The next time you feel overflowed, shattered, dissociated — please know that these are common states for one who has survived trauma, oppression, and/or relational wounding. You are not alone and you are not crazy. Dissociation happens to us all. It is our brain and bodies way of filtering out stimulation from the environment. This can feel like fuzziness, numbness, being spaced out, or alternately it can feel like being in hyperdrive, super fixated on something, or overwhelmed. Dissociation is a strategy that protects us, but sometimes this strategy can get stuck in the “on mode” from overwhelming past experiences and no longer be serving our current state of being.
I’d like to offer a simple counterbalance to dissociation. This is trauma coping skill which is absolutely free, requires no insurance, and can be practiced wherever and whenever you are – I like to call it ReAssociation.
ReAssociation is based on the Yoga principle of engaging with the present moment, connecting to what is here and now. Consider that the very first Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, a seminal Sanskrit text that spells out yoga theory and practice, says “Atha Yoga nushasanam.” This roughly translates to “Now, the Practice of Yoga.” Notice that the first word is now, so yoga is about arriving in the now, not all the other places a protective or defended mind could take you. You
The word Yoga means Union, so it is fundamentally about uniting with all of life within us and around us as it truly is. It is therefore a stellar antidote to dissociation, which is our brain’s way of checking out from what is. As we reconnect with the Now, it is vital for trauma survivors to do this in a slow and conscious manner, as too much reconnecting could cause flooding of trauma material that the brain is keeping at bay for a reason. Having grounding resources to aid in reconnecting is very helpful.
There is great neuroscience research to back this up as well. Connecting with the present moment turns on our “ventral vagal” state, which is a state of attunement, engagement, and calm. Think of it as basically the Goldilocks sweet spot of not-too-much and not-too-little nervous system activation. When we’re in the ventral state we’re not hyperaroused into fight or flight, and we’re not shutting down into freeze or numbing.
Now, the ReAssociation practice:
- Notice you are feeling dissociation. This turns on our most evolved part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, and begins to gets us out of operating from our survival brain centers, the limbic system and brain stem. Going from lizard brain to wizard brain.
- Gather yourself (this is the hardest part) to step outside. This can be especially difficult if you’re feeling more of the numbing, cut off kind of dissociation. If so, you could even look out the window from wherever you’re sitting.
- Connect with nature. You could gaze up to the sky or perhaps the Moon. Notice the colors in the natural environment, the smells, the sounds. You might feel your feet releasing into the sun-soaked Earth.
If it’s available to you, you could listen to the song of a nearby River. Any of these will do. You could also get creative and tap into nature in your own way. All of these are ways of telling the brainstem to come into the present moment, of reminding yourself that there is no current threat (although it may feel as If there is).
- Feel what you feel. Mama Earth knows pain, Sister Moon has her craters, the River Waters have their ebbs and flows. These ~bodies of wisdom~ have experienced devastation, neglect, and abuse too. They can hold it with you. *Be mindful of this step. Sometimes it’s not safe to feel all we feel. So stay in your tolerable range of experience. Think of a stoplight, red means too much, yellow means comfortable range of growth, green means straight up chilling. Stay in the green or yellow. Turn back to step 3 or skip to step 5 if you feel the red creeping in.*
- Resource – these natural bodies (moon, earth, River, etc.) know the way of renewal, cycles, and regeneration. You may find as you sit with them that coping even turns to healing. You may tap into your own resilience, grounding, and power. Sweet life-giving nature, our oldest stabilizer, our most compassionate and powerful secure holding environment, a steadying resource in so many ways. These bodies of wisdom are readily available relational attachments which can heal.
For those of my fellow friends with attachment based, relational trauma, for those who have suffered from systemic oppression, it may be supportive to remind yourself of your place in the ~eco-system~. Yoga is a wonderful way to do so, as each breath is a chance to reconnect with what is happening all around us. You may also benefit from a relationship with a trusted human, therapist, teacher, or friend, another invaluable resource on your healing journey. Your trauma didn’t happen in isolation, so neither can your healing.