The dancing spinal cord

Just added to my Favorite Quotes page:

A revelation for me was a conversation I once had with a radiologist. I asked, of all the amazing things he had seen, what stood out in his memory as the most miraculous?

He said it was seeing a living spinal cord for the first time. I was surprised, as I had seen spinal cords only after dissection. They looked like a bunch of yellowish wires hanging down, like tentacles of a dead jellyfish.

I asked him what he meant. He said, “It looks like it’s dancing to the Rolling Stones.” He said in a living person the spinal cord is constantly and rhythmically moving. ~ David Lauterstein

 

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.

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.

I went to high school naked and people danced because I watched

Tonight at my book group, we read about the relationship between the Absolute and Creation, and it triggered the memory of a dream I had a few years back, maybe eight years ago, that I haven’t thought of for a long time.

I still think this was one of the most remarkable dreams I’ve had, and I want to share it. If you’ve ever had a dream like this, I would love to hear about it in the comments or via email. The dream just reeks of clarity.

In part 1 of the dream, I am back in high school. I am older and a high school student at the same time. I live off-campus in my own apartment. I go to class when I want to, and I actually do go to school because I want to learn.

In the dream, I don’t give a damn about the rules. Remember how many rules there were in high school? If I’m tardy, I miss out. If you want to penalize me further, that’s your stuff, not mine. I’m there to learn.

There is some problem with my schedule that I try to resolve with administrators, to no avail. I get very clear in my thinking that if people make something too difficult, that is, they let their power run away with them, I don’t have to get upset. I can just opt out or set my own course. And if people enjoy making things complicated for others, as administrators sometimes do, fuck them. (Pardon my language, but it was that kind of dream.)

I decide to blow off a class I’m supposed to be taking because somehow, taking it has gotten incredibly complicated, and I’m just not going to suffer about it. I feel confident that I’ll pick up what I need to know when I need to know it.

Also, I’m naked. I arrive at school naked, walk down the halls naked, sit in class naked, and I don’t care what anyone thinks. I don’t seem to have any clothes, and it’s not a problem. To me, anyway.

I do have long hair that keeps growing in the dream, brushing down my back as I walk. It feels pleasant, sensual.

I notice that most of the students have clothes on, and they are pretending not to notice naked me. They don’t talk to me. I probably scare them. A few other students are naked too. We see each other, recognize each other, feel a kinship, but don’t talk. I’m there for class.

Then a shift in scene occurs. I am standing outside the school looking toward a covered walkway on which a group of students are standing. They begin to move in unison, beautifully, silently. I am transfixed, watching them.

I realize that they are dancing because I’m watching, and that I’m watching because they’re dancing. The dancers and I feed each other in this way, joined into a holy union through mutual acts of attention and respect.

And that’s when the dream fades.

The first part of this dream showed me how I had changed over the course of my adult life. It showed me that I could live with a healthy attitude about learning and being myself and making decisions. Although I do wear clothes!

The second part of the dream I now understand as an invitation to explore how I use my attention and how I relate, and I have actually done that since I had this dream!

This part of the dream is like a koan. It’s about presence and awareness, and it’s not linear. This is the part of the dream that I first remembered from our reading about the Absolute and Creation and their relationship to each other.

Interestingly, dancing in unison is part of Gurdjieff’s legacy, and my book group is studying The Work too. I occasionally do ecstatic dance myself, and it is a great pleasure.

My naked self in the dream may very well represent my essential self. Or perhaps be my essential self.

Anyway, it’s totally worth sharing this dream, which still delights me years later. And now, I’m going to put my clothes back on.

Tips to counteract a sedentary job

If you have a desk job that requires a lot of sitting and you’re concerned about the health risks now being associated with prolonged sitting, here are some things you can do that require no expense:

  • Use a timer to remind you to stand up and stretch and walk around every 30 or 60 minutes. Google “timer” to find a virtual timer you like. Aim for a few minutes of non-sitting movement every hour.
  • Find ways to walk more: Place your phone away from your desk, so you have to stand up and walk to it to make or answer calls. Use a small cup for your drinking water or beverage of choice (or fill your regular cup partway), and when it’s empty, get up to refill it. Don’t use the restroom that’s closest to your office — walk to a more distant one. Instead of emailing colleagues, walk to their offices to talk, when feasible.
  • Breathe fully and deeply, using your abdomen, moving your ribs front, sides, and back. Do 5 of these breaths, then return to normal breathing.
  • Take a yoga class on your lunch hour. Or do desk yoga (Google “rodney yee 4 minute”  to see videos of Rodney Yee doing seated sequences). You can evendo cat-cow ever so often while sitting: curl your spine forward and back a few times, exhaling when you curl forward, inhaling when you arch your back.
  • Close your door or put on your headphones, turn on your iPod or a music video, and dance!
  • Fidget and wiggle. Especially move your legs.

When you’re not at work, avoid sitting as much as you can:

  • If you drive to work and your car has no lumbar support, place two tennis balls inside a piece of pantyhose with a knot in the middle and at the ends. Put it behind your lumbar vertebrae and press into it as you drive. It will feel great — and you’ll know when you’ve had enough.
  • If you watch television in the evenings or on weekends, stand, use your treadmill, or bounce on an exercise ball while watching. If you sit, get up and move during commercials.
Sit on an exercise ball at work instead of a desk chair. It strengthens your core, improves balance, improves flexibility, burns more calories, and requires you to use your legs. You can get them for under $20. Get a 75 cm for the most height. 

All of these tips can make a difference, helping to lower blood sugar, triglycerides, cholesterol, and waist size; improve posture, breathing, and metabolism; and decrease back pain.

“If there’s a fountain of youth, it is probably physical activity,” says Yancey, noting that research has shown benefits to every organ system in the body.

Next: standing desks.