Body Dialogue: a Conversation with the Subtle Body

Screen shot 2018-03-22 at 10.42.40 AMRecently, a friend of mine who is also a psychotherapist, was sharing a technique with me that helps to clear emotional blocks in the body. She commented that sometimes people are unable to do the technique because they are so blocked from getting into their physical selves. In response, I reflected that although there are so many reasons why someone may be blocked from being fully embodied, most often someone simply might not feel safe enough to drop into their physical self. What I aim to do in my private sessions and my classes is to create safety through my touch and my presence.  In addition, the teachings of F.M. Alexander emphasize using the mind to direct the energy. By using these inner verbal cues, we are encouraging the flow of energy in a particular direction. My hands and my own body have years of experience, so I can detect the very subtle ways that people shut down their field and disconnect from their somatic cues. By using the breath, I persuade areas that are closed to open. For people who are too open in their energetic field, I help ground their energy in their muscles and their bones. The subtle awareness of this dialogue is not always understood cognitively by my students, but by the end of the session when they get off the table, their body feels different, and they know that something has shifted.

The reason people like massage and other hands-on modalities is because it gives them the permission to drop into the physical body with no expectation of performance.  Perhaps in the work of Body Dialogue, we go one step further. We use the breath and the mind to converse with the energy that lives within our physical existence. We create a somatic-based conversation. We call this the subtle body. In order to make our bodies our friends, we need to engage all aspects of our energetic field, which includes our thoughts, our belief systems, and the stories we tell ourselves. Engaging in this way is a process and a practice. Deepening our relationship with our body takes time, care, and attention. Some people see color and some see images. Some use sound and some use kinesthetics. We are all different. Sometimes we need the help of a practitioner to facilitate or initiate this dialogue. Ultimately, you have the potential to understand yourself more than anyone else. I invite you to enter this conversation with your body.

Breathing: our Birthright

IMG_2774We are born knowing how to breathe. Every baby (with the exception of infants with birth trauma) takes in a full breath and exhales completely. It is the miracle of life. It is our birthright. For this reason, when I work hands-on with my students, I know they have that capacity in their muscle memory. Even if there has been severe childhood trauma and dissociation, the body knows how to breathe. It is the gift of our autonomic nervous system. You do not have to be a singer or a yogi to learn how to have maximum efficiency of your diaphragm, or how to make a full resonant tone. In days of stress and tension, we forget this simple fact, even if our body knows it.

In Body Dialogue, my job is to invite my students into the experience of a full free expansive breath. So many people come to me knowing they are short of breath and completely stymied by what keeps them so restricted. In my private sessions and in my retreats, I teach simple practical tools to unlock the rigidity of the ribcage and release the sound.

This May 4-6, I am offering a small retreat for women who are curious about their breathing patterns, their physical restrictions, and want to explore the joy of movement. This retreat will restore your vitality, and enliven your soul.

 Check out this short video for a glimpse into the beauty of the ACA campus.

BD- moving into joy flyer

This Surprising Element Will Make You a Better Speaker: Speaking Your Brand Podcast with Carol Cox

Last month I had the joy of being a guest on Carol Cox’s Speaking Your Brand podcast.  It gave me an opportunity to tell listeners why better breathing is so important in giving presentations, and in living a fuller and more expressive public life. This is actually only one of the many places that better breathing helps.

I wanted to share the interview with you because it explains so much about the connection between breathing and our communication. I think this could help people in ways that are probably surprising and unexpected.

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“I’m happy to bring you this week’s podcast episode #49 with Janice Rous.

More than simply helping to calm your nerves or speak more clearly (which it definitely does as well!), using your breath properly and intentionally can connect you on a deeper level with your audience and make your words more powerful and impactful (it’s physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual).

This is what the best speakers in the world do – and you can too.

Janice and I also talk about why we’re often reluctant to have silence and pauses in our conversations and presentations (and, I would add, in our lives), but why it’s crucial for our listeners (and us).”

~Carol Cox, SPEAKING YOUR BRAND PODCAST

Highlights:

  • The importance of breath, tone, resonance, vibration, and grounding the body
  • How to let your breath guide the voice so your words are powerful and impactful
  • How pauses and silences are necessary so your audience see you as the authority on your topic
  • Techniques to invite your audience into your speech
  • The importance of physical and vocal warmups before a speaking engagement

 https://www.speakingyourbrand.com/breathing-for-better-speaking-janice-rous-podcast-49/

My Breath is the Source of Life

My upcoming retreat, Moving Into Joy, on May 4-6 will focus on the breath, toning, and moving. It’s my hope to introduce you then to the joy of movement and the joy of the breath as the source of life. This short blog post will help to explain some of the content that will be explored in the retreat.

 

Painting & Sculpture exterior med size

the beautiful Atlantic Center for the Arts campus

Today I woke up with this phrase: “My breath is the source of life.” I heard it as a statement, not a prayer or a question, but a declaration. My breath is my source of life, and every day that I awaken to this truth, I know it is and will be a good day.

Since I was a child, my body has led me on my path. According to my mother, I started dancing before I could walk. Dancing was my joy and my guide. Whenever I was not feeling like I wanted to dance, I knew I was in trouble—something was wrong. Over the years my interest in dance led me to a desire to become a professional dancer. Sadly, once I started down that path, dance became less my friend and more my nemesis, because I when I was dancing, I was not breathing. I was holding my breath, wanting my dance to achieve some perfectionism that was outside my ability. So little by little, my dance was not full of life. It was full of rules, requirements, criticism, and disappointment.

Finally, after struggling in that relationship and not getting the results I wanted, I quit that dream and started down a different path, one that led me to the Alexander Technique.

The Alexander Technique:

The Alexander Technique is a mindfulness practice based in the body.  It is based on the principle that freedom of movement comes from how we direct our thought. By visualizing energy, we release tension in the neck to allow the head to be poised at the top of the spine. This is what F.M. Alexander called “directing our thought”. He named this “Conscious Control” of the body, in contrast to our habitual movement patterns, which often result in tension. The premise of the Alexander Technique is that the length of the spine is determined by a coordination of its parts. Learning this technique taught me where I was constricted in my physical movements. It led me to the awareness that my breathing patterns were not effective, and although I had mastered Alexander’s directions, I still felt very rigid due to shallow breathing patterns. I was introduced to Carl Stough’s work in Breathing Coordination at that time.

Breathing Coordination:

From Carl, I learned that the ease of movement stems from the ease of the breath. My diaphragm was so weak that I was not able to access a free breath. I had a to re-learn how to breathe. From years of holding my breath, I had to learn how to recondition my diaphragm. After leaving each session with Carl, I became aware of the contrast between my day-to-day breathing, and Breathing Coordination.

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The Physiology of Breathing:

Unlike many techniques, the Stough breathing method focuses on the coordination of the diaphragm, the accessory muscles, and the voice as a three-fold approach to restoration and revitalization. It is based on restoring the strength of the diaphragm by using vocalization, toning, and vibration. It is meant to create a resonance through all the cells of the body—even the tiny mitochondria are restored by resonance. That response cannot be achieved by muscular pressure, or force. It can only come from ease and messaging from the brain’s autonomic system.

What I learned is that that modern life has restricted and constricted our breathing so that, rather than a full and easy breath, most of us have patterns of restriction coming from holding or pushing our breath.

In my sessions with Carl, I was able to realize once again the freedom I knew as a child dancing. From that knowing, I have centered all my teaching. Once I knew what a true, full breath felt like, I knew what freedom was and how to reclaim it in my body.

As a private practitioner and as a workshop leader, my focus over and over again starts with this coordinated movement of all the breathing muscles. The tools I learned from both the Alexander Technique and Carl Stough led me to what I call Body Dialogue.

With the flow of the inhale and exhale is the flow of life.

 

This flow is the source of life, and all the great Eastern spiritual traditions teach that as a reality. But we in the West have distorted even that truth. Powering the body as we do in the West does not lead to freedom—it leads to stress.

I invite you to join me this Spring at the Atlantic Center for the Arts to explore Moving Into Joy.

BD- moving into joy flyer

 

The Body’s Broken Promises

IMG_2536This morning a friend called and told me her espresso machine was broken. She could use her stove-top coffeemaker, she said, but she wanted an espresso. The machine was supposed to work—so why wasn’t it?

Broken promises. Sometimes we think about our body this way. My body is supposed to be working, we think, so why isn’t doing what I want—and whose fault is it? Sometimes we look inside, and say “I know how I hurt myself. I did too much during my workout—maybe I shouldn’t push so hard . . . ”

I think about this myself when my body isn’t up to my expectations and I wonder why. Am I doing something wrong? It feels like our body story is often about the secret promises we believe the body made to us, and is now breaking. The other side of our body story is that sometimes we look for someone out there who will fix whatever is wrong: our doctor, chiropractor, body worker. Who will fix this?

Instead, I offer a simple idea. Maybe the trick is to listen to our body’s message and find tools to work with our minds, bodies, and souls to look deeper in and find the way out.

On May 4-6, 2018, I’ll be conveying a retreat for women at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. It’s called “Body Dialogue: Listening to Our Deeper Messages and Finding the Joy of Movement.”

It’s my privilege to offer this retreat at the Atlantic Center’s sumptuous campus on the east coast of Florida. As we meet in circle, share, learn together, and move together, we can find the tools for our well-being and the secrets inside that lead us towards greater awareness and health.

Follow this link for more information and registration: http://atlanticcenterforthearts.org/event-or-exhibition/body-dialogue-a-practice-of-deep-listening-and-movement/

The News and Your Nervous System

IMG_2635For many years I have observed that we treat our bodies the way we were treated as children. What I mean is, our bodies are the part of us that cannot always speak our needs. This often goes unnoticed until there is a problem.

Sometimes if we were neglected as children, we might neglect our bodies. If we were pushed to be perfect, we expect perfection from our bodies. If we were driven with activity, we expect our bodies to go and go.

So with that in mind, I have been thinking about what it is like for our bodies, and the part of us that is not able to speak, to receive the news and be present to discourse that is often full of anger and hate.

How does our body internalize the aggression and projections that people on both sides are hurling at one another? I know it affects my nervous system, my digestion, and my breathing. I know I am feeling the actual assault physically of fear and hopelessness in the collective discourse.

So what is to be done if we want to stay politically aware of what is going on—but feel overwhelmed by the seemingly constant barrage of lying, deceit, and hostility.

I believe we cannot turn off to what is being presented, because one day we will wake up to a dictatorship and our rights will have been taken from us. I also know I cannot live in constant fear of the outcome of these politics. I resent that the political sphere is trying to grab my attention and not let me go. It feels like an assault.

I believe it is really important for the truth to be revealed in all the arenas that are speaking out, and I also feel that at 67 years of age, I do not have ceaseless reserves of energy to resist and fight. I often feel weary and taken over by the grief in my heart, mind, and body.

IMG_2644Joanna Macy, an important teacher and elder, reminds us that to not feel outrage, grief, and sadness during these times will leave us impotent, and that NOW is the time to use our love to serve the power of truth.

I know this to be true, but I feel the cost to my system daily.

NOW more than ever, physical practices are crucial—practices that help keep us centered and release negativity from our physical and energetic body.

This is a time we cannot coast down the hill. I know it is a time to get in gear, not get overwhelmed—a time to practice mindful movement and mindful speech.

But most of all, we need to remember our bodies speak to us daily. We need to listen and discern what she is telling us.

Finding Ground in Groundlessness

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My friend Jean Esther, a practicing Buddhist and insight meditation teacher, recently told me that she was teaching a class on ground and groundlessness. I have not stopped thinking about that phrase since she uttered those words.

 So much of my work is about that: finding ground in groundlessness through the body.  I find ground through the body practices that I teach and use myself.

You might wonder what I mean by being grounded. What does it feel like to be grounded? What does it feel like to be groundless?

The best example I can offer is what I notice in myself. When I am grounded, I feel physically stable and rooted to the earth. I experience myself as being emotionally present to what my surroundings are telling me. I am aware of my physical sensations, and my internal landscape and external landscape feel in sync or at least in alignment.

When I am not grounded, my nervous system feels stressed. My mind is easily distracted, and I am often irritable and anxious. When I lose my ground, it is as if my head is ruling and not my heart. When I am grounded, I can direct my energy through the core of my body and down into my bones. I focus on my lower body and especially my connection to the earth.

 When it comes to my clients and students, I can feel when someone is ungrounded because their energy feels to me as if they are living from the waist up, as if their body is cut in half.

Our sense of being grounded is deeply dependent on our breath. If someone’s breath is short, they often feel not grounded. The more comfortable you are in your breath, the more depth you have in your physical reality. The breath itself is not only an indicator but can help to improve the experience of being rooted. I can feel when someone is grounded, because I can feel their energy moving down their legs and into the earth. The quality of their presence is solid and calming.

 I am curious to know how you personally experience groundedness and groundlessness. I would love to hear your reflections.

For those of you who have studied with me, you know that I often start my classes by having my students anchor their bodies on a mat with an elevation under them, such as a ball or bolster. Then once they are situated on the platform, I have them physically explore the surface of their pelvic floor muscles and see their sitz bones in their mind’s eye. I actually tell them to take their monkey minds and direct those thoughts into the floor they are sitting on.

If you want to try it now as you are reading this, go ahead. It is actually a simple practice of getting out of the noise of the head and bringing your attention down to the floor of the torso and putting attention into the bones.

Often, meditation teachers offer the instruction to sit up straight and feel as though your head is being pulled by a string. I actually think although being upright is important, it’s even more important to anchoring down into the bones to allow the energy to rise up along the free column of support inside called our spine.

To do this, simply sit on your chair and put your attention down into the bones of your pelvis and your sitz bones—the two little bones that are touching the chair. Feel the sensation of weight and contact and go down in the chair with your thought. With your mind’s eye, put tiny sneakers on those sitz bones and imagine standing in those sneakers as if your sitz bones were feet.

Try this and see if you can feel your center of gravity, and by connecting that sensation with an imaginary internal column of light along your spine, you can, for a few minutes, ground your experience into the present moment and thereby release the floating experience of groundlessness.

NOTICE: Is your breath fuller? Do you feel less nervous? Do you feel a greater sense of well-being? I find this to be a simple but effective practice. Enjoy.

 

Reflections on Summer Heat

pomegranates

When I was in Safed, Israel, this summer, the temperature hit over 100 degrees. Luckily there in the north of Israel, the thermometer drops at least 20 points at night, offering some relief.

I was scared of that heat before I arrived. So we took cautions such as taking my four grandsons to a shaded pool and starting our swim in the late afternoon. We stayed in the shade and avoided being in full sun all day long. It was different than being in Florida in the summer. There it is humid and suffocating. In Israel, I felt parched all the time and seared like a piece of meat.

It’s amazing what you can get used to, but it was still exhausting to deal with that constant heat. It takes so much energy to not feel the heat as an enemy and to not be angry at it and your body.

The heat made me think of all the people who live in this new normal – the people with no electricity and no air-conditioners, the people who are actually dying in this climate catastrophe.

One day during my visit when we needed to get a new tire, I noticed how fast the conversation went from civil to hostile. I think the heat was part of it because it tries our patience.

How do we cope with heat of all kinds? What does our body need? What kind of mental clarity is needed to not get overheated emotionally?

It makes me think of the body’s messaging system. When we are overheated, it’s a sign of inflammation. Inflammation affects all the cells of our body and challenges our inner ecology. Inflammation affects all our organs but especially the liver, which needs to process waste. We are constantly having to accommodate physically and emotionally. I am thinking of all the diseases that are showing up because of this lack of balance.

We cannot filter when we are burning up trying to survive. Our planet is inflamed. How we can we act on its behalf? What do we need to know about the simple ecosystem of our bodies’ requirements?

Looking around at our Earth, I wonder if the Earth is trying to rebalance with the extreme heat that is causing massive burning forests and snowfall that went late into spring. The swelling oceans and winds are causing hurricanes, flooding, and catastrophes like those described in the Bible.

It’s something to consider as we go forward. How do we cope with this overheating? What nourishes us? How do we refresh ourselves? What do we need to water us? Is the heat a deeper metaphor of our burning out as a people who cannot hold our boundaries and our greed? And what about those of us who feel so compromised by the powerlessness around our political situation? How do we stay in balance knowing this is the way things are now?

How can we help one another in this overheated situation? What do we need to attend to as we face this new normal? I ask you to think about what your body is inviting you to understand, so the inflammation does not create a more acute disease.

What can we do for our communities? What can we do for one another? How do we want to participate in this new story we are creating every day?

As I write I think of what I am doing to get nourished. This essay and the next one are naming the problem. I have some suggestions about some of the solutions, but we can address solutions only when we fully accept the problems.

I would love to hear your thoughts about this.

 

Health Care: Whose Life Is It Anyway?

New SmyrnaIf we are to discuss health care, we have to talk about caring about our health. As important as the insurance debate is, I believe we also need to talk about who is responsible for our health.

I’m not talking about acute disease or about chronic conditions. I’m talking about preventative measures we all can take to listen to our body’s needs, pay attention to what we eat and whether we get enough sleep, and stay informed about the latest developments regarding our well-being.

Insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies do not provide us with our health, but the quality of our air, drinking water, food systems, and housing all affect it, very much..

So let’s think about what we can control and not lose sight of our health-care responsibilities.

Moving, breathing, and finding joy in our bodies are as important as what goes on in the government.

Let’s change the conversation and re-commit to our well-being in these days of stress and political chaos. Let’s remember kindness and morality as we find ways out of this sticky labyrinth of lies and deception.

Check out this article about the Vagus nerve and our nervous system affects all the systems of our body. Yet another reminder of the physiological power of well being. https://www.honeycolony.com/article/vagus-nerve/

How to Work With Overwhelm and Overdrive

blue-strata--290x400Twelve years ago I left New York City to live in Florida for six months. I was 53 years old, and my body was totally wrecked. For the previous three years, I had been pushing myself with too many flights and travel gigs for work, stress at home, a divorce looming, and an over-stimulated New York life where every hour of the day I was in intense contact with friends, students,and guests from abroad.

I was running very fast, pushing my body,  and filling my days with so much activity that I barely had time to breathe. Maybe that seems normal, but the problem was, I should have known better. After all, I know about the body and breath. I am a body therapist and teacher and the founder of Body Dialogue, which is all about listening to your body, mind, and soul.

I knew what what I was doing BUT I could not stop myself

I would  get on my table and cry at the thought of getting on another flight or having to see another student. I could hardly sleep or do a meditation for five minutes. Everything seemed like a huge boulder I had to push up a too big hill. Everything seemed to be collapsing around me. Some named it depression, but I knew I was in overdrive, in a cortisol-stress loop. I was through menopause due to a hysterectomy, so I assumed my hormones were also a problem. At that point, allopathic doctors were not talking much about the unique issues facing women’s health as they age and face post-menopause, and how patterns of overdrive and over-care impact women’s bodies. ¹

Basically, my body was telling me what was happening. I just did not know how to stop and begin to undo the deeper issues. That is so true about a lot of our problems. We know what’s wrong, but we’re stuck in a pattern that keeps us in loop of the same behavior, over and over.

orange with thornsFinally I went to Florida for what I planned to be a six-month break. I was so sad, emotionally drained, and completely at a loss of how to make sense of my life. Even though I had left behind the fast-paced lifestyle of New York City, my body, mind, and soul were still in a state of overdrive. Being in overdrive is not so easy to switch on and off. Rather, it is a set of deeply embedded cultural and emotional  patterns driven by a message that is mostly unconscious. I always felt a gun was to my head. Part of it was simply habit from my family and  the collective. My inner voices said I had no worth  unless I  was  busy and productive, that self-care is selfish, and that listening to my body is a frivolous privilege. My overdrive patterns were still in me, even though I left New York City; the compulsion to do, the compulsion to be needed, the compulsion to be wanted, and the compulsion to have people in my life to nourish me all still lingered

Then I met a lovely naturopath who suggested my adrenals were shot and my nervous system was out of balance. She explained the syndrome and how it resulted in all the symptoms I was having. What she said made total sense to me. We did acupuncture, herbs, and I started weekly cranial sessions with a gifted healer. Finally I had someone who helped me listen to the drive of the egoic voices and all the limited beliefs that accompanied them. Finally, I began again to listen to my body. I listened to my breath to lead the way. I knew that if I listen deeply and honestly, my body would lead the way. I began to unravel where my body was holding these messages of compensation and grief. I needed to cry and cry and express what was underneath the habits of overdrive and survival. I started to paint and do collage to express a deeper wisdom being held within. I also needed to stop and feel the void; the void that comes when compulsive behaviors are actually left to heal without covering them up with new addictions. My manic behavior which is my go-to even today has an end point. When I find myself in that cycle I recognize there are some old fears surfacing and some new grief waiting to be revealed.

I am not over this dis-ease. I am much better at recognizing the signs that I am about to go into overdrive but the culture is even more sped up today than it was ten years ago and the fears of today are much worse than before.

I would love to hear your stories. 

My friend and herbalist Maddie Sovern has been a huge aide to me in recent years. The following are her thoughts and suggestions regarding adrenal fatigue:

The function of our adrenals is to support us in times when we need extra energy by secreting adrenaline. How miraculous to have this resource to draw from when we really need it! But, when we push day after day, we continually send out energy out to our limbs so that we can keep on running. When we do this, our energy is not in our core, which is where most of our vital organs are. We become ungrounded. When we push day after day, when we have too much on our plates, when we say yes to everyone and everything, we are depleting our natural energy reserves. We disturb the balance of our Sympathetic (fight/flight/freeze) and Parasympathetic (rest & digest) Nervous System states. We can only do this for so long before we burn out. And since we live in a culture of pushing, what do we do when we burn out? More caffeine, more sugar, more super foods, more herbal adaptogens.

Adaptogens are becoming very popular in our culture. “Adaptogen” is a relatively new herbal term used to refer to plants that work through the HPA axis to help the body cope with stress and to mediate our energy levels. Sounds good, but what if many of these herbs are still pushing the adrenals to work hard? For example, my teacher Karyn Sanders says that Reishi pushes our adrenals, while Eleuthro actually feeds them. If the root of our problem is in our behavioral pattern of pushing, and we keep numbing our exhaustion with various substances, then we are not getting to the root of the problem, even if those substances seem healthy. What if we really need something different? When we are depleting our reserves, I feel that we need to nourish, be gentle with ourselves, rest, and use restorative herbal medicine, restorative yoga, and healthy amounts of exercise. And we need to look at why we are running around like chickens with our heads cut off in the first place.

It takes courage to slow down in a world that is moving so fast. It takes self-confidence enough to not worry what other people think. I believe the rhythms of nature have a lot to teach us. I feel the most well when I am watching a river flow, or standing in an open field letting the sun warm my bones, or tending my garden. My hope is that we may learn tend the garden of our bodies gently and lovingly, and in accordance with the rhythms of nature. Because afterall, we are nature.

When I feel depleted and ungrounded, I love to make a nourishing infusion of nettles. Nettles is very mineral-rich, which is wonderful because when we are stressed, we are depleting our mineral reserves.

To make nettles infusion, bring a half gallon of water to a boil and add about 1 cup of dried nettles. Place a lid on the pot, turn off the heat, and let it infuse overnight, or at least 4 hours. Or make the infusion in a crockpot. Keep the heat on low and leave it 4-8 hours. Strain and drink 1-4 cups per day. Feed your nerves.

RESOURCES:

1. https://avivaromm.com/