Illuminating the Heart

ShineBright

Burrowed inside the blood beat of you and me lay tiny trails that watch and wait for action. They are snowflake membranes of walkways labelled fear, love, rejection and sorrow, which flash and light the way to our known target each time they are activated. As we walk down them. Again, and again. Regardless of the situation these clever trails seem to stimulate certain feelings in us. The external trigger pushes the start button and off we go rushing down the path in an attempt to hit the bulls-eye as fast as possible.

The heart pumps life, our blood and our patterns of experience through veins that serve us and our mortality. Over and over we travel through carved tunnels of stories held in the larder of our heart, mostly unaware that we have been here before, until we reach the loud tick of fear, the whoosh of love or the wheeze of sadness sitting alone in our chests. The heart is a well-trained Olympian it never really fails in its goal, willing us to be successful, no matter what. Data input from childhood grows and slowly gains a momentum that stretches into adulthood and without realising it we are completely in the long play record of relationship dynamics that we long to change, but can’t or won’t pick the needle up, and play a different beat.

Is it possible to re-direct the path to a rhythm that suits us? When every dark corner of the trail is illuminated, when you have purposely shone a light where there has been none, built a dam against the force of blood that always loops you back onto the trail you escaped, then maybe there is hope. Inevitably there will a come time when your new way is tested, for this is life. So the best you can do is hold onto hope and accept that even if you know how it will end, it will end. And you will start the trail again, with a renewed hope and a bigger shovel to build more proficient dams, and put up bigger diversion signs to send that  pain, fear, anger and hurt on a detour toward the light and back out into the world, so the tunnels of your heart can travel to places new and make other stories.

Keep hoping, Keep going….

 

The Forward Roll of Ageing

Ageing is a gradual, continuous process of natural change that begins in early adulthood.. Many of us however  live oblivious to this fact until something starts to give. People do not become old or elderly at any specific age, these days age and aging happens at different rates for everyone; a healthy lifestyle can help you feel younger and fitter for longer. Traditionally in the past you were considered ‘old’ at 65, when retirement set in; ergo you were old if you stopped work.  Now it seems that ageing is defined not by chronological age but by ability and our change in needs. If you don’t know any songs in the top ten , you take a flask of tea on a day out,  you wear glasses around your neck, you always leaving the house with a coat and choose comfort over fashion, and the very unfortunate (but research-proven), your ears are getting bigger, show signs that you are getting on.

It is likely that we have all noticed physical and attitudinal changes in ourselves as we get older. But for us 30, 40, 50 somethings even if your focus is on improving your health and quality of life you might find it hard to really grasp how you have  aged. Until that is you try to do a FORWARD ROLL!!!

After roughly 20 years of living happily without doing a forward roll everywhere I go, I was encouraged to try once again. Now I know how to do this, surely? My proprioception, (perception of movement and spatial orientation arising from stimuli within the body itself), was still working, which meant I could give it a go….if I could find the courage. Finally after a few deep breaths  I managed, and to my surprise it went fairly well,, a little neck bruising and slightly off course but not bad. Thankfully, and obviously, I am still young and fresh as a daisy.

So to up the ante I thought I’d try a CARTWHEEL…….

After recovering from landing on my bottom, and laughing with my colleague, who I may add had encouraged me but not tried it herself, I realized that I am not exempt from the process of time. Even though my proprioception had not let me down, and I was clear about what to do, I lacked in balance, flexibility and sheer physical strength. Amazingly I thought this would be easy, I could always do so many things with my body and now I was faced with actual ageing and the need to embrace creativity over the precision of my youth.

We know there are serious issues as we approach old age, in that we can run out of time to prepare ourselves to meet the potential physical, mental and financial challenges. What is interesting is the general expectation across age groups that someone in the “older” age bracket will look and behave in a particular way., that is only age specific which others outside the ‘older’ age bracket cannot relate to. After this little ‘experiment’, has turned the clock of time directly towards me and I can see my own age process,  I find I am more reverent of age and the elderly. The insignificance of not being able to do a forward roll is not on par with once being able to walk unaided, bathe freely and remember my loved ones names, but it does bring me closer to understanding loss and experiencing physical deterioration.

The moral here is even if you are not losing  head hair but gaining it elsewhere, or have  not joined the National Trust yet, it does not mean you are not ageing. Go on and try a Forward Roll…….maybe a Cartwheel, and see how your time clock is ticking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Techno-Body

Hunched over my laptop for the tenth hour in a row (this is a lot for me), I feel like something out of a sci-fi film; clicking, dabbing and extending my screen because I  can’t see straight and need super big letters. Robotically moving my hand to my cup and my cup to my mouth without spilling a drop and sighing deeply when I need to leave my online life to attend to physical needs such as peeing, eating and replenishing fluids.  Surely this is not the way we are supposed to spend our time, is it?

Technology is wonderful thing. It connects us to others, we can hook up with loved ones living in other places in the world, it is convenient (my jury is out on this one), and, if used mindfully, can even  help us find a little piece of calm.  But given that we have been blessed with this glorious thing called a body maybe we should power down and re-connect to our actual moving self here in real time more often.

It is no secret that a little unplugging can go a long way, yet most of us get coerced into checking emails, or find our addiction to social media impossible to break. But the sad reality is that all this technology is taking a toll on our health and on our future physical and mental development.

After a little research here is what I found out about the physical and mental affects of technology.

Repetitive Stress Injury  (RSI)

Texting, and fiddling about with the mouse all day can cause serious problems for certain joints. This has resulted in ‘Text Thumb’, which can be a form of tendonitis, whereby there is an irritation and the thumb joint becomes inflamed and swollen. There has been a rise in surgeries in recent years so probably easier to phone someone or pop round for a chat perhaps.

Spine Damage

Apparently sitting at your computer, with the odd forward and a backward motion, sometimes with a bigger bend down under the desk to check the cable situation,  is the only action the spine gets whilst sitting continuously in one position. And if you think it is better using the phone, think again. Recent research by New York spine surgeon Kenneth Hansraj found that our constant Instagram scrolling and incessant text messaging may be hurting our backs and necks. The study found that when you tilt your head 60 degree to look at your phone you are in fact putting 60 pound of pressure on your spine.

What the Eye Can’t See

Staring at the screen, this includes the telly, can give us ‘digital eye strain’. Yes Specsavers and other spectacle retailers are having a field day, but it is no fun when most of us at some point suffer from tired, dry eyes and blurred vision. We take it for granted that this is normal these days, but it is not. There are more people wearing glasses or contact lens than there were just 10 years ago.

Germs and Low Sperms.

I put these together although they are not necessary related, but both quite alarming.

Our phones are covered in germs, bacteria that breed and jump onto our hands and faces. Have you ever taken your phone to the toilet, then washed your hands but not your phone? Puts a new angle on why you are always getting a cold, doesn’t it?

Secondly, sperm count can be significantly lowered in men who sit with laptop on their ‘laps’.  Not only the heat but the electromagnetic radiation from laptop usage can cause serious issues for healthy sperm to prosper. So buy a desk, better still buy a bicycle and get out and get some fresh air. Take your wigglers for a jog.

The mental, this includes the social, affects are equally scary.

Dreaming of Widgets

It seems that excessive use of technology before bedtime effects the amount and quality of our sleep. The brain, like our laptop, needs to be shutdown in order to re-charge and set itself afresh for the coming new day. Research shows that excessive tech use (particularly right before bedtime) can have an adverse impact on our sleep cycles thanks to the screen light.

Cyber-famous,; A journey into narcissism

Sadly social media and the accessibility we all have these days to upload photos of ourselves from every device is worryingly dangerous for our sense of real time reality and our real selves.  We ‘like’ her photo or his ‘status update’, we ‘tag’ our unsuspecting  sister, brother or mother into the photo from 1977 and laugh at their bad fashion and hair, and then share it with our ‘friends’. Friends which we have quite possibly never met but are pleased when they comment on how fabulous we look in our latest profile pic (quietly enhanced by photoshop), and then we feel we have to bestow the same attention to their photos. It is a great big false ‘love in’, we don’t meet in reality and do this, so why online? It seems that the online relationships we are fostering are founded on narcissism, and a thin layer of truth, and ultimately are heading for all sorts of therapeutic support in the future.

Cyberchondriacs

For the most part Google is a resource like no other, now that is has been given ‘verb’ status too, we can’t seem to get enough. But beware you might catch something exotic and unknown. In  an effort to self-diagnose a health problem you might be having, people are searching  incessantly online for answers, to their itchy ear or sore big toe. Online doctors and advice lines are full with the 24 hour inquiries but experts suggest that searching for your symptoms online can result in some serious anxiety, rather than reassurance.

Lack of Satisfaction.

An opinion piece written for the New York Times (April 22, 2012) opens with the lines “We live in a technological universe in which we are always communicating. And yet we have sacrificed conversation for mere connection.”

Research says that loneliness and Facebook browsing are inextricably linked. This makes sense to any user who feels lonely on a Friday night after a bad week at work and wants to ‘message’  someone, without having to get dressed up to go out for dinner. But does it really work the other way round, can being on Facebook make you lonely? Experts say it is more likely that people who are lonely to begin with use the site more often. Regardless of the research, it seems that this Internet paradox is a very real phenomenon. Our social networks are linked to feelings of loneliness, as well as unhappiness. So another reason to move the body and go out and connect with a real person or experience to reduce your loneliness, not promote it.

Like all Drugs there are Withdrawals

If you don’t have an iPhone, don’t text, are not on Twitter, Facebook or have a professional profile on LinkedIn, then I guess you are in the minority. But I also guess that it is difficult not to check your emails everyday (maybe this is just me), or to check the web every few days to ‘google’ that piece of information, check that person on Wikipedia, and of course search for your symptoms in the latest pandemic news .  Whether you are a daily user or an occasional dipper, I imagine you still use, because you can, you know it is there. The crux here is how much?  And could you decrease, or stop your addiction altogether. Techno-addiction has usurped conversation. Perhaps our most basic human behaviour is losing out to e-mail and texting, not to mention Facebook and all the rest. Studies of what makes us happy have consistently shown that one of the things we need is genuine  human contact not a replacement that we feel perfectly feeds our need of the moment, Thus making it so easy to get hooked on the  immediate gratification of what technology  has to offer in a nanosecond, rather than take time to build connections and relationships.

We need to remember our bodies, be good to ourselves. We need to get together with other people, to chat, laugh and dance. Let’s get outside and see first hand the nature that grows around us not film it and watch in later, possibly never. Technology can amaze us,  but can it ever replace the technology of the mind and body working in synchrony to feed you the experiences that will last a lifetime. Personally I think not….it’s time to unplug.

 

 

 

Dancing Cells?

To my knowledge cell movement is a complex phenomena. These little blighters are full of interesting and inexpiable notions that keep our scientists forever on the look out for new developments. Research says that cells begin to move in response to an external signal in its surrounding environment. And receptors detect the external impulse and decide what action to take, amazingly in order to keep our homeostasis ticking along at an even pace. And these are just your regular cells, other unspecialized cells let’s call them Stem Cells, actually their real name, are capable of morphing, dividing and growing in order to replenish our worn out parts and repair the damage we incur over time.

Now given that my understanding is limited and looking at this from the perspective of a psychotherapist working with the body and movement there does seem to be a common thread here. Take this picture for example of heart cells dancing to the beat of music, they look quite jolly to me.

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Supposing our cells react to not only our external but also internal stimuli,  I am convinced  that our cells look different according to our emotional state.  Recently research has started to acknowledge the effect our cells have on the way in which we relate to others, and the feelings that get created in relationships, which in turn has an enormous  impact how our cells perform, according to how good or bad they are feeling. A major influence on the state of our health,  and perhaps the link between a sense of holistic well being and ill health.

Ultimately cell research is a huge area with many sub-topics to be considered, my personal favorite being mirror neurons and dance movement psychotherapy. As a key component in the therapeutic  process of DMP (Dance Movement Psychotherapy), mirroring another’s movement is now the subject of neuroscience. Mirror neurons are certain brain cells that are linked to empathy and the ability to instinctively and immediately understand what other people are experiencing.  For example when you see a stranger bang their elbow you flinch in sympathy or when your friend laughs at something s/he is reading you smile along with them. These are the gorgeous interactive system of cells that allow us to feel engaged in the an action or expression whilst we are only witnessing rather than experiencing the event itself. Possibly this is why watching sport, in particular football,  is so popular since we inadvertently feel every  foul, each adrenalin filled goal as we urge our team to victory. It seems we do not need to ‘play’ the game in order to feel the physiological and emotional empathy towards the players.

Thus the use of mirroring in DMP has grown to really encompass neurological underpinnings which are helping us to understand how we acquire social skills and communicate our innermost feelings and intentions to others. And as psychotherapists, either directly or indirectly using the body,  we can help  build more robust or heartfelt attachments in the therapeutic relationship, laying the groundwork for more fulfilling personal relationships in life.

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The mirror neuron system also appears to allow us to decode (receive and interpret) facial expressions. Whether we are observing a specific expression or making it ourselves (a frown of disgust, for example) the same regions of our brain become activated. And the better we are at interpreting facial expressions, the more active our mirror neuron system. Thus, the more we are in relation to someone the more chance we have of developing ourselves. What an amazing thought! Studies have found that people with autism, a disorder characterized in part by problems that occur during social interaction, appear to have found a dysfunctional mirror neuron system.  An incredible discovery but does that mean we can really make a change?

The question for me is; if our cells are responsive to more than biological information and programming how can we affect them? Another massive topic where the word Meditation is screaming at me, although I am a great advocate of mediation, and do not dispute its benefits , my interest is more along the lines of movement; is our cell movement linked to our physiological movement. Can we alter defective cells by adapting our movement to support a healthy cell, and vice versa? Let’s say, very simplistically, that some cells, for example stem cells are not repairing our liver properly and this is causing liver disease. Is it possible to mirror the healthy movement of the cell designed to repair liver damage in our physical movement. Say the healthy cell needs to move side-ways in order to repair, could we explore more side-ways movements in our daily repertoire to encourage the cell, to re-connect with its original adaptive behavior. Alternatively could it be that our individual movement repertoire can reflect where in the body cells might not be functioning accordingly?

If this is so what are the implications of this connection? It is plausible to assume that we need to believe that healing is possible and that the treatment we receive is beneficial in order to activate the necessary cells to work for our good. I have a hopeful bias towards the synthesis between our cell biology, emotional map, movement and our outer reality. And feel sure our bodies can be changed as we retrain our movements so we retrain our feeling about the movement, that has to have a knock on effect on cells which emanate their actions from our positive or negative being in relation  to others in our world.

 

 

 

 

 

To be with or against that is the question

Everyone knows the old ubiquitous phrase “to be or not to be: that is the question”, but has it’s familiarity washed over us and made us forget the real power here, again proving that Shakespeare was more than just a little ahead of his time. What the great Hamlet alludes to seems simple; is it better to live, or die? What is not so simple perhaps is how we answer this question when faced with the unthinkable.

I am a great book-lover but by no means an expert in literature especially the profundities of Shakespeare but it does seem fitting to borrow Hamlets’ analogy when it comes to looking at our relationship to our bodies in sickness.  Living in the unknown of life can be straining, when we can’t be sure of what will come we inadvertently feel dissatisfied with life and the way it is treating us, We start to grumble, start to push against life and our bodies.  For example If we don’t work like we think we should; sleeping 7 hours a night, having abundant energy, being flexible, having adequate muscle strength, clear vision, good memory, perfectly functioning organs and a tip-top neurological, immune and cardiovascular system, we push or collapse. If at any point that we fail to function to the maximum what is the likelihood of turning to ourselves and saying ‘” what’s wrong, are you ok?”In essence ‘‘to be with’, and listen to the answer? Sadly it is more likely that we run from the pain of life by avoiding and coercing the truth that our bodies are expressing though a variety of illnesses. We prefer ‘not to be with’, and choose instead to chastise ourselves shouting ‘you should be stronger, why are you sick again”, and demanding instantaneous healing. All in a bid to stay in the frying pain and not jump into the fire and look at the real problem.

Consider the difference between pushing against and leaning into for a minute. One creates physical tension in the body, while the other suggests a sense of softness. Both are relational concepts that need another component in order to be active. We both push against and lean into something or someone yet each has very opposite movement qualities although at first glance it might be hard to differentiate..

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Are these people leaning into or pushing against? How can you tell?

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We may believe we know when we are with (leaning into), or not with (pushing against), our disease. Admittedly the presence of a diagnosis of any kind can send our every sense into turmoil however in many cases the way in which we create this relational dynamic with our disease/body is often echoed in other areas of our lives, most commonly in our relationships. I am by no means lumping people together and labeling certain diseases that reflect a particular way of being, no, this has been done countless times before. What I am suggesting is that the missing link between illness, disease and healing could lay in the intention with which we make contact to our whole selves in this moment.

In essence the how is not; how do I get better, or how do I heal although this is the ultimate goal, the how is; how do I make contact. What is the way in which I create relationships with myself, others and the environment, and does it serve me well. So when Hamlet utters those fateful words ‘to be or not to be that is the question’, I hear the very real question ‘how am I being or not being in connection to my world”. Hamlets dilemma is that although he is dissatisfied with life he can’t be sure how to be with life in another way other than death. But surely it is not about an all or nothing approach but an acknowledgment of our disease and leaning into our sick body rather than speculating on the disease and pushing against our sick parts.

Hello world!

Welcome to Bodystories101 everyone thank you for your visit.

If our bodies could speak, what would they say? What part of our experience and life history gets lost in the body and becomes a block which manifests itself in illness or maladaptive movement? These are some of the questions that have inspired me to start this blog and I hope that with your input I can find answers and open up other questions.

I am a registered dance movement psychotherapist and lecturer in the field of therapy and body work, and over the years I have come to realize that everybody’s body has a story to tell, if we listen and pay attention we can find healing both physically and emotionally. Your life story is held in the fibres of your organs in your muscle memory, connective tissues and skeleton that frames you, and this is just the start of it! In recent year’s research has highlighted the link between the moving body, both externally and internally, and our well being. That to be diseased means literally that somewhere inside you are at dis-ease with a part of your experience, and in order to heal, release or change what ails you, you need to be bodily connected.

I believe that we are in constant dialogue with ourselves   whether we realize it or not. it might be something so simple like noticing you are tired and reaching for the coffee pot, or feeling a headache coming on and reaching for a painkiller, or more intense such as exploring your feelings through exercise or mediation.

Yet conversations with our bodies may seem strange, how many of us actually have a daily chat with our bodies?  Well I have made it my practice in the last few years to ask how I really am everyday and amazing things have happened. I have had a ‘moving’ let’s call it a roaming ache that shifts from my shoulder to my hip, to my back to my knee and back to my shoulder. And when I say hello to this ache it disappears, a bit like a child who stops crying when you give it a cuddle. What is means and what it wants has yet to be uncovered and this is part of my on-going process, but I remain curious.

So the aim of this blog really is to make contact with you and hear your body stories, what does being in contact with your body mean for you? I invite you to share your story if you like maybe you can find support, although this is not a therapy space and that any advice is not to be taken as fact. It is always advisable to seek medical help to support you in your journey.