired, old reactions go.

And now, Gentle Reader,

What in your life needs to die?

Who will you love?
What will you practice?
What will you do when Grace arrives, uninvited?