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, 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.

Breathing and being breathed

I have been breathing since shortly after I was born, but I never really gave much thought to it until I started doing yoga a few decades ago, and there wasn’t much instruction. In fact, I was a mindless smoker for part of my younger, ignorant, addicted life.

Pranayama (breath work) is the 4th limb of yoga, right after asana (postures). A few of my yoga teachers have included pranayama techniques at the end of asana class. Awareness of where I feel my breath, feeling it down to my pubic bone, feeling it on the sides and back of my rib cage and in my lumbar area and between my shoulder blades, keeping my shoulders down, letting my diaphragm really expand downwards, moving the heart/lungs and liver/gallbladder/pancreas/stomach/spleen on either side of the diaphragm, increasing the movement of detoxifying lymph with each breath, being present with the energizing inhalation and the relaxing exhalation, noticing the pauses, noticing what happens in my chakras and in my whole being…

Some of the yogic breathing techniques that have stuck with me through the years are kapalabhati (breath of fire), a rapid bellows breathing that floods the body with cleansing, nourishing oxygen as well as increases motivation — and also prevents discomfort from my hiatal hernia, and nadi shodhana (alternate nostril breathing), calming and believed to balance the hemispheres of the brain.

Were you aware that throughout the day, one of your nostrils is more open than the other, and that they periodically switch sides?

Source: https://grimmly2007.blogspot.com/2015/02/krishnamacharyas-own-asana-and.html

I practice these two techniques every day along with a more modern technique, 4-7-8 breathing, that was taught to Dr. Andrew Weil by his mentor, Dr. Robert Fulford, an American cranial osteopath/shaman (Wikipedia describes him as a pioneer in alternative and energetic medicine) who obviously had studied pranayam.

Dr. Weil recommends doing no more than four rounds of 4-7-8 breathing daily for a couple of months to train the nervous system to quickly move into a relaxed state. I notice that the main times I need to use it are when I’m driving and I narrowly avoid hitting something or being hit.

Another practice that’s not a technique (at least that I’ve ever heard of) is something that occurs in meditation. I call it “being breathed”. It occurs after settling the body and calming the mind, paradoxically by using the breath to relax by lengthening exhalations.

As relaxation/parasympathetic dominance increases, a gradual detachment from controlling the breath allows it to shift to operate on its own, automatically — as it does naturally when we’re not paying attention.

When you notice that your breath has become automatic — you aren’t doing anything to it or with it — you’re simply allowing it to do its thing — breathing becomes completely passive, occurring on its own, and observing it doesn’t change it — that’s what I call being breathed.

There’s a kind of awesomeness to this experience. I wonder if this is what Shri Krishnamacharya, founder of modern yoga, may have been referring to when he said pranayama could result in samadhi.

Am I experiencing samadhi? I don’t know. There’s a sense of oneness and a subtle sense of bliss that permeates. Namaste, my friends.

So that’s my current practice, doing three techniques daily that take 5 minutes, plus meditating (10 minutes with Sam Harris’ Waking Up app, and usually a few more in silence, breathing equally through nose and mouth with my tongue on my palate behind my upper teeth, a Kum Nye technique).

Improving vagal tone

When do you feel safe? When are you on guard?

If you feel safe except when there is an actual threat to your safety, then you have high vagal tone.

If you feel guarded most or all of the time, even when there is no actual threat to your safety, you have low vagal tone. Low vagal tone can be raised. Continue reading

Treating TMJ issues: a series of posts

I’ve been writing about TMJ pain and dysfunction on my Facebook business page and on my Austin, Texas, USA, private-practice website’s blog. Now I’m sharing an index of these posts here on my “big blog”.

If you have TMJ disorder and want to read any of those posts, here are the links.

I view TMJ issues as not just biomechanics, although it plays a role. This issue has social, emotional, historical, biological, cognitive, and spiritual aspects. I am very aware that some people, especially in the mainstream medical and dental fields, may believe it’s unnecessary or even laughable to provide information on so-called “woo-woo” or “fluffy” topics like essential oils, yoga, and the throat chakra for people who are suffering from jaw pain and dysfunction.

So let me share how I came to write this series of posts. Instead of just going to experts (and I have done that), I also asked women who suffer from this problem what helps, and they told me. And I believe them!

Since nine times more women than men experience severe, chronic TMJ issues, this is super valuable information to share.

I want the world to know that TMJ treatment is available beyond night guards, pain meds, and surgery, and there are so many options for self-care: massage, exercises, training yourself in new habits, reducing stress, improving posture, acupressure, nutrition, stretching, journaling, meditating, and more. I’m working on designing programs to evaluate and treat specific TMJ-related issues. More later!

If you bump into this limited and limiting attitude, please share this post, and please share in the comments your experiences and any other resources you have found helpful.

Sensible eating for healthy weight loss: my best practices and desired habits

I have put on some extra weight and I want to take it off. I already eat a fairly healthy, mostly Paleo diet. I was thinking about the mindset and habits I want to cultivate. I’m looking at what’s worked for me in the past and some new best practices.

Twice since 2000, I’ve lost weight: the first time, I lost 35 pounds, of which 20 pounds crept back on for a few years, and then I lost the 20 pounds and kept it off for a few years. Those 20 pounds have crept back on over the past 7 years.

Screen Shot 2018-06-12 at 12.06.00 PM

Courtesy: Diethunters.com

Continue reading

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.

Screen Shot 2018-01-29 at 9.08.46 AM

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

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 on 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, and seek medical care when needed.

~~~

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. That I was having a heart attack was my big fear. From the top of my solar plexus, the pain ran up through the middle of my chest underneath my sternum and up my throat. It was very unpleasant.

It went away, and I went back to sleep. I woke up feeling fine. Although scary, it didn’t seem to be any kind of an emergency. I put it out of my mind and went about my business.

Then it happened again a couple of times. This seemingly random chest pain sent me to the doctor, who through testing was able to rule out heart disease, possibly pancreatic cancer, and stomach ulcer. She wanted me to go to a gastroenterologist and do a barium swallow with x-rays.

I didn’t want to do that procedure, and by then, being the curious researcher that I am, I had figured out that it was very likely a hiatal hernia. See the images below.

So I began self-treating, starting with reading online. I learned:

  • hiatal hernias are more common in older people
  • obesity can be a factor
  • acid reflux can be a factor
  • overeating can make it worse
  • you can avoid symptoms by not eating 2-3 hours before bedtime
  • posture plays a role

Yes, even though I’m a yogi and usually have pretty decent posture, I was sitting on my sofa using my laptop all hunched over for a few hours several times a week. My fix for that was to sit cross-legged with my back straight, with my laptop on a thick pillow.

I am 64, and although not obese, I’ve put on a few pounds in the last few years. I’ve been guilty of eating late after a busy day and occasional overeating. I haven’t felt any symptoms of acid reflux, though, but learned you can have acid reflux without symptoms.

I learned more about the anatomy of a hiatal hernia. Simply put, the diaphragm separates your chest cavity from your abdominal cavity and moves when you breathe. The hiatus is an opening in your diaphragm where your esophagus passes through to your stomach.

When the hole is enlarged, a little bit of your stomach can protrude upward through the hole, crowding your chest cavity. Thus…lying down or bending over with a full stomach brings the pain on.

Screen Shot 2017-10-09 at 8.23.19 AM

Copyright 2004 MedicineNet Inc.

There is reportedly no cure, and in severe cases, drugs or surgery may be needed.

My favorite quick relief for hiatal hernia pain? Drink a glass of water, 8 to 12 ounces. Then stand on your tiptoes and quickly drop your heels, repeating this several times. The weight of the water in your stomach combined with the quick downward motion will jostle your stomach back down into its proper place beneath the diaphragm. Here’s a video showing the technique.

I also read about yoga poses to avoid: cobra, inversions like downward facing dog, and other poses I was doing every day. This was a drag. I wasn’t liking this at all.

I still had occasional esophageal spasms and finally did get the barium swallow. The diagnosis confirmed my intuition: I have a small “sliding hiatal hernia”.

Not long after, I was meditating, and I suddenly had an insight that a yogic breathing practice I’d learned decades ago called Breath of Fire (Sanskrit kapalabati or “skull shining breath”) might be helpful. I hadn’t practiced it in years. This technique pumps the diaphragm through rapid breathing, and since the diaphragm is a muscle, it can be strengthened through training.

Watch this video if Breath of Fire is new to you. Actual instruction starts at 2:50.

I started doing Breath of Fire for a minute a day. It was hard at first to breath rapidly in a steady rhythm, but it got easier. I worked up to 3, then 5, and then 10 minutes a day, building strength and stamina while maintaining a steady rhythm.

The diaphragm is a muscle that can be strengthened like any other muscle. At first, I felt some muscle soreness around the bottom of my rib cage, front, sides, and back, where the diaphragm attaches. After a few days, the soreness went away.

Not only does Breath of Fire strengthen your diaphragm, it also floods your body with oxygen, massages your organs, pumps your lymphatic system, and has other benefits. Since I started doing this three months ago, I’ve noticed a gradual increase in energy, mental clarity, positivity, and motivation. I feel more on top of things and happier.

I now do Breath of Fire for 3 minutes every morning for maintenance, and I haven’t had any hiatal hernia discomfort since I started. (I avoid eating near bedtime and lying down after eating.)

I do the yoga poses I want to do without any problems. I’ve long been a hatha yogini, but now I’m interested in learning more kundalini, where this practice originates, as far as I know.

It would take a truly open-minded, yoga-trained Western doctor to tell you to do this very simple technique, so I’m sharing. If you have a hiatal hernia and try these techniques, please share your experience in the comments.

~~~

Addition, April 11, 2018. If you have a hiatal hernia, it’s important to know that you may have acid reflux, where you don’t produce enough stomach acid to break down the protein in food and to stimulate the production of digestive enzymes. You may burp, have gas, and/or feel bloated. You may also have acid reflux without any symptoms.

Low stomach acid signals the lower esophageal sphincter to stay open, making it more likely for a hiatal hernia to develop, and the stomach acid you do produce can splash up into the esophagus and possibly cause scarring and thickening. Not good.

Screen Shot 2018-04-11 at 8.39.27 AMThe remedy for low stomach acid — which becomes more common with age — is to take a supplement containing Betaine HCl and pepsin. It helps you digest protein and absorb amino acids from food. Protein is in all animal-derived food sources — meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy — and legumes, including soy, tofu, and tempeh, and other foods. Protein helps your body build and repair tissues, especially important in building muscle, bone, blood, cartilage and skin. You definitely want to assimilate the protein you eat.

HCl also helps kill off pathogens in food.

There are some cautions about taking this. I found this article very helpful in explaining who should not take HCl and why.

It also explains how to find out how much you need to take, so as not to take too little to be effective or too much and experience discomfort. (If that happens, take 1/2 tsp of baking soda in water to neutralize the excess acid, and then cut back on the amount you’re taking.)

If you can’t take Betaine HCl before eating protein, drink a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice (shoot or dilute) to help acidify your stomach. These won’t help you break down the protein but may prevent acid reflux.

Screen Shot 2018-04-11 at 9.10.39 AMYou can also take digestive bitters. Bitter tastes stimulate digestion. Our ancestors knew this and ate bitter foods every day — such as citrus, greens, cruciferous veggies, artichokes, ginger and other herbs, pepper, chocolate, and red wine.

Herbalists have been making bitter elixirs since at least the Middle Ages. I like this brand and carry it in my purse for those times when I forget to refill my little pill container with Betaine HCl and digestive enzymes.

Screen Shot 2018-04-11 at 9.45.17 AMYou may also want to take digestive enzymes to help your stomach break down substances in food into molecules that you can absorb. If you are eating a healthful diet, you want your body to actually absorb the nutrients in that healthy (and possibly expensive or laborious-to-grow) food. Enzymes help further break down protein and also fats and carbohydrates. Low stomach acid goes hand-in-hand with low digestive enzymes.

A note on the timing: my doctor, who is working with me on my digestive issues, recommends taking 3 digestive enzymes at the beginning of meals and 3 Betaine HCl capsules after. I aim at taking the latter about 20 minutes after I finish eating so the HCl won’t deactivate the digestive enzymes.

You can take a dropperful of bitters before, during, or after meals.

Let me know in the comments what your experience is with any of this, please.

 

Sacroiliac joint healed!

Way back in late June 2015, I wrote about using a sacroiliac belt for pain in that joint. (See When the healer needs healing: chronic pain in a sacroiliac joint).

I posted a few updates. (See Update on using the sacroiliac beltA cheaper sacroiliac belt, working toward “the new normal”SI belt update, plus insoles for Morton’s foot, and Pelvic rehab update: getting bodywork, exercises, kinesiotaping). I haven’t had much to add since then: getting the belt and wearing it nearly 24/7, using the insoles, continuing to gather information, get bodywork, etc., it just takes time.

It’s now January 2017, and I’m here to give you an update, prompted by a couple of comments I’ve received recently from readers who are suffering from SI joint pain.

I finally stopped wearing the belt last month, in December 2016. That’s right, I wore it most of the time for 18 months, a year and a half. My pelvis feels pretty aligned now. It’s not perfect, but it is strong and tight enough that the joint stays in place. Since I started wearing it, I haven’t had that unstable, painful feeling of my SI joint going out. Continue reading