How do you empower yourself? How do you empower children? How can we feel safe in such an ever- changing and sometimes crazy world?
Just recently I had the chance to delve into this topic with my children. We were in a taxi on the way to the airport and just by virtue of being ‘trapped’ in the car with me, I held them spellbound as my audience.
Since Mind-body awareness is a topic I hold dear to my heart, I took the opportunity to read a poem about the topic of ‘flight’ from a book called “Trauma Proofing Your Kids” by Peter Levine and Maggie Kline. The poem is called ‘How Fast Can You Run?’ and it’s meant to empower children by helping them tap into their bodily resources of escape and safety.
After I read the poem, my children and I had a wonderful dialogue about how strong their bodies are and the times that they’ve used this strength to leave situations that have felt scary to them.
The poem, in spinning a tale about ‘Rapid the Rabbit’ running so fast away from ‘Coyote’, sets up a framework for discussing what situations a child has felt like running and how powerful they have felt in doing so.
My children shared a few stories of ‘taking flight’ by running from a scare – for one child, it was a bee who had scared them and for another it was an alarm that sounded off in a building; another one was frightened by firecrackers. We talked about how their body felt – how their heart beat so fast, how their breath came so quickly and how fast their legs carried them.
In all these cases, the children had been able to run. I could hear the confidence in their voices and the relief in their ability to escape. As the authors state, “When kids associate movement with strength and the power to avoid threat, they develop self-esteem that comes from their core. This builds the kind of confidence that remains even when children are under stress because it has become an ‘automatic ‘motor memory.’ (p.71).
My children were lucky in these situations because they had the ability to run.
There are situations, however, in which a child is frightened and not able to run. It could be that at the time of the event – whether it was getting chastised by a parent/teacher or being bullied by a ‘friend’- they were unable to leave the situation and felt ‘frozen’ in place. When a child has experienced this, it’s important to help them access their sense of power and their ability to keep themselves safe.
Levine and Kline’s book has poems for dialoguing this ‘frozen’ state because these experiences can become fixated in a child’s cells and show up as anxiety later on. By conversing with a child and bringing awareness to their bodies, we help empower them to ‘unfreeze’ from the event.
The child most likely felt small, overwhelmed and powerless and though the event has passed, there is a trauma – like condition in their cells. Encouraging the child to be aware of their body and to act out their ability to get away by taking ‘flight’ helps them release the stress of having been frozen in place during the frightening event. Levine and Kline suggest having the child actually run around or even run in place by pumping their legs. If one is unable to get the child to act out running, even imagining running is helpful.
This mind-body activity with the child helps them to access their ‘flight’ muscles and bodily strength and results in them feeling confident in their own ability to take care of themselves.
As adults too, we may have experienced events in which we felt we ‘couldn’t’ leave a situation that felt overwhelming to us – perhaps being chastised by a boss, or experiencing the anger of an acquaintance. We ‘froze’ in place.
Many of us have an overpowering social sense of ‘trying to do the right thing’ that keeps us frozen in place. We believe that ‘it wouldn’t be nice’ to walk away.
Or we have the very normal fear of losing a job or a friendship. Whatever the reasons are, we often choose to stay in the presence of someone who treats us in a way that feels lousy, overwhelming and fearful. We sit and ‘handle it.’
It’s important to become aware that in all of these situations, your body has a reaction – your heart beats fast or you may feel numb. You may be overwhelmed by the mix of fear, humiliation, anger etc. and dissociate – leave the awareness of the body. After the situation, you may walk away from the encounter, ruminating and replaying the scene again and again in your mind.
These are trauma responses and it is very important to take an opportunity to drop into your body to ‘take flight.’ This means that instead of just replaying the scene in your mind, you notice what is coming up in your body.
Do you feel heat? That may be anger. Be present with this heat by keeping your attention on the physical sensation, no matter how uncomfortable it feels.
Do you feel fear and imagine running? Then ‘run’ your legs.
We are not children, yet our responses are similar and the trauma can leave the cells when we run in place with our legs pumping. Even pretending to do so in our imagination is beneficial. Peter Levine walks his readers thru an exercise like this in his book/ CD called ‘Healing Trauma.’
It’s also important that as adults we give ourselves permission to actually ‘take flight’ in situations.
We don’t have to stay in place when we are being treated unkindly, even by a boss. We can excuse ourselves and go to a restroom to give ourselves space to feel our heart beating, our limbs tingling, our stomach dropping.
You may feel discomfort to leave a situation and you may feel even more discomfort to feel these physical sensations in your body, but know that this action of taking care of yourself is extremely empowering and healthy. You will also experience a surge of self-confidence as you access your inner resourcefulness in keeping yourself safe.
Another benefit of dropping into your body and noticing the physical sensations of ‘taking flight’ is that you’ll receive inner wisdom.
You’ll have access to your intuition that will guide you in response to the intimidating situation. You will ‘hear’ what words to communicate to your boss or friend regarding their behavior and how it makes you feel. Or you may ‘see’ that this job or relationship is hurting you more than you’re willing to tolerate and you’ll make changes to actually ‘take flight’ by leaving the situation permanently.
Keeping ourselves safe and helping children to do the same is a programmed resource in our bodies. It’s about time that we all accessed that power.
Miriam Racquel (Meryl) Feldman is a Mind-body and Intuitive Wisdom Coach who empowers women who want to find clarity around decisions of career, relationships, family and health. For more information, visit MiriamRacquel.com or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.