Right after my 24th birthday, I visited a shaman for the first time.
I actually questioned my sanity as I tentatively walked up to her door. But I’d just gone through a traumatic three months filled with death, destruction, and catastrophic heartbreak … and I would’ve cut off my own foot if someone had told me it would help me feel even a little bit better. Thank god visiting a shaman was the craziest thing I tried.
That session was eye-opening for many reasons (I still remain a bit skeptical of what went down, tbh.) but it was the first time I was introduced to the idea of ‘ancestral trauma.’ Apparently, I had some lingering bs from past generations that I had to deal with.
I was not amused, and had a hard time believing that I was carrying the emotional relics of my great-great-great-great-grandmother’s traumatic experiences in my own 'soul' and cells.
Flash forward to present day, and ancestral trauma isn’t just shaman-speak—it’s a bona fide scientific term. Epigenetic research shows that we pass along emotional + physical trauma from generation to generation via our DNA. Epigenetic researcher Rachel Yehuda explains this phenomenon in a recent On Being episode.
“Not only do experiences lodge physiologically, but that physiological changes can actually be passed on to the next generation—transmitted generationally, trans-generationally.”
So your grandfather’s post-Vietnam War PTSD isn’t just his—it’s yours, too.
With every sexual harassment scandal that’s bubbled up over the past few weeks, I’ve increasingly found myself wondering about the secret epigenetic traumas we hold inside of us that we’re totally unaware of. Generations of women experienced horrible sexual abuse and dehumanization … and that must imprint on us, in some way.
But before we spiral out of control into a whirlpool of victimhood and lady party cursing and frustration and ‘why me’-ness, let me just say that this knowledge is incredibly empowering. FOR REAL.
The magic, you see, is that we can actually heal ourselves.
Epigenetics works two ways—yes, your DNA can actually change after a traumatic experience … but it can also be healed and restored for the better. Dude, you can essentially wipe emotional baggage from your DNA (and your future offspring’s DNA) when you go through a healing.
According to Yehuda, “One of the studies that we published, maybe a year ago, showed that some epigenetic changes occur in response to psychotherapy. If we’re saying that environmental circumstances can create one kind of change, a different environmental circumstance creates another kind of change, that’s very empowering.” That healing is transmitted. Science! A modern marvel.
I find this very uplifting, actually. It’s a relief to know that I hold my future happiness in my own hands. Sure. It’s fucking annoying that we have to go through trauma in the first place. It’s hard, and it quite literally changes us, down to a cellular level. But we can totally reverse that damage. And that means we’re never victims—we always have the agency to change.
'K, so how do we undo the effects of trauma? Seems like anything that changes the DNA of the cells will do. Psychotherapy, for one, seems to be effective. But some other methods include, listed from most scientific to most woo-woo:
Lots of hardcore evidence: Meditation. Mindfulness exercises (even for like, 10 minutes a day) can rewire the brain against negativity bias, physically change the brain’s structure, and repattern neural pathways—effectively undoing emotional trauma.
A little less evidence, but still great results: Sound therapy. Get thee to a sound bath this weekend. Studies show that sound and vibrational therapy can help with everything from physical pain to mood disorders, in a similar way to meditation.
Not much scientific basis, but LOTS of anecdotal information: DNA potentiation. Not gonna lie to you, the claims behind DNA potentiation can sound a little looney tunes. But I’m still totally intrigued by the idea that this energy healing ‘activates’ your DNA and apparently results in everything from increased energy to parasite relief to ‘greater serendipity.’ IDK, a few years ago I was rolling my eyes at the idea of ancestral soul wounds … so maybe it’s only a matter of time before DNA potentiation gets some real street cred.
This is all to say, basically, that self-care isn’t actually selfish at all. We hear that a lot, but it’s true. Next time you’re like ughhhhh I just can’t justify going to that meditation / yoga class / healing sesh, think of all the generational healing you’ll do. Do it for the kids, lady.
Yogi Bhajan says that when we heal ourselves, we heal seven generations forward and seven generations back. He was right on the future gen thing … how long do you think it will take science to prove the rest of his theory?
TLDR? You can listen to this (with a LOT MORE AD LIBBING / LAUGHING AT MY OWN JOKES) here.