Trauma-Informed Self-Care with Phiroozeh Petigara

Today, we're joined by Phiroozeh Petigara, a healer and writer working to create safe space for folks to heal themselves and move from surviving to thriving.

The phrase "self-care" is everywhere, but what is it, truly? I offer the definition that self-care is the use of any number of modalities that helps you take care of your self, meaning your body, mind, and spirit, to ground, center, and even heal. These tools can range from yoga and meditation to breathing exercises and energy work, from therapy to journaling to time in nature, from setting boundaries to tapping into your intuition to speaking your truth. This is whatever supports you in your healing journey, in moving from surviving to thriving. Many of these tools are not taught to us in young or even adult life, yet self-care is a practice many folks are seeking more and more. Developing a practice that is truly supportive and healing can take time, particularly if a person has trauma in their background, or perhaps has one or multiple marginalized identities. Whatever your story, my suggestion is always for folks to approach building a self-care practice with discernment, kindness towards yourself, patience (come back to it again and again), and perseverance (it does take a level of commitment). 

Slf-care isn’t a one-size-fits-all deal. It is often presented as such, but in fact, it is most supportive to seek and develop a trauma-informed self-care practice

I define trauma-informed as: each human is unique, with a unique set of life experiences which, in a healing space, must be honored and welcomed. Each person has inner wisdom to guide their own healing, and practitioners and self-care practices can help you get there. 

Individuals who have experienced trauma, however big or small, however recently or in the past, must then find and develop a trauma-informed self-care practice. We have a tendency to perhaps overtrust healing practitioners, whether doctors or yoga teachers and, sometimes, it is self-harming to do so because if a practitioner doesn’t hold space for your experiences, it can cause further harm even though you are there to heal. 

Trauma-informed practices aren’t only for folks who have experienced trauma. A broader view of the term would be: spaces and practitioners who simply meet you where you are, who don’t make assumptions about you, and who really listen to what you say your needs are (instead of imposing their own views of your needs onto you). 

Here are some tips to develop a trauma-informed self-care practice: 

1. Pay attention to what resonates for you.
If a practice, whether a breathing exercise, a particular type of meditation, a stretch, or even a physical space, doesn’t sit well with you, you have the agency to choose not to participate. Yes, things take time to understand and cultivate, yet there’s also that gut feeling we get that something's just not right. Over time, discernment comes in for you to know the difference. There are so many variations out there, give yourself the spaciousness and the empowerment to seek what suits you. Remember, we’re trying to heal trauma, not add to it. 

2. Listen to your gut in finding a good guide or the right space
It takes time to find a good guide or the right space. Yoga and meditation teacher trainings have become an industry, and we have to be that much more discerning in choosing who we want as our healing guide. Here, too, listen to your gut. If your teacher doesn’t seem to hear and hold what you have shared about your body, your experiences, your traumas, or if they seem to ask you to do things that hurt or feel uncomfortable, trust your inner wisdom and seek another guide. If the space you’re in seems to trigger something instead of feeling supportive, listen to that feeling. This is especially key if you identify with one or multiple marginalized identities, whether race, sexual orientation, disability, or financial status. 

3. Modifications aren’t “bad.” They are the key.
Ableism conditions us to do stretches or postures “right:” to sit perfectly upright for meditation and sit completely still for hours. Modifications have the subtext of being “less than.” None of this is true. Each human is different, and each body is different. A modified pose, or laying down for meditation, can bring a deeper healing than forcing ourselves to copy others, to strive for those images we see on social media. When building a trauma-informed self-care practice, part of our work is to open up to modifications, to meet ourselves where we’re at.

Trauma-informed self-care, over time and with patience, can lead to true, deep healing. When approached with self-compassion, it is possible to build a self-care repertoire that guides our every day, our every action. Ultimately, we move from just surviving life to thriving.