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I always thought I hated the gym because something was wrong with me. I was broken, lazy, not athletic. As I’ve grown to learn more about the body and what we need to feel inside ourselves, I now understand my aversion (other than the obvious body shame and diet culture that happens there).

When we exercise to check a box, to complete a certain amount of time, to “do what we have to do”, we check out. The image I’m thinking is younger me, on a machine, watching TV and trying to pretend I wasn’t working out.

When our connection to movement isn’t about being inside of ourselves, completing that stress response cycle, and even having fun (yes it’s possible) we leave. Movement is a gift. For some people it very well may be running or lifting at the gym and if that’s you that’s wonderful IF YOU’RE INSIDE YOURSELF. Not necessarily for every single moment, but at least sometimes.

When we push through because we “should” we don’t get to connect with our bodies. We ignore our bodies signals of “stop this is boring” or even sometimes “stop this place is triggering”.

80 percent of our experience is processed through the body.

The things we read in books about healing, our sessions with healers/therapists, changes we are making in our lives, can be physically integrated through a practice of connecting with our bodies in a loving, mindful, and intentional way.

This can literally be breathing. Or self massage. Or stretching. It doesn’t have to be the biggest thing. But when we care for our physical selves, when we inhabit our bodies, when we gain mastery over something (a new skill, a new breath pattern, a new pose) or feel something click into place inside of us, or connect more deeply with ourselves, we heal.

Some ideas for trauma informed, body positive or neutral, and healing movement:

1. Do something with a friend! Activate that ventral vagal nerve that lights up when we are engaging with someone! Compliment each other. Ask beforehand what kind of compliments each of you wants, do they need to be only about skill or about a particular part of the body? Invite each other to connect with your bodies, together, i.e. “stay with that breath”, “we are here to have fun”, “you are so strong”.

2. Take a body positive or at least body neutral class! Still ventral vagal activation through having a teacher and classmates. Here, there are no phones, no screens, but plenty of connection! Call a studio ahead of time and ask about the language they use and the purpose of the class, i.e “Hello! Is this class going to use any language about weight loss?”, “Are there hands on adjustments in this class?”, “if this teacher body positive, neutral, trauma informed?”. When we advocate for our needs we also heal. If the class isn’t for you and is triggering, walk out. That in itself is deeply healing.

3.Get outside! Take a walk/run/hike. Breathe in fresh air. Connect with the earth which also lights up that ventral vagal!

4. Stay at home if it’s your safe place and check out someone like Yoga with Adriene whose on YouTube FOR FREE and very warm & positive.

5. Work with a body/queer/trauma informed trainer. There are so many wonderful folks out there who want to help you get strong, connect with yourself, and who won’t resort to body negative language to motivate you. People like Q GRIT Fitness & Decolonizing Fitness

6. Breathwork! Breathing is movement. When we breathe, we healing. When we breathe through discomfort, we build lung capacity and muscle in places that can help us re-pattern our body to breathe more deeply on a regular basis. Check out Jennifer Patternson’s new book The Power of Breathwork or a breathwork class near you.

7. Pick up Thomas Hanna’s book Somatics. It is full of low impact movement exercises to help you connect with your body and undo the every day physical trauma of living in this world. In no way is it about exercise or losing weight.

And again, whatever that practice is needs to be affirming for your body, as it is, today. Having any other frame can release stress hormones and totally defeat the purpose of this important practice. You deserve to be inside your body in a way that is healing and exciting, not stress producing or shaming.

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Kink & BDSM have long been pathologized and stigmatized in the mental health community and general society. Wanting to incorporate intentional power, pain, bondage, and dynamics have been viewed as due to someone’s trauma history or mental illness. However, more therapists such as myself and other folks in the BDSM community have been making connections between somatic and relational healing, and kink. Regardless of someone’s trauma, which may look exactly like their kink or not at all, kink provides a container for a somatic & relational experience that can re-write our narratives about ourself, form new brain pathways, and help us return to our bodies. Below are some of the (many) ways BDSM & Kink can be framed for healing purposes if done within a safe and healthy relationship container (which could be a long term relationship or a carefully negotiated pick up play scene at a party!).

Experiencing a safe, predictable container.

Much like the therapy office, having the same day and time for an appointment, and discussing goals and treatment modalities with a therapist, kink can provide a similar safety container, if done in a safe place and with safe people. There is a scene, which is the time and space in which play happens, and before then planning between partners about what is ok and not ok to happen in that scene. There is predictability, which calms and heals the nervous system.

Completing our stress response cycle

Similar to other physical practices, kink can invite stuck traumatic stress energy that is pent up to be released. Through movement and expression, we release this energy that is no longer serving us. Here, we get to do this while also connecting to another person, and a larger community.

Connecting with our felt sense

Kink done well invites us to connect with our internal sensations. It asks us to be in touch with how things are feeling for us inside of our bodies, and name them to our partners, whereas other physical or sexual activity can never invite us to drop into embodiment.

Getting a corrective emotional experience or a “mismatch”

If we have experienced trauma, harm, or misattunement in the past (which I could argue everyone has), then kink can heal this due to the need for extreme attunement. Here, we get the experience of being attuned to. Here, we get to change our narratives about ourselves in relationship (it can be safe to be known, we can choose what happens to our bodies, we can set boundaries).

Getting to experience safe attunement

As mentioned above, here our attachment systems can get a new experience of someone being tuned into our emotions and sensations and needs, and having that be safe. During a scene, partners need to be aware of each other to an extreme level, and in a healthy dynamic, that leads to more closeness and better play. This is different than someone being attuned to you and using that knowledge as a way to manipulate or harm you further. This is also different than someone not attuning to you, and the experience of being abandoned or uncared for.

Kink & BDSM is another opportunity for embodiment and healing. To find out more, I have an hour long workshop available here for purchase and download.

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Triggers have become part of our societal vocabulary as trauma becomes more openly spoken about. However, glimmers are new to my personal vocabulary, and feel extremely key to the conversation around learning what activates us, both into states of survival, and of safety.

Glimmers are essentially the opposite of triggers!

If a trigger brings us into a survival state, and is also known as a cue of danger,, glimmers are what bring us back into our window of tolerance and safety (cue of safety).

To fully understand where glimmers take us in our nervous system, it’s important to outline the branches of it. The nervous system has the sympathetic branch and the parasympathetic branch.

The sympathetic is our fight or flight response, it’s our nervous system’s call to action. It calls us to fight back, or run away, depending on what feels like is going to be more successful, or what has worked for us in the past. This is also known as a hyperaroused state, a state of the body with more stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, increasing our heart rate and suspending our appetite so we are more ready for the fight to to run. This can also show up as anxiety, anger, not being able to sleep, loss of appetite, and so on when we get stuck in this state.

The parasympathetic branch has two separate parts, the dorsal vagal and the ventral vagal.

The dorsal is our submit/freeze response. It is where our nervous system goes when we have perceived that fight or flight isn’t safe. It is the “giving up”, hopelessness, “if I am so still maybe no one will see me response”. It’s like the hurt animal we try and help on the side of the road who is listless and we can’t even tell is they are alive. It’s playing dead.

The ventral vagal is where we go when we feel safe and connected. Our glimmers take us here. It is the feeling of being known and understood, seen and validated. It is feel cozy and safe and secure, in a space or with a person.

As Deb Dana talks about, our goal is to not be here all the time. We are meant to fluctuate between states, with flexibility. It’s when we get stuck in a survival state, and can;t access the safe & connected place that we need help coming home to the ventral vagal state.

So back to triggers & glimmers,Certain smells, places and people and so on activate us into a sympathetic response (our fight or flight response) or the parasympathetic response connected to the dorsal vagal (our freeze or collapse response).

Certain smells, places and people and so on can activate us into our ventral vagal, the safe and connected zone of our parasympathetic nervous system.

Those are our glimmers!

Some questions to ask yourself:

What people, places, feelings, smells, sensations glimmer me back into feeling safe and connected?

What triggers take me into a survival response?

What glimmers are most effective when I am in a survival state? Which ones get me home from fight? Flight? Freeze? Submit?

What do my states feel like in my body? How do I know I’m triggered in my body? How do I know a glimmer is kicking in and taking me home?

What does a glimmer feel like, what sensations does it bring up, what feelings?

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