Finding Safety after Trauma

by Kelsey Gustafson, TCTSY-F

Like many of you, my heart has been rocked by recent tragedies in the world. From the hurricane in Puerto Rico to the mass shooting in Las Vegas, sometimes it seems that death and injustice are everywhere.

As a trauma survivor, the paradoxical experience of hoping for safety, but feeling unshakable fear is all too familiar. 

I have begun to wonder about access to the feeling of safety. As a facilitator, I’ve stopped using the term “safe space” to describe the classroom environment where I teach yoga and started to use the term “brave space”.

Safety can be an impossible cue for trauma survivors. 

Folks who have experienced interpersonal violence and oppression are aware of this every day. The heartbreaking injustice that impacts of so many lives is yet another reminder that safety is no guarantee for any of us.

I believe that safety, as I’ve always thought of it (a guarantee of external physical safety), is not a thing. 

How can the police, the government, the administration, your therapist, your yoga teacher or anyone in the world “ensure” your safety?

Some questions…

✨ How do we withstand the discomfort of living in a world that is truly unpredictable and where safety cannot be guaranteed?

✨ What does safety feel like as a sensation in the body?

✨ To what extent do I have access to the experience of safety in a given moment?

✨ How might my access to a sense of safety shift after experiencing trauma?

I believe that living in such a violent culture is impacting all of our bodies.

I have been noticing tension and strain in my body and mind. I have also observed an increasing level of stress in the bodies of my students. Although none of us can control the world, we do have some control over our bodies.

Can we cultivate a sense of embodied safety on purpose?

I believe that when we practice yoga together, we are also practicing cultivating a sense of safety from the inside, even if only for a moment. 

Right now my “safety practice” is embodied inquiry within a trauma-sensitive, survivor-focused context. 

In this practice, I notice when my body can let go and when it tenses up. I’m noticing how it changes as I move, feel and relate.  Perhaps feeling relaxed in my body could be an experience of safety.

Perhaps safety does not come from external conditions but is an inner experience.

I am sending so much love to all of our bodies today. May we find moments of peace and relative ease even as we experience grief, rage, and hopelessness.

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