Welcome, reader from Sao Tome and Principe

I just checked on my blog stats and noticed that someone in Sao Tome and Principe had looked at my blog yesterday. I had heard of it before and knew of it as a very tiny nation, but I wasn’t sure where it was.

I marvel at the reach of the Internet. Chances are I will never go there or meet someone in person from there, but there is now a connection between me, in Austin, Texas, USA, and some unknown person hailing from Sao Tome and Principe. Who could ever have guessed?

By hovering over the name, the map on the blog stats page showed that it’s a tiny island off the west coast of Africa. So of course I had to look up this exotic, enchanting place (where someone has read at least one of my blog posts!) in Wikipedia…

saotomemapIt’s actually a group of islands. Sao Tome and Principe are the two main islands formed from an extinct volcanic mountain range. (I bet the geology is fascinating. I love tropical volcanic islands.) This is the second-smallest African nation, after Seychelles.

The largest island was discovered by Portuguese explorers on the feast day of St. Thomas in 1471, hence the name (Sao Tome is St. Thomas in Portuguese.) The islands were uninhabited, and the Portuguese explorers decided they would make a good base for trade with the mainland.

The volcanic soil was good for growing sugar. Sadly, they imported slaves to work on the sugar plantations (not enchanting), but it became Africa’s largest exporter of sugar…until the Caribbean islands began outproducing it.

In the 19th century, coffee and cocoa were introduced. At one time it was the world’s largest producer of cocoa, still its most important crop. The landowners employed slaves, both legally and later illegally, and its history was marked by labor unrest and riots.

The islands became independent of Portugal in 1975 and is now a democracy.

saotomepeakAnyway, these islands have mountains as high as 6,000 feet! Here’s a photo of one. Yes, it is exotic with fascinating geology! Also tropical, with the average temperature of 80 degrees F. and a rainy season.

About 164,000 people live there, including someone who read a blog post here! (Hello there!)

Demographically it is also fascinating. Populated by mixed blood descendants of the Portuguese colonists and African slaves, there is also a group said to descend from African slaves shipwrecked in 1540 (!) who earn their living from fishing, as well as descendants of freed slaves, contract laborers from the African mainland, Portuguese and Sephardic Jews, and Chinese.

Cesaria Evora’s lovely song Sodade is about longing to return home to Sao Tome.

The dancing genes, sociability, transcendence, and genetic flexibility

A recent article published online says that dancers are genetically different. Some Israeli researchers found that dancers show consistent differences from the general population in two genes.

The researchers said this did not surprise them, because studies have found that athletes and musicians have genetic differences.

I can only speak for myself, but my dance is very connected to music — my movement is a way to participate musically, as if I were playing an instrument. It’s also very physical.

I did a little Googling to see if I could find which specific genes differ in athletes and musicians, but I didn’t find anything that was very clear. Race seems to be the biggest issue in the media when it comes to genetics, athletes, and musicians.

The researchers studied dancers and advanced dance students and found they had variants in two genes, those affecting serotonin transport and arginine vasopressin reception.

Serotonin (“the happiness molecule”) is a neurotransmitter that contributes to spiritual experience — the capacity for transcendence and a proclivity to spiritual acceptance. (See this Psychology Today article for more about that.) It also affects optimism, the healing of wounds, resilience from stress, metabolism, sleep, and more.

“Serotonin transport” sounds like a dance inside the body!

Interestingly, exercise can raise serotonin levels in the body, so dancing itself reinforces dancers’ high serotonin levels!

I admit — I get into an altered state from ecstatic dance. That’s why they call it ecstatic dance, I suspect. 😉

The vasopressin receptor modulates social communication and affiliative bonding. Wikipedia says “…accumulating evidence suggests it plays an important role in social behavior, bonding, and maternal responses to stress.” It has a very similar structure to oxytocin (“the love hormone”), and the two can cross-react.

When the results were combined and analyzed, it was clearly shown that the dancers exhibited particular genetic and personality characteristics that were not found in the other two groups.

The dancer “type,” says Ebstein, clearly demonstrates qualities that are not necessarily lacking but are not expressed as strongly in other people: a heightened sense of communication, often of a symbolic and ceremonial nature, and a strong spiritual personality trait.

I know this is controversial, but I want to weigh in on the side of flexibility when it comes to genetics. For much of my life, genes were thought to be destiny, unalterable. Now it is known that the expression of genes is much more dynamic than previously believed. They can switch on and off.

I don’t know that much about it, except that stress tends to switch on the bad genes. I don’t know which or how many genes truly create destiny and therefore cannot be influenced, except that there probably are some. We just don’t know enough about this in our current level of understanding.

I want to encourage people who believe they don’t have the dancing genes to give dancing a try.

Two left feet? That’s a myth. If you can walk, you have rhythm and coordination.

If you think you can’t dance, try just moving to some music alone in your own home if you feel self-conscious. Play something catchy, like “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.”

Start simple, just swaying your hips to the beat, keeping your feet in place. Do you like it? Do you feel any sense of pleasure? Play with it. Add your arms. Walk to it. Make it fun and goofy!

Those dancing genes may be just sitting there waiting to be activated, for all we know, and they might help you become happier.

A video that could help you sleep

Insomnia is a malady I have rarely had over the last few years. Only when I drink caffeine late in the day (I usually know better), and even more rarely, when I feel so disturbed about some issue in my life that my mind can’t let go of it do I lie awake at night unable to sleep and feel like a zombie the next day.

I have experienced months of insomnia every night in the past, however, and that experience has given me great compassion for those who suffer from it. A good night’s sleep is just essential for well-being.

I’ve posted about various remedies for insomnia occasionally. You can search my blog on “insomnia” to find those posts if you wish.

Cures or relief from insomnia is a topic of great interest. New information emerges. I’m interested in what works. Could it be that there is not a “one size fits all” cure for insomnia?

Today I stumbled across a video purportedly created by scientists to help you sleep. I listened to it (and did not fall asleep, but it’s morning and I am well rested already). I found it very peaceful. I can imagine that it would help me fall asleep.

Here’s the link if you want to give it a try:

http://www.wimp.com/scientistscreated/

The only other information I could find is that the video and music are by a band called Marconi Union. I don’t know if this is a band of scientists or what!

The best help I know of for insomnia (and the most expensive) is brainwave optimization.   I wasn’t experiencing any insomnia when I did the five days of brain training in June 2011. But it has been known to help with insomnia, and a study is underway to learn more about its effects on insomnia.

Even more awesome, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center is undertaking this study of insomnia, and other studies are planned for migraines, mild cognitive impairment, and traumatic brain injury/concussion later this year!

My short psychic reading

Today I had a psychic reading. Have you ever done that?

In the past, I’ve worked with Richard Ungar many times. He does hand analysis and does not claim to be psychic, although he’s very intuitive. He’s been trying to bring the ancient art of palmistry into the realm of science (he founded the International Institute of Hand Analysis), and to that end, has utilized massive databases of finger- and hand-prints.

I’ve studied Richard’s book, Life Prints, and taken my friends’ and family members’ fingerprints, which I decoded for them. Very fun.

I highly recommend getting a reading with Richard if you ever have a chance.

I’ve also had astrological readings done. The last one was last summer. I’m happy to say that my Jupiter return, which occurs once every 12 years, begins at the end of this month, and I am so looking forward to moving into a period of expansion.

Today Joe Nicols, a long-time, well-known Austin palmist/psychic, read my hands in a 10-minute reading. I found what he had to say interesting and am considering going back to him for a full reading.

Joe wears a suit, and one of my companions was very impressed by that!

First, by looking at the backs of my hands, he said that I’d had an emotional disturbance recently. Yes.

He told me I’d been blind in a previous life, and that I’m very careful who I listen to. He said he was flattered that I was listening to him.

Huh. I do know that I am (often) more auditory than visual and that uncorrected, my vision is in the -9 to -10 range, extremely near-sighted. The pleasures of making eye contact were an adult revelation.

Over the past few years, I have gotten choosy about people’s voices. I’ve been disturbed by certain voices and distanced myself because hearing the person talk grated on my nerves. It’s partly their tone and partly hearing their mindless suffering.

I prefer to be around people who are careful with their speech, who really understand it as communication. People have interesting communication habits (including me, I’m sure). Some are predictable and straightforward, some deliver with a smile or laugh, and some bury what I consider important information and only later do I get it. Some withhold it.

I also like people who are emotionally sensitive — not just about what they hear but also about what they say. Insensitivity is alienating, and I say that as someone who knows she has responded to it in kind but who later regrets not calling the other on it when first received. Insensitivities tear at the fabric of trust, in my opinion.

I have a strong aversion to hearing bad news given badly. I like to be prepared for it and be offered emotional support.

These are just some things I’ve noticed about listening, partly from having bumped into someone whose communication style I sometimes found difficult and puzzling.

Joe told me that I’d been a healer for many, many lifetimes, doing healing of various types — as a doctor, midwife, and so on.

This makes sense to me. I can easily believe that I’ve met up with people I’ve known as fellow healers in previous lives, and they’ve drawn me back into healing work in this lifetime. I’m coming home.

He said I came into this lifetime ready to make a mark but that factors in my early life dampened that. True.

He said I have the mark of an athlete in my hands. That was surprising, but yep, if you consider yoga and dance athletic.

He also said that I could have done many things in this lifetime. He said I could have been an engineer, for instance. Hmm. Okay.

Joe also said I’d been a writer in many, many lifetimes, and that I was once a man who wrote with a quill pen!

Whoa. I wonder if I wrote standing up. I wonder if I wore a powdered wig. I wonder what I wrote! Wow! If I knew who I was in this previous life, I could look up my writing!

You could say that by blogging about wellness and practicing massage, I’m continuing two karmic traditions. Joe had no idea that that’s what I do.

Joe told me that I’m not materialistic and can’t be bought. Yep, I know that’s true.

Joe also spoke to me about having an aversion to being trapped, because I wear no jewelry on my hands. (I said, “But I’m a massage therapist. I don’t wear rings or bracelets when I’m working, so it’s easier not to wear them at all.” He replied that my conscious mind may understand it that way, but it’s deeper than that. Okay.)

Yes, of course I have an aversion to being trapped! Who wants to be trapped? I asked him what was wrong with that, and he made it sound like it was necessary to allow oneself to be trapped to be in a relationship.

Hmm. I still don’t like it. Surely there’s got to be a happy place of being in a relationship and not feeling trapped.

Joe then switched from reading my hands to reading cards. He had me shuffle an ordinary deck a few times and cut the cards. Then he laid them out in a spread to give me a reading on love.

He said I was entering a time of exploring new relationships, that I’m open to it and will learn from it, and in a couple of years I will be very drawn toward someone who is talkative, busy, and a mover and shaker.

That sounds good. May he be drawn to me as well.

How to bounce back

Sometimes in life, things are going well, and then something happens, and before you know it, you’ve gotten off track. Unpleasant surprises having to do with work, love, friendship, money, health, family, whatever we care about, can put us into an experience of suffering (aka “pain with a story”).

So what do you do to get back on track? Here’s what works for me:

  1. Realize it’s a process and there’s probably not an instant fix. Accept that you’re off track instead of pretending that everything is fine. Relax into it.
  2. Take care of your health. Go to bed and wake at the regular times. Eat healthy food, and not too much comfort food. Drink plenty of water. Exercise in whatever form you enjoy. Dance, run, do yoga, shadow-box. Move your body. A little sweat won’t hurt a bit, either. If you need inspiration, listen to this and try some of James Brown’s moves. You know he taught Michael Jackson how to dance:
  3. Let your emotions flow instead of suppressing them. Movement can help with this too. Walk around and make nonsense noises and start moving how you feel. Waaahhhhh! Grrrrrrr! Listen to music that helps you cry if tears feel blocked — this music can help:
     If you don’t feel safe expressing your feelings to another human being, write them out. Or get curious — what is the name of the emotion? Where in your body are you feeling it? How would your body like to move with this emotion? If you could dance it or see it dancing, what would that be like? What kind of music would it be dancing to? What color is it?
  4. Do something that will really make you feel better. There are tons of techniques that can be helpful. The Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) works for a lot of people. Now, this may seem crazy, but an even simpler technique for restoring emotional equilibrium is to slowly toss a small ball from hand to hand. While tossing it, slowly look toward the ceiling, close your eyes, and return your head to normal position. (It will take some practice to do this.) If you drop the ball, pick it up and start over (it’s easiest to do over a bed or sofa). It induces the feeling of being centered. Even 2 minutes of it shifts me. For theory and details on this, see Mind Juggling on Nelson Zink’s awesome website Navaching.
  5. Set boundaries that work for you. They don’t have to be permanent, but if you need a break from something that drains your energy, just take one. You being drained contributes to no one’s well-being. One of my favorite films of all time is Office Space. Make like Peter and don’t give a damn. You don’t have to drink the Kool-Aid. Savor your own mojo, and don’t give it away to the unappreciative.
  6. Think happy thoughts, imagine happy pictures, feel the good experiences you’ve had again. Do you know someone who has a radiant smile? Imagine their wonderful face. Has someone been particularly kind to you? Remember that feeling. What words do you like to hear? “Everything is going to be all right” is very soothing. Really, who the hell knows how everything is going to be, but saying that to yourself can feel comforting. Also, I have a big envelope full of cards, letters, and photos that people have given me over the past few years. When I pull that out and look through it, I feel reconnected with the good will of these people who’ve cared enough about me to make that effort. (Reminds me to make more of an effort myself toward that end.)
  7. Do something spiritual. Could be meditation, an act of kindness, reading spiritual books or listening to audiotapes, feeling gratitude, forgiving those who’ve hurt you. Even laughing, because laughter is a gift from the gods. Here’s James Altucher’s hilarious blog post on 60 second meditations. (I love washing dishes.)

This has been my favorite blog post to write, because I wrote it to help myself bounce back. So I guess 8. would be to write up your own methods of bouncing back, testing each step.

Before you know it, you’ve returned to your healthy self.

Save a life: free CPR app for smart phones

Yesterday I got certified in CPR and first aid as part of my training to become a massage therapist.

I’ve been certified several times in the past. It’s gotten simpler as doctors learned more about what really works and refined the curriculum. It’s pretty damn simple now.

These days, the real value of CPR is to keep someone’s heart going until you can use a defibrillator on them. About 70% of the time, an AED saves a life.

There’s a free smart phone app called “handsonlycpr” that you can install. Even if you’re not trained in CPR, if you see someone collapse, and they’re not responsive and not breathing, this little app will help you dial 911, and then it will show you where to push and tell you how often with a beep.

If you’re giving CPR and aren’t sure how fast to push, here’s all you need to keep the rhythm. May this song get stuck in your head at exactly the right time!

I just wanna say “I love you,” Stevie Wonder

The man is an American institution. I got to see him last night at the Austin City Limits festival.

Initially torn between seeing him or My Morning Jacket, my musician and producer friend Bruce Hughes advised me to go see Stevie by saying this:

His connection to the source is the fifth element.

Who can resist a recommendation like that?

I met my friend Fran Tatu there — her first ACL festival — and we hung out for some Patrice Pike and a little Preservation Hall Jazz Band with the Del McCoury Band. (I have a crush on PHJB’s tuba player, Ben Jaffe.) Earlier I’d seen Daniel Lanois’ Black Dub and some gospel acts.

Fran loved ACL, which is saying something, since she’s from New Orleans and is a long-time Jazz Fest aficionado.

Not to go too far off on a tangent here, but I love Jazz Fest. I’ve been once, pre-Katrina, and want to go again. In comparison, ACL doesn’t attract the diversity of ages and races that Jazz Fest does. I loved that if you wanted to, you could hear just jazz, just blues, or just gospel, each in its own tent with chairs to sit on, all day, every day, for 10 days.

Austin’s food scene doesn’t rival New Orleans, but there are plenty of creative offerings here, and the food at ACL is getting better and better. I love that ACL brings in the foodies who help make Austin Austin: Hope Farmers Market, Odd Duck Farm to Trailer, The Mighty Cone, Amy’s Ice Cream, The Daily Juice, Maudie’s Tex-Mex, The Salt Lick, Stubb’s BBQ, Torchy’s Tacos, and more.

I enjoyed a Green Tea with Mint and Honey from Sweet Leaf Tea and later an Energizing Kombucha from Hope Farmers Market. I had a Wahoo’s fish taco for lunch (tasty) and a bacon-wrapped sweet pepper with goat cheese from Odd Duck (wowza!).

Back to Stevie Wonder. He played song after song that I knew without even having to think about it. “Signed, Sealed, Delivered.” “Superstition.” “Living for the City.” “I Just Called to Say I Love You.” “That’s What Friends Are For.” “From the Bottom of My Heart.” “Brand New Day.” “Isn’t She Lovely?”

His hit songs have become embedded in American culture since the 1970s. He and I are almost contemporaries, and so these are the songs of my adult life. So positive, so loving, so catchy.

He mentioned that he is a United Nations Ambassador for Peace. He advocates for the disabled around the world, and he takes this role seriously enough to let it influence his music. We were lucky to have him share with us a song he’s still working on, “Check On Your Love,” in which he calls on the people who advocate religious war to, well, check on their love. It incorporates some middle Eastern sounds, which we sang along to (or tried to — singing along with Stevie is hard).

He spoke of his esteem for President Obama, of his desire to have more schools than prisons, of not going back to the bad old days, and more. Right after he praised Obama early in his set, some people in front of us left. Republicans, probably.

All in all, a great set. Started late, ended late. He played and sang, bossed, created, taught, preached, shared. After it was over, I rode my bike to my car, put my bike on the car rack, visited with Katy and Robert, drove home, and stayed up until nearly 2 a.m., my head filled with Stevie Wonder songs.

None of my photos of Stevie turned out well enough to share. We were too far away, and the monitor didn’t photograph well. So sorry about that! He looks great. Happy, healthy, with no restrictions in the neck and jaw — none. He keeps it loose.

I also want to mention how much I enjoyed hearing Daniel Lanois’ Black Dub. I admire his songwriting and sound. His new band includes a lovely young blond woman with more soul in her voice than her years would suggest was possible, who was adept at drums, rhythm guitar, and keyboards as well.

This amazing talent is Trixie Whitley. She could be huge like Adele if she wanted that level of fame — and right now she’s in great company. (I overheard some guys around me praising her. When she picked up a guitar, they said they’d really fallen in love with her.) Here’s a photo of some tight, tight vocals being sung.

Daniel Lanois' Black Dub

I partook of a chair massage at Massage Rocks. I had met the owner, Jon Sullivan, just last week when he talked to my class. So nice to have that available for those of use whose bodies get weary at events like ACL. I vote for a yoga corner at next year’s ACL!

Sonic pleasures from Austin, Texas, USA: Loping Buzzard and Libby Kirkpatrick

I’ve gotten comments and/or blog subscriptions from South Africa, Australia, England, and elsewhere overseas, and what overseas readers (and perhaps some in the U.S.) may not know is that my hometown of Austin, Texas, is well-known for music.

A national television show, Austin City Limits, is filmed here, and the city plays host to the Austin City Limits Music Festival each fall and the South by Southwest (SXSW) music festival in the spring. Austin’s official slogan is “Live Music Capital of the World.”

It’s a musicians’ town, and the music here is eclectic. I’m using this blog post to recommend a couple of CDs by local musicians. They are very different, but each one wakes you up in its own way and keeps on giving by offering enough variety and depth to keep it fresh on repeated listenings.

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When I first heard The Buzzard Has Landed by Loping Buzzard, the Biblical quote “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord” came to mind, and I wanted to laugh with joy. Loping Buzzard’s business card has two descriptors: didjeridu and noisician.

 This is a collection of audio projects completed from 2005 to 2010 with a vast number of didjeridus along with gopichand, berimbau, danmo, cajon, cuica, bilma, a variety of flutes, drums, homemake noise makers, and electronics. The styles range form impromptu drum circles to pure musique concrete to Dada pop to horror to comedy to surreal.

I don’t even know what some of those instruments are, but they must be fun, judging by the sound. It’s not traditional music, but it is artful sound, interesting to the ear (to my ear, anyway).

I think of this as “wake up” music, not something you would listen to when you need soothing, but fantastic for times when you need some sonic inspiration. (Okay, I mostly listen to music in my car. It’s fantastic during traffic gridlock!)

When I listen to this CD, I imagine the joy Loping Buzzard must have experienced when he was creating this music, and I feel it too.

I notice more each time I listen.

You can get The Buzzard Has Landed as a digital download or a CD from CD Baby ($9.99, and they make it fun, too), and as mp3 files from Amazon.com ($8.99). It’s available on iTunes too.

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My other recommendation, a different kind of wake-up music, is Heroine by singer-songwriter Libby Kirkpatrick, who’s lived in Austin for 10 years and has recently relocated to Boston.

Every song but one is an original, and that exception is her cover of Alice by Tom Waits. I certainly understood her homage to TW as recognition by one original, unique, lyrical songwriter of another, a master, and Libby is well on her way to mastery. She’s someone to follow.

I feel the joy here too. With lyrics connecting the Big Bang to the sound of a woman yelling (Heroine), warning her girlfriend away from some appealing but no-good Lothario (Devil Inside), singing about the black hole inside us all (Neverland), mentioning her personal star (you have one too, I know you do), and so much more, Libby has a way with words and tunes that is just plain heart and soul satisfying. Full of lyrical delight, Heroine goes into your ears, gets under your skin, enters your heart, and wakes you up.

The transition to motherhood is a journey of heroism for every woman ~ necessity being the mother of invention! These songs are the slow release of the ‘maiden self’ and the build up to the realization of ‘mother’ in layers; song by song there is a story told of the subsequent degrees of letting go.

Yes. It’s about self-realization and letting go. Repeatedly I detected a mature Buddhist philosophy about life underlying Libby’s lyrics — Big Mind, Big Heart, topped with loads of fun.

If you enjoy well-written, fresh lyrics, soulful depth, and artful arrangements (it’s rare to hear the level of creativity in the arrangements on a CD by a local/regional artist), you’ll enjoy this. I notice more each time I listen.

You can buy Heroine at CD Baby, iTunes, and Amazon.com, as well as from Heart Music.