The first time I met her, I didn’t like Mimi. I was deep in a conversation with another yogini in training when she decided to give us her perspective on things by introducing Jesus into the mix. I instantly put my guard up and thought, ´Oh no…not another holy rolling Jesus freak from the bible belt´. It didn´t help that I knew she was from Atlanta, Georgia.
So I avoided Mimi for the first couple days of training despite the big grin she always offered me and others. I was hesitant to accept her help in a pose I was practicing, but she just exuded her positive energy and taught me with such clarity and patience, I felt my guard dropping. It helped that there was no mention of Jesus, Mary or the Holy Ghost.
I was then informed by my good Portuguese friend, in her very Posh Buckinghamshire accent that,
´Daaaaarling, you simply MUST speak with Mimi. She has a veeeeery interesting story´
Somehow anything said in a posh English accent gives anyone a certain level of credibility, so I searched Mimi out at the next meal.
Before I go on, I should give a bit of background about why I went to speak to Mimi, and why my friend recommended that I do. Ever since leaving Meriden Kansas and all those demons associated with it, I have to say that I have had some really great adventures and some really terrible tragedies. Those heartaches have mainly been attributed to those demons that have continued to follow me from one continent to another. They are nasty bedfellows and for years I have been struggling with how to let go of the anger, the betrayal, the disappointment and self-blame associated with them. Yoga has been of great help, and literally, probably saved my life, but I could tell, I needed more. I needed more teachers on and off the mat to help me continue my healing.
So in steps Mimi. Mimi is a tall strong black woman with a Nigerian father and African-American mother. She walks with a sure step and even at the age of 43 rolls back and forth out of back bends like a monkey swinging through trees. As mentioned, she is all smiles and when she looks at you, she looks you straight in the eye. She is a force to be reckoned with and as she told her tale, I saw this woman transformed from tall into giant.
I searched Mimi out at dinner time and told her frankly that I wanted to know her story. I had it on good authority that it would be an interesting one. She laughed and then started with the line, ´Well, I have 26 brothers and sisters…´.
And that is how the story started….
My jaw dropped.
She proceeded to inform me, with that big grin on her face, that she was raised in a polygamous household in a kind of hippie compound. She was homeschooled from an early age and entered public school around 2nd grade. At age 16 she left home to go out on her own and start university.
Did I mention she also has 2 PhD´s?
She informed me that life with 26 siblings was great. There were always adventures and things to see and do. She was raised in New Mexico on a farm with the stars and the cacti and always had someone around with whom she could play…but although clearly dysfunctional to the outside observer, to her young mind, this family arrangement was normal. At the time she didn´t know how peculiar her family arrangement was because she didn´t live in an adult paradigm and this social agreement was the only reality that she knew.
I understood that sentiment and identified with it on a very deep visceral level.
Only later on, after entering the ´real world´ did she start to observe and use the description of dysfunction. She explained why it was so dysfunctional, mainly pinned the responsibility upon her father. Her father was very seductive but lacking in integrity and was not truthful with her mother and took on other ´wives ´without her mother´s permission. Eventually, due to his constant betrayal, Mimi´s mother left him, Mimi and her siblings…at the airport, when she was 11 years old. Mimi would follow suit at age 16 after her father had entered her room and began to sexually abuse her – only a few days after she had confided in him of getting pregnant following a rape on her college campus.
Thankfully, at that point in her life, Mimi had enough awareness about her to jump out of bed and start kicking the shit out of him…
I looked at Mimi and just shook my head, how, I asked, could she still be so happy and positive with all of that shit in her past? How did she let that anger, that betrayal go? I wanted, I needed to know. I had to know her secret so that I too might be able to dump off my own backpack of rocks and sand.
She got very serious and informed me that first, yes indeed, she had to get that anger out of her system. Then she tilted back her head, lifted up her hand did a little twirl with it and laughed as he told me she was a topless dancer for a while, an actress, a pharmaceutical manager, and a band manager….amongst other things. During all of this, it was anger that fueled her movement. She was angry with the injustice of the world, especially that of men. She did not trust vunerablity at all and she rode that anger like a stallion through two abortions, two marriages (one ex-husband was a Hare Krishna) and finally, it was when she had a partial hysterectomy at age 39, something in her flipped on a light switch and forced her to re-analyze her life and what was going on inside.
I looked at Mimi expectantly. Wide eyed and eager to hear more I asked her again, How the hell, with all of that in her past, how was she so happy now?
She paused. Let out another laugh and she told me about a night that she and her siblings had somehow snuck in a late night viewing of HBO without her parents´ knowledge. I laughed. I knew all too well that scenario. We never had cable, but even watching x-files or the outerlimits on late night tv was a secret that my siblings and I shared when our parents were away.
In this episode of Faces of Death, she remembers seeing the face of a monkey, and then as the camera panned out, the head of the monkey. The camera panned out further and she saw the head of the monkey in the center of a large, round table with the rest of its body trapped underneath. The monkey was alive. It was trapped with its head above and it´s body below a fancy dining table in a fancy restaurant in Morocco. The camera panned out further to show the monkey and table surrounded by elegantly dressed diners eager for their feast, ready and waiting with their forks and knives. The waiter stood nearby, whacked the monkey on the head with a mallet to daze it, and then with great precision using a small brain saw, he opened the skull cap of the monkey. Still alive and brains exposed, the diners dug into the delicacy of live monkey brain.
I gasped and felt an instant reaction of disgust and horror…Mimi laughed…but then grew serious.
She asked, ´Do you know how they catch these monkeys for these kinds of elegant dining affairs?´
I shook my head, a little nervous to know more.
All of a sudden, the paneer I was having for dinner wasn´t as tasty as before.
She explained that to catch these monkeys these ´hunters´ would fashion a wooden crate with one small slit, just wide enough for a monkey´s hand to stick through flat, and then fill it with bananas. These monkeys would see the bananas and unwittingly stick their hand in to grab one. Once in, it was impossible to pull it´s hand back out while still holding onto the banana…and the monkeys that were caught and had their brains served as delicacies in these restaurants were the ones that refused to let go of the banana.
Mimi leaned in, looked me straight in the eye and pointed her finger to the sky and stated slowly and deliberately, ´I realized that I needed to let go of the fucking banana´.
She went on, ´All of the shit that happened to me, all of the attachment to my anger, was letting these bastards eat my brains. I mean, the feminine reproductive aspect of my body had already been removed…it was just a matter of time before it went to something else. I realized I had to let the banana go.´
I leaned back, crossed my arms and stared in silence at Mimi. I pondered my own life. My own anger and how it was affecting my own mental and physical health. The anger towards a religious institution that created abusive environments and a patriarchal system that continued to relegate women and men to specific and destructive roles. The anger I had towards members of my family and their ignorance of how cruel and harmful their behavior and actions were. Anger towards those whom I saw preying upon the weak and taking advantage of those pure in heart. I pondered how that anger, years ago, had turned into anger towards myself. Anger at my inability to remedy the situation, my helplessness to fix the injustice around me. That anger later resulted in my own knee surgery, major semi-suicidal depression, consequential divorce and a few other unwise decisions and physical discomforts.
I needed to let the proverbial banana go.
I was identified with my anger though I went on calling it something else because I didn´t think I was still angry. I could explain in a very rational manner everything that had happened to me and my family and how environment influenced the behavior of one and another and that really, who was to blame but generations of religious fanaticism and addiction? Who could be blamed for being tugged along on the generational freight trains of our ancestors and their own issues of abuse, betrayal and tyranny?
I got it. From a logical standpoint, we are products of our environment, but something in me screamed against the injustice of letting murderers, child molesters and rapists off the hook because of something that happened in their own past. I was a born warrior, defender of the people, protector of the realm. I was a justice fighting machine. Like Batman, only with vagina and logic and statistics were my weapons of choice. That was my identity. That was my attachment.
It was also this same attachment that was making me sick. I was so identified with the anger I had lost the perspective for why I was expending energy in the first place. My true motivation for everything I have ever done is Joy. I wanted Joy. I wanted joy for myself and for the world around me-but putting out more angry energy was only giving me back what I was offering…which was anger, not Joy.
Pantajali (1:33) warns against being so caught up in the Chitta (the mind stuff) of various emotions that we can lose ourselves in the feedback loop of that emotion.
Friendship, mercy, gladness, indifference being thought of in regard to subjects, happy, unhappy, good and evil respectively, pacify the Chitta (mindstuff).
My banana, the Chitta, was anger. That anger came with many titles: ex-wife, ex-mormon, ex-pat, feminazi, hippie, anti-capitalist, semi-anarchist etc….
Whatever label you wanted to give it, the energy behind it, was the same. Yes, I was and still am angry. I am angry that so many women and children are abused and their bodies are treated as nothing more than dresses to be worn and thrown away. I am angry that blacks in America are shot for no reason other than the color of their skin. I am angry at the ignorance this capitalist system breeds by turning human beings into machines of consumption and objects to be consumed rather than beings of consciousness. I am angry at religion for perpetuating this cycle of ignorance with fear and disdain for debate and intelligence.
That anger and negative energy might be there…but it isn´t me and it is my choice if I allow myself to control it or it controls me.
The age old adage of you get what you give follows the simple law of physics that for every action there is an equal or greater reaction…and trying to improve the world around me by fueling my movement with anger was and is totally illogical and counterproductive.
According to the basic law of physics, if my Chitta (mind stuff) is rooted in anger, then it is simply goes against universal law to receive or expect anything else but the same energy in return.
So, we can only change the world around us for better or worse by first being aware of the fuel that is driving each of us.
That is the power of Yoga.
Finding that silence within is the first step to calming the Chitta (the mind stuff). With a quiet mind, the felt-sense of Joy and hope can be accessed, and this is a far greater power source than anger or hate as the energy behind Joy and hope makes moving forward and living a pleasure.
I will end this entry with an verse from the Pantajali Sutra 2:5:
What is Yoga? Why practice? As a Yoga teacher and a recovering academic, I think it is important to define what I think Yoga is and how I see it as a a more effective path to joy and happiness than any pill or any other passing phase or distraction. Yoga has many different definitions and countless texts with thousands, probably millions of interpretations. I am going to draw upon the classical text the Bhagavadgita, Hatha Yoga Pradipika and the sutras of Pantjali to elaborate on what I view Yoga to be and how it applies to psychology and our life.
Officially Yoga means to Yoke which is why in the Bhagavadgita Yoga is
defined as the
union of the individual atma (soul) with Paramatma (universal self)
There is also lots of room for discussion here about uniting feminine and masculine energies as well as the term Hatha, which split apart means, Sun and Moon. So you could almost call Hatha Yoga, SunMoon Yoga. But as mentioned, I am a recovering academic and these aforementioned definitions are not what made me fall in love with Yoga.
What I love about Yoga is that at its core it is a philosophical science in that not only is it theory about how to live a happy and fulfilling life, it is a theory that that demands observation and experimentation. It is defined as ´philosophy in action´, in practicing it one is promised:
clear discernment that will free one from feeling forced into action
In other words, a consistent practice of Yoga offers the practitioner to be a voluntary participant in life rather than a passive participant simply reacting to circumstances.
– Being able to choose ones life choices is essential to happiness. This is shown with the strong correlation between measurements of Locus of Control (LOC) and levels of depression. As mentioned here, Locus of Control is basically defined as how much control one PERCEIVES they have in their life. People who score high on Internal Locus of Control and low on LOC tend to have a more positive outlook on life and are at lower risk for depression whereas those who score low Internal on the Locus of Control scale and high on the external LOC are at risk or may already be experiencing depression.
All kinds of circumstances can affect ones LOC and include things like economics, family circumstances, traumas, job situation…but the root cause is always perception, and that perception comes from thought and thoughts can come from either the pre-frontal cortex or the limbic system/brain stem aka the lower brain. If the thought is coming from the lower brain than reason is not in control and levels of well-being tend to be low.
In fact, brain scans have shown that people who suffer from depression tend less active pre-frontal cortex than those who don´t, and less activity means less blood flow which means an eventual desinigration of the affected area.
This means that the person suffering from depression is not using the most amazing tool evolution has given us, the cortex, and without using it, they begin to quite literally, lose it. The cortex allows us to see things from a universal perspective and use reason and logic to react accordingly. The lower brain is composed of automatic responses that are essentially learned…either in our past or from the past of our ancestors, and many times, those reactions are outdated or not appropriate to the situation.
So when the lower brain is in control our mind is busy busy busy creating interpretations and reactions based upon past experiences to the physical sensations we receive via our 5 senses. This is fine, but if it isn´t checked by the logic and reason of the pre-frontal cortex, than irrational behavior can ensue and symptoms often associated with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can manifest. This is because, very simply put, the direction of information and interpretation between the lower brain and cortex move in opposite directions.
Pre-frontal cortex Body vs. Body Lower Brain
Depending who is in control it will either be the instinctual animal brain dictating behavior or the logical cortex directing action. For example, a soldier on the fourth of July, instead of celebrating her return home with family and friends, she may hide out in a dark and quiet basement to avoid being triggered (by loud booming fireworks) and sent back to the past, to the battlefield and the horrors she saw. Another, less extreme and more common example of the animal mind taking control, might be someone who refuses a date with someone they are really interested in because they are afraid of being hurt or disappointed all over again. There is a lack of logic here and consequently a loss of quality of life. The soldier will spend the evening away from the healing social ties she so desperately needs to recover, and the broken hearted person will continue to maintain their solitude and lose the chance to spend a great evening, and maybe many more, with someone who might actually offer them great support and friendship.
From the outside, the soldier and the broken heart might claim that they have made the decision to isolate themselves and therefore are in control of their life. But are they really? If fear is controlling the decision, than I would say they are not. Whether it be possible gun to the head or a possible bad date, the decision is based upon the possibility of a negative outcome and the fear of it.
So there are two things happening here: Negative thoughts and fear of what will be. I would call these negative and unsubstantiated thoughts, ´mind stuff´ and we all know what that is. ´Mind stuff´ are the bothersome worries and fruitless fantasies that take our imagination everywhere but our being, nowhere…and can you guess which one comes first?
If you answered thought…you are correct! Once the body registers that the mind has decided that there is a threat to be avoided, chemicals and muscles patterns are released and action or no-action takes place.
This is why in the Patanjali Sutras it is stated that Yoga is the
´cessation of mind stuff (chitta)´
Once the cessation of ´mind stuff´, or quieting of lower brain is accomplished than there is space and silence for the pre-frontal cortex to take over and offer an objective, logical and reasonable course of action.
WARNING:Do not confuse a quiet and apparently logical mind with dissociation. A quiet and logical Yogi mind is very aware of bodily sensations but does not let them control them, the disassociated individual lives a life of dulled physical and therefore, emotional senses.
This is also why Yoga is a science and not a religion. There is no unwavering faith being asked for in the traditional Hatha Yoga texts. There is constant reference to practicing and experiencing the results of Yoga. Intuited intellect and reason are held up as the highest goal and it is stated in the Bhagavadgita that:
´only through the subtle and purified intellect´´ can ´sensuous joy´ be experienced.
Asking the practitioner to experience for themselves the changes Yoga has to offer, the scenerio presented by Milgram and his experiments on obedience and it´s correlation to the horrors of Nazi Germany, is avoided.
By experimentation and observation of the self, the practitioner is empoweredto observe and make changes accordingly. The world is full of false gurus who like any other religious leader would seek out followers to follow them in blind faith. Nonetheless, if blind faith is asked, I would argue that they are not practicing Yoga because Yoga at it´s very root calls for experimentation, observation and exercises of reason.
Therefore, the entire science of Yoga is built around helping the individual take control of the lower brain…the limbic and reptilian parts…so that the pre-frontal cortex can be in the driver´s seat and allow the individual to live in the present moment and make decisions based upon a universal, objective perspective rather than an emotional or fearful one.
In moving brain activity to the pre-frontal cortex, brain damage and unhappiness correlated with depression/anxiety/PTSD etc…can be healed and prevented as internal levels of Locus of Control are increased via breath/digestive practices (Pranayama/Kriyas), corporeal movement (asana) and positive affirmations (I would put mantras into this category as well as Yoga sutras…). All of these practices remove past stress stored in the body/mind complex, strengthen the will and prepare the mind/body for meditation, which is where all that ´mind stuff´ quiets, leaving room for the ´sensuous joy´ of life to be experienced.
Now with Yoga defined, I will be writing more about how each of the practices of Asana (physical postures), Pranayama (breathwork), Kriya (cleansing practices) and Mantras (Vibration) tie into modern day psychology, new discoveries in neuroscience and the science of Yoga, or what I might call, the science of bliss.
Breaking the Cycle: Resolving sexual trauma via the body Part Two
As discussed in the previous post Society, History and Sexual Trauma: A common tragedy guarded in secrecy P1 the prevalence of sexual abuse is massive and historically, as seen in literature and artwork, such abuse is nothing new. Nonetheless prevalence of an action doesn´t always make it less traumatic, even if it appears to be socially accepted. As Freud pointed out, it appears to be the ´passivity´ (being acted upon rather than being the actor) of the sexual act that creates the trauma, which follows perfectly the laws of evolution. When an animal is put into an undesired situation, they have the option of fight, flight or freeze. If fight/flight are viewed not as an option, the animal will go into freeze, become immobile and if the symptoms aren´t resolved quickly, than crippling helplessness can ensue.
Animals in the wild, when coming out of this freeze mode will literally shake and tremble and use their breath to release the ´frozen´ fight/flight energies. A video of this release can be seen here. As human beings, thanks to our pre-frontal cortex and social programming, we do not move into this mode automatically. Consequently, this stuck energy, like a corrupted computer program, repeats itself again and again while it remains within the tissue of the body and the programming of cells and neurotransmitters. The results are all kinds of symptoms like:
….all of which fall under the umbrella category of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). If the freeze mode goes on long enough, eventually this can lead to another state of a being called helplessness.
Helplessness, as observed by Seligman who built upon the theories of Pavlov, stops a creature from taking action to change painful or harmful circumstances because they have learned that their actions are futile. This work on helplessness underlies much of the cognitive behavior and positive psychology movement and is closely linked to the measurement of Locus of Control and levels of depression.
In my opinion, CBT and the concepts and practices around positive psychology are effective and scientifically sound, IF the individual is not stuck in one of the evolutionary functions of fight/flight or freeze (or submit=helplessness). If the latter is the case, no amount of positive affirmations or journal writing will help a person overcome their symptoms of PTSD, especially complex trauma symptoms that are indicative of sexual abuse. This is because these approaches only address mental patterns located in the pre-frontal cortex and ignore the unconscious corporeal patterns and reactions that are programed into the more primitive parts of the limbic brain and brain stem.
Due to the location of these corporeal programs, which are located outside the range of logical thinking patterns, the body must be incorporated into the therapy. The wisdom of the body must be used to ´un-freeze´ the fight/flight/freeze pattern the patient utilized at some point in their life as an instinctual and effective defensive mechanism.
Defining Somatic Experience and avoiding catharsis in resolving trauma:
Somatic Experience is a therapeutic approach developed by Dr. Peter Levine that that uses the body as its base for identifying and releasing trauma trapped within the psyche. Through conscious bodily awareness, with the guidance of a trained therapist, the client begins to identify unfulfilled fight or flight responses that remain stuck within the body and brain (which are really one in the same). Via body awareness and gentle ´titulation´ which is psycho-babble for slow and progressive arousal, the client is able to release blocked fight/flight responses via tears, movement and visceral trembling (just to name a few of the symptoms of trauma release I saw in my training).
Clients are always brought back to ´safety´ and taught self-regulation so that they understand that their body is their ally, not their enemy. In stark contrast to some other traumatic release approaches, catharsis is avoided. In SE it is taught that catharsis is indicative of a mind/body disassociation and does little to integrate the traumatic experience into the present. Furthermore, from a neuroscience stand point, due to the high arousal paired with the negative memory, catharsis may actually ´re-traumatize´ the individual and further strengthen the pathways between neurons that are wired for traumatized behavior and triggers.
Somatic Experience, Tantra, Yoga and resolving Sexual Abuse:
In my training I have seen the SE approach effectively discharge trauma in the body. Levine also has various case studies supporting the claim that SE is an effective therapy for relieving and releasing the fight/flight response that was inhibited during childhood sexual abuse. As I pondered more and more the connection between Yoga and SE. I couldn´t help but also make the connections between the sexual concepts and practices taught in Tantra and the basic concepts of SE. As stated here, I am no Tantra expert, but due to all my studying into Yoga and psychology I have touched upon various practices and concepts associated with Tantra and stories of it being able to heal the wounds of sexual abuse.
The art of OMing
One of these healing Tantra practices I found in the book Slow Sex by Nicole Daedone. In her book Daedone does an EXCELLENT job describing the female psycho/social/sexual world and introduces a specific Tibeten Tantra technique taught to her via a monk. She states that at first, she felt nothing. She had become so desensitized to the sensations of her body and vagina, and addicted to pressure, that despite total focus and gentle stimulation upon the clitoris, she felt almost nothing during the first practice. Nonetheless, over time this changed and slowly, she discusses how this conscious practice healed her wounds and helped her find a new energy and power inherent to human sexuality, especially female sexuality. In Yoga they might call this an awakening of Kundalini. In China they would call it Chi, whatever the label, it would be recognized as released and realized sexual energy. In her videos and books Daedone cites other cases of women and men who have had similar healing experiences and is now dedicated to teaching this technique, she has titled OM (orgasmic meditation), all over the world.
Pondering Daedone´s book in light of the SE training I understand how this practice from a scientific and evolutionary perspective could be so healing. There is first, a safe space that is held and provided by an intimate partner. This safety is punctuated by the fact that the partner keeps his/or her clothes on during the practice. For fifteen minutes the woman is asked to just allow herself to be and to feel. There is no pressure to perform or please the other. She is there only to receive and communicate her needs accordingly. The touch is gentle and subtle and penetration and orgasm are not part of the practice (though orgasm may happen, it is not the goal)
Looking at how trauma is treated using SE, this Tantra practice of OM´ing as taught by Daedone, follows the same principals. Catharsis (in the form of orgasm) is not pursued and the OM´ing act is based 100% around increasing both partners awareness of bodily sensations and acceptance of those sensations. They may be pleasurable or they may not be. Like in SE, practitioners of OM have testified to body temperature changes, flashes of memory/images, a need to move various parts of the body and a sense of peace and release at the end of the practice. There is a charge and discharge of sexual energy that is slow and gentle, not rough and quick (like expressed via many a porn site). Furthermore, encouragement to communicate and guide the practice, with affirmative responses, I would argue helps the practitioner to regain a sense of control and autonomy which was lost as the ´passive´participant in the trauma of sexual abuse. This empowerment is also core to SE as the therapist is very sensitive to following the rhythm and desires of the client, without forcing movements or their own concepts or interpretations upon them. In both approaches, passive victimization and mind/body disconnection is replaced with empowered speech and confident corporeal connection. As a plus, penetrative sex also becomes more enjoyable, which is not at all surprising if trauma blocked sensation to the genitals or caused pain or discomfort.
The healing art of consciously Making Love:
The second book concerning Tantra practices I will reference is Making Love by Barry Long. Long takes a different approach and limits stimulation to the act of penetration while focusing upon and engaging the five senses to increase and be fully involved in the act of love making. Like OMing, Long states that there must be a specific time and place set aside for love making. During the act of making love, an on-going dialogue is required between partners as well as open eyes and eye contact. Long argues that this eye contact keeps both parties in the present with each other rather then going off into some other thought or fantasy. Furthermore, it is the woman who guides the rhythm of penetration and the man who accepts the invitation.
Long discusses at length the trauma the female sex has received due to the selfishness and misinformation taught to men concerning female sexuality. He states that the lack of education and communication creates neurosis in women (ie. Hysteria) and impotence and sexual dissatisfaction among men. It is via the slow and conscious practice of love making, Long proposes that these neurosis are dissolved and both female and male sexuality fulfilled.
Though different in technique, both Daedone and Long approach sex from a similar basis. The act is conscious, it involves an on-going dialogue of what is being felt and what is needed and in doing so, both participants remain present in the sensations of the moment. Fantasies are prohibited and orgasm is an afterthought, not the goal. Social connection via eye contact and gentle touch is key as well increasing the both partners sense of control via open communication and affirmative responses.
The basis of the Tantra practices presented by Long and Daedone are the same in Somatic Experience
In SE patients are guided by their therapists into their bodily sensations. They are asked to keep describing what they feel via sensation description, not labels or interpretations. In other words, pre-frontal cortex fantasies that may have been developed to explain trauma, are discouraged. Like in the dialogue between partners in Tantra, the therapist works with the dialogue communicated via words and bodily markers to bring a client to a space where they can connect with their body and feel the charge of trauma and then gently release it. Catharsis, like orgasm in Tantra, is not the goal. Just like in Tantra, pure simple present awareness held and supported in the safe social context of the therapists eye contact and resonance is what enables a client to keep from disassociating and moves them into gently releasing the trauma blocked within the body. As described above, this social connection and support via eye contact and communication is the same that is encouraged between partners in Tantra.
Evolution and Tantra and resolving Sexual Trauma
From the perspective of evolution both Tantra practices and SE makes perfect scientific sense. Eye contact and resonance activates the primal part of us that needs safe human connection. It is what releases oxytocin, the attachment hormone, which is responsible for creating bonds between child and parent, parent and partners. Focusing on body sensations and allowing those sensations to exist, and then release, without interpretation, is fundamental to healing trauma as it allows one to become acquainted with one’s body basic survival reactions. This awareness gives the patient the ability to self-regulate arousal and release blocked flight/fight responses. In doing so, a sense of self-mastery is gained (pre-frontal cortex activation here) and the debilitating perception of helplessness is replaced with a sense of mastery and even pleasure.
In this light and brief synopsis of Somatic Experience and the bit of knowledge I have of Tantric practices, I would argue that the 2% of Tantra that discusses sexual practices, was developed as an ancient answer to an ancient problem. Trauma has always existed and if sexual trauma is so prolific in our day and age of women´s rights as pointed out in my former entry here, imagine the statistics 1000, 2000 or 3000 years ago. It appears that the root to resolving trauma, specifically sexual trauma, is in increasing body awareness, especially around the genital area, while creating safe spaces and assuring a kind and gentle social connection via eye contact, verbal communication and touch. In this way, whether sitting in a chair in a therapists office or in the arms of ones partner, the traumatized individual is taken into and gently out of points of arousal. This gentle, pendulating and titulating between charge and discharge of blocked flight/flight responses is what eventually opens energy blocks and thaws out frozen responses thereby dissolving numbness and debilitating helplessness and its accompanying neurosis.
Society, History and Sexual Trauma: A common tragedy guarded in secrecy Part 1
In the first part of this entry I am going to give a brief historical and updated overview of the prevalance of sexual abuse and it´s effects upon 1st to 4th generation descendents, mainly so readers can have an idea of just how prolific and destructive sexual abuse is both historically and presently. Awareness of the epidemic is the first key to solving it.
In the second part I mull over what I think about sex, sexuality, sexual abuse and the practices of Yoga, Somatic Experience and various techniques associated with Tantra. I will discuss various insights I have had concering the treatment of sexual abuse in the conext of Tantra and other somatic therapies. I am no expert in Tantra. However, I couldn´t help but make the connection between SE and the Tibeten Tantra practice proposed by Nichole Daedone in her book Slow Sex and Barry Long in his book, Making Love.
The prevalence of sexual abuse:
It breaks my heart to know that the level of childhood sexual abuse in the USA (not to mention other countries) is actually extremely high and statistics are not limited by class, race or nationality…it is however very gender specific. Some statistics state that 1 in every 3 female under the age of 18 is or has been sexually abused vs. 1 one in 20 males. Other statistics give a more ´optimistic´ view of 1 in every 5 females and 1 in 33 males…and these stats continue the trend into adulthood.
When I first read this statistic I thought it was over exaggerated but as I went through a list in my head of friends and family whom I know have been sexually abused/assaulted or raped, my small sample size came pretty close to matching up with the statistics.
History, society and sexuality.
As someone who has worked with rape and child abuse survivors, I would agree with other experts on the subject, that child abuse is not a ´natural and healthy´ expression of ones sexuality. It is an abuse of power of an adult (or even another child/teenager) over another. I would argue that secrecy and traditional patriarchal views of human sexuality serve as the basis and justification that underlies the injustice and epidemic of childhood sexual abuse.
I would define traditional patriarchal views as those views most often supported and preached from the pulpit of almost ALL religions, not just Judeo-Christian. Women are to be seen, not heard. Their part is to be a passive observer not an active participant. Incest, rape, sexual slavery, childhood rape (in the form of child brides) and sex trade (and yes, selling your daughter for a few head of cattle is definitely sex trade) are all practices that are discussed and often conclude with stoning, ostracizing, isolation or in the most merciful cases (I say this with deep and resenting sarcasm) the rapist marrying the woman he raped. In this context, a woman who owns her sexuality is seen as dangerous and manipulative and is labeled as a harlot…a Jezebel. There is a deep and disgusting complex of the whore vs. virgin mentality which puts women into two categories…sexual and sinful, or chaste and innocent.
Walk into any art museum and, historically speaking, you can see this perception lauded and manifested in the artwork of the day. I will not deny the craft and talent of the artist but that should not stop a dialogue concerning the abusive and patriarchal memes perpetuated via works like the Rape of Persephone and Apolo and Dafne crafted by Bernini. Bernini was a genius, but artists reflect the cultures and values of their day and Bernini took his amazing talent and felt inspired to create a scene of attempted assault (perhaps rape if Dafne hadn´t turned into a tree) and the kidnapping and rape of a young woman, who later on develops Stockholm syndrome. Such depictions were lauded by the educated upper class AND religious society and to justify church funding, the women in these art works were explained to be representative of the danger of chasing pleasure and the traps of sexuality.
I would be very interested to know if there exists artwork that represents a MAN as the one being pursued and raped by a woman and then having that scene justified by placing the man as the representation of sin and sensuality. Honestly, if any one knows of such a piece, please send it my way.
Modern day realities, society and sexuality.
I would also make the assertion that these traditional patriarchal views are also still alive and well today in advertisement and Hollywood…and I would even go so far as to state that our modern day capitalist society encourages child abuse by making the lack of pubic hair (or any hair) and real curves unattractive, especially around the belly (and do NOT give me Beyonce as an example of a curvy woman…she is super fit and most women do not fit into her mold of beauty). Rape is glorified in all kinds of fashion photos and the disregard and abuse of the female body is blatantly made obvious in mainstream films, pornography and video games. These images are the modern day answer to the Rape of Persephone. Public school sexual education mentions little about mutual consent and consequently, society at large continues to puts the responsibility of avoiding rape directly in the hands of women…as seen in the recent case of Brock Allen Turner.
Let´s be clear about one thing, rapists cause rape. To state that a man cannot control himself because of the way a woman is dressed or acts is to downplay a man´s, no wait, a HUMAN´s responsibility and ability to choose. These men are not apes void of a pre-frontal cortex or little boys whose self-control gauge of serotonin is still under cerebral development. Rapists are most often adults who have learned that their sexual urges and fantasies are more important than the mental and physical well-being of their victim. They must believe themselves to be superior, and may even consider that their actions have little to no consequence on the one being abused.
And what are the consequences of a society full of this kind of mentality and activity?
Historically speaking, sexual abuse was categorized and observed by Frued as he started to treat the women of rich Venician families. He stated that the neurotic behavior he was witnessing was a result of ´passive sexual experience before puberty´and labeled it Hysteria. It is curious that later Frued changed his theory and replaced his former aetiology of sexual abuse with subconscious motives. Convenient how this change liberated the rich venetian male elite, many who were his fellow scholars and donors, from any wrong doing. The emphasis of hysteria being a purely female disorder later changed with the advent of WWI. It got a new name, ´shell shock´ but the base was the same. A conflict between fight/flight/freeze responses under extreme stress or shock later created symptoms of ungovernable emotional excess.
Sadly, sexual abuse is never limited to just the victim who experienced the abuse directly. Trauma
never happens in a vacuum and as social creatures, our brain is programed to pick up cues from our fellow human beings of stressors and threats…even if it does not directly affect us. Psychologists call this vicarious conditioning. The was made clear after a study was completed interviewing the therapists treating patients directly affected by the September 11 attacks in New York. Despite never having PTSD symptoms before, from merely listening to the stories day in and day out of the terror of the 9/11 survivors, therapists developed similar symptoms to their patients. Peter Levine discusses vicarious conditioning in more length in his book An Unspoken Voice and even discusses how the neurobiological markers of trauma are passed on via genes in lab rats…up to four generations later on! In other words, Frueds symptoms of hysteria would not be limited to the one venetian woman sitting in his consultation, but would bleed over into her family and pass it via environment AND genetics four generations on.
Let´s say Sally, 70 years ago, was abused by her father when she was 10 years old. Due to the social construct of life at that time, she was forced to stay silent about the trauma and only told her husband on the day of her wedding night, in tears, confessing that she wasn´t a virgin. From there, Sally has a daughter we will call Mary. Mary is born seeking love but, due to her abuse, Sally never really learned what proper parental love is and seeks validation of her existence via manipulating the actions of her daughter and husband. She is very jealous if her husband or daughter pay each other more attention than they do her. She uses guilt as a way to continue the manipulation and the daughter learns to walk on eggshells around Sally and hide when her mother is seeking to suck the love out of her.
One day Maria escapes this hostile and unhealthy environment the moment she meets a man whom she feels she can marry, unknowingly locking herself into yet another abusive relationship…which is not at all surprising. As humans, we seek out the familiar and this is why it is so hard to break free of destructive habits, even when we KNOW they are bad for us. There is also the reality that once a person has been victimized, they are twice as likely to be victimized again.It is like abusers can smell their potential prey. On a genetic level, using the theories presented by Levine and Kolk, the stress hormones released and neuronal patterns learned during Sally´s abuse were also passed onto Mary via DNA.
This DNA and behavior pattern is then of course is passed onto Maria´s daughter who may or may not be able to begin to break the cycle of abuse. It would be a hard thing to do if she too was raised in an abusive home by an abused mother. Her abuse meme might also be exacerbated by movies watched, books read, the abuse of fellow female friends and family/social creeds that constantly blame the victim and glorify violent aggression…then further exacerbated by romantic partners who seek out such victimized profiles, most often unconsciously, and follow the patriarchal social norms demonstrated in Hollywood films, media and pornography.
Can you understand how sexual abuse is almost never limited to one generation or one person and is easily perpetuated generation upon generation? So the question then is, how do we start to heal a trauma that goes so deep it is passed down generations? This is where the ancient wisdom of the body, as expressed via Tantra and Yoga as well as the more modern practices of Somatic Experience start to come into play…
As I attended the training and observed and felt the power of the Somatic Experience therapeutic approach I was struck by the similarities I witnessed in concept and practice between the SE and Yoga. The more I delved deeper into the training I really understood on all levels WHY, so many thousands of years ago the science of yoga was created.
The science of Yoga wasn´t just some kind of way to pass the time on long summer nights or entertain one another with pretzel twists and headstands. Those ancient Yogi´s observed and knew that we were more than our rational brain and that though it was a great tool for survival and fun, it needed to be integrated with our more animal parts for us to live a whole and integrated life (I discuss this in my former entry insert link to former blog here). To be the doers of our own destiny and live in harmony with ourselves, the planet and our community we needed to release the tension of restricted fight, flight and freeze responses or resort back to being their slaves rather than owners. In contrast to western medicine and philosophy that has attempted to separate the rational brain and override the more ´profane and animal parts´, at it´s very core, Yoga was developed as a science of life and connection not a science of parts and separation.
In the practice of Yoga the practitioner is asked to go within themselves and feel what is happening from the inside out. The physical practice is combined with conscious
awareness so that not only is the student learning how to read their own body, they are also releasing various blocks, which are often
associated with emotional/mental stress, from the inside out. Via breath, movement and awareness the stresses that were once held in the body as a response to threat are gently released, acknowledged and hopefully, via meditation (in whatever form that maybe) integrated into the whole person.
As I pondered the basis of Somatic Experience and what I was witnessing, practicing and feeling I got the clear feeling that at its base, it was a guided, very personalized, meditative practice. Much like a guru might guide a novice in meditation, a psychologist trained in such a technique would guide the client to their points of restriction and then help them release and come out of that restricted state by empowering the client to move with and acknowledge their body´s wisdom.
Like Yoga, Somatic Experience is gentle. There is no screaming or forced expressions of emotion or stress. Therapists are careful to avoid the harmful effects of catharsis and watch with great attention what the breath, body and temperature of the client is communicating. Like a guru, the therapist uses this information and acts as a guide rather than an authority figure as they guide the session. The purpose this somatic approach is to empower the client to understand their own body´s language and how to connect it with the rational of the cortex, thereby integrating the whole person and their experiences into ONE whole instead of into parts.
In my perspective and experience, the great benefit of the Somatic Experience approach is that it takes an age old eastern practice and transforms it into a language and technique that the western mind, body and lifestyle can appreciate and understand while using the language of neuroscience and biology to explain how the mechanism works. I personally experienced the power of this therapy over eight different times with six different people, myself included, during my training and I can say that with one session it is possible to get relief and create connections between body and mind one had no idea existed.
For example, for the sake of science, I will elaborate on my own personal experience. Ever since I can remember I have had an annoying itch just underneath my left shoulder blade, which in times of stress, flares up into more of a stabbing pain. No matter how much yoga and body rolling I do, no matter how hard my very intelligent and well trained mother tried to work it out with Body Logic, the spot simply would not budge. I discussed this with the SE therapist I chose to see the first day of the training and we decided to see what might be the issue in the tissue.
As I started the therapy I came to connect that constant itch and minor pain with an accident I had over seventeen years ago. The connection didn´t take long and I was surprised by how quickly the memory and sensations of that memory came to me as I relaxed my body and focused in on the location between spine and shoulder blade. I was further surprised because it was a serious accident but I came out of it without any serious injuries, so it really isn´t a memory I keep on hand.
In that car accident the old ford ranger I was driving was hit at a very high speed by on old van in the back right side that sent me into a tail spin. It was stopped by a large light pole that then flipped the truck over onto its side forcing it into a sliding stop. As I allowed myself to go into the memory, I remember turning to the right and seeing a van popping over the hill before the accident and me with my right foot bearing down on the accelerator trying to get that old ranger to go faster through the intersection, but to no avail.
To this day I still can´t remember exactly how it happened or how I even exited the vehicle (typical frozen response), but as I entered into my body and into the Somatic Experience, involuntarily I felt my shoulder twitch and, unbeknownst to me, the therapist informed that my visceral were twitching and that my head kept turning and body kept leaning to the right. She informed me 3-4 or four times of my body´s desire to turn and lean to the right. During this process I felt the tears start to roll down my face and as they began to flow I observed that sensation between my shoulder blade increase in intensity and then dissipate as I connected with the memory and the sensation of the therapist´s hand now gently placed over my spine.
In one session I felt a difference and an increased awareness. In follow up sessions I came to understand that this is a weak point where I generally go to hold stress and trauma and that there are layers of stressful experiences locked there. Due to the extremely personal nature of the traumas unlocked during the follow up sessions, I am going to end here and just offer my reflections over the first session.
Reflecting upon my body´s language I came to understand my desire to turn my head to the right and lean in the same direction was my body´s unfulfilled instinct to turn towards the threat (the van) and then away from the cause of injury where the window came into direct contact with my left shoulder and broke. The tears were the result of the unreleased discharge of that frightening event over 17 years ago. I didn´t cry when I exited the vehicle. I was too shocked by what had occurred…but the body never forgets, and more than ever, I acknowledge the truth of that statement. Nonetheless, thankfully…
…the body does let go when given the space and permission to do so.
With the few weeks of cooler weather here in Barcelona before I nip off to India for my 500 hour training, I will be writing more about my experiences with Somatic Experience and my thoughts and insights concerning this incredibly powerful and healing approach and how it ties into my own history, world history, evolution, Yoga and sexuality…
Somatic Experience is a naturalistic approach that favors the resolution of stress and trauma. It is based on the ethnological observation that animals in the wild use innate mechanisms to regulate and neutralize various levels of arousal associated with survival and defense mechanisms (ie. Fight/Flight/Freeze). Somatic Experience seeks to moderate and relieve the symptoms of trauma/stress that are retained within the body after traumatic experiences and takes the necessary steps, (using nature as it´s blueprint), to release and heal trauma.
And before you think ´Traumas only occur in really horrible circumstances…´ have little read from Psychology Today of how Trauma is defined :
For the past week I have been totally immersed in the work of Dr. Peter Levine (Waking the Tiger, In an Unspoken Voice), Dr. Van Der Kolk (The Body Keeps the Score), Paul D. MacLean (The Triune Brain) and Doctor Stephen W. Porges (The Polivagal Theory) as I began my journey and training into the therapeutic approach of Somatic Experience. The definition and video above is a very small window into what Somatic Experience is and I would encourage everyone to read ´In an unspoken voice´ by Peter Levine and ¨The Body Keeps the Score´ by Dr. Van der Kolk, to fully understand appreciate the power and science behind this approach.
From the first
day, as we moved more into practice and less into theory I got very excited about the training. I began to integrate and appreciate more and more my education in Psychology, Sociology as well as my
training as a Yoga instructor, Body worker and Rape Crisis Volunteer. I had to admire just how very smart and efficient nature is. She is an amazing creative force that builds upon already existing concepts to create new creations and concepts. For example, we as human beings are nothing more than a three layered brain of reptilian instincts (brain stem), mammalian emotion and connection (limbic brain) and at the very top and being the most recent addition, a thin little cortex that allows us to look at time abstractly, compute intricate social interactions and plan our existence accordingly.
It is this cortex, specifically the pre-frontal cortex, that has allowed us humans to get to and remain at the top of the food chain. I say this because in physical terms from the perspective of evolution, we aren´t that impressive. We aren´t especially fast like the cheetah or gazelle so catching quick prey or running from quick predators is not an option. Also, we are pretty lame in the strength and teeth department. For example, if you had to place bets, who do you think would win in a fight of brawn? A tiger or a human? Excluding more than human figures like Chuck Norris or Bruce Lee, any rational human being would have to agree that the odds would be overwhelming in the tigers favor.
So from a physical viewpoint, the human´s location at the top of the food chain makes very little sense, but this is where the power of brain over brawn comes in. Thanks to all the amazing computing capabilities of the cortex, human beings have figured out how to move in groups and create weapons and use tactics that outsmart our competitors, predators and prey. For example this great video of 3 Africans acting in unison frighten away 15 lions from freshly killed prey is a great example of how the existence of our pre-frontal cortex offers an amazing evolutionary advantage.
This cortex is built upon the foundations of a mammalian brain (the limbic/emotional brain) and a reptilian brain (the instinctual/basic functions). It is VERY IMPORTANT to remember that these parts did not just disappear as the cortex developed and moved humans up the food chain. They are still there alive and active and from them we get our desire for social cohesion and our ability to know when we need to eat, go to the toilet and look for a mate. Each part provides its important and necessary function for our survival as humans.
Nonetheless, this latest addition of complex, bio-network connections that is the cortex, also has it´s disadvantages. Due to social norms and our innate desire and NEED to be accepted as part of a group, often times our instincts that would lead us to either fight or run away from a situation is thwarted by the dual edged reality of contemplated behavior that allows us to live in community and follow socially acceptable behavior.
For example, we can´t really punch our boss when she makes us mad, we have been taught not to cry and to sit still and stay until the end, no matter how long the class or office meeting. These modern day realities that restrict our biological instincts manifest in clinched fists, a tight throat or a shaking leg, respectively. Often times, it is in our best interest to resist physical violence when we feel anger or to resist running out the emergency exit when we see an aggressive or annoying co-worker or family member. It is the cortex that controls those drives, but that energy is still inside and when it is too strong or goes on for too long…our fight and flight responses are stifled and like animals who go into a frozen physical state when the fight/flight response is not given as an option (ie. playing possum) human beings may do the same, but instead of falling over and playing dead, human beings simply disassociate.
The freeze response, like disassociation is a defense response. Nonetheless, the great difference between animals and humans is that when animals come out of the frozen state, they literally shake out that ´frozen´ energy, take a deep breath, as see here with this polar bear:
and move on with their lives…for a variety of reasons, thanks to the cortex, most human beings have either learned to ignore and disregard this drive to discharge energy, but that doesn´t mean the body has released it.
The stress of the event, no matter what it may be, it could be a car accident, a surgery, various forms of abuse or just a very quick shock to the system like hearing a gun go off though no harm is done, or perhaps an on-going stressful work or family environment, doesn´t just go away. Depending on the resilience of each individual, that unreleased energy gets stuck somewhere. That stuck flight/flight response will then manifest itself perhaps in tense neck/shoulders, poor posture, perhaps in high blood pressure, an upset stomach or frozen shoulder, or perhaps an inability to concentrate and focus thoughts and feelings—disorientation can occur and/or an uneasy sense of danger, depression and/or anxiety.
‘How should I deal with this guy?’ ‘My advice, try playing dead!’
This stress, or trauma, acts like a break in the computer code in the brain and instead of being able to move back and forth between the three parts (the cortex, limbic and brain stem) we get stuck. We might be stuck in the fight phase or we might be stuck in the flight phase, and if it goes not long enough, not being given the opportunity to complete the physical movement required by the fight/flight response (because of safety or social constraints), we disassociate from our bodies (the freeze response) and even though we may continue to eat and breath and fulfill basic biological functions, we are not really living. The code is broken and our body still thinks it is under threat and must play ´possum´. Due to the chemicals released to protect us in such a state, everything becomes duller and those in such a disassociated state may report a lack of physical sensations as well as emotional reactions and connections.
As stated and shown above, animals, for better or worse, are protected by an automatic reset button that pushes them to ´shake out´ the shock. In fact, it was demonstrated that animals that were not allowed to fulfill their biological call to shake out the flight/freeze response after being frozen, died soon after. Stress kills because the body, in some way, is still sending a message to the brain to run or fight, but if this fight/flight signal goes on too long and is ignored, as a biological defense mechanism, we as humans disassociate, or emotionally we may ´freeze´ because we have learned that the environment is not safe enough to come out of that state. Sadly, due to a serious lack of internal body awareness and safe spaces for honest expression, I would argue that this state of ´disassociation´ has become the modus operandi of our day in age.
Western culture, as summed up by Descartes in his infamous quote, ´I think therefore I am´ revolves around the rational thought provided by the cortex but completely disregards the very mechanism, the body, that allows this cortex to exist. In eastern medicine it is well recognized that the brain, is not only located within the skull, but is integrated throughout the entire body. In fact, in ancient Egypt, the brain was destroyed during the embalming while the heart and rest of the body remained intact. More and more research is demonstrating that there is communication between cerebrum and body and body to cerebrum via various nerve networks, especially that of the Vagus Nerve. It is not a one way street.
Modern science is of course now discovering this and is finally giving eastern philosophy and science some acknowledgment. New discoveries in neuroscience and quantum physics are ´proving´ what the east has known for over a millennia, we are animals WITH a cortex not just a cortex. To live happy, healthy and productive lives all parts must be integrated. There have been practices developed around this reality. Yoga could be considered the oldest recorded practice, but also practices like Tai Chi, Aikido, and ChiKung as well as various Shamanic rituals and tribal practices have sought to work WITH the integration of the mind/body not against it.
These practices are all legitimate and effective in their own right, but as a professor and practitioner of Yoga I look at Somatic Experience from the perspective of the Yogic traditions of asana, breath and meditation. You can read more about my views on these connections and my own personal experience with SE in the following blog…
After years of conducting interviews as an undergrad and Masters student, yesterday I was given the great privilege to be on the other side of the interview process. A good friend and fellow Yogini called me the other day to discuss what I my perspectives were on the themes of masculinity and femininity.
These are two themes that have danced and taunted me my entire life. Due to my own personality being a strong and external force of rage against injustice and thirsty curiosity I have been labeled things that I myself did not identify with but that the world at large felt the need to stick upon me to make sense of the contradiction I posed to current social constructs. For I was a woman but many times a confrontational and hell raising human.
I was labeled a FemiNazi, a Bitch, a Lesbo (which is a fine label…but I´m not), stubborn, sinfull, odd, weird, rebellious or just simply, crazy.
This became even more confusing when I actually started dating. As a strong woman I found that I both repelled and attracted equally strong men but somehow I found myself in a pattern of ending up in relationships with men who were broken in some way shape or form. Was it me trying to fix them? I would argue no, it wasn´t that at all. In fact, I was repulsed by the idea of someone trying to change me, and policed my own behavior to make sure I didn´t do it to another.
In retrospect, I would argue that when I encountered a man with a broken spirit he had the humility to hold my own tender heart with kindness and tenderness. In the arms of that broken spirit, I found the reprieve that my femininity longed to fall into and surrender to, but simply could not in a world where human kindness and tears are considered weak and an invitation to be taken advantage of.
But even in the sweet reprieve of a lovers arms, I had to live in a world that forced me to protect a very big, very sensitive and empathetic heart. Unfortunately, these men with the broken spirits as kind as they were, could not offer me the sustainable strength I needed to truly surrender and allow the feminine aspects of myself come out and play.
So I moved on. I even stopped feeling for a while. I became numb. Then life knocked me on the head, or rather, on my back, and I was brought into the world of Yoga.
I began to feel again. It hurt, but I was alive, and through various trials I found I had a strength within me that I thought only existed in those Oscar winning super cheesy Hollywood movies. I survived and even thrived.
The masculine aspects of my personality truly shined. I started my own business and I figured out how to live on my own in a foreign country with a foreign tongue. But the feminine aspects were waiting, as they always had been, silently observing the moment when they would have their time to shine.
And as I spoke with my friend I began to realize justhow valuable those feminine traits are that had been so degraded and undervalued in my past. I thought about my practice and about my students. In a simple touch so much comfort can be given and meanings conveyed, a gentle bit of simple instruction can change a pose from painful to liberating, a smile and heartfelt energy creates a safe space for all those who wish to practice and feel the relief that Yoga truly can bring. This does not mean that my classes are soft and easy. I know they are not. They are intense and meticulous but these masculine aspects of perfection and militant direction find their compliment and balance with human touch, laughter, connection, guidance and positive encouragement.
I do believe that the world is severely lacking in a balance of masculine and feminine energy. The masculine traits of order and competition are far more valued than the chaotic energy of feminine creation. The feminine is a wonderful and fantastic energy that every one of us holds within us. It does not make men or women weak. Mother Nature is a woman and no one can destroy her. Try as this masculine hegemony might, in the end, she will win.
As a human race, we would be wise to start paying more attention to the subtle cues our feminine energy is seeking to tell us. The whole world would be a much better place if both men and women exercised more kindness and empathy. I know there are many who look at their partner like he or she is crazy when water works start for no reason, but instead of telling them to calm down, yelling at them or convincing them to think logically…instead, offer to be the strength they need and provide a safe space so that the human being in front of you can feel safe to experience the subtle and beautiful side of their feminine being.
Observe and allow yourself to also stand in awe at the feminine energy that quickly ebbs and flows between ecstasy and melancholia. Allow them to flow and start to observe how quickly that chaos calms and transforms into a warmth of love and appreciation that will be directed directly as you, the sacred space holder of the feminine. Allow that warmth to fill you from head to toe and to overflow to the human being in front of you, next to you, inside of you.
Love is innately a feminine characteristic trait. Protection is masculine. Both must exist in unison not just between persons, but within individuals as well. Paying attention and appreciating the flow and movement of these two energies, one can begin to truly understand the translation of Yoga: To be Yoked.
In other words, the practice of Yoga is yoking the masculine and feminine energies into One.
´I felt like the centre of a small circle coinciding with the centre of a much larger one…Atman met Allah.´The Life of Pie. Page 62
As I sat on the train to Venice from Milan I allowed these words to sink into my core. The Life of Pi is truly a wonderful book and one that I had avoided reading because someone had told me it was very sad. If it is, I haven´t got to the sadness yet.
Nonetheless, I am struck by how the author describes animal behavior and how reactionary and yet how logical it all is. I can´t help but find the similarities between the behaviors of lions and tigers and bears (oh my!) and that of humans.
The author discusses at length an animals need to feel safe. Many years ago, Maslow said the same thing of humans. If animal safety is threatened or taken away, apparently violent or odd behavior will ensure…and as animals, as many researching psychologists have already observed, we too are also subject to this kind of
instinctual, reactionary, behavior. On a basic level, we really aren´t so removed from the animals that swim with fins or crawl around on all fours. The thing that makes us different is the CAPABILITY (not the instinct) we have to think in various frames and adapt accordingly. That is the beauty of having an highly developed pre/frontal cortext…but using it’s full capacity is not always a given. There is slight struggle between the amygdala (the reptilian brain) and the more evolved thinking processes of the pre/frontal cortex. Understanding this struggle and using this struggle to our advantage has been the focus of psychological research for years, but a key ingredient has been left out of the research, the integrated and inseparable mind/body connection.
I was very skeptical of EMDR´s effectiveness as the technique claimed that just by a simple wagging of the finger
(or an alternating tone in the ears), and a choreographed movement of the eyes, viola! A patient could be cured. I myself did not feel any great effect or change from the few sessions I had completed, but perhaps that is because I had no specific or great horrific event that I could easily state as the cause for my anxiety or stress. In fact, Van der Kolk does state that EMDR does not seem to be quite as effective for those suffering from childhood trauma or other forms of psychological disorders as it is for traumas that stem from a direct and concrete cause (ie. A soldier in Afghanistan seeing his friends leg shot off would be a concrete cause of trauma created in an ADULT mind).
This is where mind/body practices such as Yoga have proven to be very effective. As I started to read the book and listen to his lectures, the researcher in me got really excited as I thought to myself,
‘ Finally, a scientist, (and a former drug researching scientist!) who has conducted controlled experiments and research to test the power of Yoga. Por fin! ’
I can tell people until I am blue in the face how powerful Yoga is in relieving anxiety and stress and improving quality of life…but we live in a very data based society and though I may believe experimental experience is a necessary aspect of knowledge and growth, not everyone is willing to try out something until a scientist or doctor gives a stamp of approval. So here is the stamp!
For example, research was undertaken in a center where clients participated in a session of Yoga that emphasized control over their own movements in the various Yoga postures and attention to their breath. As patients practiced, various memories or feelings would appear and at the end of the session clients could speak with a therapist about whatever they felt had come up in their Yoga practice. The combination of Yoga and therapy proved to be quite effective.
In fact, it was more effective both in the short-term AND in the long term, than any pill. Not to mention more cost effective. Ana Forrest in her book Fierce Medicine describes a similar process and offers advice and tips and different routines that are especially effective in addressing trauma.
I have practiced with those routines, combined with Body Rolling, both on my own and with clients, and I am thrilled to read a scientific study finally documenting what I have already witnessed and experienced in my own body and that of my clients.
Some people, most people, come to me with the hopes of relieving a stiff neck, back problems, a wonky hip or frozen shoulder….but there is always something more underpinning those physical discomforts. Doctors will call it stress but rarely discuss the origins of that stress or how to relieve it. Often times a sleeping pill or a muscle relaxant is prescribed and patients are sent on their way. When the side effects become too much, that is when I receive a phone call, and in each client, I find it fascinating to ponder how stress is stored in the body and how it can then be relieved.
And this is when I go back to the animals.
Dr. Van der Kolk discusses how childhood traumas, whatever form they may come in, may not be easily remedied with EMDR as often times our childhood brains have not developed the more advanced verbal centers necessary to conceptualize the experience into verbal memory. This becomes important as we discuss the three main stress responses listed below:
Fight: You see a threat and you lash out. It might be verbally it might be physically but the main thing is that you are confronting not running away from the threat.
Flight:Pretty self-explanatory. If there is a threat, instead of confronting it, you turn the other way and run away.
Freeze:This is the reaction you feel when you feel like you want to run or fight but find that physically you can´t. Perhaps you have seen something disgusting or disturbing but instead of running away or taking active measures to remove it, you remain there, stuck, frozen. Unable to move. This also manifests as a physical and/or verbal reaction. Cat got your tongue? That is a freeze reaction.
The fascinating thing is that those who react with a freeze response also show almost a complete lack of activity in the brain. Both the Fight and Flight response show an increase of activity in the amygdala, the instinctual, reptilian part of the brain, but the noteworthy thing is that the 3rd response of Freeze does the opposite. It´s as if the brain itself, in an effort to escape the stress that appears to be inescapable, merely shuts down. This happens often with victims of sexual abuse, and made me remember the many accounts of out of body experiences I heard recounted among survivors of rape during my time as a rape crisis counselor.
This process of cerebral shut down is important to recognize since so much of therapy is based upon talking. So we can talk to a therapist about feelings of anxiety but we may find that we are unable to let go of it. We are unable to find the cause behind the anxiety, fear or depression because the memory is stored in a different format. It is not stored in the verbal centers of the brain, but nonetheless, as the title of the book states, The Body Keeps the Score, the body remembers.
Think of it like a computer. You can save various files in a Word format, a PDF or a JPG but those files can only be edited and improved if you have access to the software in which it was saved…the mind/body works the same. The files are there on your computer and they may even be causing serious problems with the system, but you can´t open and fix the problem until you have the correct software.
So think of each stressor as a kind of file. Some of those stressors can be accessed and edited through simply talking it out, others require a different format.
And this is the power and beauty of body work. I teach Yoga and Body rolling. I find that both are great tools to unlock various blocks, or ´files´ in the body that are attached to mental anxiety and fears. Nothing need be made verbal, just staying with the movement, with the breath, release can be found. Sometime this comes out as a sigh, sometimes as tears or just a deep sense of relief.
When these files, or a.k.a, stressors, remain in the body without being edited or updated, energy channels (or neuronal pathways) can become blocked and these blocks can be seen in various destructive habits, postural alignment and breath patterns. Often we are unaware of these old patterns that control our behaviors, and we react as an animal, instinctively, lashing out or running away or freezing, every time something triggers a stressful unconscious or conscious memory inside of us-a memory that reminds either our brain or body of a moment when we were unsafe, out of control, not in our element, and were forced into fighting, hiding or submission.
Yoga and Body Rolling are not the only techniques out there that offer relief from our stressful memories (ie. Corrupted data files) or control over our animal instinct of fight, flight or freeze. All mindfulness activities such a Qui Jung, Tai Chi and even forms of dance (I am particularly fond of Tango) offer a way to move into the very base of existence, into our breath, out of instinct and into experience. Combining breath with movement and total awareness we are able to move through the both mental and physical blocks and feel the joy and freedom of space that a truly mindful practice brings.
Awareness is key. Yoga becomes more than just an exercise routine when we allow ourselves to move into the breath and movement, completely. By staying with the posture, the asana (Yoga posture) can be transformed into a personalized and powerful therapy. The animal instinct quiets, which then enables the practitioner to integrate rather than reject, hate or ignore, all parts of his or her human experience …Yoga can enable us to find that place where ´the centre of a small circle coincides with the centre of a much larger one…´where the unspeakable becomes speakable.
In a truly conscious Yoga practice, we can observe and enjoy how the mind, body and breath dance in circles, allowing us to sense that connection we have between all aspects of ourselves, so that we can KNOW ourselves and not just the reaction he have learned through instinct or social condition.
Changes can always be a cause for great stress or great excitement, or a bit of both. As I have evolved in my life and Yoga practice I have learned that when I am faced with a challenge if I go back to my breath and what I learn on the mat, the mind quiets and answers unfold. I write this blog now because I know as the old year comes to a close it is easy to get stressed outwith all the to do lists, end of the year tasks, and the organization of various social and business events, but it doesn´t have to be that way. 2016 is a new year for your to start a new life andlearn how to embrace change and uncertainty.
This year I have faced various unforeseen events, some pleasant and some not so pleasant, but instead of looking at each task as a goal to be completed or another plan foiled, I have tried my best to breathe into it and focus upon it all as a journey to be experienced. I know this is so much easier said than done, but you have to start somewhere, and if something doesn´t work out as you planned, great! Look for the new adventure that has come your way, another great chance to exercise your creativity, and embrace it…let go of resisting its existence. Just like in Yoga, resistance only leads to pain.
Good Yoga IPTS Retreat
I wax philosophical in this post as I ponder all of the changes and challenges that have erupted this past month. I had to move studio and home and search out and find new ones all within 30 days. Within that short time period and through the wonderful process of serendipity I found a new apartment, and a wonderful new space to teach and collaborate future ventures with Lula of SeYoga in Triana (Calle Santisimo de las tres caidas 1…also known as calle torrijos) and Betty of Hija de Los Lobos, while witnessing my Good Yoga student base grow in Gaia (Centro de Estudios Alternativos Calle Luis de Vargas 6). I was blessed with the help of 5 wonderful souls who helped me move everything from my old apartment and studio in less than 3 hours and had a wonderful end of the year Yogi Cena (dinner) with the GoodYoga clan. That is the good news….within those same 30 days I still found myself waiting on my deposit from the former flat (a common annoyance in Spain is that landlords do not give back deposits), as well as an order of materials from the USA that is currently still stuck in customs (another common annoyance in Spain), but living in Seville has taught me a level of patience that I never had to exercise in India. And I am not kidding at all when I say it has been my daily practice of Yoga that has enabled me to deal with the chaos of it all. I remember the day I felt I had reached my breaking point. Cold showers, fights with the landlord, constant presence of maintenance in my new apartment, problems with a dear friend, the stupidity of Spanish correos and customs, no internet to connect so I could reach out to my family abroad…locking myself out of the new flat (oh yes…I did that…and then had to pick my lock to get back in as the landlord was useless, he wouldn´t even make a phonecall!!!)…I was exhausted….but once I got back on my mat and I moved deeper into each pose and into my breath, I could physically feel the tension, the uncertainty, the fear and anger…literally melting away.
I try to explain this feeling to those who have never practiced yoga, and they look at me like I am some kind of alien, or wacky new age hippie who doesn´t have a clue about life…but the fact is…I have probably experienced more of life than most people my age (…and I am not bragging, just stating that my life has not been one of white picket fences and apple pies…) and the one practice that has enabled me to carry forward every dayand work through the deepest of depressions, overcome disabling anxiety, and confront and fight the fear of uncertainty and loneliness, has been my Yoga practice. My own personal Yoga practice.
I studied Psychology, I have my Masters in Applied Sociology. I have attended the positive psychology workshops. I know the tricks they sell and the techniques they seek to prove…but the ones that work, all have their base in Yoga…and Yoga is not a theory that can be explained intellectually, it is an experience that must be experienced personally, within one´s own body and one´s own breath.
Good Yoga Workshop December 2015
I love to teach Yoga and compliment it with Body Rolling because I know how effective it is in creating peace, space and clarity in my own life. A major book worm and library junkie, I have always been in my head and for me, getting into my body has been the key to my mental and spiritual transformation. It is not uncommon for me to break into tears, sigh or even let out a scream as I leave a pose, or roll over a ball…so grateful for the space and release I feel on all three levels, physical, mental and emotional. Yoga works upon so many levels and can be approached from many different angles, and that is the beauty of it.
Good Yoga Workshop December 2015
Good Yoga Workshop December 2015
Yoga at its base and in its purest form is not a dogma. It is not a religion. It is an educative tool that helps each individual to learn how to listen to their own cells.When we learn to listen and interpret the language of our own cells, there is no need for religious dogma, fad diets, ancient texts or fashionable well marketed guru´s. The answers are all right there inside of us. It is good and almost always necessary to seek out guidance and teachers, but the best teachers are the ones that do not preach, but teach their students how to feel and think for themselves. I have been blessed with such wonderful teachers in my own life and consequently I maintain this to be my own teaching philosophy, and guide my students with meticulous detail so that they too can feel and understand each pose for themselves.
Good Yoga Workshop December 2015
October Workshop YBR & Yoga
As 2015 closes down, I look forward to the new adventures that await me as I mark another year on this earth, expand my student base with theGaia Centro de Estudios Alternativos, begin new projects and classes with the wonderfully genuine Lula of SeYoga and the sassy Betty of Hija de Los Lobos and connect more and more with those around me and the space within me. Each teacher and student is a great lesson waiting to unfold and in that observation I love to meditate upon the great fusion that exists between teacher and student and how the best relationships are synergetic in nature. One might say that a Yoga teacher is a just an interpreter that guides a student to understand the language of their own body, mind and heart….and as any interpreter will tell you, there are always new words to be learned and subtle phrases to be decoded, and that is the great adventure.
Every new challenge or change in plan is just another chance for us to use our own unique and amazing human creativity. Being human really is pretty freaking awesome. The ability to create something out of nothing and nothing into something on the scale and level that we do…is something uniquely human. Take this idea with you into the New Year and instead of freaking out on and screaming at or stonewalling, one, or many of your kin; or crying away when the Christmas dessert goes wrong; or hiding away in a hole when you realize that your New Year´s Eve will be spent alone…take a deep breath. Get on the mat. Do a headstand. Put your feet up the wall, or just hang out in a forward fold and breathe deep. Breathe into the 360 degrees of space that exists within your lungs, between muscle fibers and cells, and see what inspiration will bubble up as the monkey mind quiets and the creative human spirit opens and unfolds.
It was 1:30 in the morning and I was as wide awake as Sukah, my little street cat, ran up and down the hallway like a galloping horse, stopping just long enough for me to acknowledge her existence then flick her head and run off again with her tail high in the air.
Cats. In my next reincarnation I definitely want to be a cat. The house cat of a single female.
I had studied a bit about Tantra while I was in India, and yes I do teach Yoga which has its roots in Tantra, but I teach a very anatomy based form of Yoga. I speak little about Yoga spiritual philosophy for a couple of reasons 1) I am vehemently against instilling religious beliefs of any sort upon anyone and I want my students to enjoy the benefits of a Hatha Yoga practice without feeling like they also have to adhere to a spiritual/religious belief system they do not feel right about 2)Yoga literature in many aspects is misogynistic 3) Many philosophical aspects of Yoga far too cerebral, unreachable and not really practical in real world. 4) There is a great focus on the control of the body but not enjoyment of it.
So here I was listening to Dr. Daffern discussing the reality that the very root of Yoga, Tantra, in comparison to the hyper-masculine society that we live in today, would be considered a very feminine belief system. The essence of Tantra is about utilizing and understanding the tension between two different polarities, the masculine and the feminine.
Any practitioner can use that connection to move beyond the mundane and connect with their quantum essence.
This too was a very simple, low budget recording of a lecture by an Australian woman named Martina Hughes in a conference titled Soul Sessions. She was beautiful. She was simple and elegant in her appearance and possessed a very sensual but approachable presence about her that made me sit up and pay attention…much to Sukah´s annoyance.
As Martina started to talk about life-fulfillment and sexuality, I found my head unconsciously nodding in agreement with everything she was saying. My God! This woman not only was articulating everything I had been thinking for years, but everything my heart and body had also been feeling, experiencing and longing for. Furthermore, I knew through many many open and honest conversations with my female (and male) friends, from around that globe that I was not the only one.
She made the very clear observation that most sex today is all in the head and not in the body.
The consequence of head sex (thanks in great part to the commodification of sex found in mass media and porn) is that the sexual and life energy that is generated from that energetic connection, is lost. Just as Vicktor Frankl, the famed holocaust survivor, author and psychiatrist said,
´sex without love (or simply put, connection), is nothing more than masturbation…´
It is both sad and frustrating and also a little frightening to say that the majority of my female friends are not sexually satisfied and even quite of few of my male friends would say the same. Perhaps they all know how to reach orgasm, but more often than not, they feel bored, pressured, unfulfilled or even ignored and taken for granted in sex, and it is not a question of technique. A man can check off the list of A, B, C, and D to bring the female to orgasm and the woman can seek to fulfill the porn scene, but it is not a question of re-creating mental fantasies, but rather a question of taking interest and generating an energetic connection.
You got to get out of your head and into your body. You got to stop thinking and start feeling.
Martina Hughes was offering a very practical and accessible way to do this. No need for 10 to 15 years of monastic training to achieve orgasmic bliss. If it had not been for my own albeit sparse but unforgettable experiences of such connections, I am not sure if I would have believed her long enough to have kept watching, but those memories kept me hooked.
As I watched her describe and demonstrate a true tantric orgasm, I knew this is what was missing from my practice and exploring the energy within my own sexuality is where the true healing would begin.
I felt that old transformative energy moving through my body, clearing the cobwebs from my head and untying the knots in my gut. I recognized it as the same energy that had pushed me towards two very hard but transformative decisions in my life.
In the past I did not understand the electricity and the clarity that moved through me when this energy arose. It was undeniable and impossible to ignore. I always attributed it to something outside of myself, but now I see and understand that this life essence and powerful electricity is and always has been, within me.
Super excited by the re-kindling of this energy, I forwarded the videoclip to all of my friends and then looked up Martina Hughes only to discover that Martina is based in Australia where she left a profession of being a charter accountant for the calling of conducting tantric healing workshops for men and for women.
Oh no! Panic filled my chest to be so close to such a great teacher only to have her so out of reach. Slightly disheartened that she was so far away, I felt a glimmer of hope when I noticed that she did give sessions via skype–so I wrote her. Imagine my great surprise and joy when she responded the same day to inform me that she was in Germany and could possible come to Spain within the month!!!
Talk about synchronicity and that is the just beginning!!!
After speaking with Martina via Skype we have arranged the following Tantra Blossoming workshops to happen here in Seville on the 25th and 26th of September.She will also be available for private sessions the 22nd, 23rd and 24th of September.
DO NOT MISS THIS OPPORTUNITY to have such a great internationally trained and renowned teacher come to Seville
(how often does a tantric guru come to the land of semana santa???)
Martina Hughes will be her to expound her knowledge for almost half the price you would pay in Australia…and you get to save yourself a long trip!
Register before September 21st and receive up to a 20% discount.
If you would like to attend one of these workshops, please watch the following videos so you have an idea about what to expect and if you are not sure if you would like to attend, watch the videos and see if you change your mind.