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

The last hour of life

The book group that I’ve attended weekly for the past several years had a writing assignment for this week, to write about our last hour of life. We’ll gather tomorrow and share. Here’s mine:

I don’t really know when this is going to happen. I’d like to believe that it will happen in the distant future, at least 20 years in the future, maybe 30 or even more, but I don’t know. It could happen tomorrow. It could happen tonight! Continue reading

The mindful diet

First. Let yourself get hungry. Abstain from eating so that you feel hunger. Check in with what your body is feeling every so often for an hour after you first feel hunger. Notice whether the sensations stay the same or change.

Drink water and notice what happens. Sometimes we mistake thirst for hunger. Learn the difference.

Savor these sensations. They are wisdom from your body. They are real, present sensations. Hunger for them. Trust them. You may have been ignoring them. You may have trouble recognizing them.

(Don’t worry. If you are reading this post, you will not die from hunger in one hour, or thirst, although your mind may be telling you differently. Your mind has been conditioned to mindless eating. That’s what is changing.)

If your mind starts thinking about food, write about it. Make a list of foods you daydream about. Evaluate this list. Is it good for you? If not, could something else satisfy you — a hug, a walk, dancing?

Notice the difference between what you feel with your body and what your mind is doing. Each way of being has a signature.

What would your life be like if you only ate after you fully and consciously felt hunger? Would you eat at certain times, or might the times vary? How often do you really need to eat to maintain or improve your health?

Second. Eat. After an hour of hunger and its sensations has gone by, eat. Eat some food that is healthy. Eat it slowly with an eye to noticing the sensation of satiety, of having eaten enough.

Do not eat with the goal of cleaning your plate. Give yourself a small serving.

The goal is to really notice eating and “enough”. Take one bite. Chew it. Taste it. Notice as many qualities of the taste as you can. Swallow.

Take another bite. Chew, taste, swallow. Move your arm slowly as you pick the food up with your fork or spoon or fingers and bring it to your mouth. Chew slowly.

After the third bite, pause for a minute. Notice the sensations in your stomach. How have they changed? Do you still feel hungry? Do you feel less hungry?

Remember that your empty stomach is the size of your fist, and your full stomach is the size of both fists. You don’t even have to fill your stomach to feel satiated.

Eat ten bites and notice your stomach sensations.

You might decide to stop then, or you might decide to eat 15 or 20 bites. But stop when you’ve eaten less than you would mindlessly eat.

Then see how long it takes for you to feel hungry again, and do it all again.  It might mean you need to have food available as you go through your day, perhaps some nut butter, a banana, an avocado. Just enough to stave off your hunger pangs. You could eat half a banana or avocado, or a teaspoon of almond butter.

You might also think about where the food came from, plant or animal, soil, rain, sunshine, farmers, and all the places it has been and hands it has passed through to get to your mouth. With gratitude.

Third. Do this often. It’s a great way to lose weight, because it’s portion control, but more importantly, it gets you back in touch with your body, and it extends your experience of gratitude and connection to the planet.

Also, if you are only eating when hungry, and only eating enough to stave off hunger for a couple of hours, you will want every bite of food you eat to be nutritious as well as delicious. No HFCS, please.

And that’s it. I’m posting this to remind myself that I can eat like this, because I have put on a little more weight than I’d like. I’m having a small cup of quinoa tabouli for breakfast, then it’s off to work.

“The 5 rhythms are a contemporary shamanic Zen practice” ~ Gabrielle Roth

Okay, so science has recently showed us that dancers have genes for transcendence and social connection. (And if you don’t dance, maybe you have these genes too and don’t know it yet. And consider this: if stress turns on the bad genes, maybe the opposite of stress — joy? contentment? — turns on the good genes! Just sayin’….)

In this interview, Gabrielle Roth explains the connection between ecstatic dance, Zen, and shamanic practices.

The 5Rhythms are a contemporary Zen, Shamanic practice. Zen, in that they are a map to an inner journey for seekers of wisdom and freedom, the wisdom to know who we are and the freedom to get over ourselves. Shamanic, in that they address the Great Divide, the divorce of spirit from flesh that has created the loss of soul, which haunts us. We’ve rendered the soul homeless, it can’t breathe, exist, or move disconnected from the body. The body is the womb of the soul, a begging bowl for spirit, like Aretha when she sings….

The fastest way to still the mind is to move the body. All the profound spiritual teachings in this world don’t mean anything if they’re not embodied. Feeling totally high and connected to the divine mystery while sitting on a meditation pillow is fine, but how do we put the rubber to the road? As Charlie Parker said, If you don’t live it, it won’t come out your horn. So I take refuge in the 5Rhythms practice to keep my horn in tune.

There are videos of Gabrielle as well on the site. Check ’em out!

In remembrance of Gabrielle Roth: freedom is our holy work

One of the significant teachers in my life died yesterday, and I’ve struggled with writing about it. I find myself getting too heady, and yet this loss is actually so profound that when I took a nap yesterday, I dreamed I was balancing upside down on my head on a dance floor, surrounded by lively, active children.

When I woke, I could feel the pressure on the crown of my head.

Headstand is definitely about changing perspective.

I stumbled into ecstatic dance 18 years ago, first encountering the 5 rhythms of Gabrielle Roth and Sweat Your Prayers after I left church as something I could no longer take part in with integrity.

I found a tribe, a practice, and a way of experiencing myself and the world as energy.

I’m not sure, but I suspect that the latter is the change in perspective that I’m integrating with this shock of loss and review of Gabrielle’s influence on my life, that it’s all just energy all the time, and it’s always changing, always dancing. The best I can ever do is to be centered, grounded, embodied, and ready to meet it. What’s solid is awareness.

I’ve had issues and struggles at times with that tribe, practice, and worldview, and they have deeply shaped me. I keep coming back.

Here’s what ecstatic dance is to me: being free, feeling joy, being embodied, clearing, cleansing, breathing, sweating, extending myself, being aware, taking care of my body, pushing to my edge and beyond, being in the moment, sharing, delighting, inquiring, discovering, connecting, having compassion, being inspired, seeing, allowing, playing, surrendering, breaking myself open, feeling what comes up, being danced, letting go, grieving, dancing with other versions of me, dancing with the entire room including the space, letting life and everything flow through me, being totally and completely alive, being fully present, blowing all the blocks out of my energy channels.

I feel so grateful to have found this and that I am able to do this.

Thank you, Gabrielle Roth, for your life’s work. Thank you, dancing tribe.

Here’s Gabrielle in her own words.

I became a mapmaker for others to follow, but not in my footsteps, in their own. Many of us are looking for a beat, something solid and rooted where we can take refuge and begin to explore the fluidity of being alive, to investigate why we often feel stuck, numb, spaced-out, tense, inert, and unable to stand up or sit down or unscramble the screens that reflect our collective insanity.

The question I ask myself and everyone else is, “Do you have the discipline to be a free spirit?” Can we be free of all that binds and bends us into a shape of consciousness that has nothing to do with who we are from moment to moment, from breath to breath?

Dance is the fastest, most direct route to the truth — not some big truth that belongs to everybody, but the get down and personal kind, the what’s-happening-in-me-right-now kind of truth. We dance to reclaim our brilliant ability to disappear in something bigger, something safe, a space without a critic or a judge or an analyst.

Sunday morning: a little trauma release, a fine buzz, then some yoga jazz, and a tribute to a teacher

Long-time readers know I spent some time and energy on learning the trauma releasing exercises of David Berceli and practicing them. (If you’re a new reader, go to the tag cloud in the right panel and click TRE or trauma releasing exercises to see the many posts on the topic. If you want to learn them, I recommend Berceli’s book and video.)

I haven’t written much about them for a while. I still value them very much as a tool for releasing tension.

Sometimes at ecstatic dance, I allow my legs to shake for a little while, which releases leg tension, especially around my hip joint. (Nobody notices or comments, ever.)

Some mornings I wake up and just know I need to do them. I may tremble for 30 seconds to a minute or two. It doesn’t have to last long to be effective.

I imagine that the more you do them and really surrender to them, the less you need to do them. Also, the more you do them, the more aware you become of tensions accumulating in your body, and you adjust sooner — taking a deep, cleansing breath to let it all out, stretching and moving the tense area.

This morning I did them for longer, because my body wanted to keep going. First my legs surrendered to the shaking, then left my arm flapped, then right my arm flapped, then my lower spine hammered, then my upper spine waved, then more legs, and so on. It’s entertaining to witness where the surrendering moves!

Then afterward, the fine buzz inhabiting my body. Mmm.

Walk to my yoga mat. Tadasana, feeling feet, upward energy. Stretching arms up into hastasana circling to anjali mudra several times to warm up, each with my gaze a little higher, a little more backbend.

Then from hips, float down into uttanasana and just hang. Feel my tight hamstrings. Hold. Breathe. They become like rubber bands, surrendering to the stretch. Then extend spine and re-bow.

Left leg back into lunge. Feeling the tight gastrocnemius and soleus. Push heel back and breathe. Right leg back to join it. Breathe length into calves.

Plank, with spread fingers, sturdy column arms under shoulders. Feel strength. Pressing palm and fingers evenly into mat, slowly lowering into chataranga, feeling creaks and twinges in shoulders and elbows.

Once flat, press pelvis and tops of feet into floor and lift up into bhujangasana, cobra. Imagine the fronts of my vertebrae, deep in the middle of my torso, fanning wide open to give and receive and expand my energy. This spine, this flexible column of bone, fluids, muscle, nerve, this backbone. Yes.

Turn toes under. Strongly lift my body up, elevating my pelvis as high as it will go. Push palms and fingers evenly into floor. Push heels back to stretch my soles (I’m hearing my teacher Eleanor Harris now). Lift sit bones to ceiling. Feel strong shoulders. Downward-facing dog, adho mukha svanasana.

“Enjoy your breath,” as my teacher Brigitte Edery is fond of saying. And I do.

Then bring right leg forward into lunge. Then today’s standing sequence: warrior two, extended side angle, reverse extended side angle, triangle, reverse triangle, ardha chandrasana, warrior one, warrior three. Nice standing vinyasa (with room for improvement in the sequencing, I notice), and I am aware of all the different stretches each pose brings where spine meets pelvis meets thighs.

I am pleased with my balance in ardha chandrasana, but I need to put my extended arms on the top of a stool to hold warrior three. There’s always an edge. Today, and probably for a few weeks (or months, who knows?), that’s mine — balancing in warrior three.

Then back to lunge, uttanasana (notice how much deeper my fold is), extending spine, and reverse swan dive up, arms circling into anjali mudra.

Repeat on other side.

I follow with pigeon, a deep twist (thrilling as my shoulders reached the floor), happy baby, and rock to standing.

I am in my body, ready for today, for ecstatic dance, for community, for work, for learning prenatal massage.

Feeling very grateful for my friends, and for my teacher Gabrielle Roth, whose work I knew better than I knew her personally, who was so influential in opening my awareness up to new movements, rhythms, and energies in life, who is in her own life now moving into stillness. She dedicated her life to healing the mind-body split. Amen to that.

Here’s my favorite Gabrielle quote:

After you jump, before you land is God.

I’m going to light a candle and open myself up to God.

Repost: Why Your Health Is Bigger Than Your Body

Why Your Health Is Bigger Than Your Body

Thanks to Eric Towler for posting this article from YES magazine on Facebook.

There is a link between health, economics, politics, and ecology.

[Dr. Ted Schettler,] the Harvard-educated physician, frustrated by the limitations of science in combating disease, believes that finding answers to the most persistent medical challenges of our time—conditions that now threaten to overwhelm our health care system—depends on understanding the human body as a system nested within a series of other, larger systems: one’s family and community, environment, culture, and socioeconomic class, all of which affect each other.

It is a complex, even daunting view—where does one begin when trying to solve problems this way?

Currently getting over a case of Lyme disease, Schettler notes that the condition wasn’t even on the radar three decades ago. Likewise, West Nile Virus. And dengue fever, first identified in the late 18th century, has soared since the 1960s, now infecting up to 100 million people worldwide each year.

“Can there be any doubt that human health is enormously dependent on ecological systems that we are having a major influence on?” Schettler says. “It’s all one world. Our tendency to describe the natural world as something without humans is part of the problem.”

Click the link to read on. Farm policy, obesity, diabetes, pesticides, Parkinson’s disease, inequality, asthma, breast cancer, DDT, school lunches, lead poisoning, iron deficiencies, hospital food, medical waste… There are a lot of dots being connected.

Immobilization/shutdown/dissociation/frozen, a trauma response built into the nervous system

Back in March 2012, I posted that I had started reading Peter A. Levine’s latest book, In An Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness. My post included excerpts from Levine’s description of being hit by a car and his experience afterwards.

His experience serves as a useful model for being and staying present through trauma and recovery. He knew how to allow his body and emotions to process naturally so that he did not get stuck in a traumatic state (i.e., PTSD).

Well, I am still reading that book. It’s very, very rich. Some parts are rather scientific. I’m taking my time to really understand it.

Levine uses polyvagal theory (I just posted an interview with Stephen Porges, who came up with the theory) to explain the states that people experience and can get stuck in from traumatic experiences.

Because Somatic Experiencing Practitioners and other therapists (as well as astute loved ones) who are helping someone recovery from trauma need to know which layer of the nervous system is dominant at any given time in a traumatized individual, I am going to describe them.

First, the primary job of our nervous system is to protect us. We have senses that alert us to danger. We may react to a perception of a threat in our bodies before it ever becomes conscious in the mind. That’s because the autonomic nervous system (which is not under our control) is involved when trauma occurs. We react instinctually.

This is good to know. It means that your trauma reactions are automatic, not something you can control, so there’s no need to feel shame or blame yourself. You were doing the best you could.

There are two defensive states that occur when encountering trauma: immobility/dissociation/shutdown (freeze) and sympathetic hyperarousal (fight or flight).

I’m going to write about them in separate posts to avoid being too lengthy.

The more primitive nervous system state is immobility. (Primitive in that evolutionarily it comes from jawless and cartilaginous fish and precedes sympathetic hyperarousal.)

It is triggered when a person perceives that death is imminent, from an external or internal threat.

Levine also uses the terms dissociation, shutdown, and freeze/frozen to describe this state. Note: If you’re an NLPer, dissociation means the separation of components of subjective experience from one another, such as cutting off the emotional component of a memory and simply remembering the visual and/or auditory components. (Source: Encyclopedia of NLP)

Keep in mind that Levine is talking about dissociation as an involuntary post-traumatic physiological state that trauma victims can sometimes get stuck with. There may be some overlap. According to Levine, symptoms of being in this state include frequent spaciness, unreality, depersonalization, and/or various somatic and health complaints, including gastrointestinal problems, migraines, some forms of asthma, persistent pain, chronic fatigue, and general disengagement from life.

Levine notes:

This last-ditch immobilization system is meant to function acutely and only for brief periods. When chronically activated, humans become trapped in the gray limbo of nonexistence, where one is neither really living nor actually dying. The therapist’s first job in reaching such shut down clients is to help them mobilize their energy: to help them, first, to become aware of their physiological paralysis and shutdown in a way that normalizes it, and to shift toward (sympathetic) mobilization. 

The more primitive the operative system, the more power it has to take over the overall function of the organism. It does this by inhibiting the more recent and more refined neurological subsystems, effectively preventing them from functioning. In particular, the immobilization system all but completely suppresses the social engagement/attachment system.

Highly traumatized and chronically neglected or abused individuals are dominated by the immobilization/shutdown system.

Signs that someone is operating from this state include:

  • constricted pupils
  • fixed or spaced-out eyes
  • collapsed posture (slumped forward)
  • markedly reduced breathing
  • abrupt slowing and feebleness of the heart rate
  • skin color that is a pasty, sickly white or even gray in color

Brainwise, volunteers in the immobility state exhibited a decrease in activity of the insula and the cingulate cortex. In one study, about 30% of PTSD sufferers experienced immobility and 70% experienced hyperarousal, with a dramatic increase of activity in these brain areas. Most traumatized people exhibit some symptoms from both nervous systems, Levine says.

I feel the deepest compassion for people in this state, because I have experienced it myself: the spaciness, depersonalization, sense of unreality, and passive, disengaged attitude toward life. It was many years ago. If I could, I would reach back in time to that injured woman and give her resources she just didn’t have back then.

I feel so grateful for the trauma recovery work I’ve done, both with a therapist and on my own. I haven’t experienced immobilization for years, except briefly.

Next up: sympathetic hyperarousal/fight or flight.