How Applying Ayurvedic Therapeutic Practices Works in Working with Addiction

Originally circulated in the NAMA (National Ayurvedic Medical Association) newsletter

By Jessica Ferrol, AD, MHC, CYT, PKS

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that at least 72,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2017. This number does not include people who died from conditions related to alcohol or cigarettes. The same source asserts that 480,000 Americans die each year from smoking-related illness alone. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimates that 88,000 die from alcohol- related conditions. It is not known how many Americans suffer from some form of addiction, but these statistics reveal a frightening reality.

Addiction is a disease without a specific cure. Treatment involves managed care. Substance abuse ranks as a leading cause of sickness and death, and addiction itself is now recognized as a chronic disease that causes long-term changes in neuronal activity patterns.

Most addictive substances cause the brain to release hormones that elicit a feeling of pleasure and, at high doses, euphoria. Addiction occurs when an individual has abused a substance or substances to the point that the brain loses the capacity to naturally generate pleasure hormones, leaving the individual to rely on one or more substances to achieve a feeling of normalcy. In fact, nothing about an addicted brain is normal.

Āyurveda, as a holistic healthcare system, provides a complete maintenance approach to supporting sobriety with daily self-care practices and routines that promote physical rejuvenation and mental well-being and restore a normal physical state over time. Āyurvedic theory states that all humans naturally experience kama (“the desire for pleasure”) and that this longing and the wish to avoid pain are basic survival instincts shared by all organisms. Āyurveda also asserts that the attachment to pleasure and the avoidance of pain can lead to disease if pursued at any cost. Addiction is a case in point: The addict will sacrifice nearly everything to feel a high. In the deepest throes of addiction, the addict will sustain a dangerous lifestyle simply to find a feeling of normalcy.

The Āyurvedic practitioner may use the conceptual theory of the five sheaths as a foundation for treatment of addiction. The theoretical understanding of the five sheaths provides a map of how to access body (annamaya kosha), breath (pranamaya kosha), mind (manomaya kosha), intelligence (vijnamaya kosha) and consciousness (anandamaya kosha) as well a way to understand how these parts are connected or can become disconnected.

Addiction is a disease that takes residence in the body, breath, and mind sheaths and creates a disconnect from the intelligence and consciousness sheaths. Disconnection from intelligence results in an inability to discern reality from illusion, causing the mind to become flooded by irrational, obsessive thoughts. These negatively affect the movement of breath and create a state of hyperarousal (“heightened anxiety, fear, or anger and increased sensitivity to stimuli”) or hypoarousal (a feeling of depression, lethargy, or paralysis) in the physical body.

The addict hopes to achieve a feeling of normalcy by using a drug. In fact, the drug is dangerous, and it works against this end. When the short-term effect of the drug goes away, the addicted mind is once again overwhelmed with irrational, obsessive thoughts. It is in a physically worsened condition, and the cycle of substance abuse begins again. Addicts might instead employ Āyurvedic practices, which may bring stability to the mind and return the body to a well-regulated state. Over time, these practices may re-establish access to innate intelligence. Connection to innate intelligence is crucial to relapse prevention.

Proper diet, adequate sleep, and a healthy sensory environment will help minimize cravings. A safe environment is essential in order to deny access to substances that can be abused. Herbs will support the body in detoxifying while also sedating the nervous system. The overall goal is to guide clients to re-inhabit their body, to return home. By cultivating awareness and sensory connection to the physical body, the addicted client ignites activity in the root chakra and circulates a feeling of safety and stability through the mind. This in turn sets the stage for cellular repair to heal the body.

Restoration of the breath involves recovery of the natural, instinctual breath through meditative practices. Life events that are stored as implicit memory affect the natural depth of inhalation and the natural length of exhalation. Recovery of full inhale and full exhale through gentle breathing exercises creates a state of equilibrium in the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems, generating an overall feeling of regulation in the mind and body.

The practitioner must guide the addicted client to the sensation of body through yoga asanas or meditative practices. This will slow the thought process and calm the mind. Trauma often accompanies addiction. Āyurvedic practitioners should be careful not to trigger the client while navigating the terrain of the mind. It might, therefore, be helpful to support this process with one-on-one therapy as well as group therapy, guided by trained mental health counselors.

The following is a method of healing that works with body, breath, and mind:

Come into a comfortable position that feels supportive for your spine. Feel yourself intentionally withdraw your awareness from the outer environment into the inner terrain. Drop into the body through the breath. Track the movement of breath by feeling the air draw deeply into the nostrils, and follow it to the very end of the exhale. As the body drinks in the air, notice the physical feeling of needs being met. Invite the emotional heart to take in what it needs with the movement of incoming breath. Notice how your body responds to the words “I have all I need in this moment.” Then, turn your awareness to the sensation of letting go that is present in every exhale. Invite the emotional heart to release that which it no longer needs with the movement of outgoing breath. Notice how the body responds to the words “I belong.” Make a note of how your body feels at this moment. As you slowly turn your awareness back toward outer environment, stay in contact with inner body sensation. See if you can maintain awareness of inner sensation while you engage with the world around you."

3 Steps To Ramp Up Your Sex Drive Post-partum

This article orignally appeared on The Baby Chick

Feeling sexy can be a monumental task during the hormonal ups and downs of pregnancy and postpartum. Not only is feeling sexy possible during this time, but it’s important. Sexual intimacy produces oxytocin–the “love” hormone–but sexual intimacy also requires oxytocin for lubrication. Without that feeling of love and adoration–for yourself as much as your partner–sex can feel labor-intensive (no pun intended) and anti-climactic. Now let’s be clear–that “feeling” of love and adoration is not usually our baseline state when we’re running on three, maybe four hours of sleep and intervals of diapers and crying. BUT, it is possible to learn to cultivate your own sex drive after baby, and harness your hormones for pleasure, as long as you’re willing to take a few preliminary steps.

As women, we naturally understand the phenomenon of ebb and flow that accompanies hormones, but we don’t get much information on how to work with these fluctuations rather than simply tolerating them until they pass. We want, need, believe and do wildly different things during our hormonal intervals, and these hormones can be harnessed like horses pulling a chariot using your food, rest and movement choices. Bottom line: getting in the mood requires getting in the present to help you feel like a tigress more often than not.

1. Tending to your nutrition

Hate to say it but caffeine, alcohol, and sugar are sex saboteurs. These substances provide instant gratification to our fatigue, stress, and fluctuating emotions, but ultimately further scramble the hormones that were out of whack to begin with.

Appetite, cravings and digestion are all tied to your hormones. This means that what you want to eat and what you need to be eating fluctuate, and sometimes it’s hard to interpret the body’s messages. Bottom line, you’ve got to keep your blood sugar balanced. That means eating regularly and well. You need fresh fruits and vegetables, complex carbs and a source of protein. You need lots of water throughout the day. And guess what? So does your child! Whether or not you’re breastfeeding, there’s a consistency and quality to feeding that you’re tracking in your child. It’s 100% easier to put yourself in a relaxed state to feed and encourage your child to eat when YOU feel nourished.

If you have identified this as an area of need, get help. Enroll your partner in the morning to make breakfast and play with the little one while you eat. After baby’s bedtime, prep the next day’s meals for yourself. Have carrots and apples and peanut butter and hummus on-hand and ready to go. Eating enough to feel satisfied, but not so much you feel bloated happens when you’re present with your food. Turn off the TV, put down your phone, and the 5-10 minutes you have to yourself can actually feel like enough. For a more extensive understanding of the hormone-food connection, check out Woman Code by Alisa Vitti. Balanced blood sugar is the foundational step to being able to feel anything other than NEED. When your basic need of sustenance is met, you can get on to feeling what you WANT.

2. Tending to your sleep

We could all use more sleep, especially new moms. There are a few realities in the first months of motherhood, and sometimes longer, that must be faced fearlessly. Lack of sleep is one of them, and heightened stress levels are another. In the midst of short sleep intervals and a whole lot of physical, emotional and mental output throughout the day, deep relaxation practices are an indispensable resource for your wellness.

The good news is, you can practice deep rest in a few minutes. Longer is better, but doing the practices is what really counts. Start by feeling your breath. This simple check-in can immediately restore a sense of ease. You are, after all, entirely dependent on oxygen, and in a heightened stress or deep fatigue state, oxygenation tanks. Breathe in and out slowly five or six times. Then bring attention to your body — your bones, your muscles, your skin. Where are you gripping? Where are you numb? Does your body want movement? Water? A gentle stretch?

 

Little check-ins like this, throughout the day, can happen with a baby in your arms. A longer check-in like this at night before bedtime can also encourage deeper, more satisfying sleep. Social media is the antithesis of sleep, and television is another thief of restfulness and calm. Try checking in with yourself and pushing pause on everything else right now. These moments remind you that you are right here, right now, and empower you to feel nourished and cared for–the ultimate aphrodisiac.

3. Tending to your Self

Moving your body is the single best thing you can do for sex drive. I list this step last because it will be bolstered by Steps # 1 and 2. What I’m suggesting here is not to take a kickboxing class, or even exercising (although that should be part of your program, too) because often those practices are depleting. I’m actually suggesting that you take time to move yourself.

Put on your favorite album and dance, step into the grass barefoot and do cartwheels, jump on your bed! Get your feel-good-chemical cocktail on from a place of abandon, playfulness, and self-gratification.

With a new baby, no matter how joyful and enriching the experience, there is a massive increase of obligation and output. This is depleting of what is called in Yoga, ojas–your vital essence. Ojas is considered the key to your vitality and longevity and is embodied in us as reproductive fluid — literally the lubricant that makes procreation possible. If you love to dance, dance! Get a babysitterand go take a class. If you love to take baths, take a bath — or better yet, book a spa day! What gets your juices flowing? Think about it. This is a non-negotiable part of your week.

When mama’s happy, everybody’s happy, because you are the heartbeat of the household. Your sense of being held and nourished will amplify your ability to hold and nourish tenfold. Your self-care matters. Feeling joy and ease in your body matters. You have been transformed by the birth of your baby, and now it’s time to harness that powerful experience and fuel your passion for life. Keep it simple! The objective is that it feels good, so if money’s tight, invest in a bath bomb, request an hour to yourself and make a special playlist. Make the bathroom your sanctuary, or, hell, your closet! Make your space sacred and it will be sacred. Love on yourself, and you will be ready and receptive for your partner to love on you.

I Want Your Life To Get You Wet

Do you have a relationship to rasa? 

In Ayurveda there is a word, rasa, which means sap. Rasa can be used to describe a way of being, the physical blood in the body, as well as being the word for the various artforms fundamental to human thriving. Rasa is essentially, the flavor of life, that which makes us salivate, lubricate, so that we can better taste, better feel that which is deeply pleasing and beautiful. In the energetic body structure, this is our relatedness and our ability to receive nourishment.

These qualities are inherently feminine, and they are being jeopardized in a world the prioritizes busyness, rigidity in diet and exercise protocols, and which teaches sex as bio-mechanical penetration for climax's sake. In a culture that is absurd in its hyper-masculinity, it is no wonder that our maternal death rate is the highest of all developed nations. It is no wonder that 1 in 4 mothers experiences deep depression after birth. It is no wonder that 50% of marriages fail after a baby is born.

It is not only possible to cultivate rasa, in fact the healing of our world absolutely depends on it. 

This month I am leading two rasa-rich workshops on what Katie Silcox calls 'Feminine Form Medicine.'  In other words, bringing the focus back to nourishment over achievement, receptivity over delivery, pleasure over performance. Participants in these workshops can count on no-nonsense dialogue about what needs to shift in our habitual ways of fear-driven living, as well as easy-to-use protocols from Somatic Experiencing, Expressive Arts Therapy, Yoga and Ayurveda. I believe this information can change the way we relate to our bodies, our planet, and will, ultimately, restore us to divine balance.

It starts with you. It starts with your acceptance of responsibility for the health of your body, your mind, your spirit. 
 

Just One Thing - Feel Whole

When I look back on mistakes I’ve made—like dumping my anger on someone, making assumptions in haste, partying too much, losing my nerve, being afraid to speak from my heart—in all cases a part of me had taken over.

You know what I mean. The parts of us that have a partial view, are driven by one aim, clamp down on other parts, really want to have a particular experience or to eat/drink/smoke a particular molecule, yammer away critically, or hold onto resentments toward others.

The mega part—the big boss—is of course the inner executive, the decision-maker, and driver (some call it the ego) centered in neural circuits in the prefrontal cortex, behind your forehead.

This part is determined to a fault, running things top down, ignoring bottom-up signals of growing fatigue, irritability, burnout, and issues with others. It draws on and gets wrapped up in the sequential, action-planning, language processing parts of you that are based in regions in the left side of your brain. (The statements here about sides of the brain are reversed for about half of all left-handed people.) Meanwhile, the boss part shames, disowns, and suppresses other parts of you, especially those that are softer, more vulnerable, and younger.

But when you open to the whole of your experience, you have more information and can make better decisions. You perceive more fully, seeing the big picture, putting things in perspective. You free up energy that was spent pushing down your real feelings. You tune into your body, your heart. You’re less fixed or attached in your views. You recognize the good things in you and around you that you’d tuned out. You feel more supported, more protected. You take things less personally.

You feel at home in yourself.

Why?

Awareness is like a big stage upon which lots of sights, sounds, tastes, touches, smells, thoughts, feelings, memories, and wants pop up for a bit and then pass away. All this is in your consciousness, but mainly in the background. The spotlight of attention bounces around the stage, lighting up one thing after another.

In the practices that follow, you are going to widen the spotlight—the field of attention—to include more and more of the whole stage. This draws on networks on the sides of your brain, mainly on the right side, because it is specialized for holistic processing, for taking things as a whole, as a gestalt. By doing these little practices repeatedly when you have a moment of quiet, you will stimulate and therefore strengthen the neural networks that support feeling whole, so that you can sustain that sense of wholeness even when the oatmeal hits the fan.

Here we go.

For a dozen seconds or longer, be aware of all the sounds around you. Let them be what they are, lasting or changing. Disengage from inner verbal commentary about them; stay with the experience of sounds as a whole. Notice how this feels: probably more relaxed and at ease.

Soften your gaze and be aware of sights around you, the visual field as a whole. Explore lifting your gaze toward the horizon, which will tend to activate neural networks that process sights in a more global, I’m-integrated-with-the-whole-world way. (See James Austin’s book,Selfless Insight, for more on this.)

For a dozen seconds or longer, be aware of the sensations of breathing in the front of your chest, around your heart… aware of this area as a whole. Then be aware of your whole chest breathing, including the stomach, diaphragm, rib cage, and back. Take the whole chest as a single, unified gestalt, rather than attention skittering from one sensation in it to another.

Then broaden attention further to include the sensations of air moving down your throat… your hips and shoulders and head shifting slightly with each breath… sensations around your nose and upper lip… gradually taking the whole body as the unified object of attention… abiding as a whole body breathing. Notice how this feels; let the feeling of this sink in again and again so that you can come home to this way of being more easily in the future.

And you can take it a step further, with the sensations of breathing coming together with sounds and sights, these perceptions experienced as a single whole, all known together globally, nothing left out, breath after breath.

Resting in some sense of ease with yourself, try opening to the emotions you may have pushed away. Can you let them come up, and flow through you? Then try opening to longings you may have pushed away, opening to needs or vulnerabilities that have been silenced or set aside. Welcome these various emotions and longings into awareness. You don’t have to act upon them. In fact, by welcoming them you will make them feel more at home, so they will become less insistent or strident, and you will feel more at home in yourself.

With moments of practice that add up over time, you will feel more like a whole person, less fragmented and partial, less yanked this way and that by competing desires in your head. As this happens, you will feel more fed and fulfilled and thus less defended, less separated from others, less a part—and more connected, more entwined with the world as whole.

Notice how this feels, probably safer, more contented, and more loved and loving. Let it sink in again and again.

At home in wholeness.

Dr. Rick Hanson, Ph.D

What Orgasm And Birth Have In Common

*This article originally appeared on The Baby Chick*

Beautiful-girl-have-orgazm-466051112_1256x838.jpeg

Sex makes babies. That much we know. And while sex and childbirth don’t seem to have too much in common other than one preceding the other, in fact, there are several noteworthy similarities for those who are expecting. Just like breathing, orgasm and birth are events which happen in large part beyond our control, but in which we can actively participate and have an impact on the outcome.

Surrender and Engagement

Two seemingly opposed qualities enhance both the orgasmic and the birth process and those are surrender and engagement. Surrender is one of the most challenging qualities to embody as a human. Life is, ultimately, out of our control, but we make concerted efforts to keep our bodies looking a certain way, to do our best work and succeed, to maintain safe living spaces. In other words, we are working very hard everyday to control our circumstances. We cannot, however, prevent injury or a layoff or a catastrophic flood.

This is where Engagement comes in. By engaging with the physical sensations as passing events, multi-layered experiences, and curious albeit harmless phenomena, we can more easily surrender to uncomfortable (in the case of labor) or overwhelming (often in the case of orgasm) experiences. This psychological surrender is crucial to staying present. Getting clear with oneself about what the “hang-up” is–maybe it’s the mess that we’re worried about, the strange sounds uncontrollably pouring from our bodies. Whatever it is just notice that it’s happening and engage with it.

The way we experience sensation is subjective. All of the senses are subject to individualized chemical combinations, tolerance, genetics and experience. While you might think Sriracha is way too spicy, your spouse douses it on everything for “flavor.” Now rather than them being “wrong” and you being “right,” you’re each having an individual experience. Sex is the same. And, yes, even birth is subjective. You have to know your body intimately in order for orgasm and birth to be empowering.

Anxiety

Anxiety is the number one inhibitor of sexual pleasure, and the reason for that is the body tightens and movement is restricted when we experience anxiety. Physiologically, anxiety is a manifestation of stress over something we cannot control. Whenever we are “bracing” for something we are restricting normal biological patterns of movement, impulse and response, a category to which both birth and orgasm belong. If there has been physical pain or emotional shame around sex or the sexual organs, orgasm and birth are going to be complicated. Muscular tension is the nervous system’s response to stimulus (aka stress,) and chronic tension can indicate an internalized, frozen stress response. The defining characteristic of both orgasm and birth is muscular contraction AND release. If our musculature is not supple enough to release, we won’t experience climax, we won’t release a baby from the womb. Pleasure decreases and pain increases.

The emotional reality of orgasm and birth must also be addressed. In her book, “Sex That Works,”self-professed Loveologist Wendy Strgar posits that the foundation of lasting pleasure and satisfaction is feeling. A willingness to feel is tantamount satisfaction because what feeling really is presence. A willingness to feel means one is willing to be here, now, with exactly what is happening. This way of being is actually quite rare and hard to come by, because it means feeling it all–the good and the “bad.” Losing control and expressing whatever fear or need or frustration that arises is fundamental to experiencing freedom in the body and in the mind. The more we restrict ourselves from fully expressing our needs and emotions, the less available we are to deal with the present moment, because at a primal level we don’t feel safe.

In a scientific study about the physiology of orgasm, researches reported that not only did certain areas of the brain light up, but several areas of the brain shut down. “‘Shutdowns in the brain’s prefrontal cortex appears crucial… ‘It’s the seat of reason and behavioral control. But when you have an orgasm, you lose control.’ Regions called the temporal lobes also showed damped activity. In fact, the less activity these regions showed, the more sexually aroused the women felt.” In order to experience release and deep pleasure, the prefrontal cortex (reason, judgment, rationale) must be turned off. Sex and birth are not intellectual experiences, they are beastly and beautiful and body-based.

A great deal of the work of orgasm and birth is done for you physically. The proper hormones (oxytocin and adrenalin) are released at the right time, and contractions are paced for optimum experience, as long as we are willing participants. The arduous task of both experiencing sexual fulfillment and having a fulfilling birth experience is to get out of our own way psychologically and emotionally. The human body is fairly ingenious, and learning to trust the body’s cues is no small task in a culture obsessed with “mind over matter” and “grin and bear it.” When pain becomes a part of sex and pleasure is no longer a part of birth, we have to ask ourselves where the obstacle exists in the mind and in the heart. In order to have a sense of freedom and empowerment in both our sex and birth experiences, we must learn to trust the body, to feel it all and let go.

We don’t have to be feeling “good” in order to feel love. In fact, a lot of being in love has to do with realizing you don’t always feel good–relationships are complicated–but there is an underlying commitment and desire to be with another person. Love is not easy, but it is a powerful bonding agent, and it shows up in your body as oxytocin.

Orgasms are difficult to define, let alone reverse-engineer. A few blueprints, however, have already been sketched out.

First, stimulating the genitals sends electrical impulses along three main paths–the pelvic, hypogastric and pudendal nerves.

Next, these titillating signals enter the spinal cord at the base of the spine and zip up to brain regions that respond to genital sensations.

Then other parts of the brain leap into action. Some send signals back down to the body with certain instructions–lubricate the vagina, stiffen the penis, pump blood harder, breathe faster. The intensity builds to a crescendo, and just like a long-awaited sneeze, tension is released in an explosive rush. The heart rate doubles. In women, the uterus contracts rhythmically; in men, sperm-carrying semen is propelled out of the body. And somehow, by mechanisms not yet understood, the brain perceives all this activity as a darn good feeling.

They found that orgasms elicit strong activity in the nucleus accumbens, the reward center, which also lights up in response to nicotine, chocolate, cocaine and music; in the cerebellum, which helps coordinate muscle tension; and parts of the hypothalamus, which releases oxytocin, the trust and social-bonding hormone. Intriguingly, areas of the cortex that respond to pain also responded during orgasm. “Perhaps it’s related to the fact that people often have pained expressions at the time of orgasm,” Komisaruk says.

The amygdala, the brain’s emotional center, and the hippocampus, which deals with memory, light up too. Holstege’s group has also studied the sexually stimulated brain, and his findings suggest that orgasms are not just about how the brain lights up, but also about where it shuts off.
There were several regions of activation, but the most striking result, Georgiadis says, was how certain regions in the front of the brain shut down during orgasm, especially one just behind the left eyeball. Researchers have long noticed that damage to this area–the lateral orbitofrontal cortex–can leave people with wildly antisocial and impulsive tendencies, including hypersexuality.

Shutdowns in the brain’s prefrontal cortex appears crucial, Georgiadis adds. “It’s the seat of reason and behavioral control. But when you have an orgasm, you lose control.” Regions called the temporal lobes also showed damped activity. In fact, the less activity these regions showed, the more sexually aroused the women felt. These deactivations might explain the appeal of autoerotic asphyxiation, the researchers say. Depriving a brain of blood during sex not only provides a dangerous thrill, but also shuts down key brain regions, leading to addictive orgasmic euphorias.

Feeling is not just in reference to emotions, but also sensation. We often experience a physical response to external circumstances before registering emotion or even conscious thoughts about a situation. And because of our cultural priority on achievement and consistency, most of us have learned to become less sensitive to physical sensation. How else would we be able to sit in office chairs and withstand fluorescent light and restrictive clothing? The HeartMath Institute has stated that the body responds seven times faster than the brain to stimulus–both internally (endocrine system) and externally (motor function.) This means that when we shut down that pathway, our brain is not getting the information it needs–it may actually be getting incorrect information. Muscular tension in the hips and shoulders, for example, may indicate to the nervous system a threat is imminent as opposed to, “I’m tired of sitting in this chair and have poor posture.”

Pain Management

In general, we think orgasm is the result of penetration, build up, climax. For men, this is generally the case. Women’s bodies, however, operate–well, differently.

Birth is a whole lot more than a gush of water, writhing in pain, and then a baby. What we need to be talking about is the fact that the same exact parts, hormones and psychological techniques are required for a woman to enjoy her body’s capacity to roll through several orgasms in a row, and her ability to ride the waves of contractions during labor and birth a child without excessive pain.

“An orgasm is a major event for the body in either gender, involving huge coordination between the genitals, the organs, the hormones, and the brain. The mechanism of female orgasm is actually a series of rapid, rhythmic contractions. And they’re not just in the vagina: an orchestra of pulses go through your genitals, anus, uterus, and pelvic floor all at once, extremely rapidly.” (Ref.)

Not only are these sensations out of the ordinary, but the body parts put on high alert, the body parts having the experience are those which are the most covered up, clamped down, least discussed, at least with any sort of rawness or realism.

 

The Vocal-Vaginal Correlation

Did you know that your vagina and your voice are intimately connected?

*This article first appeared on The Baby Chick*

The relationship between a woman’s vagina and her voice is at once subtle and obvious. Beginning with the fact that “cervix” comes from the Latin word for neck, the vagina and the throat are remarkably similar structures, each supported in function by a hammock-like set of diaphragmatic muscles which also happen to move in tandem with respiration.

A FEW OTHER SIMILARITIES INCLUDE THE FACT THAT THE VAGINA AND THE THROAT ARE PATHWAYS INTO THE BODY FROM THE OUTSIDE WORLD, AND INSTRUMENTS OF SELF-EXPRESSION IN RELATIONSHIP.

The creative acts of singing, orgasm and childbirth are all powered by rapid and rhythmic muscular pulses. The vagina and the voice are inextricably linked, and to be disconnected from one is to shut down the other. The separation of these regions of experience may be a cause for increased emotional stress, physical discomfort and dissociation, and through simple techniques of sensory perception and vocal exercises you can enhance sexual pleasure, build stronger personal boundaries and even facilitate easier labor.

Based on the study of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system structures, we know that the body is responding hormonally at all times to external AND internal stimuli. Most of the time we are unconscious of the processes taking place internally, but more concerning is the fact that many of those internal processes are influenced not so much by our external environment but our perception of said environment, which in turn affects our physical body. Nervousness, uncertainty or anxiety are almost always embodied through tight, lifted shoulders and shallow breathing. Ever had a knot in your stomach? A lump in your throat? Tight diaphragm and shallow breath lead to a collapse in the glottis (the throat’s diaphragm) and more than likely, the pelvic floor.

The physical thread between the vagina and the throat is the vagus nerve, which is the largest nerve in the body, connecting the brainstem to the sacral nerve plexus. 80-90% of the vagus nerve is sensory, meaning that is responds like skin, meaning to movement and pressure-based stimulation, not just electrical signals. “Vagus” means wanderer – the nerve wanders through the body. Previously, it wasn’t thought that it goes as far as the pelvic region. But our research and that of other laboratories is showing that it does in fact go to the cervix and uterus and probably the vagina. It carries the impulses from those regions, travels up through the abdomen, goes through the diaphragm, through the thorax (chest cavity), up the neck outside the spinal cord, and into the brain.” (source)

The respiratory diaphragm massages the vagus nerve with each and every breath, and the quality of those strokes is determined by the quality of the breath. (source) Breath powers your voice, and the combination of the diaphragmatic stroke and the vibration of your voice stimulate the vagus nerve in such a way as to send a big sigh of relief throughout the nervous system. Steady, sustained breath-powered vocalization, as in singing, can soothe and balance the entire nervous system, resetting patterns of chronic tension and emotional anxiety or dissociation that often keep us not only from enjoying sex, but being able to ask for what we want with confidence.

The physical response to unease is to pull in and up in a kind of knot propped up on legs. This excess tension in the respiratory diaphragm and pelvic floor are going to restrict oxygen intake and carbon dioxide output, creating a kind of “starvation” response in the muscles and a feeling of fatigue throughout the body. Sensitivity of the peripheral nervous system is diminished, the vagus nerve receives no massage, and the body as an alive sensory resource quite literally dies down. We become “disembodied.” As a result the voice becomes disconnected–high, shrill, whiny and either too low or too loud.

It’s not always easy to tell if we have a tight pelvic floor, but noticing a shy, shrill or off-pitch voice can be a starting point to bridging the gap between the physical body experience–really, our reality–and vocalization of our experience. Beginning to notice how often you say “yes,” when you meant “no,” or “I’d be happy to,” when you meant, “I really don’t have the time,” is another way to measure the degree of dissociation. Identification of this disconnect from self is a crucial first step to self-care and healthy relationships, as well as maintaining confidence in difficult situations, whether physical, emotional or mental.

The pelvis and sexual organs are the real seat of “appetite” in the body. We need food to survive, we need sex to thrive. We need choice in sex to truly joyfully, and the voice is the messenger of our choices, desires, needs and boundaries. If we are not able to honestly vocalize our own experience–either because of fear of another’s reaction or our own lack of sensitivity to said experience–we cannot get our needs met.

So use your voice! Tell the truth, let yourself be heard and sing! Sing your heart out as a daily practice. Singing your favorite song not only has the immediate psycho-emotional benefit of reminding you of pleasure, but the rhythmic stroke of the diaphragm engendered by more active vocalization is stimulating the entire sensory body. Practice humming, especially when you’re enjoying something. What’s your favorite taste? Savor it and hum the goodness throughout your whole body. Laugh OUT LOUD. Make some noise in the bedroom–at least on your own until you’re comfortable enough to share. And when you’re comfortable enough to vocalize your pleasure, your pleasure may just increase ten-fold.

What do I mean when I say "Food"

Brain dump to the order of 34 years of uncertainty

finally coming to a close.

I want you to GET how insanely powerful your body is, that it doesn’t need to be managed or punished but revered and deliberately tended to on a daily basis, meal by meal, sensational moment by moment. Every time you skip a meal under the guise of ‘not enough time’ you tell yourself, “you’re not important.” Every time you opt out of eating a full meal and binge on snacks you tell yourself, “you don’t deserve better.” Every time you look at yourself in the mirror and pinch and pull and say hateful things to your body, you render yourself homeless. It’s no different than a teen girl being kicked out of her house for having red hair instead of brown (hair color here is arbitrary.)

How much cleansing is necessary? How much fasting and dieting is necessary? Go ahead show me all the studies and facts of why this diet is superior and sooooooo important and I’m still going to ask you, “how’s your anxiety? your depression? do you orgasm and feel a sense of purpose?”

When you understand that regulating your digestion and your hormones IS the skeleton key to regulating your emotions and your thoughts, which IS the key to enhancing your experience of the world and being receptive to real and lasting relationship, you change the course of your life forever. You are the only one who puts or does not put food in your mouth. You are the only one who knows if it does or does not feel stable to bend and push your body, to what degree, and how often. You are the only one who sets the tone for this incredibly sacred space. You decide to keep it clean and inviting for yourself, or pretend it doesn’t exist and wonder why you have nowhere to go, no sense of solid ground, nowhere that feels like home.

Your daily practice is about recommitting to a sense of gratitude for what you HAVE, not what you wish, not what you hope will be, what you HAVE. It is an act of radicalism and the foundational component of living a life of service and not blind privilege, self-sabotage or complaint.

“The harder, duller work of self-care is about the everyday, impossible effort of getting up and getting through your life in a world that would prefer you cowed and compliant. A world whose abusive logic wants you to see no structural problems, but only problems with yourself, or with those more marginalized and vulnerable than you are. Real love, the kind that soothes and lasts, is not a feeling, but a verb, an action. It’s about what you do for another person over the course of days and weeks and years, the work put into care and cathexis. That’s the kind of love we’re terribly bad at giving ourselves, especially on the left.” http://thebaffler.com/war-of-nerves/laurie-penny-self-care

Taking care of your physical body is an act of radical revolt and deep, deep trust in yourself.

**STAY TUNED FOR MORE UPCOMING RAMBLINGS ON FoodSleepSex**

what do you mean i have trust issues?!

"love is not so incomprehensible as you pretend, sweet pea. love is the feeling we have for those we care deeply about and hold in high regard. it can be light as the hug we give a friend or
heavy as the sacrifices we make for our children.
it can be romantic, platonic, familial, fleeting, everlasting, conditional, unconditional,
imbued with sorrow, stoked by sex, sullied by abuse, amplified by kindness, twisted by betrayal, deepened by time, darkened by difficulty, leavened by generosity, nourished by humor and loaded
with promises that we may or may not want to keep.
the best thing you can possibly do with your life is to tackle the motherfucking shit out of love.
and, honey bun, on this front, i think you have some work to do."
- sugar


Very recently a handful of my dearest friends witnessed a revelation of mine, only to stare back at me wide-eyed as though I had just discovered, after 34 years on the planet, that I have a nose.
After nine months in a completely new kind of romantic relationship (built on commitment, honesty, communication and with long-term goals) I declared with a kind of gusto,
"I think I have major trust issues!"
Their amusement wasn't patronizing, but it took me a minute to see the joke...
It's a really tender thing when you finally "get it," when you finally look in the mirror and can stomach what you see. I was seeing myself in a sense for the first time and to discover that others, even though they are my most trusted and devoted, had seen it without my permission was shocking.
This is the vulnerability of relationship.
This is the agreement we enter into when we entrust others with our hearts.
This is why so many of us wear a mask even with those we claim to trust.

What my friends know about me that I don't know about myself is how I behave in relationship, because how I behave in relationship is the result of deeply held, often unconscious beliefs about who I am and how the world is and what the world has in store for me. I am just getting that I constructed my concept of love from a very deep wound and misunderstanding about the world.
My concept of love originated from the experience of disconnection from my biological family. I am adopted and seem to have emerged into the world searching for a reliable source of nourishment- one that wouldn't disappear when I need it most.
In my tiny body lived a big belief, "What you need won't last. Love won't last."

As such, nearly every intimate relationship of my life was built on this silent contract -
"I will do my best and if I'm good enough you will love me and you'll stay." 

That wasn't my conscious mantra, it was the mantra of my unconscious behavior: isolation, anxiety, internal panic, incredible self-imposed pressure to do well in school, to look good, I began restricting my food by drastic amounts, and then I began purging almost everything I ate. In relationships I would wear myself out trying to bend the wrought iron unwillingness of my partners and wonder what I was doing wrong. The seed of this behavior has yet to be burned up - I still feel panic when I leave a commitment unfulfilled, when I need to set boundaries, when I need to say no. I have also tended to this part of myself consciously enough to feel a real strength and self-confidence in my daily life. There is a newfound (yes, does that shock you?) understanding that changing a lunch plan doesn't make me unreliable and speaking my truth doesn't make me disagreeable. But the most aggressive internal confrontation yet has been in love, in falling in love with a man who has forced me to reckon with my sense of unworthiness simply by seeing me as his beloved. I have never felt more worthy and I have never felt more clear, and yet it's still not totally safe to let my guard down. I've been walking around with a tin foil hat and a necklace of garlic for 34 years, and he looks at me like, "You know that's not going to help, right?"

I know. I know it's not going to help. I've just been doing it for so long. 

I've believed love is only for some for so long. I've relied on self-defeating coping mechanisms for so long.
I've defaulted to being at fault for as long as I can remember. I have practiced this for my whole life.
It's not strange that it would be taking a while to untangle this very intricate chain-link knot in my heart. And that's where I feel it. I feel a bind from my stomach to my throat- a high and tight feeling in my heart and lungs, a plug in my throat keeping me from saying exactly what I need in the moment.
Still, in spite of the self-awareness, it takes a concerted effort to keep at it, like speaking a  language I haven't lived with fully, fumbling for the basic nouns and correct conjugations to be in the present.
 It takes daily nourishment of singing and cooking and dousing myself in fragrant oils and indulging in time alone, being naked, dancing, writing and watching the sky. I read myths instead of news because they remind me of what is actually true. I practice every day being my own touchstone, my own teacher, my own source of love and reverence, my own. I practice every day allowing that sense of self to inform my relationships, my work, my view of the world and my purpose in the world.

Each day reinforces my dharma in its sameness AND creative recapitulation of drama and chaos.
Each day reveals my dharma in the opportunity to choose love OR the absence of it.
Each day reveals my dharma in the gifts of confrontation AND witnessing and vulnerability.

So my question to you is, what are you practicing? What is that you repeatedly do and is it fulfilling your misunderstanding of yourself, or your most expressive and soulful self?
From where do you derive such a deep and sustainable sense of Self that you can let go of everything you've ever known and open yourself to all that is? I want to share my tools, which are really touchstones for you to discover your own personalized, deeply intimate tools.

Please join me this spring as we burst out of our teeny tiny shells. It's time to occupy your life.

the shadow is not your enemy

"I believe I know the only cure, which is to make one’s center of life inside of one’s self, not selfishly or excludingly, but with a kind of unassailable serenity — to decorate one’s inner house so richly that one is content there, glad to welcome anyone who wants to come and stay, but happy all the same when one is inevitably alone."
Edith Wharton 1862-1937

 

Times are trying at various points in our life, and it is a rare occasion to share the trial with so many others. I have had the foundations of my perceived life challenged in big ways over the last couple of months, and as a result of the turmoil, I feel more deliberate and focused on my purpose than ever. That is not to say I feel good and positive and free. Most of the time I feel incredibly anxious, heartsick and angry. But I have my practice, and I have tools that, when used deliberately and consistently, deliver me to a state of (*near*) equilibrium.

For the last three months I've been tested in my resolve to walk my talk. Overwhelmed by global, familial and inter-personal conflict, I felt crushed by the weight of it, and struggled (am struggling) to see the benefit of so much chaos. After nearly eight months of sobriety and deep self inquiry, I began testing the waters of drink again. At first it was enough to stand ankle deep in the familiar feel of soft waves, but it wasn't long before I needed not only something familiar, but the escape of going completely away from the shore. One glass became four and I was dancing with that dark part of me that desires death. Departure. To cease to be. When I drink, I don't feel ease and enjoyment I feel nothing. I want to feel nothing. I want to disappear. It is not the kind of experience that I imagine some have, but I think there are many who connect to their darkest shadow in substance use. That liminal space, between here and there, can be and is used to tap our subconscious, but if the shadow is never brought to light side, it will consume us. If the reality of our dark thoughts, impulses, cravings aren't seen as beacons, we will never be able to recognize their benevolence. Our fear of the shadow's authority and mistrust of our own power is what keeps most of us running from our fundamental lessons. 

The shadow in yoga is the fundamental counterpart to light, night to day, mind to body. As viewed from a more contemporary perspective, the shadow could be equated to our neuroses, habits, addictions and patterns of self-sabotaging behavior. These are our sign posts on the path to self-actualization. These aspects of self are the fertilizer for our soul's seeds. Most of us run from the shadow because its darkness can seem so all-consuming as to imply imminent destruction. Which it does. But not in the ways we fear. No end is final. Every end is a rebirth. I watched a video of childbirth that has overwhelmed me with waves of emotion because of the way it represents this time in history; we are giving birth to a new understanding of ourselves. We, together, create new life, and some of us will bear the weight more heavily than others. In the crucial moments of transition, it is excruciating, profound, seemingly impossible with no end in sight. But with the proper allies we come through, alive, radiant, with something precious to show for our efforts.

I want to invite you to turn around and look at the thing from which you're running. Fear of change, fear of commitment, doubt, uncertainty, conflict. The fact is that, as Thomas Moore writes in "The Soul of Sex," "There is no life outside of us. The world is, in fact, our collective projections of love and fear, hopes and conflicts. In taking responsibility for our own thoughts and feelings, we play our part in the healing of the world. The world is in a critical phase because we are. The world is in massive shift because we are. The world still has a chance for survival both in spite of us and because of us." 

Life is a miracle. Honor her. 

Liberté, égalité, sensualité

Cycles persist as the primary law of nature. In Tantra, the dynamic motion of nature is attributed to the principle of the divine feminine. She is the lifeforce motivating all biological systems, growth, death and rebirth. From this perspective, living bodies are not designed to be static, and from a practical standpoint sensation is what keeps us in motion.

Sensing what repulses you is as necessary as sensing what pulls you. 

Reclaiming our body as sensual requires establishing an autonomy we may have never had, or softening the "lone wolf" mentality that arose from abandonment, abuse or neglect of any kind. Being told, directly or indirectly, that your truth- your pleasure, your desire, your pain- is untrue is the most dehumanizing of all abuses because it uproots our experience from our body, rendering the individual homeless. Untangling our pleasure from guilt can be the task of our lifetime, raised as we were in a culture of "do as your told," "stop worrying about it," "don't be so sensitive." To embody a new reality which places pleasure and freedom at the top of the list of human rights requires the union of dynamic power and subtle awareness.


In order to live from a place of embodied truth, a resonant sense of our Self in relationship to the world, we have to reconnect to pleasure. To live in pleasure, we must experience the body as our tuning fork, listening for the cues of YES and NO with acute sensitivity.


In her book "Eastern Body, Western Mind," Anodea Judith writes, "The senses are the gateway between the internal and external world. Sight, sound, touch, taste, smell give us a constantly changing inner matrix of the world around us. The complex combination of sensation and feeling gives us the emotional texture of experience. Senses, as the language of feeling, form the basis of our values. How we perceive something and how we feel about it determine our values. Without a sensual connection to what is around us we lose sense of values and distinctions."

If you can no longer feel yourself, you won't feel like yourself. If you do not feel like yourself, or free to be yourself, the world becomes an extremely threatening place. When the world is a threat, your neighbor becomes your enemy. When your neighbor becomes your enemy, everything falls apart.

As the darkness encroaches all around us, we must move forward, heeding the wisdom of the sensual body. As the forces of oppression intensify, recognize that push toward truth and liberation. Cut the shit this winter. Conquer your fear. Dive headlong into your deepest, darkest truth and empower the light within. Say YES to pleasure, tune into what is resonant, resist the belief that anything is static. Enjoy the dance.

Your Body is Your Mind

The seat feels on hot against my thighs.  My back aches.  There is a fist of firey fingers in my right hip socket and the heat radiates along my spine into my right shoulder.  I know this pain, I’ve had her since high school.  She’s the closest thing I’ve ever known to a nemesis - the only threat to my identity I’ve ever known.  And while there is something comforting about her, like the guard rails on a curving, cliffside highway, she is also confrontational, derisive.  

I don’t want to move when I feel this pain, although I’m not physically immobilized by it in any way.  The sensation is nervous, in either way you might hear that word - of the nervous system, or anxious, afraid, unsettled.  She communicates as if through cipher to all of my inner/outer functioning, takes command of my musculature, breathing, focus, heart rate, body temperature and emotional state.  I have a sense of my own role in this security breach, the choices I’ve made which have left gaping vulnerabilities in my life and the chances I’ve had to reinforce them.  

Here I sit, burning inside my own house, which no one can see or smell or do anything about. Will I let the flames consume me or will I wield their power as my own?  Will I let this fire scorch my flesh or will I wear it like a protective skin into battle?  Will I learn the language of this lesson or will I continue to cover my ears in rebuke of its insistence?

On the edge of the cliff, holding on the guard rails cursing their obstruction to my desire to fly.  
I climb over, lean forward, and jump.