Strengthening immunity through diet

Okay, readers, I posted on the basics of the immune system. If you missed that post, click here to read it. Bare bones version: we have an innate immune system that immediately goes to work against pathogens, and a slower adaptive immune system that kills pathogens, remembers them, and confers immunity by producing antibodies to those specific pathogens.

Since SARS-CoV-2 is a novel (new) virus, our adaptive immune systems have nothing to remember, which explains why it is so contagious and why it is taking so many people down. We don’t know yet if this virus will mutate and evade adaptive memory. Can people get it twice? We don’t know.

In this post, I want to explore how what we eat and drink affects our immune systems.

In general, eating lots of fruits and vegetables is recommended for the fiber and nutrient density, as is moderate to no alcohol consumption. Maintaining a healthy weight is also recommended.

There’s a lot that we don’t know yet about the highly complex immune system, but we do know that malnourished people are more vulnerable to infectious diseases, as are the elderly. You of course are aware that you do not have to be living in poverty in a third world country to be malnourished. Diets high in processed foods (a first world problem) can result in malnourishment.

Micronutrients that affect immune responses

The micronutrient deficiencies that have been shown to alter immune responses in animals include the following:

  • zinc
  • selenium
  • copper
  • iron
  • folate
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin B6
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D3
  • Vitamin E

Foods high in these nutrients are recommended, and if these foods are unavailable, supplements should be helpful. High quality multivitamin and multimineral supplements can help.

I found this cool website where you can select a micronutrient and see what foods are high in it. Did you know that hemp seeds are high in zinc? I didn’t.

Stomach acid declines with age, which impacts nutrient absorption

Older people are more likely to be deficient in micronutrients. One possible factor is that stomach acid production declines with age. Zinc deficiency, high sugar intake, and eating too quickly also contribute. Stomach acid helps break down food for digestion and absorption of nutrients.

A way to remedy this is to take HCl, hydrochloric acid, with meals. Chewing food thoroughly, limiting processed foods, eating fermented foods, drinking apple cider vinegar in water, and eating ginger are recommended ways to boost stomach acid production without taking an HCl supplement.

The gut microbiome influences the immune system, and vice versa

Seventy to eighty percent of immune cells are found in the gut. The gut microbiome provides antigens and influences immune system cells. Food is a foreign substance introduced into the body, and the immune system decides if it’s beneficial or a threat. These two systems regulate and support each other.

When all is well, the immune system helps maintain stability of beneficial gut microbes, and microbes support the development of immune cells, as well as fine-tuning immune responses.

Keeping the gut microbiome healthy includes:

  • Not taking antibiotics unless absolutely necessary,
  • Consuming prebiotics — nondigestible fiber feeds the health-producing gut bacteria. Eat lots of veggies and fruits for fiber.
  • Eating fermented foods like sauerkraut, yogurt, and beet kvass increases beneficial micro-organisms in the gut.

Improving gut health and reducing gut inflammation (leaky gut)

One concern about the modern diet is that it may produce systemic inflammation through gaps in the cells that line the small intestines. This is called leaky gut, or intestinal permeability. These gut lining cells produce the anti-microbial chemicals that are part of the innate immune system.

Here are some recommendations to reduce gut inflammation:

  • Avoid processed, high fat, and high sugar foods.
  • Avoid common allergens, such as wheat and dairy.
  • Avoid alcohol.
  • Investigate a low-FODMAP diet.
  • Add foods with probiotics (kefir, yogurt, kimchi, etc.) and take probiotic supplements.
  • Add foods with prebiotics (bananas, berries, etc.). Prebiotic supplements are available.
  • Reduce your use of NSAIDs.
  • Reduce your stress level.
  • If you smoke, quit.

Working with a nutritionist can be very helpful.

This is Day 7 of sheltering in place in Austin, Texas. Here’s our case count as of last night. We’ve had another death. We’ve been getting roughly 20 more known cases per day.

Expect the case count to go up quite a bit tonight. There’s a report that a group of 70 people (mostly UT students) in their 20s went to Cabo in Mexico for spring break a week and a half ago, and after returning to Austin, 28 of them have tested positive, so far. About half the cases in Austin are still those ages 20-40.

Here’s a poignant video showing the empty streets of normally bustling Austin. The sentiment at the end says it all.

The immune system: what is it?

How the immune system works

I am not a scientist! I’m trying to make this understandable for non-scientists like me. If I can get these basics down, so can anyone!

The first thing to know is that it’s not like other systems in the body in that it doesn’t consist of specific organs, like the digestive system, nervous system, cardiovascular system, etc. It’s bigger than that.

The immune system spreads throughout the body through the blood, bone marrow, lymph nodes, and mucosa (both mucous membranes and that surrounding organs), and more specifically, it is a key function of the thymus gland and the spleen.

The immune system works to prevent pathogens such as viruses from causing harm. There are two branches of the immune system, innate and adaptive.

The innate immune system responds first to invading pathogens. The innate response is rapid but not specialized. The adaptive immune system responds to pathogens that slip past the innate immune system, and it remembers them if exposed again.

The main cell types of the adaptive immune system are T cells and B cells, which are produced in the bone marrow from stem cells. They are also called lymphocytes.

T cells recognize invaders and coordinate immune responses. They consist of killers, helpers, and messengers. They kill infected damaged cells. They produce cytokines that fight pathogenic viruses, bacteria, and fungi. When they find pathogens, they send messages to activate the rest of the immune system.

B cells produce antibodies, called Immunoglobulins (Ig) of various types. These are specific proteins in our blood that respond to and counteract specific antigens (substances in pathogens that provoke an immune response).

Both T cells and B cells can become memory cells, which persist and can recognize when an antigen appears again and create a rapid, antigen-specific immune response. For instance, having had the measles once confers immunity — If exposed again, you don’t get the measles again because your immune system recognizes and defends against it successfully. You can prove it with a blood test for measles antibodies.

This is also how vaccines work. Introduce just enough of an antigen for the body to produce antibodies, and the body becomes immune to that antigen.

We don’t have any specific immune cells for SARS-CoV-2 (the actual name of the virus; COVID-19 is the name of the illness) yet, because it is novel — new. It’s one of many coronaviruses (which can cause the common cold). Immunity to one coronavirus does not confer immunity to others…and the nature of viruses is that they mutate.

So, it seems to me, developing a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 is like trying to hit a moving target. There are labs around the world working on a vaccine — but testing one to see if it works well and is safe enough to offer everywhere takes time, about a year from what I’ve heard…so next spring…if the virus doesn’t mutate, possibly becoming even more contagious and severe.

Medical people in the trenches are currently trying to find out whether people who have recovered from COVID-19 have produced enough antibodies to it in their blood plasma to inject in critically ill people and turn it around.

The role of lifestyle

Your lifestyle is a major factor in supporting your immune system, making you healthier, possibly even conferring the ability to have that symptomless version of COVID-19 that I’m sure we all wish we had (but knowing we have it and self-quarantining so as not to spread it to people with weaker immune systems)…and having complete immunity afterwards. Maybe even being able to donate blood to save lives!

A healthy immune system might make the difference between a mild case and a serious case.

But since it’s new, we’re still learning.

Hygiene, diet, sleep, fresh air, exercise, the parasympathetic nervous system, and supplements all play roles in keeping your immune system working well. I intend to explore these in the coming days.

Defend yourself with impeccable hygiene

Humans got way healthier when we started washing our hands and utilizing public sewage systems and drinking clean water. Before these practices became common, a lot of people suffered and died miserably from cholera, dysentery, diarrhea, hepatitis, typhus, and other diseases spread from poor sanitation.

In the time of the coronavirus, the actions you can take to improve hygiene and reduce transmission of the virus include hand washing, coughing or sneezing into your elbow, not touching your face with unwashed hands, wearing gloves, wearing a mask, self-quarantining if exposed or ill (whether you test positive or not, given the shortage of tests), social distancing, sheltering in place, lockdowns.

This virus is very contagious! Please take care not to get exposed and not to spread it. Wash.Your.Hands.

Current coronavirus stats from Austin

This is day 4 of sheltering in place. As of last night, we had 160 cases here and one death, a woman in her 70s with significant underlying health conditions. Blessings to her family. 💚🙏🏽

It’s still affecting more people in the 20-40 age group than older people in this city with a young-skewing population.

One person at a homeless shelter has tested positive. That person is being isolated at a hotel and the 19 others exposed are also isolated and being monitored.

I’m hearing reports of customers being abusive to employees at to-go restaurants and grocery store cashiers. I hope management protects their employees and bans these people for a few days so they will be more appreciative.

Staying grounded + phone sessions

Featured

Love in the time of coronavirus

Dear readers, I hope you are staying grounded during this time of uncertainty and fear. I recommend going outside in your bare feet and walking around on some grass, as often as you need.

Feel your feet sink slightly into the earth with each step. Enjoy the temperature, textures, and other sensations in your feet.

Imagine this connection with Mother Earth moving up your legs, into your torso, touching all of your tissues, permeating all of your cells, and leaving your body through the crown of your head.

You are connecting to earth and to heaven! This energetic experience is about being fully alive in the present moment. It’s a renewing and restorative antidote upsetting news, conflict on social media, fears for ourselves and our loved ones, uncertain futures.

Texas bluebonnets blooming in my yard

Phone sessions

After checking with other craniosacral therapists, I’m changing the name of my new online service to Phone Sessions. Bear with me as I navigate this rapid change…

Quite a few CST practitioners are adamant that working remotely is not craniosacral therapy. (Plus the words “remote” and “distance” counter the connection we make, even when we’re not in each other’s physical presence. “Phone” connotes connecting with each other, but not physically. That’s exactly what we’ll be doing.)

This attitude is coming both from those who are Upledger-trained and those who are biodynamics trained.

I’ve trained in both, and I’ve trained in Reiki, which can be done at a distance.

In my ninth year of offering bodywork, I can only say that when I work, everything I’ve ever trained in and experienced while working informs my work. What I’m using at any given moment is what’s in the forefront of my awareness.

That could be what I’m sensing in my body, what I’m sensing in your body, what I’m sensing in our blended energy fields, where your body-mind system draws my attention and hands, changes I notice during a session. “The work” flows through me, and through you.

A few years ago, it became clear to me that I could not do bodywork without also being aware of my energy, your energy, the energy in the room, and the power of intent to influence energy.

This may sound woo-woo to some, but for me, energy is real and can be sensed, usually as subtle sensations, but sometimes not so subtle. It is described in the ancient traditions, yoga, meditation, Qi gong, shamanism, Chinese medicine, and Ayurveda.

We have energy centers and channels in our bodies. We have awareness. We have intent.

Anyway. Other practitioners are calling it energy work, remote healing, distance sessions, shamanic energetics, etc.

I prefer Phone Sessions. Clear and simple and not too woo-woo.

I stay on the phone with you during sessions, even though there will be some periods of silence during the call that allow “the work” to go deeper.

We can use speakerphone. I want you to feel free to share what’s coming up for you in real time, if you wish, and of course, you can also wait to share your experience for the end of the session.

I’m offering the first session for free: https://maryannreynolds.as.me/phonesessions

If you receive a benefit, schedule another session and pay what you can or what you wish via Venmo or PayPal.

Some people are unaffected financially by this slowdown, and others have quickly become destitute. I leave it to you to determine what is an honorable amount that you feel clear and good about. No need for guilt or shame, please!

I’ve run into this issue before: if you absolutely hate to hear “pay what you can or wish”, here are some numbers to make you happy. My regular rate is $100 an hour. If you can afford it, great. If not, sliding scale is $20 on up. If that’s not affordable, let’s talk about bartering or paying it forward.

Once you’ve received a session, you can gift sessions to others. I prefer that they know and consent to doing this and are open to quietly receiving at the given time, whether we connect on the phone or not if they are sick.

This is not a substitute for medical attention. It is not a cure for the coronavirus, nor will it make you immune. I believe it can give you more resilience, but you may not notice anything. That’s why I’m offering the first session for free, so you can find out.

What would that feel like in your body and in your mind, to be more resilient?

Please let me know if you have any questions. Call 512-507-4184 or schedule a phone consultation: https://maryannreynolds.as.me/15mphoneconsult

Beet kvass: an easy fermented drink you can make at home to build vitality and resilience

Once upon a time, people didn’t know about viruses, bacteria, or hand-washing. They tended to live shorter lives than we do now. They got sick more often, and a whole lot more infants and children died than do nowadays. It was rare for people to live past 60.

But they were observant, and they developed practices like yoga and Qi gong to strengthen and balance their bodies, to keep their energies vital and strong. They created medicines from herbs that we now know have anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal properties, without knowing about these things. They walked everywhere and grew their own food and got plenty of fresh air, sunshine, and exercise.

Think about it: all their food was organic because there was no alternative! They enriched the soil with manure and dead plants. The soil produced healthy food. The water was clean for the most part, the air unpolluted. They saved seeds from the best plants. They stored what food they could, and they fermented foods to strengthen and lengthen the nourishment.

In Russian and Eastern Europe, they made a fermented drink called kvass, from bread and other things. In Ukraine, they made kvass from beets, which are easy to grow, produce leafy greens you can also eat, and keep well. Kvass was common in every kitchen during those long cold winters and kept people healthier than they would otherwise have been.

Kvass may have even kept viruses at bay, or at least minimized the severity. We’re all very interested in that now!

You can make your own beet kvass at home, and here’s what you’ll need:

  • A jar — quart size or larger.
  • Filtered water (tap water has chlorine in it, which will slow fermentation).
  • Good non-iodized salt.
  • A medium to large beet.
  • A little bit of sauerkraut juice or whey from the top of plain yogurt (not whey powder).

This recipe below makes half a gallon. Put equal amounts of each ingredient into two quart jars if that’s what you have. If you want just one quart, halve the recipe. If you want to make a gallon, double the recipe.

I like to use an organic red beet, medium to large in size. Rinse any dirt off and cut it into half-inch cubes. Do not peel or scrub. You want 1 to 2 cups of cubed beets. Place them in the half gallon jar.

Fill the jar to an inch below the top with filtered water.

Add 1/2 teaspoon good salt.

Add 1 tablespoon of sauerkraut juice or whey.

Stir and put the lid on.

Every day, open the lid to let any fermentation gases off so pressure doesn’t build. If any scum forms on top, scoop off as much as you can.

Knowing when it’s done: The water will have turned a beautiful deep red color that is opaque — you can’t see through it any more. The water has thickened a bit to have more viscosity.

Beet kvass, day 1.
Day 4. Notice the brine has gotten more opaque. Could be ready on Day 5 or 6.

You can start tasting it on day 3. Beet kvass tastes earthy, salty, and tangy. This is hard to imagine because there’s nothing else quite like it. The flavor strengthens each day.

When I tasted my first batch, I didn’t know if I’d like it, and I just tasted a tablespoon of it. Wow! It’s a unique flavor, and my body wanted more so I drank more. I’ve been making it ever since.

Taste it every day for 7-10 days, and when you feel it’s done, put it in the refrigerator to stop the fermentation. Then drink some with every meal.

You can strain and refrigerate it, keeping 1/2 to 1 cup of the kvass and the beets and starting over to make another batch. Add filtered water and salt as above. Remnants from the first batch serve as a starter for the second batch. What’s not to like about that??

I recommend making this plain version the first time. You could add slices of ginger root or whole cloves to the next batch.

In my experience, it’s not worth it to try making a third batch. Too much of the goodness has left the beets by then. Start over with fresh beets and compost the old ones or add them to broth or soup. (They still have some flavor and all the fiber.)

And while you are making it or drinking it, you can imagine old Ukrainian ladies in their babushkas making this for their children and grandchildren to increase their vitality and resilience.

And you can imagine this kvass delivering all kinds of health-giving properties to your digestive system and immune system. (Seventy percent of your immune system is in your gut.) The probiotics from fermenting, plus the nutrients from beets (Vitamin C, folate, magnesium, potassium, iron, and more) make this a nutrient-dense food.

Easy roasted banana dessert

My friend Kris made this and shared, and wow, it was so delicious, I had to try it at home. It’s so easy, I’m sure I’ll be making it often to satisfy my desire to have something sweet without any kind of added sugar or sweetener.

Roasting fruits and veggies brings out the sweetness.

You’ll need a few ripe bananas. The skin should have some brown spots but not be solid brown. A few is 3-6 bananas. I saved them in my refrigerator until I had enough.

Image courtesy of Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

Preheat your oven to 350. Peel the bananas and place on a sheet pan. For easy cleaning, use parchment paper under the bananas. Roast for 20 minutes. Remove from oven.

Place the roasted bananas into a blender. Add one can of full-fat coconut milk. (I prefer organic with no guar gum, which Trader Joe’s carries.)

Add 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract. Blend to a consistent creamy texture. Pour into a jar or glass container and refrigerate for a few hours to help it firm up before eating.

You could sprinkle it with ground Ceylon cinnamon and/or cardamom for a little added spice if desired. It makes a delicious dessert, and it’s simple.

35 years after a spiritual awakening, nothing dramatic happened

On August 14, 1984, I experienced a dramatic spiritual awakening, but I didn’t know that it was at the time. It took years for me to find a context and to recognize it as spiritual.

Here’s the backstory. I, a single mom and full-time college student, employed part-time in a psychiatric hospital, took a much-needed vacation, leaving my beloved 3-year-old daughter with her grandparents for a week as I traveled from Norman, OK, to Santa Fe, NM, not that far in miles, but my first solo vacation.

In hindsight, this was a sobering period of my life. I was raising my delightful child by myself, with little help from her father at that time, which I hadn’t planned on. I was stressed from working and going to college without much money or support from anyone. My family was in another state, and I had few friends in Norman then, and no money for a babysitter so I could go out and meet people. I felt like it was all on me to make a future for myself and my child, one day at a time.

This vacation meant a lot to me — a break from constant single parenting so I could experience myself as an individual once again, which is such important self-care for mothers. I drove to Santa Fe, my first visit to that town. I believe I stayed at a bed and breakfast, but maybe I camped. I don’t remember what all I did as a visitor to the city that time, but while there, I learned that the Santa Fe Opera was holding auditions for opera companies. Singers from around the country went onstage, one at a time, and with no sets or costumes, sang famous arias for opera directors from around the world who were looking for new talent. Purchasing a ticket was affordable, and I thought going to opera try-outs would be a novel and entertaining experience.

On the appointed night, I wore my thrift store jeans, t-shirt, sandals, and backpack to the Santa Fe Opera — a magnificent structure with a roof cantilevered over the audience and wings open to the hills and distant mountains, an open-air experience in a beautiful setting.

There weren’t many people there, just a handful near the stage, presumably opera directors listening to the singers, deciding who to hire.

I arrived late and stood at the back, surveying the area in front of me, listening to the beautiful, almost unearthly sound of a talented soprano singing an aria. Might it have been something from Mozart? Verdi? Puccini? I don’t recall. To inspire you for the setting, though, here’s my favorite aria, so you can get a sense of the incredible beauty I was hearing.

Meanwhile, dusk segued into night. In the open-air wings on either side of the stage, lightning flashes outlined the hills and mountains in the distance.

Was it sensory overload from the sound and the view, the glorious aria surround-sounding me with the dramatic weather and terrain as backdrop? Was it that a poor struggling single mother stood and listened in this beautiful opera house built for the culturally and financially elite? Both and/or something else?

The next thing I knew, I felt an energy — it seemed to be white light and yet it was palpable — piercing the top of my head and going all the way through the center of my body down into the ground under my feet. There was a strength and an insistence to this energy. You WILL feel this. It WILL be clearly undeniable. It WILL penetrate your being from crown to feet. It WILL change your life.

I was transfixed.

Nailed.

Immobilized.

I don’t know how long it lasted, but it was long enough to make a deep impression. I had no conceptual context at the time to put this experience in. I knew nothing about the energy body, sometimes called the subtle body although at this time, it was anything but subtle. It was an undeniably enlivening, beneficent, mysterious experience.

Having no explanation, I shrugged it off as a one-off experience, and I tucked it away in my memories, wondering if someday I would understand it.

With hindsight, I can say that it gave me strength. Something unusual and special had happened to me. It marked me. Even though the physical sensations of being pierced by white light faded, I had this memory. In some way, I felt chosen, although why me, I can’t say.

At various times since then, I have had a sense that some higher power is looking out for me. It’s not that I never make mistakes or struggle with problems. I do. The real blessing is that I accept these as part of being human, not to be avoided but to learn from. I can change and grow.

Maybe this experience was fuel for getting through some hard years. My mother died unexpectedly two months later, and I grieved hard about losing her, having never imagined raising my child without her presence and advice. I had a bad experience with a psychotherapist. I felt a lot of sorrow and loneliness and struggle for years.

The experience let me know for sure that there’s more to life than just the material world, which was the mindset I grew up in. People I knew just didn’t talk about spiritual experiences. What is this energy that I can’t see (except sometimes I could — another story), that I can’t grasp (but I can now palpate and even feel it pouring out of me now)? Qi, prana, life force… It’s there all the time but mostly ignored, unless you seek it out through qi gong or yoga or energy work — or it makes itself known to you, like it did me.

Years later, I finally connected this experience to starting to practice yoga a couple of years earlier, in 1982, when my daughter was a year old — from the book Richard Hittleman’s Yoga: 28 Day Exercise Plan (amazingly still in print) — because that was all I could afford at the time.

I was so yoga-ignorant then, I thought asana was pronounced a-SAH-na. I of course didn’t have the good eye or experience that yoga teachers use to help students get the most out of each pose. I was on my own, and I was diligently doing some yoga that was making a difference. Luckily, I did not injure myself. Practicing every day, learning new poses, getting into my body, building what we now call somatic awareness, was a highlight of each evening. I didn’t own a mat. I used a blanket or a towel. I did the work in front of me, day by day, as the book prescribed.

I’d always been flexible as a child, able to do backbends, cartwheels, walkovers, headstands, and I enjoyed my daily yoga practice. Sometimes my toddler joined me for a short time — we liked downward facing dog a lot. I finished the Hittleman book and may have gone back through it a second or third time. Once I got a television set, I watched Lilias on PBS and learned to pronounce AH-sa-na correctly.

I got other yoga books. Sometime in the next few years, I learned about chakras, the energy vortices along the body’s midline. There’s a lot of lore about chakras — colors, number of lotus petals, sounds, stones, etc. I don’t remember anyone back then tying the chakras to the anatomy of human body, to the places where the spine curves or to the endocrine glands, but I wasn’t looking at the right sources.

Saharasra, Sanskrit for the crown chakra, is said to connect us to the cosmos and to divinity, just as the root chakra connects us to the earth. Saharasra’s color is white or violet. It’s said to be the chakra from which all other chakras originate. It is located where the anterior fontanelle is in infants, where the coronal and sagittal cranial sutures meet, and is considered to be related to the pineal gland, which we don’t fully understand, except that it regulates the sleep cycle, a foundation for healthy living. Some say it affects performance, decision-making, psychological health, spiritual awakening, and self-actualization.

Doing yoga asanas opens up the channels through which prana/energy flows. My crown chakra opening was the result of practicing yoga for a couple of years. I cleared my energy channels, which allowed this further clearing and energizing experience.

It’s interesting that I now practice craniosacral therapy, a bodywork modality that works with the body’s midline and chakras and uses energy awareness to facilitate the release of restrictions (aka, healing).

I was in Santa Fe earlier in August, and I stopped by the Santa Fe Opera one day in honor of this memory. It’s had improvements and an expansion since 1984. La Boheme and Cosi Fan Tutti were playing that week, and I seriously considered going. However, the tickets were quite expensive, and I didn’t have anyone to go with or the proper attire for the opera, given I’d been camping. It might have been loads of fun, given some advance planning.

Instead, I took a yoga class (Prajna) in a great studio (YogaSource) with a great teacher (Linda Spackman). I attended a dharma talk on community at Upaya Zen Center. I ate some great Indian food at Paper Dosa. I danced and connected with a few people and enjoyed my four days in Santa Fe.

And nothing dramatic happened. It was just life, which is mostly pretty good.

Dancing in Santa Fe

I went to a 5 Rhythms movement lab in Santa Fe, where I am on vacation, the other night. Chloe Goodwin facilitated. The space was extraordinarily beautiful, the music inspiring, and I quickly saw a range of more and less experienced dancers among the 20 or so people present.

It felt so great to be back in a dance studio. I’m accustomed to dancing once or twice (very occasionally, 3 or 4 times) a week in Austin, but it wasn’t available in Taos that I could find when I was there last week. I’ve been driving a lot. My body felt sluggish and stiff. Yoga classes have been helpful and also a nice way to meet people who share this interest when traveling, but even more than yoga, ecstatic dance in a studio allows me the freedom to let my body show me how it wants and needs to move to restore well-being.

So we danced freely in the space for a while. I felt shy at first, not knowing anyone (they all knew each other), so I just paid attention to what my body wanted. So good. Then I shyly began to make eye contact with a few people and danced with various partners.

Chloe introduced experiences of body parts: hands, elbows, knees, feet, hips, head, and more. Yes. I’m sure she was watching and seeing how people unconsciously restrict themselves. Yes, your head is a body part, and it can dance too, and it’s really good for your circulation and neck flexibility to move it. Instead of focusing your eyes, use your peripheral vision.

Then Chloe pointed out the blue masking tape on the floor, which created four spaces for dancing, which she described thusly: the outer edges of the room were reserved for people who just wanted to do their own dance by themselves. Coming in toward the center a bit was a space for dancing with a partner. The inner circle was for dancing in community, and the X in the center was for surveying, and dancing with, the entire room.

I danced in all the spaces. I love dancing alone, sometimes with my eyes closed to intensify my auditory/kinesthetic synesthesia and to be one with the music/my body/the space around me. I don’t care what it looks like. There’s a joy and freedom there for me that I recognize may be alien to others.

I had an especially wonderful and vigorous dance with a male partner, meeting and sweetly challenging each other over and over again. Yay!

Moving into the community circle, something interesting happened: Dancing in community, without a partner but in close proximity with other dancers, can be just like dancing alone at the outer edge. It doesn’t have to be, but on Tuesday night, it often was.

We noticed this after the dance ended, when we were standing in a closing circle.

Toward the end of the evening, when I was in the community circle for the third or fourth time, I noticed I was feeling tired, slowing down. I had already danced vigorously for an hour and a half, and I’m not a late night person — my batteries were running down.

I noticed that when I’m fatigued, I just want to dance alone, to wind down, to care for myself in vulnerability. I could have moved to the outer circle, but I didn’t. Maybe I was just too tired to think of doing that. That was a choice that perhaps I could make differently, next time.

I love the name Movement Lab. I’ve long considered ecstatic dance to be my own personal experimental movement lab. Movement, people, space, music, life. Play with it, learn from it, I be me, you be you, we be us.

Morning download, 3.13.2019

It’s a coolish, rainy morning here in the outskirts of ATX. Haven’t heard the mockingbird yet, but a cardinal made itself heard just outside my trailer. The rain now hitting the metal roof is drowning out all birdsong. It can get quite loud during a heavy downpour!

A friend texted me yesterday that her mother, in Missouri, is passing. She got to talk to her on the phone, texting me later, “Lots of Love exchanges. She said goodbye and to take care of myself.” The mother was conscious, in no pain, but very weak.

That’s a good way to die. I’d like to be conscious, unmedicated, and not in pain when death comes for me. It’s got to be quite the experience!

I wish I could tell you afterwards what it was like, but that seems to be against the rules. “Just one more blog post, please? This is too amazing not to share!” But I don’t think you can bargain with death. It might play with you, but it always wins, in the end.

Today: loving my matcha/sitting/breathing/downloading early in this day, then hairdresser, then biodynamic session for my friend who’s losing her mother, and then a visit with a shaman to work on some emotional/empath issues that i haven’t been able to resolve on my own.

Some friends have been studying with this shaman, and I look forward to meeting her and experiencing how she works. I received a yummy practice session from one of those friends, now studying energy medicine, who told me about a class for empaths, but the class had filled, so I’m doing 1:1 with the shaman.

I’m seeking something of a superpower for me: the ability to not feel others’ deep suffering. I can suffer well enough from my own losses and traumas and don’t need to experience the broken hearts and minds of others in order to be compassionate and supportive and resourceful. I can be more useful with a healthier boundary.

This image cracks me up. It came up when I googled “image empath”. It is a beautiful image but I don’t see myself like this at all. I do have green eyes, though. The rest of it is someone’s fantasy! Except that ajna chakra, third eye, is real. https://articles.spiritsciencecentral.com/empathy-101/.

It’s the biggest downside of being an empath that I can think of. If you’ve been a reader for a while, you will know that calling myself an empath is new, something I’m starting to dance with. Once it occurred to me, a lot of mysteries about me and how I’ve chosen to live began to fall into place.

What is being an empath good for? You tell me. It served extremely well once, may have saved my baby daughter’s life, but there’s a lot of weirdness, and some fun, that comes with it, so far. Premonitions, insights, auras, dreams, beginner’s mind, flow states, obviously empathy. I have marks in my hand indicating clairvoyance, but I don’t practice it.

There are some superpowers that with the right teachers, I could probably develop. Not sure I need or want to, though. For now, becoming a healthy empath is my intent.

I’ve begun paying more attention to the people and environments that are nurturing and those that are not. I had to go to the mall a couple of weeks ago. The commercialism — the bigness of the “buy this — enter this store — take this free gift bag” messaging — was overwhelming. Giant words are scary! Pushy people are scary! It was not a friendly place, and I felt like an alien — I wish I could say that was unusual, but it’s not.

I felt my resistance and stayed focused on my errand. Found a chair and closed my eyes and just breathed while waiting for a genius to replace my phone battery. Once outside under the big sky, trees in view across the vast parking lot, so much better.

I notice I have better rapport with intuitive feelers who may also be empaths. I’m so lucky to know and love a few!

If you are an empath and are reading this, what has helped you? Books, people, classes, practices, learnings. I want to hear it, please.

The rain has paused and the mockingbird is singing its heart out. Enjoy this promising day.

Morning download, 3.1.19

Sometimes I have second thoughts. My wild mind gets half-baked ideas that are so exciting, and the next day they don’t look that good. I took down my most recent post that was like that. It’s just not ready for public consumption.

So. New day, new topic. Please note I am not saying what follows to brag. I hope saying it gives those who need it encouragement.

For someone who was traumatized by a sudden, tragic, violent loss in childhood, who as a result had PTSD for decades before it was even a diagnosable malady — life can be good again.

I wake up happy to greet a new day, on most days. I feel balanced, grounded, centered, open, resilient, buoyant, strong, like a fountain constantly replenishing and renewing. I have more than enough.

Perhaps these good days are even sweeter because of the past. Trauma survivors, please savor and enjoy every good day, every good hour even, that comes your way.

It’s not as if the trauma in this bodymindfield is gone, over, done. Even when you’ve done a lot of work to remember, sort, get perspective, feel, self-soothe, reconcile, and heal that wounded self, a scar still resides in your nervous system. But it can disappear for long stretches of time.

You can work with your autonomic nervous system to rebalance it so that you read and respond to actual threats and to safety appropriately, but in reading what psychotherapists with 40 years of experience have to say, trauma is scar tissue in the psyche. Scar tissue will never be as healthy and resilient as unscarred skin. It’s more fragile. It’s not organized the same way at the cellular level. You can work with it to make it more pliable and reduce the scarring, but it will never be as if the trauma never happened, the skin unscarred.

Also, obviously, trauma resides in your memories, which are connected to your ANS. How often do you need to revisit those memories? Not that often for me, any more. I want to mention that some of the memories from the time of the trauma remained veiled from my conscious mind for a long time, and sometimes a memory shapes our behavior, unbidden.

Trauma is definitely something you want behind you on your timeline, not in the way of denial but in the healthy manner of moving on with your life, because healthy life beckons after trauma, if you let it. It may start with one peaceful hour.

Investigate peace, and savor it.

Facing forward, sometimes trauma from the past sneaks ahead and gets right in your face. Boo! Your ANS, which is instinctual and not really all that smart, interprets something as a threat that simply isn’t. Something happens in the present that unconsciously reminds the part of your brain that’s trying to keep you safe of a time when you were unsafe in the past, and you react sharply, as if past were present, get flooded with stress hormones, experience the fight-or-flight dance going on.

Hopefully, the thinking part of your brain will kick in to help you evaluate the situation! Are you actually in imminent danger? If the answer is no, then you get to wait it out while your system rebalances itself, recovering from the dump of stress hormones. Acupuncture and supplements for adrenal depletion can be very helpful.

Beautiful self-care is required when a memory hijacks the ANS and there is no actual threat. Be ever so kind to yourself. Rest as much as you can. Make beautiful cups of tea. Slow down. Light a candle and watch it burn. Take a long fragrant soak in the tub, preferably with Epsom salt. Just breathe. Listen to lovely music. Move your body with care. Do restorative yoga. Walk in nature. Spend time with a loving friend.

Afterwards, trauma resides in memories and the ANS. Build yourself a vast toolkit of self-care resources for the activated times.

Trauma can also play a huge role in your beliefs. We are run by our beliefs, and some of them are outside our awareness. Feeling cursed? Been there. Having bad luck with relationships? Been there. So many questions. Why me? Am I being punished? What did I do to deserve this? How can anyone love me? How could God let this happen? Does God love me?

What are some things you have believed about yourself, your life, your character, your worthiness, after a trauma?

At this point, all I can say about belief is to frame it in the healthiest way you can. If that means you acknowledge that you encountered misfortune — something that has happened to a lot of people throughout human history — and understand it’s just the way life as a human can sometimes be, and don’t take it personally, that seems like a great start. You didn’t cause this, you didn’t deserve it, you are not being punished, you are not cursed. You ran into some bad luck, that’s all.

This is how you build resilience and move on. If you need a little healthy delusion, I say go for it. If rocks or essential oils or photos of Ramana Maharshi soften the harshness, use them. I do.

Beliefs are about what’s important. Identity is who you are. By working with your beliefs, you start to change your identity.

NLP Neuro-Logical Levels of Change.

We live our lives inside a huge mystery. Theoretical physicists say that two thirds of all existence consists of dark energy, and no one knows what it is. I just love this, my favorite new factoid! We.Don’t.Know.What’s.Going.On.

So feel free to make something up that works for you, that gives you strength and courage and takes the weight of oppression or unworthiness off you, so you can rise up to meet the rest of your life. Why not?

By all means, take credit for and celebrate the good stuff — for taking right action, or coming to understand what that means or if that was even possible then. For persisting in the face of hardship. For recovering some of your mental health. For those who understand and accept you, or are willing to make that attempt. For self-care and self-compassion. For bonding with all of humanity through your compassion for all suffering. For finding your path.

After trauma, you get to work with your autonomic nervous system, your memories, and your beliefs. Exploring and reframing your beliefs are where you can make the most difference. Have courage. You’re worth it.

Morning download, 2.19.19

Sitting in my favorite writing spot, staring out the window as spring unfolds upon the land here in Austin, Texas. There’s a mature tree on my property, a volunteer planted by nature, that is fully laden with white blossoms. It may be in the apple family, malus. It doesn’t bear fruit and has thorns, and butterflies and bees love those blossoms.

Yesterday, an intense phone conversation. Attempts to set things right, correct misunderstandings, set boundaries, wrestle for domination, with no shouting, but needing to be fierce and interrupt. Two very different ways of using the English language were struggling to be understood.

This is the closest I’ve been to having a fight with someone in years. It was healthy, timely, and deepening, in my opinion.

“The meaning of your communication is the response you get.” That’s a presupposition in NLP. What does this mean to you? Do you check to see if your words are understood?

Meanwhile, I was watching butterflies alighting on blossoms, feeding, fluttering away.

How do you know when you’re out of your cocoon, when you’re done turning and are ready to emerge and spread your wings? My full emergence is yet to come. This wasn’t it. Or maybe it was. Sometimes metaphors only go so far.

I like my verbal communication to be personal, simple, and clear. When I’m working with another person professionally or just having a long conversation with a friend, I like to listen and use my touch in just the right place or use my words to say just the right thing. It’s like seeing where the cracks are and bringing the light that gets in. I like to be accurate and clear. Best case, it penetrates, heals, and adds to their wholeness. Click. Breathe. Yes.

Sometimes it takes a while to get there. Some bodies and psyches are confused, including mine, at times.

I do not yet know if there was anything healing for my counterpart in yesterday’s exchange. I mind a lack of healing, because that is the intent.

I met it as best I could and still felt prickly enough hours later to leave my house to dance because movement and rhythm help me come back into myself.

I don’t enjoy conflict and have often fled from it. Sometimes it’s important to say who I am in a world that underestimates me, to plant myself and stand my ground and let my hard-won worthiness be known.

photo courtesy Yoga Journal

I felt strong in my center line throughout, connected to heaven and earth. When I felt pushed off center, I recovered my balance.

That is healing enough for me.