Those of you who have experienced my Somatic and Intuitive Coaching work know I believe that a sense of safety in the body is the foundation both for healing trauma and practicing new ways of being.
Somatic safety means giving your body experiences of feeling protected and/or able to take care of itself.
My avian assistant Zee has taught me alot about the “containment” or “holding” aspect of somatic safety.
Containment means giving your body a feeling of being held, of having a sense of boundary. With containment, emotions and sensations have a somatic beginning and end. They shift from “overwhelming” to manageable.
You can give yourself this experience with or without props.
With Props: you can use blankets, pillows, eyebags or sandbags, a wall, the floor or water to give your body a sense of being held.
You could put a sandbag on your chest, or hide under a pile of pillows, get in a warm bath and feel the water holding your skin, or wrap yourself in blankets.
You can wear a thick scarf or hoodie and feel the coziness. Notice which parts of your body like being held the most, and notice how you feel when you allow yourself to really rest inside that holding.
Without Props: you can push your arms against your sides; push your legs together; cradle your arm(s) around your head. Do each of these gently but firmly for five seconds, then pause and repeat.
Or you can lie down and push your feet against a wall, noticing your length from head to toe, feeling where you begin and end.
Certain breathing practices, such as counting the length of your inhalations and exhalations (ie. “In, 2, 3, 4. Out, 2, 3, 4.”), or silently labeling the “beginning,” “middle” and “end” of a breath cycle, can also support containment.
To see if a containment practice works for you, try it out a few times, and pay attention to your body’s feedback—is it a “yes” a “no” or a “maybe?” If it is a yes, invite yourself to practice it every day.
My baby parrot Zee has shown me how essential a sense of safety is for healthy development.
Here Zee is demonstrating his favorite “With Props” containment method: hiding in his fuzzy “happy hut.”
Sometimes Zee feels exposed, like when a big seagull or crow flies by our window. Parrots, like all prey animals, are ever-vigilant of predators.
Zee can also be timid when he meets a new person. He needs to gather his courage to explore a new object or area (such as his tree-playground).
Often during these vulnerable moments, he darts into his cozy “happy hut.”
Zee has so far lived a trauma-free life. It is not trauma that makes him cautious about new experiences. It is natural for him to hide, peek his head out slowly, retreat, and eventually emerge and explore.
Exploring includes many “happy hut” interludes. When Zee has had enough, risked enough, he returns to his refuge to rest and digest until curiosity draws him out again.
Parrots’ heads—especially their ears–get itchy. They can scratch their heads with their feet, but it is not as nice as having another bird preen them.
The first time I saw Zee scratching his head, I reached out to scratch it for him. He chittered and snapped at me, ferocious as a mini dragon. He did not yet trust my hands.
But later, he scurried into his fuzzy hut, poked his head out and nudged my fingers. This was my cue, and he let me scratch his head a little bit. Zee felt insulated enough by the happy hut to risk me touching his vulnerable head.
As the days passed, he allowed me to scratch his head more and more. Nowadays, he lets me give him “cuddles” out in the open, far away from his happy hut! He just needed to take his time.
We are biologically similar to Zee and other baby animals. We need a baseline of safety and holding in order to explore and risk and trust.
All of us need to take it slow, and sometimes retreat. The dance of two steps forward, one step back is integral to healthy development.
This holds true even more when we are healing from personal or social trauma.
Our bodies have a natural need for steady holding, and a natural rhythm of retreating and exploring, contracting and expanding.
When we respectfully collaborate with this body rhythm, we are able to sustain each little victory of growth and healing. Our once narrow world expands–sustainably.
Zee reminds me of this every day. If I try to push him past his safety zone, he gives me a big “No” by acting out, or hiding in his hut.
When I drop my agenda, I am more able to notice when he has “had enough” and when he is ready for adventure.
I can respond appropriately and support his growth. With this foundation of safety and trust, his confidence—and his world–expands. As does mine. We bring each other joy.
Zee reminds me that I, too am a biological animal; I also need to nurture and challenge myself: What do I need right now? How much is enough? How much is too much?
Am I having a “happy hut” moment, or am I ready for a new adventure?
How about you? How are you treating your animal body?