Somanaut's Blog

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Anxiety and gender?

“Anxiety: Women Nearly Twice as Likely as Men to Have Anxiety, Study Shows”

Researchers from Cambridge University reviewed 48 studies on anxiety disorders and determined that for every 1.9 females, one male is affected by anxiety, the study in Brain and Behavior said.”
I really don’t think that men are less prone to anxiety. I don’t think that men are less disordered, or more orderly about their anxiety, or any of that.
We make the behavior of men the norm. We pathologize the behavior of women. Everyone suffers for this. Men are dismissed as healthy enough, their fears are of little concern. Women are disempowered, their cultural issues over looked, and their responses belittled.
By carefully considering the implicit bias in our social sciences and caring professions, we can begin to deepen our understanding. Fear and anxiety are human. Gender does play a role in the form of socially driven stresses, but it does not decide the quantity or quality of personal experience.

June 13, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Tyranny of the Weak

I take some of my somatic principles from psychology. The struggles in the bodymind are mirrored by the social challenges we all face.  Body parts and systems interact in ways similar to members of social groups.

Marion Woodman is a Canadian psychotherapist, teacher and Jungian analyst. She spoke about how a person who feels scared will desperately attempt to control the actions of those close to them. Rather than transcend the fear, it is easier to avoid the challenges by placing limits on others. Marion termed this “tyranny of the weak”.


For example: John is scared of heights. His friends want to go rock climbing. He says that they must not abandon him, and that anyway climbing isn’t all that much fun, and if they were really his friends they would do something that included him, etc. He basically tells them that his weakness must limit their behaviors.

Just as a person can dominate a social group by claiming a need to limit everyone’s action, so can a portion of the bodymind hinder the larger self from coping and enjoying.

The solution is not necessarily to override the resistance. Fear has it’s place. But paying attention to the details can get us inside the fear, to a place where we have a way to take care of the unmet need. Then we can move on. Ignoring fear, or indulging it, are both problematic. No tyranny- not of the strong, or of the weak.

June 6, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment


Why do people read to confirm their existing reality, rather than to get new perspectives? Why do we all hear more of what we agree with, and drop challenging details that might force us to rethink our world view?


These are perennial questions. It is frustrating to try to communicate, and find limited success. Some blame gender, some blame privilege, some blame intelligence or lack thereof, but I want to look at our fundamental neurological biases, and the perspectives that we create from them.


New information is change. We can tolerate a limited amount of change. This is a biological reality. We can not afford to be wrong about in a crucial encounter. A new animal, a new food, a new kind of environments- all these can be fatal in moments. Our whole being is designed to limit change to keep us alive.

How much we can accept varies according to our resources and stress. In a physical sense this might mean we can survive underwater for as long as we have breath. This could be affected by our cognitive function- how far away is air? and our emotional reaction- pleasure at being in the quiet depths, or fear- which alters our metabolism, using our air supply a bit faster.

So we see that our perceived resources and perceived stress matter in a very physical way. Changing our perceptions is powerful. The shift from terror to calm can increase our chances of survival. And vice versa! Fight/flight is useful, and meditating on the approach of death may not always be the best coping strategy.

On the interpersonal level, we can titrate our communication. Offer one drop of new information, then wait to see how the reaction happens. It is understandable that we might add more and more information when we are not getting the intended response. But if we consider how everyone is wired to limit change, we can see the skill in matching our communication to the amount our listener can accept. More information does not add to the conversation, instead it provoke fight/flight/freezing/shut down. Once these survival systems are engaged , it can be a long time before the listener will be open to our input.

Next time you try to alter someone else’s perception, remember that there are sharp limits. People are not being dense, they are surviving! The limits vary, and can be hard to define or predict.

Start small. Steer your listener toward resources (enhance their perception of their own strength). Give them time to integrate. Bigger ideas need more time, but since you can’t know what is big for someone else, go slowly and get feedback.

June 1, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment



“Stability increases the feeling of safety. Instability means risk but easy mobility. Both are biologically important. Becoming addicted to one of them makes one unsafe for lack of choice.” Moshe Feldenkrais

How do find a good working balance? By examining our preferences for activity and rest, considering our comfort with state change- going from still to moving, or vice-versa. By noticing our habits and our resistances, and then using self-compassion to nurture our growth. Abrupt changes rarely work, neither does rigid refusal to participate in change.

“Flow with whatever may happen, and let your mind be free: Stay centered by accepting whatever you are doing. This is the ultimate.” Zhuangzi


Bandaloop on the wall of the Salt Lake City library. See this video for more of their vertical dance exploits.

An interesting bit about safety here- they are obviously hanging a long way up. But the thing they need to pay attention to while they are out there is how they hit the wall when they swing back.

I got to take a workshop with Bandaloop, just on a climbing wall. I was in a harness, about 10 feet up and when I jumped away from the wall, the impact on return was intense. They warned me, very carefully describing the need to land mindfully. But I think my fear of falling distracted me from the more likely danger of hitting the wall too hard.

Safety is a lot of things. Our physical safety can conflict with out emotional safety. Resolving this is hard, but worthwhile. Comfort and safety are not the same, but they can overlap. If we get compulsive in pursuing or avoiding comfort, we lose some of our power to create safety.

Here’s a final thought from Bodhi Sanders, about the possible meanings of safety:

“Protecting yourself is self-defense. Protecting others is warriorship.”

May 16, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment


“Every weakness contains within itself a strength.”
Japanese author Shusaku Endo  spent a lot of time around doctors and nurses. Before publishing his award-winning work of historical fiction, Silence, he spent the greater part of three years in hospitals—in Japan and France—recovering from pleurisy.

“The earth is not just for the clever and the strong.” Endo

Our life is a mix. There is no benefit to pretending to be free of all weakness. That would not be human.

It would be lonely.

May 9, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Stop Levitating

In Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Nobel prize winning novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude,  he tells of a priest who levitates every time he drinks hot chocolate. The author said once that originally he had the priest levitating when he drank communion wine, but decided that would be too normal, so he changed the wine to hot chocolate.

Most of us levitate, just not so elegantly. We levitate when we pull up from the support of the earth, perhaps in search of elevated spirituality, and perhaps in search of relief from the pains of earthly existence. It might just look like tense shoulders, or a tight low back, but there is an element of levitation, of pulling away from the chance to rest solidly.

Our culture disdains the earth- we exalt heaven, we aspire to greater heights, we bury our garbage and we descend into hell. But the support of the earth is fundamental to our existence. We do call it “life on earth”.

Our comfort and function depend on the physical connection we have with the earth. Our effectiveness is largely controlled by how well we use that connection. When we lose our sense of ground, our sense of gravity holding us in contact with the earth, we suffer a dreadful anxiety. We can feel exhilaration in flight, but soon we crave the landing. Our home is on the ground, solidly touching the earth.

Try sitting with an intention to be solidly on your chair . This is easier on a hard seat. Find your sit bones and let them press down. Release any muscular tension in the area. The clearer this gets, the more likely you are to feel your spine come into alignment, and your head rise. It may help to allow your feet to rest fully on the floor.

We may tell someone to “sit up”, but that doesn’t work. Like yelling “RELAX!”- it is a useless command. Sit down, pelvis first, actively letting gravity take over, and allowing your bones to stack. Practice this and you will find you sit more easily, remaining more alert yet resting more completely than if you do the usual slouching.

Your back muscles will love the new habit, as they will no longer have to hold you up. Sitting right on your sit bones will stack your spine in a more efficient line, making it way less work for your muscles. Your face will naturally point forward, which means you will look straight ahead without having to tense your neck. You will see better, your shoulders will be happier, and you will feel better when you get up.

This picture shows that you don’t need muscle to sit well. You just need to put your sit bones on the seat, and the rest is just stacking the bones up. Once they are stacked, they can rest.


That is just one example of the benefits of not levitating. We also levitate when we walk, particularly in shoes (which I will discuss in a separate post). Do you allow your whole foot to touch the ground? “Walk as if you are massaging the earth,” Thich Nhat Han. Try it. What does it feel like to use you foot fully and intentionally to touch the earth? H ow does that change the way you organize the rest of yourself?

Lifting constantly against gravity is hard work. Make your life easier. Notice where you are levitating. See if you can let go and let the pull of the earth support you.

One more from Thich Nhat Han, “Fear, separation, hate and anger come from the wrong view that you and the Earth are two separate entities, the Earth is only the environment.” Releasing our habits of levitation will reduce our unhappiness.


April 25, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Is Love Hard?

Love is scary. Love challenges our identity. These statements are true in a sense,  but not all the time in all ways. Our culture has a lot of sad, angry, and bitter stories about loving.

Try on this idea:

Loving is easy. Specifically, loving you is easy.

It’s true. Loving is simple and self sustaining. Easy. No loss, no sweat, no stress needed.

We are often told that loving means sacrifice, effort, work, heartache, and general unpleasantness.  Life does have all those hard things. They are not love, even when they happen at the same time.

Correlation is not causation. Coincidence is not causation. Random phenomena are not causation. Passive aggressive statements are not love. All the crap that gets attached to love in our heads, none of that is love.

The hard stuff has a lot to do with expectations. When we love we mix in other desires. If you love me you will___ . That is not loving, that is demanding. Unfortunately, we accept it as normal, and base our view of loving on it.

Hope has a place in life, but it is problematic if conflated with love. My hopes are wonderful only as long as I remember that hope is about the future, and I never know the future. Love is a present time thing- I can only love now, not later.  Hope and love don’t exist in the same time frame. Leave each in it’s place, and things will be easier.

Imagine going to up random strangers and saying “Loving you is easy.” Imagine the next homeless person who accosts you. Instead of shrinking back in fear, what if you looked her in the eyes and told her that loving her is easy. What do you think the odds are that anyone has ever told her that simple truth? Maybe you won’t change the course of her life, but maybe you will make that moment better.

Find a friend. Tell them “Loving you is easy” and, even better, “Loving me is easy”. Now go find a mirror. You know what to say when you see yourself.

Practice. We’ve all got a lot to unlearn about love.


April 20, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Standing Work Stations



We are part of a huge social experiment. Our culture sits more than any other society in history. Much of our lives is experienced less than two feet from our faces. But there is little attention on the effects of sitting and staring at a monitor for endless hours.


Hunter gathers didn’t have Mac books. We evolved to walk and see. That means our vision is designed to work from a moving platform, and to perceive a variety of distances, colors size and shapes- all in natural light. Holding our body still leaves our eye muscles to do all the work of creating a visual field. This is inherently alienating, exhausting and depressing.


A standing workstation is an improvement for most people. This also includes the use of tall stools, rather than normal chairs. Pictures of scholars from the Dark Ages show them standing and reading. Thomas Jefferson stood to read and write sometimes. He was much too tall to fit in the average chair of his time. Ernest Hemingway wrote all his novels standing at his writing table.


David K. Reynolds, therapist and prolific author writes at his stand up desk. He writes for four hours each morning, and says the stand up desk help him stay focused.


Standing desks have also been used in Minnesota schools, showing benefits for adhd kids.


To set up a standing workstation, start with a tape measure. While looking straight ahead, measure from the floor to your chin. Set your monitor so that the center of the screen is the same height. Even an inch or two difference will make your neck muscles work more.


From my chin to the screen is 22 inches. Go for at least 16 inches. Being too close to the screen makes your eyes work harder. If you need larger print to see better, enlarge it (hit control plus on PCs). Try it out, and check if you feel more relaxed. Longer focal length means less work for your eye muscles- less “near point strain”. Get a bigger monitor if you find you need to be closer. You will love the comfort.


Setting your keyboard height is pretty easy. Your keyboard should be slightly below your elbow height. Stand on a flat floor and measure up to your elbow. Set your keyboard so it’s about 1-2 inches lower. Any higher and you will lift your shoulders a bit every time you move your hands. Since the shoulder lifting muscles are connected to your neck and head, when they pull your shoulders up, they also pull your head down. Fighting to keep your head up is a major cause of headaches and back pain, so it is worth paying careful attention to the height of your keyboard.


Your mouse can be the same height or even a bit lower. Reaching up to use your mouse is very tiring, and can lead to “mouse arm”- tight swollen arm and shoulder muscles, as well as tension headaches.


If you use your mouse extensively, get one that has a track ball option. You can learn to switch back and forth from moving the mouse to rolling the track ball. Some people even switch sides at lunchtime so that they use the mouse right handed in the morning and left handed in the afternoon.


It’s easier to be focused and stay on task when we stand. Sitting we tend to slump out and dream away. Email and Facebook can swallow time, leaving us sick of the screen and frustrated that we didn’t get a damned thing done. It’s even worse when facing something discouraging. Having a more energized posture can make a huge difference in getting through a tough project.


And now for a blunt truth: Eight hours a day of anything is too much. Your body craves variety, and breaks down under monotony.


If you can’t stand long enough to do what you want to do, and you really can’t do less, then you need a tall stool. Your stool should let you sit up with your head at exactly the same height as when you stand. Then you won’t need to adjust your monitor, keyboard and mouse every time you take a sitting break.


Part 2 of this post will give you even more options.


April 18, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Bicycle City: A Sustainable Future

When my great aunt Hildegard died, I headed off to the general store for some fixings for Jello molds and funeral potatoes. I got out the wagon, and hitched up my favorite team of oxen. When I had procured my comestibles, I set off again.  I was deeply grateful that Brigham Young had made the street wide enough for me to turn and head home without having to around the block. I hate extra travel when there is serious cooking to be done.

But since then, times have changed.

Salt Lake City’s 135 foot wide streets are as outmoded as President Lincoln’s beaver hats. Transportation research has made it very clear that widening roads brings more traffic, not faster commutes. What goes unmentioned is the collateral damage.

Big roads cost more to make, and more to maintain. More snowplowing, more painting and patching, more oil polluted rain runoff, faster driving speeds (meaning more serious injuries) and more traffic cops. Wide roads make our city less walkable.  They are more dangerous to cross, louder and scarier, much hotter in the summer, windier and colder in the winter, and more polluted and thus smellier. And they are just plain ugly.

High speed driving hurts local merchants who lose connection with customers. Signage is powerful and cheap advertising, but faster, denser traffic makes it hard to reach people.

Think  about biking past a bakery, or a side walk café. Wouldn’t that be more enticing that speeding by, or crawling by in bumper to bumper frustration?

bike commters

Stores on 300 South saw a significant increase in business when the new bike lanes were added.

“Business is up 20 percent since last year. I’m excited about the changes to the neighborhood,” said John Mueller, a business owner. “The bike lanes and lower speed limits help to calm car traffic and increase pedestrian traffic — all positives for my business.”

Our streets could be changed radically. Currently, we are under car law. Every decision about our city is made assuming that cars are the primary mode of transportation, and that this is a good idea. How 20th century!

Imagine a taking a down town street like 200 south, with 2 lanes in each direction, a center turn lane, and parking on the sides.  Start by replacing the turn lane with center strip of trees and gardens. It’s not that busy, and with more biking and less car traffic,  it will be way over-built. Parking on just one side (alternating every block) would be plenty. One lane for cars each way, make the other for bikes.

The bicycle lane could be ½ the width of a car lane. Pavement eliminated= 3 whole lanes, or over 40%! The street becomes safer to bike and easier to cross on foot, and prettier, while being a potential food source for the community (which is going to matter a lot if California doesn’t get some rain).

Some streets could be under bicycle rules. 15 mph max, and no passing a bike with a car. You want to go faster- simple, turn and go a block over to a car rules street. Living on a bicycle street would be much quieter, less polluted, and kids and pets would be much safer. The drivers would learn to relax, the bicyclist would feel safer, and everyone would be a bit friendlier.


Feeder roads into downtown could include bicycle only streets for rush hour traffic. You can put many, many, more bikes than cars onto a road. For suburbanites with long commutes, park and bike lots would be a good way to begin the changeover to modern transportation. Even better would be using Trax and buses more, possible taking a fold-up bike along.

There are many huge car dealerships in SLC, as in every city in the country.

car lot

Imagine ½ of them converted to bike shops. How big is a bike shop, and how much outside extra parking does it need? How many more trees, birds, bees, flowers, etc. would we have?


All shopping centers have gigantic parking lots, which are a frequent place for accidents, and an ecological disaster. How much paving would be eliminated by switching to mostly biking?  (Picture/drawing)

Safety on the street is a major issue for women. People on bikes are not anonymous like in cars, so they would be a lot less likely to yell inappropriate remarks, and infinitely less like to abduct anyone.

Mormons are famous around the world for biking. Here’s a new slogan: “Bicycles, they aren’t just for missions any more”.  SLC draws active people. We have a super fit population already. Why not focus on our unique strengths, especially the ones that fit both the religious and the non-believers?

Drunk bicyclist runs over 3 tourists, crashes into restaurant injuring patrons.

Not a very likely headline, eh? We could be the safest city in the country, with the prettiest streets. Tourism brings serious cash. We have the Wasatch Front, and it is gorgeous- when we can see it.  Having a legendary downtown would add significant revenue.

Older people fear losing the ability to drive. It’s often vision and attention problems. Biking would let them get around, and keep them healthier longer, while removing the danger of impaired drivers. Electric motor assists on their bikes would cover for loss of strength, and still keep speed in the safe range. In general, use it or lose it applies to aging and physical activity. More biking for everyone means healthier seniors.

Let’s talk about sex. Cars are a great American sex symbol. But actually that’s just a clever marketing strategy- all symbol, no real sex, love or intimacy. People who bike are fitter, so they look better, and are seen more. It’s way easier to chat with someone at a stop light when both people are on bicycles. Throw in the reduced stress and you have more opportunity, better attractiveness, and more ability to create romance. Oh, and since you aren’t spending so much on gas, repairs, and insurance, you have spare funds for great romantic adventures!

Here’s someone talking about how it has been done!



March 21, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Teaching and touching

I’ve taught yoga, Feldenkrais,  Contact Improvisation and seminars for massage therapists- teaching in both private classes and university settings. The rules and expectations vary in each sub-culture.  Teaching is a great privilege, a great joy, and sometimes a great heartache.

We know touching can deliver tremendous amounts of very  useful information to our students. For many of us, touch is a favorite mode of communication. Just dropping it would be such a loss.


What are we responsible for?

We commit to teaching to the best of our abilities. We put aside our ego needs, get as present as possible, and deliver what we advertised. Our responsibilities include creating a reasonably safe space for learning. Safety and comfort are not the same. Reasonable and perfect are also not identical. Our imperfections are an intrinsic part of our lessons. We can not escape them, but we can own them in increasingly healthy ways.


We are not responsible for others’ experiences.

As much as I might like to think otherwise, the truth is that I have no control over what a student assimilates, or how she uses that. Non-attachment is valuable when we teach.


We are not obligated to fulfill any particular need or want.

Once, I had a student angrily declare that I had violated his boundary by not doing something. I explained that it is impossible to violate a boundary through non-doing. What I had done was not fulfilled an expectation. If I had been a better teacher then, I might have been able to help him grasp the difference, and he might have benefited in a lasting way.


How do we cope?

Simple strategies for dealing with touch include creating consent, staying on task, and receiving feedback. Staying on task requires mindful touch- touch that is specific to the lesson, specific to the student, and specific to the moment. Prior exploration of one’s own embodiment makes it easier to be clear. This needs to be regularly updated, if only so we can have a fresh memory of the vulnerability of somatic pursuits.


Here are some comments from others:

“And there are those of us who believe we are ok with touch. Wanting to be liked.”

And the other side-

” …even without trauma in the past there is nothing like the shocker of doing a movement lesson and all of a sudden having someone touch you!”

I think as a teacher I can examine what part of me wants to be liked, reassured, and acknowledged.  Contemplating how that best could happen for me, and then allowing for it to be similar or different for others.

” …ask permission, and indicate the hand placement. I also generally refrain from doing manual adjustments to students with whom I’m not familiar. It’s never perfect, but better to try and fail, and learn.”

“In adjusting, first, try verbal adjustment; second, demonstration. Hands-on adjustment should always be the third and last option. Using that set of priorities also makes me a better teacher, and helps the students learn more independently.”

“I also appreciate it when teachers start the lesson or session by what I can expect and what we’ll do, and during this mention that if I feel uncomfortable at any time, or am not OK with it, and want to pause or take a break and process, just to let them know. Periodic check-ins whilst working on or with me is very much appreciated too. That tells me they’re serious and are listening, and I can relax a bit more and trust as well.”

“One of my friends and yoga students back in the day had the idea to have a little colored piece on the front of your yoga mat…. each student could flip it to green if they’re open to being touched or wanting “adjustment” and red if they’re not into it for whatever reason.”


This post is a response to a great blog from a trauma survivor who talks about how being touched in class can feel. You can read her thoughts here-


If you have more suggestions, please comment!

March 16, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment