What Orgasm And Birth Have In Common

*This article originally appeared on The Baby Chick*

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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.

 

That's What I Thought....my Brain's a Liar

I have not been meditating in the 'traditional' sense lately.  It's been completely useless to track my thoughts because most of them are gargantuan shadows of my ex and the apartment I thought I'd be living in and the conversations I must have misunderstood, etc.  You know.  If you've ever broken up with someone, you know.  I broke up with wine and my boyfriend in the same month.  I loved these things (for different reasons, obvies) and I am struggling to not fixate on them both throughout the day (at different times.)  The process of taking seated meditation and concentrating on my breath is not impossible, but I've had to take some very specific steps FIRST in order to get on my ass (like that one?) and meditate.

Before I tell you exactly what these steps are, first let me say that something incredible happened to me a few days ago.  I was at an amazing gallery in Houston, surrounded by art patrons and their children and celebrating the publication of a beautiful collection of mermaid stories and I was with a dear friend.  

We talked about all sorts of things, including my recent breakup, which I gracefully brushed off.  Several people offered me champagne, which I politely refused.  The weather was gorgeous.  I was wearing new clothes.  I felt fancy and pretty and energized;charged.  
Nearing the end of the event I decided it was time to go, to get myself some dinner and figure out what I'd do for the rest of the evening.  

The charge of being out and looking nice and engaging with others around a creative production made me nostalgic for my relationship... Without going into the details, I began to fixate on how nice it would be to go to a movie with my ex and spend time together and have that old familiar level of comfort and friendship and stimulation on a night when I was feeling so good- I didn't want to just go home alone!  So I called.  No answer.  So I decided that I would buy a bottle of wine at the store and spend the evening alone.....

At the store I walked a walk not unfamiliar to me.  I ended up in the wine section of Whole Foods (hoping I wouldn't see anyone I know- RED FLAG # 68) and the strangest thing happened: I became sick to my stomach.  I wandered up and down the aisles I know so well, and it was like I didn't recognize what I was looking at, my head began to spin, my stomach started to churn and I felt suddenly very anxious.  I tried to convince myself to just grab any bottle and get out of there, but my physical response was too strong.  I made a salad, I bought a ginger ale and I went home.

My mind was so intent on fixing the subtle "charge" of discomfort and unfamiliar territory of being out and alone and without a partner to connect to that I wanted to ignore all of the work I've done over the last eight weeks; or so I thought.  Suddenly I understood what my teachers (and ME!) have been saying about this practice for years:the discomfort doesn't stop.  The thoughts aren't real.  Your thoughts are not your inner guidance or wisdom.  Your thoughts are the products of your habits, your stress level, your blood sugar and everything you've taken in through your organs of perception.  

So the practice, which I can't overestimate in power, is to stop wherever you are, whatever you're doing.  Get still.  

*Track your physical sensations- give yourself time to really sense temperature, tingling, pressure, numbness, etc.  Allow an image or a word to come through.  *Drop it.*
*Track any emotions or feeling states that are present.  Again, don't just take it at face value- what is the "nostalgia" after 30-60 seconds? Allow an image or a word to come through.  *Drop it.*
*Track your thoughts and mental state (distractibility, sensations, patterns, words.)  Notice any correlation or discrepancy between your mental state and physical/emotional states.  Allow an image or a word to come through.  
*Drop it.*
Finally, where is Spirit?  Where is that essential you in all this?  Can you feel anything in or around you that resembles your essence?

Get a pen, markers, pastels, paints, whatever, and get to work.  Get down on paper what you heard, saw, felt, needed, wanted, hated, smelled, etc.  Take time with this.  Be with what is moving inside you.  The more time you spend with this language the easier it is to understand when habit and old triggers get the best of you.  

This practice is not a substitution for more traditional methods of meditation, it is a supplement- a meditation that moves with you through your day so that when it comes time to sit there's a baseline level of clarity about what might be masquerading as truth in the recesses of your mind.  We can practice yoga and eat all the right foods and sit on a cushion for 20mins a day, and we are still human with an ever-present need for attention to the present moment.  You are a vibrant, subtle, sensitive being and this work of embodiment will allow you to gracefully navigate the task you've been assigned, whether that's to survive a breakup, to get sober, to be a mom, to sit in Houston traffic or to vote in the 2016 election.  Stay vigilant.  Be soft with yourself.

this is what my body actually craves....

My physical body craving is contact.  I feel the need to feel my body, and when I don't (because my mind is excessively analyzing and doubting) I take matters into my own hands and binge eat or drink alcohol or engage sexually.  I have done this.  I probably will do this again at some point, but it doesn't have to be my default, and I am developing an arsenal of resources so that I can be in choice about this response.  I never have to feel shame or pain about my cravings again.  And I will never pass my cravings off as "problems" again.

On the Physical Body level we have sensation- the tremor and tenderness of flesh: muscle, bone and sinew.  We experience the bulk of our craving here, yet we respond to external cues/directives to guide our actions: what's popular? what's comparable? what seems acceptable?  

The only worthwhile litmus test for action is thepresent moment which is the physical body: I'm in pain, I feel weak, I feel weak and strong, I want to run, I am numb.

Here, in the body, is where we start the true journey inward- not to the next rest stop, but to our deepest core level of being.  It starts on the physical level and often starts as the tremor of unrest, dissatisfaction, craving.
The next time you feel this tremor ask yourself:  What do I need so that I can go deeper?  Strength?  Softness?  Mobility?  Stability?  Touch?  Release?

After a short movement practice yesterday morning, I wrote this to myself.  (*I encourage you to talk to your body.  She (or he) is just craving contact.*)


I care about my past, but I do not have to cling to my past...  Whatever information and experience I needed is in me, silently, and I make the choice to listen to what is now; where my body and my breath coexist, where my feet and my feelings touch the earth.  

I am right here, this is right now.

What are you truly longing for? Name it.

The Four of Cups:

An outsider would look upon your life and see supportive relationships, pleasures and even a bit of luxury.  But you don’t see it that way.  Instead there’s discontentment, apathy and even greed for more.  The four of cups warns not to take your situation for granted, nor the people who supported you along the way.  Look around you.  What are you truly longing for?
 Name it.

The Wild Unknown Tarot


Last night I drove around Montrose for 45minutes contemplating alcohol as an acceptable antidote to my emotional state.  I felt anxious and alone and very vulnerable and my brain was fixated on having a drink.  My body was not in pain, nor particularly craving alcohol.  It took me the entire 45 minutes to figure that out.  When I finally dropped into my emotional body to ask what she actually wanted, it became very clear that alcohol would be of no help whatsoever.  Comfort.  Recognition.  Creativity.  I immediately drove home, made a cup of my favorite tea and hopped into bed with my favorite book.  I cried, and I slept.  I woke up puffy-eyed, but with no hangover and no regret.  I woke up to a piece of my power.

On Tuesday night I had a couple of drinks and the next day was so completely exhausted.  This may sound like no big deal to some, but I did it because I was nervous.  I did it because I was sad.  I did it because I didn’t want to be completely open and vulnerable.  I did it because I don’t fully trust my capacity to live without it.  “It?”

 

My addiction to pain, suffering, drama, conflict.  I’m mourning the loss of my closest confidante and trusted ally.
 

In recognizing the cycles of pain-binge and their long-term impact I not only feel the ever present sense of fear, doubt and anxiety, I feel completely untethered and lost.  

Where do I go from here?


My friends, my trusted, reliable, intimate partners are not the comfort they once were.  I don’t recognize them anymore.  They have betrayed me.  I want them to come back to me and apologize and never hurt me again so that I can go on without this pain, this hunger, this anger that has no escape route.   

It’s not appropriate for me to scream or cry or hit or punch or need or worry or doubt or wonder.  It’s not ok.  I should be stronger than that.  I shouldn’t feel the way that I do.


I want to see my ex.  I want to eat pints of ice cream in secret and put all of my feelings into that one, sick feeling that will pass in a day or two.  I want to go out tonight and finish a bottle of wine.  I want to get infatuated with someone and think about them in every waking moment so that I don’t have to think about how anxious I am about my life.

I don’t want to fail.  I don’t want to be in transition.  I don’t want to doubt myself.  I don’t want to have to prove myself.  I don’t want to be alone.  I don’t want to be in need.  I don’t want to feel less than.  I don’t want to wait.  I don’t want to feel ashamed.  

I don’t want to carry my heart around like burden anymore.  

*I long for connection and compassion and partnership.  
*I want a passionate relationship that floods my senses with enough sense to see/speak/move/act clearly.  
*I want stability and structure in my work so that I can fucking let loose and get real in my work.  
*I want to transform and unleash the power of my heart into the ether and sing songs with it, chew on her echo and embrace the victory of her sound.

For an intimate experience with the Emotional Body, please join me on Sunday, May 15 at 2pm for a *free* intro class and Q&A about my summer mentorship.  All levels of practice/experience welcome.

the ritual of addiction

It's time for me to be brutally honest, to say the things I've never wanted to say, and to take the steps I'm still not totally sure I want to take.  
 

I'm an addict and I have been for 17 years.  
I use food, alcohol and sex to bear the unbearable.

I noticed one day, years ago, that I felt tremendously alone most of the time, that feelings of stress and fear usually resulted from insecurity in relationship (which I had not yet connected to a brokenness in my relationship to Self) and that my default setting to cope with those feelings was isolating and eating, or clinging to the closest body and giving all of my attention (physical, emotional, mental and spiritual) to that intense moment of sexual climax in which I felt free, loved and whole.  

After years of therapy, Twelve Step support, yoga practice, inquiry, journaling, dieting, cleansing, study, training, teaching, catharsis, sharing, living, moving, fucking up and STILL feeling broken at a foundational level, I extended a hand to an entirely new source of support- my addiction.  I turned to myself and the compulsive desire I had decided (and been told) was the problem and asked for help.  First, I actually turned to my trusted and deeply loving Ayurvedic guide, Sunita Tarkunde.  Through our diligent work together I am establishing a pattern of observing and being with the pain.  I have allowed myself to articulate core beliefs about worth and wounds and not automatically shut them away for fear of anyone else's feelings about my (perceived) brokenness.  

I am becoming the source of healing, rather than the victim, the problem, the source of chaos and inconsistency.  

The body is ground zero when it comes to our human experience, but most of us stop our inquiry at that level.  Our culture fills us with absurd notions that it's our clothing, our diet, our exercise regimen and our brazenness in the bedroom that will curb or even satisfy our deeply rooted cravings.  On some level (the gross body level,) that could be true.  There's no doubt food, exercise, physical and sexual confidence and dressing in a way that feels authentic can create shift.  But under that physical craving lies much, much more that cannot be dressed up or dieted away.  

This process is not without tremendous difficulty.  I have relied on food, alcohol and sex as my most trusted allies in coping with the stress of life.  While they have not made me happier, they have ALWAYS been there when I need them, and in that consistency we have an incredibly strong alliance.  Over the next few weeks I'm going to explore with you the messages of your Four Levels of Being- Physical, Emotional, Mental and Spiritual and ways to integrate nourishing resources into the intimate ritual of coping.  We will, together, discover the source of impulse, pain, craving, creativity and healing.  

Please share if you know someone who will benefit from this work, and please reach out to let me know what your areas of greatest need might be.  

Tlatzolteotl, Toltec goddess called "the eater of filth," reminds us that that which has the power to overwhelm and destroy us also has the power to heal and transform us.  That which pains you is here to empower you.  Tattoo by Lisa Cardenas of Haunted Hands in Tucson, AZ.

Tlatzolteotl, Toltec goddess called "the eater of filth," reminds us that that which has the power to overwhelm and destroy us also has the power to heal and transform us.  That which pains you is here to empower you.  Tattoo by Lisa Cardenas of Haunted Hands in Tucson, AZ.