• danceofbreath

photo by Domenico Gentile Unsplash


How poignant that right now in the midst of the Covid 19 world pandemic it is Mental Health Awareness Week, which highlights more than ever how we have to choose carefully both where we put our focus (in this case I am covertly referring to ‘the media’) and how we interpret it, to maintain not only our mental stability but downright sanity.

We live in a world of science and statistics; figures on how many new casualities there are, fatalities, millions pledged here, millions lost there, how many speculative weeks and months to the new ‘miracle’ vaccine. .

Our world is traditionally dominated by achievement - aims, objectives, grades, sales funnels and GNP. However, it may now be appropriate to find new goals that are not dependant on the world returning quite to its former self. A time to remember that other world that feeds our Souls – the poetic world of dreams, hopes, aspirations and intentions. Perhaps more than ever before we can find solace in our favourite music, movies and artforms and the creative aspects of our lives. When we open to creativity in our lives we have to employ a different set of skills that traditional education systems deprioritise. Being creative means being open, thinking outside the box, challenging and having new perspective.

There is an old Zen saying:

‘In the beginners mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.’

Having a beginners mind means that we approach things with openness, curiosity and interest. There the alluring ingredient of possibility is thrown into the mix

The Taoists believe in ‘direct knowing’ taking precedence over ‘intellectual knowing’. This means that we listen to all of our five senses and more. Our bodies have a receptivity, sensitivity and intelligence that bypasses our high level cognitive functioning. By listening in deeply to the felt sensations of our bodies we can find a depth of truth and beauty in the present moment, be it the sun smiling on us and warming our bodies, or the sound of the birds singing above us. That is not to say that we should rely solely on our heart and guts to direct our lives; there is a very practical aspect to living from logic but we can embrace both intellectual and intuitive knowing to illuminate our paths.

If you have never tried it, keeping a gratitude journal can bring great rewards. Research shows consistently that practicising gratitude makes one more pro social, have better self esteem, release negativity and experience much higher levels of happiness. [1]

We can shift what feels challenging and difficult into opportunity and adventure, and the shifts can be small and incremental. There is always for example, something to feel grateful for with each waking day, whether it is the fact that you had a warm comfortable bed to wake up in, or you are fully abled enough to be able to physically arise from it.

Sometimes when things are simplified, and external distractions stripped away what is really important in your life become crystal clear and the things that no longer serve you will be released. Pain is very often a catalyst for change.

As we pare down and strip back our lives, it also gives us the opportunity to notice our own outdated beliefs and attitudes. As one friend has described of this pandemic, ‘it is a turning point for the human race.’

Our modern world can make us quite inward looking, and now we have a clear choice to see the world with new eyes and with a bigger lens. No longer focussed solely on our personal needs we are effectively losing some of the importance of our personal self, our ego [2]. I have familiarity with that place of ‘depression’ as so many of us have, and it can be incredibly myopic. Sure we need to maintain daily and regular routines to stabilise the unsteady ground beneath our feet, have focus, stay courageous and orientate towards future goals and growth; but we also have to let go and surrender to the great mystery of life. Rather than only seeking immediate answers we need to look to the bigger questions that are out there.

I will conclude this piece with a quote from one of my personal teachers who turns 100 this year, the amazing Anna Halprin one of the great pioneers to officially recognise dance as a healing art:

‘I've always been an artist. But I'd never connected art closely to life experience until I was stricken with cancer in 1972. That was a big shift for me, because I began to ask all kinds of questions: What am I doing? Who am I doing this for? Why am I dancing? What difference does it make anyway?

Up until that time I essentially used my life to create my art; and then, by asking all those various questions ……I began to shift to using art to create my life.

Making that shift required a lot of different questions and searching for new answers’ [3]

If like Halprin we approach this current world climate with artful curiosity,

what then are the real questions we need to be asking?

Ref

1 https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/giving-thanks-can-make-you-happier

https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_gratitude_changes_you_and_your_brain

https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/what-mentally-strong-people-dont-do/201504/7-scientifically-proven-benefits-gratitude

2 Nb Definition of ‘ego’ not being psychoanalytic theory specific.

3 Halprin, A. (2002). Interview by T Amorok. Video recording, February 4th, Mountain Home Studio, Kentfield, CA.

c/o Schlitz, Vieten, Amorok (2007), Living Deeply, New Harbinger Publ, CA.



#️mentalhealth #️creativity #️depression #️gratitude #️dance



  • danceofbreath

#️humanconnection #️mentalhealth #️oxytocin #️quantum

In this last month the unthinkable has become a reality, as around the world we are being confined to spend most of our time in our homes, unable to go about our normal daily lives with the threat of the Covid-19.

As our fast paced yang lifestyle in the western world has been stymied, we have had to become more yin. We have had to stop and take pause, breathe and slow down to reassess what is important in our lives. Life is full of polarities. We have experienced to extreme both the yin and the yang of life.

For those of you who have never be drawn to meditation, in some way it may have found itself uninvited at your door these past weeks, now we have this extended time of confinement. A kind of ‘moving around the house meditation’.

No one said meditation is an easy route. Ask anyone who has done a Vipassana Meditation – a 10 day silent retreat, where you primarily focus on your in and out breath, and reflect on the equanimity of all things. A simple concept, but in practice, possibly one of the hardest things you might ever do.

Once you get ‘used to’ the many hours of sitting a day (personally my body was screaming to move, in this case definitely not mind over matter), there is then the accepted possibility for first timers that halfway through on about day 4 or 5 you will be tearing down the walls, inwardly screaming to get out. This peak then subsides, and in a few days if you are lucky you may have offloaded a few kilos of emotional baggage, to be left feeling lighter and calmer - fairly impressive for 10 days. I did a Vipassana retreat around twenty years ago outside of Bangkok, in a turbulent time of my life, and I have to confess that ten days was not quite long enough for me..

Luckily we are not quite that physically restricted right now. Instead, we have different challenges, dealing with a deep sense of the unknown on many levels with no pre-defined cut off date. However, just like with Vipassana Meditation, the biggest struggle of all is the struggle in our minds, and having to adapt. Rather than place a value judgement on the situation ie of it being good or bad (whilst not wanting to dismiss all the terrible suffering that many have experienced), one could argue simply that our situation is now different. People all over the world suffer terribly on a daily basis, but many of those suffering are often in poorer countries, and their plight is generally given scant attention in the press.

And in this time of social confinement we are realising more than ever the simple things in life that matter, such as the importance of real human connection. Messaging on social media is a valuable but incomparable substitute for human interaction. My sixteen year old has been suffering terribly from the lack of regular face to face social contact (not to mention the prospect of growing up in such an unpredictable world). On the flip side, and there always is one, he has started to take an interest in the garden, noting when is refuse day and developing his culinary skills.

It would be too easy to spiral into negativity and despair about the current situation but our human spirit is much stronger than that. I trust that there are some of you out there who are hopefully and quietly optimistic that a new paradigm is being created that is going to shift humanity’s self-serving and narrow viewpoints. When looking at cancer survivors, Bernie Seigel, a Yale University surgeon started writing about hope as a powerful force for healing and of unconditional love as being the most powerful stimulant of the immune system [1].

Beneath the surface of this lockdown period, there have been many silver linings so far – planet regeneration, unprecedented human kindness, bravery, strength and stoicism – and there may be more miracles to happen yet.

Whilst some of us in total isolation may crave real physical contact, we are not living in a single cell with no light, only being passed bread and water through a hole in the door. The power of the video call means that we can still look into each other’s eyes, the windows of our soul when we speak and raise our levels of oxytocin, the bonding hormone. In these online connections, we can still share smiles, empathy, listening and support, in short random acts of kindness, which further boost oxytocin levels and release serotonin and dopamine, which calm us, and give us pleasure and happiness [2].

Kindness and compassion in effect create the opposite of stress in our bodies. It promotes growth in the left hand side of our brain and the production of oxytocin plays a role in the wound healing process. Oxytocin also reduces blood pressure and repairs the lining of the blood vessels, which counteracts the micro tears in our arteries that can be caused by chronic stress. In addition practicing compassion tones our vagus nerve, the main nerve in our parasympathetic or ‘rest and digest’ nervous system [3].

From the quantum perspective the universe is one indivisible, dynamic whole; a complex system of interdependent physical parts and energy fields that communicate with each other, in a sophisticated holistic network [4]. Thus our frequencies can travel far and wide, and as some of us reconnect with old friends and colleagues living far away across the air waves, and connect more with loved ones abroad, we are on some level creating a worldwide distant healing. In my recent zoom dance classes, we have been able to share experiences, frustrations, our hopes and our joy. Physically we may be apart, but energetically we are very much in contact.

And whilst we can’t physically touch, we can still be touched metaphorically. More than ever right now we may feel emotionally touched by the words of a writer, a piece of beautiful music, a performance we see online. If we have access to nearby nature, we can connect with the living plants and trees, put our feet on the ground, and make contact with the earth itself. Yesterday was the fiftieth anniversary of Earth Day and I listened to a beautiful meditation that took me to sparkling lakes, snow capped mountains, majestic trees and singing birds. As my heart opened and reached out to honour this beautiful, sacred earth that we need to take care of, my heart field extended far and beyond the boundaries of my small garden where I was sitting and my spirit soared. I did indeed feel a deep sense of connection that travelled far beyond the confines of my body and home.

….

References

1 Dispenza, J, Breaking the Habit of being Yourself, (2012), Hay House, UK

2 www.randomactsofkindness.org

https://www.aifc.com.au/positive-kindness-mental-health/

3 Notes from a talk by Dr David Hamilton, How Your Mind can Heal Your Body, The Isbourne, Cheltenham, 2019.

4 Lipton, B, The Biology of Belief, (2005), Hay House, UK

  • danceofbreath


We are currently in the midst of a global pandemic and it brings up so many questions about how we live, act and interract as humans. I can taste a bittersweet irony of how far we have advanced on certain technological and intellectual levels, but then again on some basic human ones, we are still somewhat neanderthal.


A case in point is the mass panic buying that has resulted in empty supermarket shelves in countries around the world, not only of toilet paper and sanitary gel but also of non perishable foods, resulting in the lack of provisions for the needy. I opened my phone this morning to a personal email from a supermarket CEO urging us to only buy what we need, to ensure there is enough to go round for everyone. Of course people are very anxious in this tense climate of uncertainty and fear around coronavirus, and when we’re stressed we lose a lot of our prefrontal cognitive abilities and emotional regulation.


But not only does this stress eventually rot our brain (literally our brain cells are killed) which can lead to neuropsychiatric problems such as depression and alzheimers later on [1] , it also weakens our immune system. When we are anxious and stressed, our bodies are flooded with chemicals and hormones such as adrenalin (great when we needed to run from an attacking bear like our ancestors but in this case, the intruder is a lot more subtle), and cortisol which suppresses our immune system, lowering the number of lymphocytes or white blood cells we have. In other words, the lower our lymphocyte level the more chance we have of contracting catagious diseases and viruses…


Practicing consideration and compassion are now more important than ever, not only to extend caretaking to others who may be very isolated, but to improve our overall good health through toning our vagus nerve, dubbed our nerve of compassion. On a basic level we need to at least remain mindful of healthy breathing; allowing the breath deep into our bellies and taking long, full exhalations out, especially when we are feeling fearful.


It is surreal times…almost as if this is just a bad dream that we will all soon wake up from, and life will return to normal. I will finish on an optimistic note with a true story that illustrates both how quickly events can turnaround and also of the fundamental goodness of human nature, although granted not comparable in anyway to the gravity of the current situation.


I was driving home at about 6pm one cold, dark winter’s evening from my Dance Therapy course in Bristol, with my then 2 year old in the back. We were stopped at the traffic lights of the large roundabout down from Temple Meads train station. When the lights turned green I tried to change gear and my clutch cable broke. I was in five lane traffic in full rush hour.


As the traffic tried to move on, we were grounded and irate commuters honked and drove around me in their frenzy to get home. At this point my son, naturally sensing the difficulty of the situation, considerately decided to exercise his lungs at full throttle in distress. Lo and behold, that particular morning, in my rush to get us out of the house in time I had forgotten my phone. At that point, I was ready to get on my knees and pray, not only for a miracle to happen but also for forgiveness for being such an irresponsible mother and getting us into this situation in the first place.


Within minutes, two gentlemen had helped moved my car to the side (before a more serious accident occurred), a phone was whipped out and the AA came. Within an hour, with the help of a strategically placed rubber band car fix we were both safely at home. As I sat there watching my son happily playing again, I had to pinch myself to check I was in the right dream.


So yes I do believe in angels and miracles. And having faith does not have to be blasphemous. In fact, it is probably quite essential right now.



1 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26651008

© Niio Dance 2020. All rights reserved. Copyright Helene Su . Privacy Policy