The other day, I went to a yoga class. Many students were in attendance so the instructor had an assistant walking around, adjusting the yogis and yoginis. This bugged me right away when I saw this. I had just been listening to a podcast the night before that discussed students getting injured in yoga classes from overexerting themselves, and it really bothered me to watch the assistant put her hands on people and “correct” them without asking first. I told myself that if she came up to me, I would tell her no thanks. Towards the end of class while in pigeon pose, she came up behind me and started lifting my back leg upwards to make it the full pose. I had purposely not lifted my leg as I was feeling a tearing-like sensation in my knee. But instead of turning around and telling her no thanks, I breathed through it and allowed her to bend my leg. I told her after that it had hurt, but I was SO mad at myself for allowing this to happen. I definitely think the instructor should in some way give everyone the opportunity to voice if they do or don’t want adjustments that day. But why did I not speak up when I told myself I would?
Over the past six months, I’ve been in a true life storytelling performance group called the Yoniverse Monologues (it’s kinda like Vagina Monologues). I originally thought I was going to be talking about masturbation or possibly my abortion, but once I kept digging deeper into my story, I realized a deeper wound was being exposed that hadn’t healed. You see, the reason I got an abortion was because I became pregnant after having sex with a man I didn’t really want to have sex with. We were just going to snuggle, but he kept pushing his dick on my ass throughout the night and by the time dawn came, I just let him put it in. I was so tired, felt weak in my body after a night of dancing and not sleeping because I was sleeping next to someone I was uncomfortable with, and just figured: whatever. I don’t care enough anymore to keep pushing him away from my cunt. While working on my monologue, I’ve uncovered a pattern in my life that I am so not ok with anymore: allowing my body to be entered, touched, or “modified” when I don’t want it to be.
One of my favorite leaders in the holistic women’s health field is Kimberly Johnson of Magamama. From her I learned that trauma doesn’t arise in someone based on what type of experience they’re having, but on how that experience registers in the body. Something traumatic for me like having the bottom of my ass cheek massaged by someone I barely know might not register in your body as traumatic. It’s not the experience that we can label as an “ass massage” that’s inherently traumatic, it’s how we as embodied creatures react to the experience. You have to fully want what is being presented to you, and in order to know you want it, you have to have the time to register what is even happening.
Many things have the potential to be traumatic: a hand run through your hair while dancing with someone; a friend talking your ear off on the phone; being woken up in the middle of the night by your lover, half-sleeping, grabbing your breasts. These are all examples of when stress might be released in our body. Research shows that when someone has experienced something traumatic, they may feel they are being traumatized all over again when stressed. This is why consent culture is so important. This is why it’s so important for us to ask someone before we touch them in any capacity, really, even if it’s just a hug or a friendly back rub. Feeling re-traumatized is such a regular experience for many people, even in an experience that may seem fine, because of the ridiculous amount of people that have been traumatized.
We have been taught that our reaction to stress is fight or flight, but there are actually more options. More options that females gravitate towards: tend, befriend, or freeze. I can relate to all of these, and usually, a combination of all of them. This is an explanation for why empaths can fall too easily into victimhood, why childhood sexual abuse victims don’t speak up for years about their abuse, why SO MANY WOMEN don’t say “I don’t like that”, or “wait, I’m not turned on enough yet”, or “don’t touch me there!”. Can you relate? Have there been times in your life when you wanted to tell someone NO but instead didn’t say anything? What did your body feel like after that happened? For me, after I freeze, I feel num and sleepy (kinda like my cervix, but that’s a different article).
I’m just beginning to learn about the wide spectrum that is trauma and how its memory stays in the body unless it’s healed. Certain neurological pathways get strengthened and become our go to for re-action. New neurological pathways can be traveled, but they have to be created.
Most of us (I always hesitate to say all) have suffered some level of trauma from living in a broken world, even if it was our birth into this world or our being socially conditioned in middle school to reject our true selves.
Being silent that day at yoga class and that day in my tent with that man felt like a brick descending upon my chest. The brick was what held me down, not any person. I froze, and I’m starting to see how that re-action was exactly that, a redoing of what I had done in previously traumatizing/stressful situations.
Kimberly Johnson says trauma occurs when too much happens too soon. Settling more into my feminine ways of nurturing self-love, I catch myself frequently moving too quickly through my day. A few weeks ago I was moving too fast and cut off part of my finger on a mandolin slicer. So that was a wake up call. As two dear wise women Samantha Zipporah and Monica Everett say, giving ourselves the time to slow down and rest is one of the most radical ways of resistance. To move into our more feminine selves, that like it slow, that need 30-45 minutes to get aroused, that bleed for several days of the month, that move through the days in an ebb and flow as we undulate with the moon…
We as a culture are so used to moving quickly, pushing ourselves to know what we want or know the right answer when we’re asked something. Can you remember being called on in class for the answer and hardly given a breath’s moment to deliver? Generally I find it good practice to take a big breath into my whole body before I even consider responding to a proposition or making a decision. So that is what I’m committing to: slowing down all..the…time. So that next time I am in a potentially traumatizing situation, I can take a breath, remember the other strong women who are using their voices, and speak up about what I need in that moment, and then do every fucking thing in my power to ensure that happens. It also seems to be a merging of my inner feminine and masculine, the going inwards and the taking action / protecting what is sacred. I am a powerful being that has access to what I want and need in each and every moment and has the means to fight back if need be. That is my new mantra. I am committing to working to create new neurological pathways, to slowing down, to breathing, to knowing that I am worthy of speaking up for myself.
Since I’ve brought all of this to my awareness, I’m getting better at noticing when I freeze and working up the courage to speak up, to create a new paradigm for myself. But sometimes, I’ll text someone back or hang out with someone I don’t really want to be spending my time with, I’ll talk about myself in a certain way in hopes of being liked, I’ll say simply “that’s ok, don’t worry about it” when someone has done something hurtful or offensive to me. Brushing things off and giving myself when deep down I don’t want to be are my personal struggles. Can you relate? In what situations or with what types of people do you tend to cross your own boundaries?
In life, we’re constantly in a dance of give and take. With other humans and with the earth and her other inhabitants. I can’t always control what comes at me that’s uncomfortable, like a too strong handshake that left my hand feeling sore. But there are things I can control, and I can always use my voice and my strength to respond with a no. I can also hold an energy of strength in my presence by deeply knowing my inner power (my yoni shakti, yoni can be translated as inner knowing and shakti as power). We are sovereign beings that have just forgotten how to take care of ourselves. But the invitation is still there and you have the ability to access that power.
In order to change a neurological pathway, to change a reactive habit, we have to have a model for what new reaction can take place. This is why listening to stories of others who use their voices to speak up is fueling the rise of the feminine. One story gives many others the permission to use their voice, and is creating a ripple affect. I am grateful for the growing abundance of role models who are teaching us all what it looks like to know what you want/need and how to ask for it!
As I lied in Savasana at the end of that yoga class, I breathed a few breaths holding the yoni mudra on my womb space. Coming back to my womb space is a constant for me in this work of recognizing where and when I allow my body to be manipulated without my consent. I lay in recognition of the power of my pussy, the yoni shakti, that is the life force energy pulsing through me. If you are interested in how to do a yoni mudra, here are instructions taken from Yoni Shakti by Uma Dinsmore-Tuli. I highly recommend her book if you’re interested in the intersection of yoga, tantra, and feminism!
Thank you for reading. May we as a society wake up to our innate capacity to alchemize our trauma and move forward with a voice and a strength.
Painting by Denise Kiser Shaw, my mother, of Lilith. Made in 1999.