It’s Not Easy Being Seen
August 9, 2023


In 2008, during my second year of Somatics and Trauma (S & T) training, we were introduced to a practice called Ally to Protect.

One of my fellow students–I will call her Iris–was invited to work with an area of trauma or challenge of her choice while receiving collective support.

Iris is an open hearted, generous and down-to-earth BIPOC person who has experienced institutional and interpersonal racism, as have her ancestors.

Her body also remembers generations of gender oppression arising from both inside and outside her cultural community.

When Ally to Protect is practiced in group settings, the person who’s in the spotlight or center chooses how they want to be protected and by whom. They select where their allies will be positioned. 

The center person is asked, “Who do you want to be in front of you, to protect you or be an obstacle that harm must pass through first in order to reach you?” 

“Who do you want at your side, facing danger with you?”

“Who do you want at your back, to give you backup?” 

“What do you want your allies to say–to you–or to any threats coming your way?”

Once roles have been agreed upon (allies have the option to consent or decline to play the requested role), the positioning is refined.

The center person may be asked, “How close do you want this ally/these allies to be?”

“Do you want the folks at your side to be shoulder to shoulder with you, or do you need more space?”



Much of this is decided by trying various things out, with the center person positioning and repositioning their allies until they get a clear feeling in their body of “Yes, I feel supported.” 

Then everyone remains in position for a while, long enough for the center person to feel the experience sink in.

Usually their body starts to relax, and feel safer. Yawning, weeping, sighing and other somatic indicators of unwinding occur at this point.

When Iris was invited to place her allies in position, she spoke tentatively at first, her light–almost slight–voice gently naming specific people, asking them to stand beside her, in front of her and behind her. 

Iris invited me to stand on her right side. 

I was honored to be asked, amd relieved to get clear instructions, “Here’s where I want you to stand, here’s what I need you to say.” 

It was a revelation to be asked to check in with my somatic response to Iris’ invitation. To feel my body’s enthusiastic, “Yes, I want to do this!”

Once I was in position beside Iris, I was hawk-focused, hawk fierce. 

The rest of the group formed two circles around the innermost group: an inner circle facing inward, keeping an eye on Iris, and an outer circle facing outward, vigilant for danger. 

This configuration was chosen by trial and error, according to what made Iris’s body generate sensations of ease and relaxation.



The harm Iris asked her allies to protect her from was the erasing messages the world had sent her as a child; demands that she stay small and invisible, putting others’ needs before her own.

For example, at a tender age, she was expected to raise her younger siblings. Her childhood had ended.

Other early verbal and nonverbal messages communicated that she was unworthy of taking up space, or of having her needs met or her voice heard.

These messages of erasure, coming from her family, her community, and white supremacist institutions, were internalized by Iris’s body.

We set up the Ally to Protect configuration so that if any of those gendered, racialized messages came her way, whether from within her or from without, she would have allies:

allies beside her, to face the messages with her;
allies in between her and the messages, to protect her;
allies who had her back. 

Some folks outside the circles of allies were asked to dramatize those early messages by speaking them aloud; this gave us the opportunity to use our bodies and our voices to protect Iris by blocking and refuting the messages of erasure.

As we held space for Iris, and played our parts, her tears began to flow; her shoulders dropped.

As so often happens during somatic practices, Iris’ body had begun to shed layers of armor:

old, crystallized hurts were melting;
beliefs shaped by trauma called into question.

After a time she accessed a younger aspect of herself who needed to ask us if we were truly okay–truly willing–to stand with her.

The child-self whispers, “Is this real? Am I a burden?” 

Various allies expressed how proud and thrilled we were to stand with her, to affirm her worth and support her visibility. We told her that she was worthy of our support, and just plain worthy, period.

Our enthusiasm was another nonverbal antidote to those early messages of unworthiness.




Later on, Iris connected with some of her ancestors’ experiences as well; she sensed that they, too, were being healed. More tears.

My eyes and ears witnessed changes in Iris: first the struggle to receive support, followed by gradually yielding to and absorbing our care.

She wept and narrated her emergent epiphanies.

As she took in the corrective experience of “Wow, people have got my back, people here to protect me, people are glad to protect me,” her body released even more, until she told us she felt heavy and sleepy.  

I sensed Iris’s body filling up with Iris-ness; she looked more solid and substantial; now her voice was throaty, resonant. By the end of the practice, she spoke with calm authority. 

Iris was taking her space.

It was a profound moment for me as a white person, to ally with my BIPOC colleague–on her terms.

It was beautiful to witness and sense the energy emanating from Iris during her healing process.

The group energy was equally amazing; a sense of awe permeated the room. Iris’s healing was impacting everyone present (and beyond).

Tears gleamed in my classmates’ eyes, spilled down their cheeks. Mine, too.

As a generative somatics practitioner, I have been blessed to witness myriad transformative, intimacy-building moments like this one.

This is why I say,

Somatic work is magic.


Somatic work re-connects. 

I am profoundly grateful to have trained in generative somatics, for so many reasons.

But one of the gifts I am most grateful for is the lasting friendship that Iris and I created as we supported each other to unwind and heal and blossom.

Thank you, Iris.


Next Month: The Magic of Somatic Solidarity:
Part II: Social Justice


Book an appointment with Dr. Tarakali. 


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