Half a shade safer

Anxiety. It’s more contagious than the coronavirus. Are you feeling it? I am.

I came up with a strategy to relieve it.

And it’s working.

Because anxiety, which I think of as prolonged, low-level fear, isn’t healthy for human beings like you and me.

There’s a sort of warp in our evolution as human beings.

Once upon a time, our autonomic nervous systems sent us into fight-or-flight mode when we perceived danger — often before our conscious minds were even aware of a predator. Because there’s part of our brain that’s always scanning for danger. It’s there to help us survive. It’s instinctive.

On perceiving a threat, our bodies would tense up. Our vision would narrow. Our hearts would pound. Our blood would flow to our limbs. We would fight or we would flee.

And when we weren’t in danger, we felt safe. We relaxed. Our hearts slowed down. Our breathing slowed. We could see widely again. Our blood flowed to our organs. We rejoined the tribe.

Our bodies then had the resources to recover, repair damage, restore our metabolisms to healing mode.

I don’t recall the source, but I read somewhere that the early members of our species spent about 4 hours a day hunting and gathering. The rest of the time, they were hanging out in groups or tribes, playing, talking, taming wolves, preparing food, making clothing, making weapons, watching the clouds and the stars, praying, doing rituals, bonding with their community on whom they all depended.

Yet their lifespans were shorter. Many more infants and children died than now. They faced floods and famines, as well as predators and warring tribes.

Their lives were filled with more uncertainties and threats to survival than ours.

I have a hunch that people who were that close to survival felt gratitude for each new day. Gratitude for having food and fire and a good hunt and each other. Gratitude for the times when they were safe, for peace.

Fast forward to today’s times. We’re not out in the sunshine all day, walking around and soaking up Vitamin D. We’re breathing conditioned air inside buildings, looking out windows. We work twice as many hours as our early ancestors. We have a money economy, modern medicine, cars, Social Security.

The threats to our survival are not hungry predators any more. (Well, except when they are angry or terrified or numb human predators, especially those with guns.)

Our nervous systems weren’t built for prolonged fear, a constant sense of not being at ease, anxiety. This leads to adrenal exhaustion, which saps our energy and is exhausting without any truly restorative rest.

Maybe what we teach ourselves now about managing our own anxiety will help our species as a whole evolve past fear-based reactivity and toward a caring kind of responsibility, for our own well-being and that of others.

What makes you feel anxious? The virus? The economy? The wildfires? The election? Conspiracy theories? Race-based violence? Armed white supremacists? Antifa? The news? Karens and Chads? Maskless people? People whose anxieties have gotten the better of them? People who don’t see we’re all part of one tribe, humanity? People so anxious they can’t listen or reason?

There’s a lot OUT THERE to feel anxious about. And anxiety means we experience it IN HERE.

Take a moment to check in. Where are you? What are your surroundings at this very moment?

Are you actually SAFE in this moment?

If you have the leisure to read this, I’m guessing you are.

How does being SAFE feel in your body?

Here’s what I notice in my body.

I feel my body weight sinking into the mattress. I feel my back and legs pressing the mattress, and the top part of my body feeling cooler air. Also, that one foot that’s outside the sheets feels cooler.

I notice my chest and abdomen rising and falling as I breathe.

I hear my fingers on the keyboard.

I see my hands, the iPad keyboard and screen, the pillow they are sitting on, the tangled sheets and foot beyond that.

I see windows on either side of me, a mirror and shelf across the room, and an open closet door, and my tea on the nightstand.

I hear cicadas droning, cardinals chirping, keyboard sounds, and distant traffic.

I feel safe.

~~

The other night, I woke multiple times. My mind was thinking anxious thoughts. It was hard to get back to sleep.

Some nights are like that. Maybe it was the caffeinated tea I drank in the afternoon.

It’s not like I live in a bubble. I take precautions to prevent getting and spreading the virus. One of my family members had it — thankfully, it turned out to be a very mild case. I’m on social media. I check the news. I abhor the violence and hatred I learn about. I worry about the presidential campaign, the election, the aftermath, climate change, the possibility of a really bad economic crash.

These times are filled with uncertainty.

And a good night’s sleep means so very much in terms of having the ability to manage well.

So I tried something different. When an anxious thought arose, I said to myself, “This is just an anxious thought.”

I’d feel how it felt in my body. The tension, the unpleasantness.

Then I’d take a deep breath and let my THINKING mind take a little break by turning my attention to SENSING.

I’d feel my bodyweight pressing into the mattress and pillow. I’d feel the rhythm of breathing. I’d recognize that I was in my home, in my bed, and that there were no immanent threats to my safety. (Except those anxious thoughts.)

And I’d tell myself, “I AM SAFE.”

A few rounds of this every time an anxious thought arose, and I finally went back to sleep.

Since that experience, I’ve really been honing in on what it’s like to feel safe.

It feels good.

I am grateful.

(Apologies to David Whyte for a play on the title of his latest series, Half a Shade Braver.)

Self-Help for Jaw Pain course coming soon

Update: The website is up for this online course: maryannreynolds.com.

~~~

It’s been a while since I posted here.

I am well. Adjusting to these strange times.

I hope you are well and adjusting too.

Current Austin stats: over 22,000 cases, 287 deaths. The number of daily positive cases has declined from over 700 in June to less than half that since late July.

Austin appears to be doing better than other large Texas cities.

I am still not doing bodywork.

That just doesn’t feel safe any more, especially given that more than half the sessions I gave included working inside the mouth.

That’s very risky in these times.

So…I’ve been working on creating an online course, Self-Help for Jaw Pain. It will be a 5-class series offered on Zoom. I hope to get going in September. ]

Courtesy webmd.com.

The coolest thing about the class is that I don’t know that it’s ever been done before: a course that teaches people with pain and tension in their jaws to work on themselves, working inside their own mouths to release tension in the never-touched but overworked internal jaw muscles.

That is often a revelation, based on my experience of having given over 500 TMJ Relief sessions and consultations since 2018. (I started doing intra-oral sessions in 2013 but switched from paper to electronic records in 2018 and haven’t sorted my records from 2013 through 2017.)

The course will also address factors that predispose people to experience jaw pain: strain patterns, stress, and habits such as clenching and grinding.

Changing these habits will keep jaw pain from progressing.

I’ve worked on so many people (who’ve paid way more than this class costs) who have lived with jaw pain for a decade or longer.

This kind of suffering is optional.

Please help spread the word.

The first class will be limited to 8 students and will be offered at a low price, so I can learn and tweak It as needed.

I will post more here when I’m a bit further along in course development.

Anyone with jaw pain who’s interested can also check out my Facebook group, Word of Mouth: Resources for Relieving Jaw Pain/Dysfunction.

Polyvagal theory, applied

I’m summarizing polyvagal theory, originated by Dr. Stephen Porges, from a 10:48-minute video interview of him. I’m doing this for my own understanding, and I want to share because it’s a new way of thinking about traumatic responses. It has major implications for my work, and I’ve added my own comments in brackets. I am sure I will continue to refine my understanding.

Dr. Porges says that polyvagal theory is the understanding of how our body reacts to various challenges. The autonomic nervous system [involuntary, like heart beat] has evolved in vertebrates, changing and adding new circuits that function in a hierarchy. The newer circuits can inhibit older circuits. The older circuits were circuits of defense. Continue reading

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

Ecstatic dance in Austin, Texas

Update, Dec. 13, 2020: Several Austin ecstatic dance facilitators are offering online dances during the pandemic and posting their music on Mixcloud.

I’m only posting online offerings at this time. Be well, and be considerate.

The Tribal Joy Ecstatic Dance Group page on Facebook has announcements with the Zoom links and passcodes for each of these dances. You need to answer a couple of questions to join the group. Then look under Announcements to find the Zoom links — they stay the same every week.

Dancers from anywhere are welcome. All times are U.S. Central time. Please check each facilitator’s policy in regard to payment or donations.

  • Tribal Joy meets Sunday mornings from 10-11:45am on Zoom, and each attendee is encouraged to check in afterwards during shareback. Oscar Madera is the founder and facilitator. You can join his email list on the group Facebook page.
  • Source in Motion meets on Zoom on Mondays, 6-7:30pm. Lisa DeLand offers this lightly facilitated class. She’s a 5 Rhythms teacher who trained with Gabrielle Roth.
  • Ecstatic Soul Sessions meets on Zoom Wednesday evenings from 6:15-8pm. Mia E. Pem is the founder and facilitator.
  • Inner Rhythms ecstatic dance is held on Fridays from 7:30-9:30pm. Donna Starnes created this and facilitates.
  • Step into Yes!, for women only, meets the first Saturday of every month from 11am to 1pm. An offering from 5 Rhythms teacher Lisa DeLand, Step into Yes! includes a facilitated-by-a- volunteer-dancer creative interlude sandwiched between two 5 Rhythms waves.

The rest of this post was written pre-pandemic when we danced together in person. It’s a different experience on Zoom, for sure. Instead of gathering together, we invite others to meet us in our living rooms, kitchens, yards, trailers — wherever we can dance.

Dancing on Zoom has grown on me, especially the shareback after the dance when we can hear from each person and ourselves be seen and heard. I don’t watch the screen that much during the dance. Too busy dancing! Some people turn their camera off for the dance and on for the shareback.

The attentiveness people give to one another in shareback during this pandemic is levels beyond what it was before, I’m guessing due to the constraints of social distancing and mask-wearing and the uncertainty of the times. We find connection here, in the Austin dance community, with those who are dialing in from around the country and the world.

~~~

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

Screen Shot 2018-03-21 at 11.42.57 AM

The availability of ecstatic dance in Austin has vastly increased over the years. The community evolves. I list current opportunities here and will 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 — sometimes there’s live music. The music usually takes the form of a wave that follows the 5 Rhythms wave sequence (flowing, staccato, chaos, lyrical, and stillness) of the late Gabrielle Roth (shown above), the mother of modern ecstatic dance. A wave starts slowly, builds to a crescendo, and descends into stillness — a manifestation of the idea that each dance is a journey into yourself traversing different interior terrains.

The dance space is nonverbal — we take 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. People dance alone, with partners (many or a few), or with groups of people.

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

Screen Shot 2018-03-22 at 1.38.17 PM
Courtesy: The New Yorker

Some facilitators offer a theme for the dance after a warmup. Some may offer a guided warmup, and 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 a parent’s chest. If you are considering bringing children, it’s probably a good idea to connect with 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 or headphones available for those sensitive to loud music, and you can always bring your own.

At the end there’s a closing circle, where OMs or a silent meditation may happen, people share their first names, and there may be some shareback about the experience and/or announcements from dancers, or not.