The Power to Be: Trauma Sensitive Practice and the Capacity to Be Fully Alive

An Experiment

Notice if you’re feeling curious.  If you are, I invite you to try an experiment with me.  The experiment is to notice your embodied experience of language.  This means noticing your body’s response to words and phrases.  Another way to say this is noticing how words and phrases feel in your body, or, “how they land with you.”   To try this, read the short list below and repeat the words and phrases slowly, either silently in your mind or aloud, with your eyes closed or softly open, whichever feels comfortable.  Leave a small space of silence in between them so you have room to notice your experience.  As you do this, pay close attention to your body and observe any thoughts, feelings, reactions, responses, or sensations that might arise:

Do this now

You’re welcome to try this when you’re ready


Notice if you’d like to rest

Hurry up

In your own time

Thank you for trying this!  How was that for you?  Did you notice anything about this list intellectually?  Did your body notice anything about these words and phrases?  This was an experiment, so there’s no wrong or right answer.  Perhaps you observed that some phrases read like commands and some like invitations.  Maybe you felt that some words extend a sense of urgency and others a sense of open acceptance.  It’s possible you felt nothing in your body as you repeated the list, or only noticed a small response.  It’s also possible you felt quite a lot of sensation in your torso, around your chest, your ribcage, and your belly, or somewhere else altogether.  

I love that there’s no objectively right answer here, that there’s no “perfect” outside of your own experience.  Whatever your experience in this practice is, it’s the right one.  This is what trauma-sensitive practice means for me.  Observing and noticing, allowing and honoring are key aspects of this way of life, the “trauma aware” way of life. That’s what Mindfulness Based Emotional Resilience* training becomes — not a series of important looking letters after your name or a certification for you to work into your tagline — it becomes the way you move through the world.  

“Mindfulness Based Emotional Resilience 

becomes the way you move 

through the world.”

The phrases “You’re welcome to try this when you’re ready, Notice if you’d like to rest, and In your own time,” are considered trauma-sensitive because they allow for the person receiving the language to make choices, which is one of the hallmarks of trauma-sensitive work.  In this case, the choices include things like whether we will engage in the activity, as well as how we will or won’t engage in the activity.  In all forms of trauma-sensitive practice the locus of power shifts from objective to subjective, external to internal, from the institution to the person, from other people to you.  

Moving Through the World

The way I lived before my trauma training was “fairly accepting,” “sort of kind,” “pretty welcoming,” and “almost-but-not-quite non-judgmental.”   I’d been practicing yoga for about 18 years and really struggled with a lot of perfectionistic tendencies, a ton of unrealistic expectations, buckets of shame, and barrels of shoulds.  These kinds of characteristics manifest in a variety of spaces like the yoga studio, the church sanctuary, the athletic field, and the performance hall, to name a few.  And for me it’s possible they were very much nurtured by western society’s bent toward a white supremacist culture.   This almost invisible power structure doesn’t leave much room for personal nuance, subjective subtlety, or shades of brown.  People of every color are affected by it — including white people — whether we realize it or not.  But the EMBER training cuts through all of that.  Trauma-sensitivity literally carves out the room you need to flourish into who you are capable of being. And not only that, but it teaches you how to do this for others, too. 

“I am enough.  

And so are you.”

Acknowledgement, empathy, and compassion are now cornerstones of the way I move through the world.  Now I know how to make space, take space, and hold space for my own self, for the people I know and love, for those I find extraordinarily challenging, and for the people I’ve never met.  Perfectionism, unrealistic expectations, shame, and shoulds are bits of rubble I step over.  Now I notice, name, and embrace my experience in a way that is tender and welcoming instead of demanding and hostile.  Finally, I can be a yoga pose instead of “do” a yoga pose.   Finally I can set down the value-laden anvil of “being good” and  “doing it right,” and pick up the mantle of I am enough and so are you.

Being and Becoming

Trauma awareness allows us to approach ourselves and others from a place of wholeness.  This means we don’t see ourselves as incomplete, broken, or in need of fixing.  Instead we’re afforded space to view ourselves as fully functioning in relation to our circumstances both internal (our genetic makeup and nervous system function) and external (the amount of challenges we encounter in relation to our power, or access to resources and supports).  We do what works to make it through until we cultivate more skillful practices and/or create, gain, or otherwise access more power. These are the spaces in which we move from resilience to post-traumatic growth.  We can’t practice what we were never taught.  And we can’t learn what we were never given an opportunity to know.   So the philosophy of wholeness meets us where we are, with welcoming and befriending, and it allows each one of us to be who we are while supporting us to grow into who we are becoming.  


If you’d like to take a small step toward feeling fully alive (even if only for a moment), or to experience the power of just being, try this experiment with me (with your eyes open or closed): 

If you’d like, place your hand (or hands) on something solid –  your leg, the seat of your chair, the floor, or the ground, and press down with any amount of pressure that feels right.

Notice any sensations that reveal your connection to this solid thing, or to the earth.

Breathe in.  And then, breathe out.  

Now, look around your space, and notice one color that stands out to you.

If you’d like, say the name of that color out loud or silently in your mind.

Last, notice how you feel.

Thank you for trying that with me!  Perhaps you’d like to let that experience settle then investigate how it was for you, or, come back to the practice again after you’ve finished reading.  Remember, you have the power to be a witness to your own being.  You have the power to be a witness to your own becoming.  Both of these actions are happening all the time and at the same time, and any choice you make around realizing your power and becoming fully alive…?  It’s the right one. 

May you know peace, joy, and hope, 

in any amount,


The Universal Yogi

I was trained in EMBER Yoga (Mindfulness-Based Emotional Resilience) by the amazing co-creators Michele Vinbury and Marybeth Hamilton at the equally amazing Yoga on High in Columbus, Ohio. The most life-changing, life-enhancing training I’ve ever experienced.

St. patrick’s Breastplate, Yoga, & Armor

I love to put on yoga.  There’s power here. The practice is sacred ground.  It’s the place I pause, and notice, acknowledge, and welcome, and the place where I decide.  The power lies in the ridiculous amount of choice I have access to when I pause, breathe, and feel my feet.  I love stepping into Mountain, reaching into Half Moon, slipping into Warrior III. I am the Mountain. I am the Half Moon.  I am the Warrior. I love putting on stillness, wrapping myself in concentration, and painting my face with rest and joy. In this I am the lake, the eagle’s eye, the lotus and the alleluia. 

This all comes with me into my day.

I love to practice yoga anytime of day or night, but I’ve found it to be especially sweet and effective in the morning.  It’s a beautiful invocation of blessing and offering for the day ahead. I don’t wear the yoga as armor to keep people out or keep myself in; it’s more like armor to sustain whatever is present, armor as a set of tools I need to do my work in the world, the work of loving and being loved. 

Where there’s yoga, there’s prayer, and when I’m practicing at home, and my mind comes into the same space and time as my body, my spirit wakes up, and I recognize God’s presence within and around me. So, when I can wake and walk into the practice, I have an opportunity to make a connection to myself, situate myself in God’s presence and invoke All the Good. 

And, where there’s yoga, there’s power. No matter what kind of sequence I’m practicing: downdog, warrior III, downdog, side plank to wild thing, or: forward fold, sleeping big toe pose, reclined twist, supported bridge to legs up the wall, by savasana I have all the power I need for the day ahead. Regardless of when I practice, I walk into the rest of my day shod with peace boots, grounded, connected, and steadfast.  Whether I’ve followed a peaceful, invigorating, or restorative arc, I always leave my mat with strength, spaciousness, and power, the perfect set of equipment to be able to serve, to observe, resist, or engage whatever comes. 

Yoga is my morning prayer of peace, protection, and power.      

Saint Patrick’s Breastplate, also known as The Deer’s Cry or The Lorica, is a traditional Celtic morning prayer of peace, protection, and power.  It is attributed to St. Patrick around the year 377, though exact authorship and date is unknown. It is “written as a hymn calling on Christ to surround the supplicant in all bodily directions and invokes God for protection against [all forms of evil.]”*  The Breastplate is a thoroughly beautiful prayer. And even though there are parts of it that I shy away from, and sections I modify or leave out when I recite it, like the patriarchs, holy virgins, black laws of heathenry, and false laws of heretics, other verses resonate deep in my bones, especially these:

Christ be with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ within me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ where I lie, Christ where I sit, Christ where I arise, Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.  

Meditation 1: A Reading of the Breastplate of Patrick

This is my own variation of the prayer. I took out and added, adjusted, and embraced. I love the rhythms, the repetitions, and the all-encompassing affirmation of Christ’s universality.  This prayer came into my mind during a yoga teacher training when my mentor teacher, Michele Vinbury, began our session with her own invocation:  

“I allow nothing within or around me
that does not serve the highest good.”  

I love the level of trust and confidence inherent in both my teacher’s prayer, as well as in the Lorica.  Prayers like these don’t just invoke protection, they are protection: the same way I prayed the Hail Mary for protection as a young child when I was scared, the same way I pray the Hail Mary now, when life and death are both before me. These kinds of prayers are something you can put on, something you can cover yourself with.  You feel them in your bones. They have the weight and heft of armor and the precision of a sharpened sword.  They get to the very heart of the matter, and in fine detail. These kinds of prayers come to us. Our openness to Divine Flow, Intervention, and Providence allows for it. And the yoga practices have a way of grounding and opening us so that we can be receptive to this kind of experience.

You can find a transcript of this and other variations here.

Meditation 2: The Deers’ Cry

There is a legend telling the story of Saint Patrick who, knowing that he and his accompanying monks were being ambushed and likely to be killed, led his men through the woods reciting this prayer. The enemies saw them in the woods — as a mother deer with calves — and this is how Saint Patrick and his men were saved. 

Listen to this beautiful mixed choir acapella arrangement of The Deers’ Cry by the Arvo Part Centre.

An Invitation for your Practice

I invite you to notice what parts of the Lorica speak to you, which words resonate in your bones?  Memorize, recite, and chant them deep in your heart so much that your heart chants them always. In this, you will pray without ceasing.  You will have an awareness of God as a constant in your life, the God of Presence, Protection, and Power. 

Remember, too, that your yoga practice is a prayer.  Notice which movements and breathing practices speak to you and resonate in your bones.  Memorize and repeat them so that they work their way deep into your neurobiology, your nervous system, your blood.  In this way you will be practicing yoga always. You will have with you a sense of deep ground from which to draw your power and a spaciousness surrounding you that allows the essence of others to float through you without disturbance.  In this way you will experience the steadiness of the mountain and the spaciousness of freedom. 

A Blessing

For your enjoyment, I’ve posted just a few Irish blessings.  I think there are millions! Please share your favorites in the comments.  The more blessings we share, the better! But first, I’d like to leave you with one of my favorites. It’s my own, so, it’s an Irish-English-German-Polish-Croatian blessing:

May you be blessed like crazy,
And may you have the strength to bear it

Irish Blessings

House Blessing

May the power of protection abide
within all the hearts who dwell inside.

Family Blessing

Bless you and yours, as well as the cottage you live in —
may the roof overhead be well thatched,
and those inside be well matched. 
May that roof overhead never fall in,
and those within never fall out.

Health & Prosperity Blessings

May you live as long as you want,
And never want as long as you live.

May your troubles be less and your blessings be more
and nothing but happiness come through your door.

Celtic Rune of Hospitality

We saw a stranger yesterday. 

We put food in the eating place, 

Drink in the drinking place, 

Music in the listening place, 

and with the sacred name of the triune God

he blessed us and our house, 

our cattle and our dear ones.

As the lark says in her song: 

Often, often, often, goes the CHRIST

In the stranger’s guise.  

*“Saint Patrick’s Breastplate” Philip Freeman;

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An Always and Everything Prayer

(Reposted from


The greatest among you must be your servant.

Jesus, as I go about my day today,
I will have many opportunities to put
others ahead of myself.
Help me to recognize those times
and to respond as you would have me respond.

I will have opportunities
to practice humility.
Help me to recognize those times
and to not take myself too seriously.

People will not always treat me
the way I deserve to be treated.
Help me calm my anger
and to respond with compassion.

Someone might criticize me
and make me feel small and foolish.
Help me to forgive and to turn
my pain over to you.

I may face times
when others take credit
for my work.
Help me to seek justice justly,
and to let go of what
is best forgotten.

I will meet people who need
my help or at least a kind word.
Help me to help them without
expecting praise and thanks.

I will be in a position
of power over others.
Help me to use this power
justly and selflessly
and for the benefit of all.

Lord, I will have many opportunities
to put this prayer into practice.
Forgive me when I fail,
and help me always to try again.