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/

Breathing through Grieving

  swirly shore line   The practice of Body Dialogue is focused on present-moment awareness and our breath. It’s a form of mindfulness practice, but rather than tracking our thoughts and our emotions, we actually investigate them. We begin by noticing how we are breathing and the postural patterns and the emotions that show up.

    Recently, I’ve noticed that students are coming to me with a sense of overwhelm and, often, deep holding patterns that may show up as actual panic attacks. One student shared with me that after her marriage of 35 years ended, she is surprised by the terror and anxiety that arise for her around even small activities. I find many people, including myself,  facing old patterns of unfinished business that are longing for a way to be reconciled. That includes old patterns of loss and grief. The physical aches and pains buried in the body are often especially linked to deep sadness and grief.

    These patterns show up in our body language Often we use different and very ingenious ways to feel that we are literally holding our bodies together. “It’s almost as though I feel my head with fall off it I don’t hold it on,” one student says. “I hold my shoulders up to my ears, and I feel more secure,” says another. Sometimes we grip with our toes in an effort to find a safe footing in life.

     When I put my hands on students, I can often feel the energy blocks that are stored  in tissue and in the joints. When I start tracking the tightness, I notice that with a little coaxing and encouragement to get the breath freer, I can also gently encourage the musculature and skeleton to start releasing the old holding patterns. Little by little, the breath starts to get softer. The diaphragm works more efficiently as my hands gently bring more awareness into the ways in which students are holding their joints rigidly in place.We begin to tone and sound vowels to actually work the diaphragm to engage more efficiently.

     As we gently release layers of tension, encouraging the diaphragm and the deep abdominal muscles to work together to create a coordinated breath, the gripping and the rigidity begin to let go. It seems miraculous that someone who comes in with a rigid shoulder can find relief through breathing properly, but it happens.

     I encourage you to observe your breathing and  the mechanisms you may use to feel you are achieving stability in your body. Also, notice whether your breathing is full and easy or shallow and constricted. With these observations, we can begin to release some of the stagnant old patterns that frequently show up as old emotions. What shows up as grief often is the result of the muscles themselves holding on to old stories, to some old conception of ourselves.Or perhaps sadness surfaces and needs to be given attention

     When a student starts to breathe deeply, sometimes laughter just erupts and sometimes tears can flow. It’s as if ice is beginning to melt as the shoreline releases the river. Sometimes the grief is connected to memory, and sometimes it’s connected to just a simple pattern that’s so old we don’t even know who we are without it. Notice it with detachment and curiosity.

     With each breath something new is born. Layers upon layers melt as the breath releases . Thought patterns that cause the hardness and the tightness in our tissue and our joints can ease To trust that experience is the secret of this process, and then to choose  a more conscious breath over and over again – choose each breath as an invitation to feel more deeply and let oneself feel more fully.With gratitude and  compassion invite your body into more awareness

     Breath by breath, moment by moment, we shift internally, and these shifts bring us into a more expansive relationship not only to our own physical environment but to the world around us. I invite you to start noticing your own holding patterns and see what happens if you allow yourself to soften those places where the body wants to hold on tight.

I love to hear from you,
Janice

Inflammation and the Body’s Response to Overwhelm

greenWe all know that stress causes disease. We all know that emotions live in our bodies. It is no longer surprising that certain physical symptoms show up when we’re stressed or overwhelmed. Simple observations can tell us, for example, that some of the physical discomforts we live with daily go away when we’re on vacation.

As a practitioner of Body Dialogue for more than 40 years, I’m looking again at the subject of inflammation in the body. I often notice that women who have a hard time accessing and expressing negative feelings, especially anger, will somatize these feelings into diseases that are otherwise seen as chronic flare-ups of arthritis or other autoimmune diseases. These illnesses become a way for the body to express heat and fire. We become inflamed because we’re unable to express the heat of our feelings in another way.

 

I do not want to suggest that we are to blame for our physical diseases, but I have observed that repressed emotions that are not released or discharged – even in simple ways such as crying, shaking, or yawning – can settle into the tissue and eventually show up as an autoimmune disease.

Just recently a friend remarked that she has been noticing an extreme flare-up of discomfort in her joints and a lot of swelling in her body. The swelling resembles osteoarthritis. Because she’s done a lot of emotional work and is a practiced meditator, she noticed that her mind and her body are not in sync with each another. She’s aware that her mind was saying one thing in a situation, but another part of her was saying exactly the opposite.

This was the situation: My friend’s housemate, whom she loves dearly, asked if her sister could move in with them. The sister has a chronic, debilitating illness. My friend said yes, all the time knowing that she really wanted to say no. She simply did not want to tell her housemate how she truly felt. She did not want to let her down. She probably felt she was being selfish. She believed that she should be able to accept the situation, but in truth some deep part of her could not accept her own “yes” to the request. And so her body “spoke” up. It started expressing symptoms of swelling, heat, and burning sensations. Notice the words she used to describe how she felt – all words connoting fire.

How many times have we done the same thing? How many times have we overridden those voices in our heads? How many times have we wanted to say NO, but out of our mouths comes YES? How many times have we overridden those inner instincts to tell the truth of how we feel?

I’m not sure this is a gender issue, but I work with so many women who feel they can’t express what they want to say. I’m certain men do the same thing, but they express it in a different way. It is not uncommon for the body to get our attention by producing physical symptoms in places where we already have physical vulnerability. It is not easy to listen to the body because sometimes it presents us with messages we do not want to hear.

In the case of my friend, she needs assistance. This is where the work of Body Dialogue comes in. The touch of tender loving hands can help us accept our true desires – to connect our minds with the messages our bodies are trying to tell us. My friend will be able to release the pain of her dilemma and conflict in the safe hands of one she knows and trusts. She needs to feel accepted for what she really feels and perhaps make a decision that is unpopular but is necessary for her well-being.

Because we have a relationship of trust, talking about the situation helped her understand what she needed to say. By speaking her true feelings, she started almost miraculously feeling much better.

In cases of extreme and chronic conditions this is just one way to approach the healing of the body. Once the inflammation has taken root and one has lived with it over a period of years, the body’s need to repair could take a long time and lead a person down many different roads towards healing. This observation can be addressed with a doctor, homeopath, acupuncturist, good masseuse, cranial therapist, or reflexologist. Ideally if the practitioner allows the person to drop into the physical and metaphoric understanding of the illness, images will emerge and take the person from distress towards compassion for one’s self and one’s healing.

The teacher Marion Woodman has written that the metaphor that lives in the body will emerge into one’s dream life. Once the metaphor is lived and understood, the road to recovery is possible.

In order to live in to the images one has to take their message seriously and then find ways the way to express the feelings so they do not have to show up as illness or physical pain. WE are the experts of what is happening inside us. We simply need to take the time to listen and discern what our bodies are trying to say.

Coming Home to Our Bodies

breathing through painHow do we hear the messages our bodies share with us? How can we practice taking our bodies’ messages seriously, and listening deeply? Sometimes these messages show up as dreams, and sometimes as disease. Sometimes they show up as pain, and instead of listening to the messages, we run to a doctor or chiropractor to just make the pain stop. When we do this, we never really get the message.

Body Dialogue is a practice of listening deeply to the messages from our body. And even though I teach that practice, I am always learning, too.

Earlier this summer, as I was preparing to embark on yet another 7 week trip to Israel and then to Ireland, the pain from muscle spasms in my back absolutely flattened me. What is this pain trying to get me to hear, to feel, to know, I thought. How can I breathe into each fiber and open to the deeper message?

I remember only one other time when my back caused me such pain: another, much shorter journey, years ago. I was to move from a dark, crowded space in my old New York City apartment into a huge, light-filled space. It was outside my frame of reference to believe I could live in such a welcoming, luxurious solace in the city – this new apartment that overlooked the Hudson and had nine windows on the river. Nothing at that point in my life had offered me such luxury. I was almost embarrassed that I could afford it. What would my friends say when they came to visit, I worried. How could I possibly justify spending all that money so my family and I could enjoy the views, the light, the peace?

One friend, a clairvoyant, suggested that I bless the space in a ritual that would allow me permission to enter it, and so I did. I created a ritual for my family as we entered the space. My two-year-old daughter brought her favorite toy mouse Jerry, and my son brought his baseball glove. We lived there for 19 years happily as a family of four with constant guests and visitors. The house was never empty. Then, ten years ago, we left that home after I left my marriage of 32 years, and I embarked on another new journey – one that I never imagined.

As destabilizing as it was to leave a dark, cramped apartment to move into the light on Riverside Drive, the steps I have been taking, and am taking now, feel equally momentous. But the big move, or transition, is not a physical move this time. It’s an internal move. I hardly have words for it. Before, I was shifting out of a too-small home with my family of four. This time I am moving out of a too-small home in my body.

The right side of my body has been compromised for 20 years and probably before that, in part from scar tissue and restriction stemming from a hysterectomy. But now I wonder whether my right side, which represents my masculine, my animus, had been compromised way before that — since I was a child and learned that girls are not as good as boys and girls need to make themselves small so boys will like them.

Is it possible that these spasms, as I prepared for my trip, were my emotional and mental body saying “No more. No more making yourself small.”?

Maybe that old contract has expired. Maybe now I am ready to occupy my full height, breadth, and girth. Maybe it’s time to move into my “house,” come home to my body, and take my place in the world.

Those back spasms earlier this summer brought me to my knees in prayer and gratitude – gratitude for my ability to listen to the pain. Make no mistake — I was not happy as I anticipated 15 hours of travel, a week after those spasms. But I can always ask for help and I have. Sometime we just need to ask for extra support.

I am listening to my body, to hear the messages hidden in the pain. This much I have learned – pain means the body is trying to tell us something, and often the lessons are surprising, and profound.

The Work of the Divine Doula

ripples on waterTransitions are inevitable in our lives. We face them from the time we are in the womb. In fact, my teacher Marion Woodman says the way we come out of the womb and through the birth canal can influence us for years during transitions — whether it’s our first day of kindergarten or how we face a new work challenge.

If you were drugged as you went through the birth canal, for example, you might be drawn to drink or take drugs as a way of coping. If the doctor used forceps, you might look for someone to pull you out of tough situations. How we experience transitions may indeed reflect our birth experience. Think about your transitions and see whether or not, this concept resonates for you. 

Recently I’ve been helping women with transitions by acting as a doula, traditionally a name for a childbirth coach who helps in all stages of labor and delivery. But my work involves helping women move through other kinds of transitions. One friend is going through a divorce; another is contemplating leaving her business; and a third has been facing very serious illness and confronting her death. 

I call this transition work “breath by breath.” It’s a way of understanding that we need not replicate old patterns, whether those patterns were based on our birth or how we were acculturated. We have aids to help us through — practices to smooth our way through life’s transitions. I also think of this work as not just mine but the work of the Divine Doula, because I believe in the divine feminine. I believe in the energetic process of sitting at the table of unknowing — allowing ourselves to let what needs to emerge, emerge; allowing ourselves to be beginners and come to each breath knowing that we don’t know where the next one will take us.

Just as a doula, during childbirth, keeps a woman focused on her breathing and on the here and now, my work too encourages women to take life breath by breath. This kind of coaching does not only focus on the head or the mind, but instead emphasizes our whole being, our body-mind, and present-moment awareness. Your body is the heart of your story. It connects you to the emotional and mental patterning that needs to come undone for you to move forward.

This work allows us to own our own breath and make our own choices, and it challenges us to stay present — not with where we want to be in ten years or two days but with where we are now. And the more I work as a doula, the more I see that like giving birth to our children, we are giving birth to ourselves.

But, as with childbirth, transitions can be scary. That’s true even with small transitions. A transition is a kind of death, and when there’s a death, there’s loss. There’s a grieving for what never was. Theres fear for what might lie ahead.

All these emotions live in our bodies, and are held in our tissue.

I’m noticing with a number of my friends that the challenge in a transition is not the “birth” process itself — the challenge is putting ourselves at the center of our story. The challenge is that we are so addicted to the care-taking of others that we’re always certain we know what’s good for everybody else and have very, very little idea of how to nurture, nourish, and care for ourselves. Often, what keeps us breathless is that we feel we have to do everything ourselves.

We may also feel breathless from holding on to our identity. Transitions can shift our identity, when we move to a new job or new location or from one phase of schooling to the next. We identify ourselves in a certain way, and being busy, overwhelmed, and breathless is often part of the identity. We fall into old habits, including the habit of breathlessness.

And so as I work with women as a doula, I’m asking them to focus on the breath and to recognize that as they go through each of these transitions, big or small, the same tools, the same practices, are needed.

The first step is agreeing to be your own best friend, and to recognize that it’s time to put yourself at the center of your story — which for many women is such a radical idea that they can’t even recognize what life would look like. Often, our habit of taking care of other people arose from decisions we made as children, so that we would get taken care of. Perhaps the adults around us weren’t able to care for us — and we thought, logically, that if we took care of others, we would get cared for as well, and that often is not the case.

The next piece is to focus on the body, and to acknowledge that to be in the moment means to sit with what is, now. Every mindfulness practice is an opportunity to recognize that whatever feelings you’re having at the moment are simply feelings that will pass. They can be great feelings, and they can be terrible feelings. They can be exhilarating or they can be depressing. You can be in despair or you can be in jubilation. But momentary feeling is not a static reality. You will not feel like this forever.

Feelings can derail you, take you off track as you go through your stages of change. So, it’s important to recognize that whatever you’re feeling is a feeling — that coming back to the breath, settling down, feeling your body, expanding in to your physical self, and coming back into your sitz-bones, into your center, coming down into your ground, is what is stable. Not the passing story that your mind is trying to tell you that day.

This work of dealing with transitions is best done with a partner, a doula. I really, truly believe we all need doulas, and I do believe that what will really make a difference for every one of us is to find one or two people in our lives, and not necessarily our life partner, who can help us have some clarity, help us see more spaciously.

My suggestion is that we practice first of all asking for help — letting people know when we’re overwhelmed or challenged by a situation. And if you’re guided by a spiritual practice, ask for help from something greater than yourself, the Divine Doula inside. I like to think of it as some kind of universal principle of goodness that’s holding us. And I like to believe that I’m being carried by some great feminine energy. Sometimes I can picture it and sometimes I can’t. Most of the time it’s just a sense of being enveloped. Because many of us believe we’re in charge of everything, we still get tripped up and think we have to go it alone, even when we have a deep connection to the Divine.

So when we begin to understand that we are truly not alone, and that there are things that are bigger than us, and we start asking ourselves, “What is it that I actually want in this moment?”, without worrying about what it’s going to do for everybody else, we’re actually honoring the deep feminine. When we take that radical step of choosing on behalf of ourselves, we’re honoring the deep feminine.

That feminine energy will show up in many ways, depending on where you are in your life and what issues you’re facing. With my friend who’s working through her divorce, it’s hard for her to remember that her divorce is not just about her ex-husband or not just about her children. It’s about her, too. It’s so hard to remember, when we are going through a divorce — particularly if there has been a long marriage — to give up the pattern that we all know is codependency, but has served us for many years, and might have been birthed with our early childhood experience.

For my friend who has been facing serious illness, how does she open herself to each day and find a way to deal with the mind that wants to trip her up and often presents her with the worst-case scenario, instead of seeing what’s so amazingly beautiful around her. Every time we come back to that, it’s as if it’s a new moment.

And for my friend who is going through a big work challenge — for whom work has always been her identity, her North Star, the thing that tells her who she is — what does it look like to rely on something else as a way of knowing herself?

Many of us who are entering Cronedom have shifted out of our personas as workers, queen bees, the one holding the house up, and we’re finding, actually, there is someone there after the job is done — the job of raising our children or of keeping our boss’s job afloat with our creativity and ingenuity.

I’m meeting remarkable women today who are doing pottery or painting, or spending their days learning more about nature, something they always wanted to do. And sure enough, they have vibrant identities beyond the roles they once felt defined them.

So, I want to invite you to imagine who are you as you go through the transitions you are facing. What does it look like if you actually put yourself in the center of the story, and treat yourself as your own best friend? What does it look like if you know, deep in the soul of your being, that you were put on this Earth to be and not just to do? The practices that will help you need not be complex: Your breathing practice can be as simple as stopping and simply counting to six on the exhale and counting to three on the inhale. It can be as simple as humming a song that you love or singing loudly and with joy while you’re driving in traffic. The breath that gives us life will guide you from where you are to where you want to be. 

Exhaling Trauma

nov 14 6Students come to me to learn how to breathe better for many reasons: to sing or play an instrument with greater ease, to be more in command on stage as an actor, or simply to feel less stressed. But, in truth, breathing coordination offers us much more. The practice can take us underneath the old patterns and emotions locked deep inside us. Often, these patterns and emotions show up to sabotage us when we least expect them. Breathing coordination can release us from these restrictions. It can even free us from inner monsters we didn’t know were controlling our lives.

I learned this dramatically about 20 years ago, when I was working with Carl Stough, one of my most important teachers. Carl was the founder of the technique of breathing coordination and was known as Dr. Breath. I had been working with Carl for about a year, and each week I could feel improvements. It felt great to be on his table, extending my exhalations so that I had a greater respiratory capacity. It was a gateway to such ease vocally, as well as in movement and in other behaviors. After a session, I used to feel that I could even see better, because so much tension had been released. Sometimes, when I was deeply in the reception space of the breath, I felt like I was surfing waves. There was no lack of continuity between the ease of my breath and the ease of my mind/body.

But I couldn’t seem to sustain that same experience beyond our sessions. Why was that, I wondered? Why would I deprive myself of something so exquisite in my daily life? Why wouldn’t I practice on my own? Why wouldn’t I commit to it?

One day, in a session with Carl, I was in that delightful wave-surfing place, feeling a kind of ease and pleasure I never imagined was possible, when suddenly a thought popped into my head. Without restraint, I blurted out, “HITLER would be so angry if he knew how good I felt right now!” Once those words were out of my mouth, I could hear how absurd they probably sounded. After all, I wasn’t a direct survivor of the Holocaust, although my father had been. And Carl did seem a bit taken aback. He said to me, “Janice, Hitler is dead. Isn’t it time to give it up?” But when I heard those words spoken back to me, something was unleashed in me. For the first time since my father died ten years before, I started to wail and shake with grief.

Through the tears I said to myself, “But to give up Hitler, I have to give up my father.” And at that moment, I understood why my body carried so much tension and rage—in my jaw, in the back of my skull, in my chest. Later I realized that during this session with Carl, my breath had carried me to a critical moment in my healing. Up until this point, my sessions had demonstrated that my diaphragm was getting stronger, that my breath was getting fuller and that the sound of my voice was more resonant. The vibrational frequency I could produce had become more powerful. For the first time, I could sustain tones and, for the first time, actually sing a song and feel the joy of expressing myself with my voice. I felt giddy and full of delight—emotions I had never accessed before.

Until that day, I had not touched or even realized the grief that was living in my body—the grief and anger stored in the tissue and the cells. Physiologically, it was as if I had been in a frozen state since my early years, when I would hear my father recount stories from his days in the camps.

We have all heard of “fight or flight” instincts, but it is important to notice the third option—to freeze—that is also a natural response to emotional or physical trauma. Non-human animals understand how to shake off the freeze response, but we humans have lost the instinct to unfreeze. This is why we need others to help us meet the trauma we hold in our bodies. In order for the body/psyche to release the habitual holding patterns, we need total safety. We need to completely surrender.

And we need the strength that comes with practice. In my case, until that day with Carl—the day I blurted out words about Hitler and then began to cry—I had been in the process of healing, but my diaphragm had not yet been strong enough to support the release of my grief and my tears. I had needed to slowly build the strength of my diaphragm before I could truly release the muscular tensions of chronic freeze.

Since that time, I have made Carl Stough’s breathing coordination the cornerstone of my work in Body Dialogue. What I understand now as a practitioner is this: The breath allows us to drop out of our habitual understanding of ourselves. Through breathing properly, we can literally change our physiology and enter a different state of knowing ourselves. Our experience of our identity can actually shift. If we are breathing from a place of absolute ease, with no effort, the old tension patterns (that have been so much a part of our personality) can re-organize in such a way that we respond to that old identity from a new reference point. This process allows the habitual thinking and habitual preoccupations of mind to let go of their hereditary grip.

Every time we move out of that tension pattern and experience ourselves from a less confined and restricted experience, we can tap into a place within ourselves that is not ruled by the protective complex that allowed us to survive but is now holding us back. My blurted-out words about Hitler revealed to me that I was still being controlled by an old habitual pattern of mind that basically prohibited pleasure. The experience also allowed me to drop my unconscious assumption that my father and his experiences were in charge of my life.

 

For more on Carl Stough’s work, see BreathingCoordination.com. 

The Gaze and the Vigil

apple treeIt is more than a month since the three boys were captured in Israel.
It is more than a month of waking up every day to hear that the nightmare is not over.
More than a month of fantasizing that Israelis and Palestinians will not continue to play out the futile and feudal warfare of the big powers, playing into the hands of the worst extremists.
Believing that one can annihilate the other when we all know neither side is going to give up their right to exist in and on that land.
Where will it end? No one knows, but it is clear that this is not an incursion like any other before.
It is a total game changer.
We all know why.

Deep in our hearts and souls we know that what happens now will be remembered by both sides forever.
The wounding, the hurt, the anger, the hatred and the solidarity of the tribal connections will be engraved in the hearts and brains of all the parties all over the world. It will be reinforcing the trauma of the Second World War.
Our neuro pathways are conditioned to trauma.

So why am I writing another piece?
I am not a professional writer,
but I am a wandering Jew. I had five weeks in Israel when all this started and now am in Ireland where people say if we can do it, they can do it. After all, we hated one another.
I want to believe that.
I want to believe that my German friends can make Shabbat with me because we believe in looking into each other’s eyes.
No, I am not having a gun held to my head.
No one wants to kill me.
But nevertheless I am a Jew and have been told as long as I can remember that the non-Jews want to get rid of us, so beware!

I was raised on the fear of anti-Semitism.
And today I have two children.

One works for the end of the occupation through non-violent means. The other believes that redemption is on the other side of this war. That once and for all, Israel will end safe from its enemies.
We brought up these children in NYC And they grew up hearing that Israelis are our brothers and sisters.
Where do I stand today as both my children call to tell me how they are faring daily with the war in the back drop?

When I went to Israel recently my son was so disappointed that I was not ready to give up my U.S. passport for an Israeli passport.
He was so furious that I could not see that being a wandering Jew was weakening my body and making it difficult for me to age without more stress on my body.
I kept saying over and over,

I am not an Israeli.
I do not know the language well enough, I am scared of the roads, and I am too sensitive–but really, is that why I am not picking up and starting over at age 64 in Jerusalem or Safed?
No. Actually I am not living there because at this moment in time I cannot hold the vision of what I believe in a country that is continually bombarded by choices that seem untenable to me.

It feels like the life-support machine called the IDF–Israel Defense Forces–is having consequences that I cannot stand behind.
I cannot sit in the comfort of my life knowing what it is costing to the whole nation and to the whole of the Jewish people all over the world. The violence that comes with power allows people to make bad choices. To believe that might is right. To believe that whoever has more guns wins. That is now what I know as a woman waking every day to feel the pain of all the mothers whose children are dying, and for what?????
As an American, I know that we are also making choices that are untenable.
I know that.
But on a local level I can have a little more control.
I can work in my private ways to help individuals wake up to the inner story of their hearts and bodies.

We are all making choices now that are very hard.
And yet I believe in the gaze.
I believe we need to be able to look into one another’s eyes.
We need to not be ashamed
We need to know we did our best
We need to believe in what we do and say
We need to be honest and real

It is my choice.
I do not know where this will end.
I know I have to look in my own eyes every day and ask myself,
Am I doing the best I can do right now in this moment to be
True
Honest
Loving
Real
Courageous and simple.
If my grandsons ask me

Where were you, Safta, when this was happening?
What can I say to them?

That is what is guiding me right now.
I will not answer that now but will continue to use that question to guide me.
I am not going to give up the vision of the eagle and the condor*
I believe this is the dying of the old way
Of domination, colonization, power over not power with

I have to believe that, or I cannot wake up every day and breathe in life.

image from Amy Livingstone of http://sacredartstudio.net/

image from Amy Livingstone of http://sacredartstudio.net/

*The eagle and the condor myth says when the northern hemisphere people meet the ways of the southern hemisphere people there will be a more aligned balance of the energies of the masculine and the feminine

Using the Breath as a Tool to Counter Anxiety and Fear

A student came to me with an enormous amount of fear and anxiety. I got her on my table and opened the space for her to describe what she was experiencing. While she was speaking, I used my hands to feel for where the tension patterns were in her back, neck and shoulders. With my touch alone her anxiety started to lessen. Together, we would slowly count to ten out loud, and with each counting, her body started quieting down, and her tension patterns began to release.  I gave her very physical instructions.  I told her to feel the weight of her bones on the table. I helped her experience opening the jaw wide (releasing some of the pressure at the back of her skull), and I helped her identify the tension at the back of her tongue.

In the space of one hour, she began to see that the physical patterns of her body and the restrictions in her breathing were simply a result of habit. With guidance, hands- on instruction and my insight, she began to quiet the chronic panic that would build from breath to breath.You might imagine that her anxiety was only an emotional problem, but she already had tried a decade of talking therapy and it wasn’t having results that were measurable; it wasn’t shifting her behavior. Her tension literally lived in her body.

We continued to count out loud in series of 10′s, 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10…and little by little her exhale increased from 10 counts to 50.  With the increase of exhalation, her muscle tension released, the panic subsided, and she began to receive a glimmer of hope, that perhaps she didn’t have to live crippled by anxiety.

In some cases, dealing with anxiety can be as simple as becoming aware of where we are unconsciously holding tension in our bodies, and consciously releasing and relaxing our bodies.

 

Click here for a practice to try at home. Enjoy!

 

Running For Your Life? 5 steps to slow down and take charge…

This month’s blog post is borrowed from a dear friend and teacher of mine Jana Titus. Jana is an amazing teacher, writer, life coach, and healer. She is intuitive and yet practical, insightful, and direct. Please enjoy this article. To read more by Jana, visit janatitus.com

 

body-in-motionOMG – Gotta do this – Gotta do that – Gotta move faster – Gotta do more…

Sound familiar?

It’s the soundtrack of the modern mind, a siren song of stress, endlessly driving us to do more and do it faster. We all honor the idea of being mindful, of keeping calm, of staying in the moment. I’m not sure we really believe it’s possible – or, frankly, even desirable…

Slow down and someone else might get ahead. Slow down and we might miss the next boat taking off for the next big thing. So day after day we run after the cosmic To-Do list that rolls before us, striving to catch up with our lives – to take control. But somehow we never do. Somehow our lives seem to have taken control of us…

It’s time to take charge…

Speed is the enemy of consciousness. It creates stress out of thin air and panic out the simplest errand. But we live in a speed-addicted world, and we’re all hooked – pharmaceutically or psychically. It’s our culture – the ingrained belief that the more you do the better person you are. The busier you are the more important. The faster you move the more you get done. So of course we take on more than we can do! Of course we speed up to do it! That’s what successful, got-their-act-together people do! Yet at the end of the day we wonder why we feel so exhausted, stressed and overwhelmed – and why, despite all we did, there’s so much left to do. It’s the way things are. Life in the 21st century.

Does it have to be that way? Really?

Ask yourself: Does doing things faster give you more time? Does driving through your day like it’s the Indy 500 make you more productive? Have you ever got it (whatever ‘it’ is) all done? Is it even possible? Does it even matter?

Years ago I studied with a Swami who observed that Americans make themselves crazy running around, and asked a simple – ‘Why?’ That was my ‘aha’ moment, the moment I decided to slow down enough to smell at least one flower a day. Because at that moment, in a flash, I saw my life as a race I was running – and losing – everyday.  And when I asked myself ‘why?’ I couldn’t answer the question. Since then, I’ve asked the same question of people who come to me stressed out and exhausted – and I’m always amazed to find no one can answer it! It seems that all the rationales for rushing around to accomplish XY & Z in the shortest amount of time dissolve upon examination.

The plain fact is that the go faster/do more paradigm by which we live is a lie. It doesn’t work.

We need to make a change. And the only way to change behavior is to change the thought that inspires it

  1. First step: create a new paradigm that answers the questions: what do we really want from life, what would reduce stress, give us more energy, create more happiness, and make more time for the things that give us joy
  2. Next step: create a practice that puts the idea into action. By practice I’m not talking about adding to the list of what we already have to do – thus creating more stress. I’m talking about implementing certain time-proven techniques for staying conscious, present and calm in our day. For instance:
  3. Set a daily intention. Intention – ‘samkalpa’ in Sanskrit – directs energy toward a particular goal, whatever it may be – to go slow, to be patient, to take time for ourselves.
  4. Be mindful about the things that speed us up and create tension. No judgment, no guilt – just observing ourselves in action. What triggers tension and speeding up? Running late? Change of plans? Waiting? Recognize the triggers and we give ourselves the chance to avoid them and/or alter our response to them.
  5. Remember to breathe. Speeding up creates tension and constricts breathing. One deep, conscious breath can change a day. Right now, take a breath, enjoy the release of tension – then count to three and do it again. Feel the difference?

Amazingly, when we get ourselves to slow down – even a little – we find we have a lot more time to get things done!  When we don’t worry about all there is to do – but simply stay with the process of doing – we discover it’s entirely possible to move fast without racing, and get things done without stressing. To breathe, to stay calm – even, miracle of miracles! – actually enjoy doing what needs to be done…

And when all is said and done, maximum enjoyment is better for the soul than getting the maximum amount of things done.

What is our pain asking of us?

Dr. John E. Sarno is a pioneer in Mindbody medicine. His area of expertise: chronic pain. Dr. Sarno has been conducting research since 1973 with individuals who experience chronic pain and has concluded that structural abnormalities like bulging discs in the back, tendonitis, and fibromyalgia are not necessarily always the causes of pain. Chronic pain comes from someplace deeper, in the realm of the mind-body connection. Dr. Sarno believes that back pain is a result of repressed rage, and is often and very likely rooted in the emotions.
This week, my back was very creaky and I felt restricted in motion.  I wondered, was it repressed rage manifesting as pain in my back? Think about it; rage sits in the tissues in our jaw, tongue, butt, hips. If rage, like happiness, is an inside job, does that mean we can clear it ourselves?

 

Following is a practice to try and clear your pain yourself; to clear your pain both emotionally and physically:

what is my pain asking of me

First, go deep into the pain and ask “What is my pain asking of me?”
Go into the sensation like a meditation.  Try to stay detached and just listen, rather than trying to change or chase the pain
Remain open to receiving an image, a sound , a word
Be with what is
What is the color, the texture, the scope?
Stay in it for a while and use this as an exercise of discovery
Once you drop in, feel free to start to move, letting your body direct the movements
Make sounds and softly invite the pain in
Let yourself be your own guide as if this is an exploration into new territory
After moving a bit and letting your pain speak to you, see what your body wants. Touch, sound, oils? Imagine you are working on your best friend
Start there and write it up in your journal.  It is a good way to track your story.
Let me know how it works

 

Resources: http://www.healingbackpain.com