Plant your feet on the earth and feel the solid ground underneath you. Feel your breath enlivening your body and receiving vital energy with every in-breath. You are safe, grounded and confident, able to assert yourself and take care of your needs.
Our root chakra, located at the base of the spine, is our connection to instinct and physicality. It is the energy centre of survival, subconscious drives, and the fulfillment of basic needs. When it is open and balanced, we feel in touch with our right to be here, to take up space and be safe.
When the root chakra is weak, we may feel anxious, unfocused and have difficulty meeting our basic needs. Stagnant energy in the root chakra can manifest rigidity and hoarding.
When trauma occurs in our lives, it not only impacts us physically. The psychological aftereffects of trauma are mirrored in the energetic body and the chakra system.
(On a side note, it is important to remember that what defines trauma can be very subjective. Trauma is any event the overwhelms the nervous system and goes beyond an individual’s ability to cope. Events that overwhelm one person may be relatively inconsequential for another. Therefore it is less important to analyze what happened, but rather to examine our response to it.)
In many shamanic traditions throughout the world, shamans perform a ceremony known as soul retrieval. When an individual has suffered an overwhelming event, the soul leaves the body and creates a fundamental split between mind/body/spirit. These people become dissociated, no longer in touch with their physicality, and often have trouble tuning in to how they feel. The soul retrieval ceremony is intended to invite the soul back in, so that the individual can reconnect with matter and sensation, and live a fully embodied life.
When examining dissociation through the perspective of the chakras, we see a similar pattern emerging. The body is perceived to be unsafe so the root chakra becomes weakened as energy is directed up and out. A person may end up living entirely out of the upper three chakras, with very little grounding in the lower three. The primary experience of a weakened root chakra is a constant sense of fear an anxiety, never feeling like one is safe or grounded in their body. The core theme of the root chakra is trust vs mistrust. In all cases of trauma, trust has been broken and it is the goal of healing to recover this fundamental sense of trust in one's body and in life.
A weak root chakra is mirrored on a neurological level. The root chakra is said to coincide with the subconscious portions of the brain, which are responsible for regulating the autonomic nervous system. Part of the detrimental effects of trauma include a chronic hyperarousal of the nervous system, which leaves an individual on high alert always scanning for danger even in situations when most others would feel safe. This inability to rest and relax can lead to compromised immune function and a gradual deterioration of the body.
How do we begin healing trauma?
Reconnect with the Body
In order to heal trauma and reestablish a sense of safety, one of the first things we must do is reconnect with the body. A universal symptom of trauma is a profound disconnect between mind and body. People who are survivors of trauma don’t know how they feel. They have a diminished awareness of their physical bodies and the language that their bodies speak. So one of the first steps in healing is using gentle exercises to bridge this gap.
Body-based meditative practices can offer an excellent path for healing. This can include modalities such as trauma sensitive yoga or qigong. The magic of these practices results from the integration of breath, movement and awareness. As we are gently guided into focusing on specific body parts, we begin to rebuild the relationships with those abandoned parts of ourselves. As we deepen the breath, we awaken the lower chakras and begin to draw energy into those spaces. Gentle mindfulness practice allows us to discover the kaleidoscope of sensation that lives within us and to recover a sense of safety in connecting with this realm.
Practice healthy boundaries
The root chakra defines the boundary between self and other. It is where we come into existence as individual ego-personalities. As Anodea Judith describes in her book “Eastern Body, Western Mind”, dysfunctions of the root chakra often manifest as complete lack of boundaries or overly rigid boundaries. This results in us either having little awareness of when it's important to say no, or living so fearfully that we say no to everything.
Just as a healthy cell must maintain fluid boundaries in order to let nutrients flow in and out, so too must we determine what we allow in and what we exclude. This is especially important when it comes to access to our physical bodies.
The realm of sexual boundaries can be especially difficult for trauma survivors to navigate. When we are numb and dissociated, there is an increased tendency to tolerate unwanted touch rather than speaking up. Alternately, we may be so afraid of contact that we avoid it altogether.
In order to set effective boundaries, we must first become aware of what it is that we actually want. Especially in the case of sexual boundaries, this needs to be a felt experience rather than a cognitively created decision. Once we are able to tap into our body's needs, we must practice communicating this in an embodied way.
One of the tools we use in somatic sex education is Betty Martin’s 3 minute game. This exercise allows people to practice their authentic yes-s and no-s, while simultaneously learning about intentionality around touch.
Working with the root chakra can be a wonderful way to facilitate healing from trauma. By creating a conscious practice that helps us ground our awareness in the physical body, and developing an embodied sense of our needs and desires we can help pave the way toward a fuller sense of confidence and safety.