Ecstatic dance in Austin, Texas

I’ve been doing ecstatic dance since 1995. It’s brought me many gifts: a community of friends, inspiration, playfulness, release, deeper embodiment, awareness of my body/others/the space, a place to experiment with movement and energy, sweetness, connection, and the natural high that comes after dancing for an hour or two.

Screen Shot 2018-03-21 at 11.42.57 AMThe availability of ED in Austin has increased over the years, and the community is always evolving. I want to list current opportunities here and update this blog post with changes when they occur.

At all of these dances, we dance barefoot in clothes we can move and sweat in. A facilitator puts together a program of danceable recorded music. These dances take the form of a musical wave that at least somewhat follows the 5 Rhythms (flowing, staccato, chaos, lyrical, and stillness) of the late Gabrielle Roth, a manifestation of the idea that each dance is a journey into yourself through different terrains.

The dance space itself is nonverbal — we take our conversations outside the space.

Boundaries are important. Not everyone wants to dance with a partner all the time or even to be touched. We read and use body language to say yes or no, and we don’t take it personally if someone doesn’t want to dance with us. They may be more into self-expression or processing something at that moment. Some of us use movement to get right with God.

The safety of all is important too. Some allow contact improv or acro-yoga (usually on the edges of the space) and others don’t.

Some facilitators offer a theme for the dance after a warmup. Some may offer a guided warmup, while others provide guidelines for newcomers.

All ages are welcome at most of these dances. I’ve danced with people that are nearing 80 and with babies in Snuglis on their parent’s chest at some dances; at others, only adults show up. If you are considering bringing children, it’s probably a good idea to ask the facilitator first. If you bring them, you will need to make sure they and the other dancers stay safe. Also, most facilitators make earplugs available for those sensitive to loud music— and you can always bring your own.

At the end there’s always closing circle, where OMs or a silent meditation may happen, people give their first names, and there may be some shareback about the experience and announcements from dancers. People may hang out a bit afterwards to schmooze.

All of the founders and facilitators listed below are on Facebook, and some of the dances have their own Facebook page or website. Continue reading

I have an MTHFR mutation! Stay tuned for what that really means.

Last fall, my daughter and I decided to take advantage of a 2-for-1 special offer from 23 and Me, the genetic testing company. We sent in saliva samples to have our ancestry analyzed.

No surprise: I am 100% European. I’m 66% British & Irish, 22% French & German, 10% broadly Northwestern European, and 2% Scandinavian. Hers was similar, but she was surprised — she has no Native American blood on her dad’s side, which she’d been told she has.

23 and Me is working on providing more ancestry detail, such as separating British and Irish (but not Scottish, which I suspect I have plenty of), French and German, and Scandinavian into separate countries of origin. Soon we’ll get new reports with this new information.

At that point, we both decided to have our health data analyzed. They’ve already done the analysis, after all. You pay, and they send you the results immediately.

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Breathing naturally

Given that one of my investigations is to find out how relaxed I can get and still be awake, I have something to share. I’ve become aware that some of us do not breathe naturally, and I think it could be keeping our nervous symptoms from experiencing the relaxing, healing benefits of going into the parasympathetic (rest and digest) state of the autonomic nervous system.

I imagine everyone is aware that breathing is a function that we have some control over, and also that when we don’t pay it any attention, the breath will continue on its own, unconsciously. We may be told how to control our breathing in yoga or meditation classes, or in voice or speech classes, and some students may then infer that these ways of using the breath are somehow better than normal breathing and adopt them into their everyday lives.

Stress and trauma affect our breathing too, and unfortunately for many, living with stress has become a way of life, at least temporarily. The breathing pattern, however, may remain disordered.

We may also adopt a disordered way of breathing due to pollution and attempts not to inhale smog, smoke, aromas, dust, pollens, and so on. Some people who believe they have asthma may actually have a breathing pattern disorder.

There are many benefits to learning how to breathe naturally. I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned and experienced myself regarding breathing.

First of all, the natural relaxed breath does not have a rhythm like a metronome, where inhalations and exhalations are regular and evenly paced. Yes, when we exert ourselves, our lungs work rhythmically to bring in the oxygen and release the carbon dioxide that our bodies need.

The relaxed breath is different.

If you have an opportunity to watch an infant or young child breath when asleep, you will notice that sometimes the breath is like that, with regular inhalations and exhalations. And sometimes it’s not. The child may take a fuller breath. There may be pauses between breaths when it seems they skip a breath. This is not like sleep apnea, which is a disorder where people struggle to get enough oxygen in their sleep.

Some of these pauses can last for awhile, but the inhalation does return. (If it happens a lot, see a specialist.)

Thank you to Dr. Fritz Smith, founder of Zero Balancing, for educating me on this in Inner Bridges and classes.

This pattern — sometimes regular, occasionally with bigger breaths and pauses — is what I mean by natural relaxed breathing.

I noticed in meditation that sometimes I lightly controlled my breathing. This is probably something I adopted from a yoga class years ago or from meditation instructions.

I wanted to stop doing that and breathe naturally. What I did was check in with my breath, pause after an exhalation, and simply allow the next inhalation to arise on its own. I’d repeat that cycle a few times, and then I would move my attention to something else. I did this a couple of times a day for a few days. My body took to this more relaxed, effortless way of breathing, and I don’t manipulate my breathing any more unless I consciously want to. Natural breathing has become easy and joyful.

I’m not saying that breathing exercises are bad or not to do them. I’m glad to know that I can influence my autonomic nervous system with my breath, because sometimes I want to calm down quickly (by lengthening my exhalations), and other times I want to quickly increase my alertness (by lengthening my inhalations). I also love nadi shodhana (alternate nostril breathing) for calming and balancing.

What is particularly bringing me joy now is something that happens when I’ve been meditating for awhile. (I’m guessing at least 30 minutes.) Sitting still means the body doesn’t require as much oxygen as when active, and my breath naturally slows and gets shallower. Often, my breath gets so light that I can’t tell if I’m inhaling or exhaling.

Watching my breath doesn’t change it. There’s a principle in physics that when you observe an object, it changes the object’s behavior. But when you are in a non-dual state, everything is one, and there is no separation between subject and object. It’s a marker, if you like.

I may segue into a state where I am simply being breathed. There is no effort. There is no will. The breath rises and falls on its own, and I simply witness. Source takes over, and I surrender. I feel touched by the sublime.

What to bring to a vipassana course

Just got back home yesterday after taking my second 10-day vipassana course at Dhamma Siri, Kaufman, Texas. I reached new abilities to sense subtle sensations and found deeper stillness and inner silence. Reentry into the real world has been easier this time as well.

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Plus, I made eye contact with a bobcat. More about that later.

While it’s fresh, I want to put into writing what to bring next time. I am into avoiding unnecessary suffering for myself, and others. It doesn’t mean that I can’t sit with some discomfort and be equanimous — and discomfort is inevitable unless you already are sitting still for 12 hours a day, day after day. Your low back, mid-back, upper back, shoulders, hips, knees, feet — at least one area of your body is going to feel the strain — and this is an unavoidable part of the process.

The pain and discomfort are necessary to get the full vipassana experience. Meditation isn’t all about transcendence. It’s about learning to witness and accept the truth of what you are experiencing with equanimity. You become more familiar with your mind, craving what isn’t there and feeling aversion to what is there. Continue reading

Come NightWalking with me in Taos, NM, in August 2018

Today is an exceptionally cold day in Austin, Texas. At noon the temperature is 27 degrees F (-2.8 C). It rained last night, then froze, sleeted this morning, and now it’s snowing. Schools are closed, and many people are staying in, staying warm, staying safe. People in cold areas may laugh, but most Austinites don’t know how to drive on ice. We don’t have snowplows. Sand on bridges is about it. So we call everything off and stay in.

Today (besides staying cozy in my pajamas and sipping hot bone broth), I’m daydreaming about an event I will attend this summer, August 10-12, 2018, when it will probably be over 100 degrees F (38 C) here. I’m going up into the southern Rockies where it will most certainly be cooler, to Taos, New Mexico, a legendary town in the high desert mountains. Continue reading

A round holiday feast

I’m tired of turkey and all the traditional Christmas and Thanksgiving meals where a big slab of meat is the centerpiece. This year I decided to do something different: most of the foods are round in shape. (Okay, look, I’m an Aquarian, and I’m allowed to be quirky. I thought it would be fun and different and still delicious.)

Here’s the menu:

  • beet-pickled deviled eggs
  • salad with mixed greens, pickled beets, feta, and walnuts
  • baked brie with roasted cranberries, served with round gluten-free crackers
  • meatballs with marinara sauce
  • roasted brussels sprouts with fig balsamic vinegar
  • mashed potatoes (not round but my daughter’s favorite, and I rarely cook for her any more so a special addition to the menu)
  • arancini (risotto balls stuffed with mozzarella, breaded and deep fried (something else I almost never do)
  • chocolate truffles

It seems like a fun meal to make and share, and if you’ll notice, it has a lot of red, green, white, and golden foods, so it’s seasonal, it’s seasonal! And there’s a lot that you can do in advance, so it’s not so stressful the day of the feast.

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Post-concussion self-care

I’m getting referrals for craniosacral therapy for people who have had concussions, and I want to help these folks heal. Not knowing what a doctor may have told them, and knowing how busy most doctors are, I’m providing information here that may help those with injured brains recover more quickly. If your doctor tells you something different, listen.

People who’ve had concussions report these symptoms: pain, dizziness or vertigo, balance issues, gait disturbance, vision changes, sensitivity to light and sound, language problems, confusion, lack of focus, forgetfulness, nausea, sleepiness, and/or emotional problems.

To clarify the language, concussions may also be called mild TBIs (traumatic brain injuries). People can get concussions from an impact, from being shaken (like shaken baby syndrome), or from being near an explosion (IEDs in war zones make this a tragic problem for many veterans).

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Hydration: the first step to building health

The first step to preventing dementia is to stay hydrated. The brain is more sensitive to dehydration than any other tissue in your body. This issue is on my mind due to numerous friends’ parents having tragically developed Alzheimer’s and also learning of contemporaries with early-stage dementia. Craniosacral therapy can help, and I’ll write about that in the future. Today: hydration.

This is a topic that your doctor will probably never mention unless you have a severe issue like kidney disease, but your massage therapist certainly will!

You are at your most dehydrated when you wake up in the morning. Therefore, drink water soon after you wake! It’ll help get your brain and your whole system going.  Continue reading

After #MeToo, Aikido.

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Source: Many thanks.

Times are changing. The sheer number of women who have come forward with tales of being sexually harassed or assaulted by Harvey Weinstein has opened up a national conversation that is long overdue.`

The many #MeToo tales of sexual harassment, abuse, assault, and rape shared on Facebook and Twitter have made it clear: this situation is not just happening in Hollywood. It’s common. It is rare that a woman has never experienced such inappropriate sexual behavior. Millions of women — and teen girls, and girl children — have been touched in a sexual way that they did not want. And we’ve pretty much normalized it, except in especially heinous cases such as Bill Cosby and the occasional gang rape or murder or famous person.

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How Breath of Fire relieved my hiatal hernia symptoms

Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor, just someone interested in self-care, anatomy, physiology, and wellness who is relating her personal experience working with her own issues. If you are in a similar situation, the techniques described below may or may not be helpful. Always pay attention to your body’s yes and no.

A couple of years ago, I woke up in the middle of the night with chest pain. I didn’t know what it was. I sat up, just feeling it, trying to figure out what was causing it and whether I needed to call an ambulance. Heart attack was my big fear. From the top of my solar plexus, the pain ran through the middle of my chest underneath my sternum and up my throat. It was unpleasant.  Continue reading