Photo credit: Hannah Caterino

If you ever watched a video of a tiger walk, you can see how every step is intentional– deliberate, paced, and focused. Relaxed, strong, and beautiful.

 As someone who lives with autoimmune disease, I strive to embody this daily. I lead my clients and classroom participants to translate this to their own lives, especially in seemingly small choices.

 It’s an ongoing exercise in mindfulness and self-control: To maintain my racing thoughts, soothe my fear of missing out, control the cravings for unhealthy foods, quiet my urge to do everything I desire.  .. I instead narrow my focus so that every step I take in my physical body, every piece of food I put in my mouth, every stage of my mind, my heart, and my life is grounded and conscious.

 Tigers walk in quiet vibrance and majesty.  I invite my clients to walk like tigers and live full, well-rounded lives.

 The title is also a big nod to Dr. Peter Levine, a trauma expert who wrote the 1997 book Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma. Dr. Levine invented somatic experiencing and has helped many patients overcome post-traumatic stress through this body-centered “alternative” healing method. 

 It is my belief that (sometimes buried) trauma and auto-immune conditions go hand-in-hand.  Peter’s groundbreaking patient Nancy, the one with whom he first imagined a tiger and encouraged her to run, stopped experiencing her fibromyalgia symptoms soon after she “ran” from the tiger.  Her panic attacks also subsided.

 According to author Michael Singer, trauma is “stuck energy”, spiraling around itself. Perhaps if we each carefully faced and processed our buried trauma—our unconsciously caged tiger—we can then master the tiger, become the tiger.

 Tigers are independent creatures; they don’t normally travel in tribes. And that’s what life can be like, to have a physical health condition that is draining but not obvious to others. Someone with an autoimmune disorder may be a sometimes-solitary creature, too different, private, and maybe awkward, to easily join others.

 We have stripes, sometimes invisible stripes, those of us who live with disease. We are not always victims—in fact we are sometimes like soldiers.  Other people can’t always see how we are marked—the accomplishments and badges of honor we carry (which is sometimes simply getting out of bed and going to a job)—but we know our stripes are there.  Some days we might walk proudly, with quiet power.

 Tigers have no need to roar loudly like lions.  Striped beauty speaks for itself.  (Though they do have a quieter, growly roar.)

 Other times, stripes are heavy.  Sometimes we struggle to live a “normal” life. We search high and low for answers. Some of us follow the route of conventional medicine, while others embrace a natural path.  And yet another group of us walk the line between these two worlds, creating wellness by carefully weaving together the various threads of old, new, natural, and personal.

 I’m in that third group, walking intelligently and intuitively as possible.  Stripes vibrating.  My body may be challenged, but my will and faith are fierce.

 …Walk with me.