Working With Contraction: Safety Practices
This is Part 4 of a 5-part series with Vanissar Tarakali, Ph.D., a body-whisperer who offers learn-through-the-body workshops & coaching for people who are transforming our world. She teaches how to collaborate wisely with our bodies to transform trauma & sustain social change. Healing oppression facilitator & DiversityWorks trainer, Dr. Tarakali passionately practices Generative Somatics, Intuitive Reading, Energy Bodywork & Tibetan Buddhism.
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.
I learned this practice from Capacitar: One-by-one, “hug” each finger of your hand with your other hand, gently closing your fist around it. Take three slow deep breaths, feeling the sensations of warmth and holding in your finger.
Thanking the Body
Notice an area tension in your body and draw a “yes” around this area. Thank this part of your body for “holding things together.” Appreciate it for its efforts. Pay attention to your sensations.
Side By Side
To create a sense of group safety, have everyone sit side by side in pairs during difficult 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.
Claim and Clear Your Space
Make space for yourself: Clear space around you by pushing your arms out with your hands pushing 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 calm, clear sense of space around your body. Clearing your space each day reprograms your body to send clear non-verbal messages to others to respect you.
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.