Feeling “At Home” In Your Own Skin”…How To Inhabit Your Physical Body With Ease And Grace


Feeling "At Home" in Your Body

Feeling “At Home” in Your Body

Have you ever felt as though your body didn’t really belong to you?  Perhaps you became ill and it seemed like your body betrayed the will of your mind.  Or, you may have felt some level of dissatisfaction with your appearance. Maybe you were in a stressful situation and you reached a level of anxiety that feels, literally, as though you are “out of body”.  All of the above experiences can be seen as examples of disharmony between the physical body and the mind.  In a real sense our bodies have an ongoing, dynamic relationship to our minds, but that relationship is not always comfortable. Communication is not always optimal.  Consider, for example, that we may want to stay up all night drinking, eating, and generally “partying”.  At some point in the evening, we may get a signal from our body that it is tired and needs sleep.  We ignore that signal.  Guess what?  We get sick.  Communication breakdown,  pure and simple.  Runaway anxiety and the shameful flush  of poor self -image could also be seen as a communication breakdown when you think about it.  Consider the possibility that such “bodily” signals are the communication that feelings exist which need to be attended to.  The question is, what is our body trying to tell us?

So, what do I mean by “what is our body trying to tell us?”  Does the body actually…..speak?

Oh yes it does, claims New York psychotherapist and spiritual teacher Judith Blackstone.  Dr. Blackstone argues that our body and all of its many systems and organs has an intelligence…or many intelligences. In order for us to really “feel” and “understand” body communications we need to learn to “attune” ourselves more deliberately and consciously to our body. The goal of this attunement  is to confidently inhabit our own body and live comfortably within our own skin.  Only then can we feel “at one” with ourselves…and not as though we are separate beings observing ourselves from the outside.  Said another way, the goal of this attunement is to be fully “present” to ourselves.  Incidentally, becoming present to ourselves is the first step to being present to others, but that is another blog!

So, how do we do this?…How do we “tune in” to ourselves at this basic “body” level?  One answer lies in a simple practice borrowed from mindfulness meditation, called the “body scan”.  Here are the steps:

  1. Find a quiet place, free of distractions, and assume a pose that is comfortable for you.  Your eyes are closed and you are lying down, or partially reclined…at least.
  2. Starting with the toes of your feet and moving up your body incrementally, put your attention on one body part at a time.  Ask yourself, how does it feel from the inside out?….feet warm?, cold? Itchy?
  3. The object is to truly enter into the consciousness of each body part and spend some time seeing how it feels.  Let your body speak to you!

The ideal thing would be to do this practice several times a week to get to know the smallest communications you are receiving from your body.  Don’t hesitate to enter into dialoug with your body part if necessary.  How are you today?…sorry about that fall yesterday!  The Buddhist teacher Adyashanti recommends that you prepare your body for an upcoming operation by reassuring it, for example, that the surgeon will be cutting….but it’s a good cut…not meant to hurt you.

So, next time your body goes through some kind of trauma, say some soothing words! Do the same thing if you are having an anxiety attack, or a rush of embarrassment.  Build a relationship! Make friends! Taking time to tune into your body on a regular basis will yield incredible benefits.



How To Maintain And Grow A Healthy Brain….Five Easy Ways To Facilitate Oxytocin Release

Dr. "Love" prescribes a minimum of 9 hugs per day

Dr. “Love” prescribes a minimum of 9 hugs per day

Neurology professor Paul Zak is known as “Dr. Love” because of his pioneering research at Claremont Graduate School on the importance of oxytocin for human attachment and “pro social” behavior.  Oxytocin, also know as the “love molecule”, is the chemical neurotransmitter that is released by our parasympathetic nervous system when we are feeling deep love and connection with another human being…or a beloved pet for that matter.  Oxytocin is like a “gift” that we offer to one another when we “touch” each other with kind words, or with the human “touch” of a hug, or a similar loving gesture.   Hugs are especially efficient, when you think about it, because of the reciprocity of giving and receiving the hug simultaneously.  Dr. Zak has done the scientific research necessary to actually measure oxytocin release before and after a human hug, and he was able to find a significant increase afterwards.  As an additional benefit to “feeling good”, the release of oxytocin into our nervous systems, protects our mind/brain from the overload of the stress hormones of adrenaline and cortisol. (see my previous blog).  So, daily “hugging” is the first on the list of easy ways to increase your oxytocin release.  Dr. Zak recommends a minimum of 9 hugs a day.  What are some other “practices” we can  incorporate into our daily routine?

2.  Actively connect with good friends everyday..and always find kind and supportive things to say.  New research on “kindness” from Stanford University teaches us that it is often the smallest gesture, or simplest words of kindness that are the most effective.

3.  Find Opportunities to connect with groups of people to share stories, listen to and play music, and laugh.  Unbelievably enough, Dr. Zak measured oxytocin levels before and after all of these activites and found significant increases afterwards.

4.  If at all possible… get a pet….preferably of the variety that can be held and cuddled, such as a cat or dog.  I don’t know this for sure, but I swear that my cat is radiating oxytocin when he purrs.  When I feel that purr resonate up through my hand as I pet my cat…I know oxytocin is released.

5.  Self  compassion is extremely important. Research is starting to point to this more and more.  Find ways to hold your hand over your heart during prayer, meditation, or simple reflective contemplation.  Even gently putting one hand on your other arm can be effective.  Such a simple practice!

So, does all of this seem like obvious kitchen table wisdom?  Of course it does!  Science is just beginning to catch up to what poets, philosophers, spiritual leaders, mothers, fathers, grandmothers…ect ect…have known forever.  It seems important just to remind ourselves from time to time.

Compassion…The Secret Ingredient For A Healthy Brain

Evolutionary biologist and clinical psychologist Paul Gilbert of Derbyshire England has

Kuan Ying...Goddess Of Compassion

Kuan Ying…Goddess Of Compassion

studied the evolution of the human brain for many years.  Dr. Gilbert has a particular interest in the role human emotional behavior plays to ensure survival of the species, and as we all now know, the seat of emotion is actually in our brain. To really understand the evolution of human emotion, it is of course necessary to look at the emotional life of our close relatives, the Great apes.  Dr. Gilbert has done just that, and he has made some amazing discoveries. First of all, he discovered that the apes actually have a fully developed emotional system which is encoded into their brains…in the same way as the human brain.  According to Dr. Gilbert, it is useful, although somewhat simplistic, to think of the brain as housing three separate emotional “systems”. I will briefly go over each system and how it functions: 1. The “Fear and Threat” system: This is the system that gets ignited when  there is a danger in the environment and the threatened  ape, for example, needs to either fight the threat or flee the threat.  This system is commonly referred to as the  fight or “Flight”  system.  In such a situation adrenaline and cortisol flood the nervous system in order to provide energy.   2. The “Drive” System:  This is the system that provides the energy and motivation to do the things that need to be done in order to thrive and procreate…for example we think of Sex drive”, or food gathering drive”…all of those “doing” things. “Doing” things also provides a sense of accomplishment, which perhaps provides added motivation.   3. Attachment, love, connection,. This is the system that drives the Apes, as well as ourselves as human beings to “fall in love” with one another, want to be with one another, and derive comfort and a feeling of well being in each others presence. The attachment system  is of course also necessary for mother/infant bonding. When an attachment feels good we are flooded with oxytocin…the “love” hormone.  We feel rested and good.

It is Dr. Gilbert’s assertion that human beings have the same basic emotional systems to contend with as our close evolutionary relatives. We can’t help it.  It’s built in.  It’s easy to see how the emotions have enormous evolutionary value, for ourselves and our animal relatives, but there is a downside as well.  Fortunately, and unfortunately, human beings have also developed consciousness.  This means that we not only operate out of instinct, but we contemplate what we do…sometimes endlessly and obsessively.  Our interpretation of “threat” for example, becomes the co-worker who looks at us the wrong way..or the driver who cuts us off.  In a sense our emotional systems are “overdetermined”. We internalize  a memory of someone who has hurt us or made us angry, so that anyone who reminds us of that person causes unnecessary anxiety or anger.  Similarly, our “Drive” system can become overactivated when we are constantly focused on achieving more and more, and/or making more and more money.  Insidiously, people can sometimes spend a lifetime ping ponging back and forth between. High achievement the drive system and worry about losing what they have (the threat systemAmong other things, this can make for a very unhealthy brain and nervous system.  The stress hormones of adrenaline and cortisol are constantly pumping through your body. This can literally “wear out” the system and contribute to many stress related physical diseases.  So what is the answer?

Dr. Gilbert argues that the answer lies in the third emotional system of  Attachment, Love,  and ConnectionWhat is distinctly different about this system is that it is part of the parasympathetic nervous system, as opposed to the sympathetic nervous system. Both the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous system are part of the autonomic nervous system which automatically regulates our internal organs and facilitates the firing of neurons for “action”.  However, the parasympathetic  system is focused on rest and digestion. The parasympathetic  system is complementary to the sympathetic system, and a necessary part of replenishing our stores of energy…giving the brain a much needed opportunity to “de-stress” and rest.

So how does this relate to compassion?  Dr. Gilbert argues that people who have great compassion for themselves and others are always giving their brains respite from the constant “do, do, do”….and “worry worry, worry,” of  modern life.  Compassion starts with the love of “self,” he contends. It is a way of “being” rather than the act of “doing”..and it floods us with the “oxytocin” of love.  Compassion can begin, simply enough, just with the realization and acceptance of the fact  that we have the genetic heritage of a magnificent but problematical brain. It is not our “fault” per say..its just Is. From “self “ compassion comes compassion for others, with the ultimate goal of being surrounded by the love we all deserve and long for.

So now Just remember….not only does love, compassion, and surrounding yourself with friendship feel good…its actually good for your brain




Discover The Secret To A Successful Longterm Relationship..Nourishing At The Roots

file000493930726-2Clinical Psychologist Harville Hendrix, and his wife, Helen Lakelly Hunt have been doing research in the field of couples counseling for the past thirty years.  In Dr. Hendrix’s books, “Getting The Love You Want” and “Keeping The Love You Find”, he introduces the reader to an idea which was revolutionary at the time the book was released.  The concept Dr. Hendrix proposed was that our relationships with early caregivers have a powerful impact on “partner” selection when it comes time to marriage and/or long term commitments.  It’s a “good news”, “bad news” kind of a situation when you think about it.  The assumption is that all of us emerge from childhood with unmet dependency needs… some of us obviously are more deprived than others…but nobody gets through without some scars.  Good news first:  In the healthiest of marriages, (please note that “marriage” is just my shorthand for “long term commitment”), there is the opportunity for addressing the “unmet” needs of both partners.  In the best of situations, an interdependancy can be created in which the well being of each partner is promoted within the relationship.  The Bad News?..Oftentimes one or both partners in a new relationship enters the relationship with largely unstated and unconscious expectations for having their needs met.  Sooner or later, as you might expect, there is a “fall from grace”, wherein neither partner can be what the other one wants or needs.  During the “honeymoon” phase of a relationship each partner is eager to put his/her best foot forward to fulfill the needs of the other.  However, this is usually unsustainable.  Certain patterns can emerge with couples.  For example, one partner’s needs can become paramount (ie…in the extreme…the narcissist)..while the other partner is “accommodating” ( ie…in the extreme…the codependant).  In truth, neither partner is truly happy and fulfilled.  Marriages break up under the strain.

But….there is hope!  Dr. Hendrix suggests that a marriage relationship can be nourished at its roots   successfully when each partner very intentionally talks about their early caregiving experiences .  When such material is shared, there is acknowledgement from the very beginning that vulnerability and woundedness exists for all of us.  Mutual empathy can be cultivated in a marriage, except, of course in cases where one member seems incapable of empathy. The empathy then becomes the key to really putting yourself in the “shoes” of the other person, and understanding something from a perspective that is differerent than your own.  Dr Hendrix argues that a key component to the relationship being ultimately successful, is that each partner must develop the ability to listen to the other.  Of all unmet childhood needs, this is perhaps the most common….many of us have felt unheard in childhood.  There is the chance for this to be repaired in marriage.

A final benefit to the deep listening that can be nourished in a long term relationship, is the realization, when we have been fully “heard”…. that  we are all fundamentally deeply connected.  The mystics got it right, in my view….When  I can find myself in you, loving you becomes loving myself.  Surely  healthy “self love” must be the ultimate goal in a relationship that is working for us both.file000493930726-2