Shaky Ground, Fertile Soil

The most powerful thing we can do is to humble ourselves: get down on our knees, surrender our stories, defenses and resistance, and to offer all that we are, allowing the immense strength of humility, faith, trust and inherent divinity to flood our beings, dancing us into action, effortlessly, with the grace of love. 
All we have is this moment, this single heartbeat, this one breath- the space that's created in an awake, deep presence of what IS right here, now. How do you want that breath to feel? That heart? How much of the moment can you let go of yourself and let Light flood your being so that you can live for what you believe in, animated by the power of the sacred, in service of those who struggle? Out of humble care for those in need? 
Be gentle, be held by the subtle. Know you are not alone. Feel how your reflection is in the heart of every other being. You've been given the great gift of Life, and, with the ground beneath our feet so unsteady as of late, how can we take for granted a single bite of clean food? a single sip of precious water? the warmth in your bath, in your bed? peace in our country? no threats of your life being taken from you or that of your family? The look of love in your child or lover's eyes? 
We have all we need, yet complain it is not enough. That life is not enough somehow. That we need more, yet all that I can see to be true that what we need is to trust more, to care more, to back down more quickly and listen, to give more, to truly see the hearts of others and to act as if this moment, this breath, this one heartbeat is our one chance to shine with all that we are. 
I have felt the fear and sadness of those around me, and I ask that, with the hidden darkness that now is revealed so clearly, we do not veer from our center, from what we came here to do and from the truth of our inherent sacredness. Feel the sadness, the fear or the grief, but feel it from the part of you that knows you are held by God. Let this shaky ground be what wakes us up from the sleep of comfort. Let it be what springs us into motion with courage, heart, readiness, grace and precision. Let it be the quake that rattles us alive to shine, to humble ourselves, to protect what is sacred and to feel how held we are, how not alone we are with every heartbeat. Forgive those you still resent, do what you have been waiting to do, forgive yourself so you can truly love, and let nothing hide in the shadows to be taken care of later. Love, trust and believe like you never have before, not with intensity that burns out quickly, but with a sustained warmth and aliveness. No matter what happens outside of us, there is a part of that is always perfect, that can never be shaken unless we give in to false beliefs. Let its true voice guide all we do.

From Tension to Awakening

What creates tension in the body and mind and how do we create more wholeness?
As a result of physical or emotional pain, the nervous system responds with survival patterns of neural tension to help us not feel something painful, separating those pieces from the whole. Defensive postures help us wall off the wounded parts so that we can favor parts that feel better over parts that don’t feel safe. With bodywork end energy work we are opening up communication of those parts that were once separated in the body and mind so that they can be digested and reintegrated in a safe way, back into the whole. By bringing attention and care to the separated, unsafe parts and no longer pushing what is uncomfortable away, the parts that hurt immediately start to feel safe again and reintegrate into the whole. This results in a feeling of connection, a fuller embrace of all that we are, and a deeper more fulfilling relationship with being human. IMG_6044

Looking for the Lion

“You're not going to get comfortable with this. Especially as we get closer to something. But you are going to get more comfortable with discomfort.

You’re actually going to look for the lion. This is to cultivate a part of your nervous system that will ultimately free you. The thing that is reflexive in our human nervous system is to contract and turn away from difficult things. The result is that we become in opposition to part of our journey, because, there are always difficult things that are going to show up. We will try to grab on to what feels good and push away from what doesn’t, and that’s the sure way to suffer, to get into a battle with our own humanness and therefore, never really love ourselves unconditionally. The new age movement and so much spirituality is fraught with this. You might be able to get really high and stay really high, but eventually people get sick. The separation we create with our own humanness starts to get its own metabolism. So, this seems really sober, and in a way, too sober for many. It may seem that if we go toward pain and difficulty, that that’s all we’ll live in. Where it leads to is where resistance to life as it shows up falls away, and even in contractions, there is more space. We’re not getting rid of any contractions or any part of our humanness. The space becomes more easily accessible more quickly, and even the darkest of our contractions come up to be held. The deepest parts that feel separate, or less than or alone or abandoned get held in presence because you don’t resist them anymore and you become more present. Then what happens is you see the light in the contraction, you start to experience the openness in the darkest of places; you are no longer resisting life. You start to experience the god-consciousness in its form. You start to have ecstatic experiences in all aspects of life. This leads to an ecstatic life, but it looks like we’re going the opposite way. It’s what most people will never do because they want to have dessert first, and then denial of what’s difficult comes in again, so then we have conditional love, conditional awakening.  
Resistance not in the way, it's the path, it's part of the journey. It's there right before you deconstruct all the ways you've put lid on yourself. That part of you that's in resistance and wants to control is the part of you that wants Love more than any other part of you. So, how do we love while there is resistance? How about with a 'Yes, Welcome.' Let's hold that. Let's touch that.
Notice that even though it's unpleasant, there’s a different quality in your being. What is that quality?” 
“Alive” I say. "A safety that's unfamiliar to me."
“Practice like your hair’s on fire.”

– Conversations with my teacher, Lawrence Conlan


My first published article, on the beauty of falling

Today I fell.

A lot. I laughed every time, because I was back-country skiing in beautiful, mountainous nature with one of my favorite people, but it reminded me of how much I fell this week.

Definition of falling: “to drop or descend under the force of gravity, as to a lower place through loss or lack of support.”

All that rises will fall at some point, but if I’m going to fall, I want to fall into the wholeness of all that I’ve got, embracing and embodying both strength and weakness, beautiful and ugly until I’m fully integrated.

We have a choice of whether our fall will be graceful or not and if we don’t fear the fall, the descent may be so soft that we may not notice it at all.

Life wouldn’t let us down if we couldn’t get back up again. It is always there, holding you, even when you don’t see the lesson it’s gifting you with. When we bring trust and experience into the picture, we bounce back faster and stronger. We implement new skills, increase stamina, faith and resilience, because we trust our own strength and know that, ultimately, there was a plan.

If we never fell, if things were always easy and we never risked injury, we’d never feel the need to look at our weaknesses and transform them, or to discover the strengths we’ve developed after the last plummet.

So I fell, and I realized that my former weaknesses were now wisdom that protected me and that my weakest links were things I could look right in the face and feel completely without any shame.

The key is to not contract, but to surrender to the descent. It was placed there to teach you, and as you surrender, expand, and let go, you grow. This week, I collected my lessons so I don’t re-create the same fall, and I walk away with a “Thank you, I needed to see that. I needed to see that part of myself I wasn’t willing to love until now. I won because I gave it my best shot and I learned.”


So knock yourself over. All you have to do is get back up.

The world will bend to carry you if your intention is to learn not what you want to learn, but what it placed there to teach you all along.



Your grandparents’ experiences may be genetically affecting yours today


Grandma's Experiences Leave a Mark on Your Genes


Your ancestors' lousy childhoods or excellent adventures might change your personality, bequeathing anxiety or resilience by altering the epigenetic expressions of genes in the brain.

By Dan Hurley|Thursday, June 25, 2015
Alison Mackey/DISCOVER





[This article originally appeared in print as “Trait vs. Fate”]

Darwin and Freud walk into a bar. Two alcoholic mice — a mother and her son — sit on two bar stools, lapping gin from two thimbles.

The mother mouse looks up and says, “Hey, geniuses, tell me how my son got into this sorry state.”

“Bad inheritance,” says Darwin.

“Bad mothering,” says Freud.

For over a hundred years, those two views — nature or nurture, biology or psychology — offered opposing explanations for how behaviors develop and persist, not only within a single individual but across generations.

And then, in 1992, two young scientists following in Freud’s and Darwin’s footsteps actually did walk into a bar. And by the time they walked out, a few beers later, they had begun to forge a revolutionary new synthesis of how life experiences could directly affect your genes — and not only your own life experiences, but those of your mother’s, grandmother’s and beyond.

The bar was in Madrid, where the Cajal Institute, Spain’s oldest academic center for the study of neurobiology, was holding an international meeting. Moshe Szyf, a molecular biologist and geneticist at McGill University in Montreal, had never studied psychology or neurology, but he had been talked into attending by a colleague who thought his work might have some application. Likewise, Michael Meaney, a McGill neurobiologist, had been talked into attending by the same colleague, who thought Meaney’s research into animal models of maternal neglect might benefit from Szyf’s perspective.






Michael Meaney, neurobiologist.
Owen Egan/McGill University





“I can still visualize the place — it was a corner bar that specialized in pizza,” Meaney says. “Moshe, being kosher, was interested in kosher calories. Beer is kosher. Moshe can drink beer anywhere. And I’m Irish. So it was perfect.”

The two engaged in animated conversation about a hot new line of research in genetics. Since the 1970s, researchers had known that the tightly wound spools of DNA inside each cell’s nucleus require something extra to tell them exactly which genes to transcribe, whether for a heart cell, a liver cell or a brain cell. 

One such extra element is the methyl group, a common structural component of organic molecules. The methyl group works like a placeholder in a cookbook, attaching to the DNA within each cell to select only those recipes — er, genes — necessary for that particular cell’s proteins. Because methyl groups are attached to the genes, residing beside but separate from the double-helix DNA code, the field was dubbed epigenetics, from the prefix epi (Greek for over, outer, above).

Originally these epigenetic changes were believed to occur only during fetal development. But pioneering studies showed that molecular bric-a-brac could be added to DNA in adulthood, setting off a cascade of cellular changes resulting in cancer. Sometimes methyl groups attached to DNA thanks to changes in diet; other times, exposure to certain chemicals appeared to be the cause. Szyf showed that correcting epigenetic changes with drugs could cure certain cancers in animals. 

Geneticists were especially surprised to find that epigenetic change could be passed down from parent to child, one generation after the next. A study from Randy Jirtle of Duke University showed that when female mice are fed a diet rich in methyl groups, the fur pigment of subsequent offspring is permanently altered. Without any change to DNA at all, methyl groups could be added or subtracted, and the changes were inherited much like a mutation in a gene.






Moshe Szyf, molecular biologist and geneticist.
McGill University





Now, at the bar in Madrid, Szyf and Meaney considered a hypothesis as improbable as it was profound: If diet and chemicals can cause epigenetic changes, could certain experiences — child neglect, drug abuse or other severe stresses — also set off epigenetic changes to the DNA inside the neurons of a person’s brain? That question turned out to be the basis of a new field, behavioral epigenetics, now so vibrant it has spawned dozens of studies and suggested profound new treatments to heal the brain.

According to the new insights of behavioral epigenetics, traumatic experiences in our past, or in our recent ancestors’ past, leave molecular scars adhering to our DNA. Jews whose great-grandparents were chased from their Russian shtetls; Chinese whose grandparents lived through the ravages of the Cultural Revolution; young immigrants from Africa whose parents survived massacres; adults of every ethnicity who grew up with alcoholic or abusive parents — all carry with them more than just memories. 

Like silt deposited on the cogs of a finely tuned machine after the seawater of a tsunami recedes, our experiences, and those of our forebears, are never gone, even if they have been forgotten. They become a part of us, a molecular residue holding fast to our genetic scaffolding. The DNA remains the same, but psychological and behavioral tendencies are inherited. You might have inherited not just your grandmother’s knobby knees, but also her predisposition toward depression caused by the neglect she suffered as a newborn. 

Or not. If your grandmother was adopted by nurturing parents, you might be enjoying the boost she received thanks to their love and support. The mechanisms of behavioral epigenetics underlie not only deficits and weaknesses but strengths and resiliencies, too. And for those unlucky enough to descend from miserable or withholding grandparents, emerging drug treatments could reset not just mood, but the epigenetic changes themselves. Like grandmother’s vintage dress, you could wear it or have it altered. The genome has long been known as the blueprint of life, but the epigenome is life’s Etch A Sketch: Shake it hard enough, and you can wipe clean the family curse.

Voodoo Genetics 

Twenty years after helping to set off a revolution, Meaney sits behind a wide walnut table that serves as his desk. A January storm has deposited half a foot of snow outside the picture windows lining his fourth-floor corner office at the Douglas Institute, a mental health affiliate of McGill. He has the rugged good looks and tousled salt-and-pepper hair of someone found on a ski slope — precisely where he plans to go this weekend. On the floor lies an arrangement of helium balloons in various stages of deflation. “Happy 60th!” one announces. 

“I’ve always been interested in what makes people different from each other,” he says. “The way we act, the way we behave — some people are optimistic, some are pessimistic. What produces that variation? Evolution selects the variance that is most successful, but what produces the grist for the mill?” 

Meaney pursued the question of individual differences by studying how the rearing habits of mother rats caused lifelong changes in their offspring. Research dating back to the 1950s had shown that rats handled by humans for as little as five to 15 minutes per day during their first three weeks of life grew up to be calmer and less reactive to stressful environments compared with their non-handled littermates. Seeking to tease out the mechanism behind such an enduring effect, Meaney and others established that the benefit was not actually conveyed by the human handling. Rather, the handling simply provoked the rats’ mothers to lick and groom their pups more, and to engage more often in a behavior called arched-back nursing, in which the mother gives the pups extra room to suckle against her underside.

“It’s all about the tactile stimulation,” Meaney says.

In a landmark 1997 paper in Science, he showed that natural variations in the amount of licking and grooming received during infancy had a direct effect on how stress hormones, including corticosterone, were expressed in adulthood. The more licking as babies, the lower the stress hormones as grown-ups. It was almost as if the mother rats were licking away at a genetic dimmer switch. What the paper didn’t explain was how such a thing could be possible. 

"What we had done up to that point in time was to identify maternal care and its influence on specific genes,” Meaney says. “But epigenetics wasn’t a topic I knew very much about.”

And then he met Szyf.




Alison Mackey/DISCOVER



Postnatal Inheritance 

“I was going to be a dentist,” Szyf says with a laugh. Slight, pale and balding, he sits in a small office at the back of his bustling laboratory — a room so Spartan, it contains just a single picture, a photograph of two embryos in a womb.

Needing to write a thesis in the late 1970s for his doctorate in dentistry at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Szyf approached a young biochemistry professor named Aharon Razin, who had recently made a splash by publishing his first few studies in some of the world’s top scientific journals. The studies were the first to show that the action of genes could be modulated by structures called methyl groups, a subject about which Szyf knew precisely nothing. But he needed a thesis adviser, and Razin was there. Szyf found himself swept up to the forefront of the hot new field of epigenetics and never looked back.

Until researchers like Razin came along, the basic story line on how genes get transcribed in a cell was neat and simple. DNA is the master code, residing inside the nucleus of every cell; RNA transcribes the code to build whatever proteins the cell needs. Then some of Razin’s colleagues showed that methyl groups could attach to cytosine, one of the chemical bases in DNA and RNA. 

It was Razin, working with fellow biochemist Howard Cedar, who showed these attachments weren’t just brief, meaningless affairs. The methyl groups could become married permanently to the DNA, getting replicated right along with it through a hundred generations. As in any good marriage, moreover, the attachment of the methyl groups significantly altered the behavior of whichever gene they wed, inhibiting its transcription, much like a jealous spouse. It did so, Razin and Cedar showed, by tightening the thread of DNA as it wrapped around a molecular spool, called a histone, inside the nucleus. The tighter it is wrapped, the harder to produce proteins from the gene. 

Consider what that means: Without a mutation to the DNA code itself, the attached methyl groups cause long-term, heritable change in gene function. Other molecules, called acetyl groups, were found to play the opposite role, unwinding DNA around the histone spool, and so making it easier for RNA to transcribe a given gene.

By the time Szyf arrived at McGill in the late 1980s, he had become an expert in the mechanics of epigenetic change. But until meeting Meaney, he had never heard anyone suggest that such changes could occur in the brain, simply due to maternal care.

“It sounded like voodoo at first,” Szyf admits. “For a molecular biologist, anything that didn’t have a clear molecular pathway was not serious science. But the longer we talked, the more I realized that maternal care just might be capable of causing changes in DNA methylation, as crazy as that sounded. So Michael and I decided we’d have to do the experiment to find out.”







Actually, they ended up doing a series of elaborate experiments. With the assistance of postdoctoral researchers, they began by selecting mother rats who were either highly attentive or highly inattentive. Once a pup had grown up into adulthood, the team examined its hippocampus, a brain region essential for regulating the stress response. In the pups of inattentive mothers, they found that genes regulating the production of glucocorticoid receptors, which regulate sensitivity to stress hormones, were highly methylated; in the pups of conscientious moms, the genes for the glucocorticoid receptors were rarely methylated.

Methylation just gums up the works. So the less the better when it comes to transcribing the affected gene. In this case, methylation associated with miserable mothering prevented the normal number of glucocorticoid receptors from being transcribed in the baby’s hippocampus. And so for want of sufficient glucocorticoid receptors, the rats grew up to be nervous wrecks.

To demonstrate that the effects were purely due to the mother’s behavior and not her genes, Meaney and colleagues performed a second experiment. They took rat pups born to inattentive mothers and gave them to attentive ones, and vice versa. As they predicted, the rats born to attentive mothers but raised by inattentive ones grew up to have low levels of glucocorticoid receptors in their hippocampus and behaved skittishly. Likewise, those born to bad mothers but raised by good ones grew up to be calm and brave and had high levels of glucocorticoid receptors.

Before publishing their findings, Meaney and Szyf conducted a third crucial experiment, hoping to overwhelm the inevitable skeptics who would rise up to question their results. After all, it could be argued, what if the epigenetic changes observed in the rats’ brains were not directly causing the behavioral changes in the adults, but were merely co-occurring? Freud certainly knew the enduring power of bad mothers to screw up people’s lives. Maybe the emotional effects were unrelated to the epigenetic change.

To test that possibility, Meaney and Szyf took yet another litter of rats raised by rotten mothers. This time, after the usual damage had been done, they infused their brains with trichostatin A, a drug that can remove methyl groups. These animals showed none of the behavioral deficits usually seen in such offspring, and their brains showed none of the epigenetic changes.

“It was crazy to think that injecting it straight into the brain would work,” says Szyf. “But it did. It was like rebooting a computer.”







Despite such seemingly overwhelming evidence, when the pair wrote it all up in a paper, one of the reviewers at a top science journal refused to believe it, stating he had never before seen evidence that a mother’s behavior could cause epigenetic change.

“Of course he hadn’t,” Szyf says. “We wouldn’t have bothered to report the study if it had already been proved.”

In the end, their landmark paper, “Epigenetic programming by maternal behavior,” was published in June 2004 in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

Meaney and Szyf had proved something incredible. Call it postnatal inheritance: With no changes to their genetic code, the baby rats nonetheless gained genetic attachments due solely to their upbringing — epigenetic additions of methyl groups sticking like umbrellas out the elevator doors of their histones, gumming up the works and altering the function of the brain.


The Beat Goes On

Together, Meaney and Szyf have gone on to publish some two-dozen papers, finding evidence along the way of epigenetic changes to many other genes active in the brain. Perhaps most significantly, in a study led by Frances Champagne — then a graduate student in Meaney’s lab, now an associate professor with her own lab at Columbia University in New York — they found that inattentive mothering in rodents causes methylation of the genes for estrogen receptors in the brain. When those babies grow up, the resulting decrease of estrogen receptors makes them less attentive to their babies. And so the beat goes on. 

As animal experiments continue apace, Szyf and Meaney have entered into the next great step in the study of behavioral epigenetics: human studies. In a 2008 paper, they compared the brains of people who had committed suicide with the brains of people who had died suddenly of factors other than suicide. They found excess methylation of genes in the suicide brains’ hippocampus, a region critical to memory acquisition and stress response. If the suicide victims had been abused as children, they found, their brains were more methylated.




Alison Mackey/DISCOVER



Why can’t your friend “just get over” her upbringing by an angry, distant mother? Why can’t she “just snap out of it”? The reason may well be due to methyl groups that were added in childhood to genes in her brain, thereby handcuffing her mood to feelings of fear and despair. 

Of course, it is generally not possible to sample the brains of living people. But examining blood samples in humans is routine, and Szyf has gone searching there for markers of epigenetic methylation. Sure enough, in 2011 he reported on a genome-wide analysis of blood samples taken from 40 men who participated in a British study of people born in England in 1958. 

All the men had been at a socioeconomic extreme, either very rich or very poor, at some point in their lives ranging from early childhood to mid-adulthood. In all, Szyf analyzed the methylation state of about 20,000 genes. Of these, 6,176 genes varied significantly based on poverty or wealth. Most striking, however, was the finding that genes were more than twice as likely to show methylation changes based on family income during early childhood versus economic status as adults.

Timing, in other words, matters. Your parents winning the lottery or going bankrupt when you’re 2 years old will likely affect the epigenome of your brain, and your resulting emotional tendencies, far more strongly than whatever fortune finds you in middle age. 

Last year, Szyf and researchers from Yale University published another study of human blood samples, comparing 14 children raised in Russian orphanages with 14 other Russian children raised by their biological parents. They found far more methylation in the orphans’ genes, including many that play an important role in neural communication and brain development and function. 

“Our study shows that the early stress of separation from a biological parent impacts long-term programming of genome function; this might explain why adopted children may be particularly vulnerable to harsh parenting in terms of their physical and mental health,” said Szyf’s co-author, psychologist Elena Grigorenko of the Child Study Center at Yale. “Parenting adopted children might require much more nurturing care to reverse these changes in genome regulation.”

A case study in the epigenetic effects of upbringing in humans can be seen in the life of Szyf’s and Meaney’s onetime collaborator, Frances Champagne. “My mom studied prolactin, a hormone involved in maternal behavior. She was a driving force in encouraging me to go into science,” she recalls. Now a leading figure in the study of maternal influence, Champagne just had her first child, a daughter. And epigenetic research has taught her something not found in the What to Expectbooks or even her mother’s former lab. 

“The thing I’ve gained from the work I do is that stress is a big suppressor of maternal behavior,” she says. “We see it in the animal studies, and it’s true in humans. So the best thing you can do is not to worry all the time about whether you’re doing the right thing. Keeping the stress level down is the most important thing. And tactile interaction — that’s certainly what the good mother rats are doing with their babies. That sensory input, the touching, is so important for the developing brain.” 


The Mark Of Cain 

The message that a mother’s love can make all the difference in a child’s life is nothing new. But the ability of epigenetic change to persist across generations remains the subject of debate. Is methylation transmitted directly through the fertilized egg, or is each infant born pure, a methylated virgin, with the attachments of methyl groups slathered on solely by parents after birth? 

Neuroscientist Eric Nestler of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York has been seeking an answer for years. In one study, he exposed male mice to 10 days of bullying by larger, more aggressive mice. At the end of the experiment, the bullied mice were socially withdrawn. 

To test whether such effects could be transmitted to the next generation, Nestler took another group of bullied mice and bred them with females, but kept them from ever meeting their offspring. 




Alison Mackey/DISCOVER



Despite having no contact with their depressed fathers, the offspring grew up to be hypersensitive to stress. “It was not a subtle effect; the offspring were dramatically more susceptible to developing signs of depression,” he says.

In further testing, Nestler took sperm from defeated males and impregnated females through in vitro fertilization. The offspring did not show most of the behavioral abnormalities, suggesting that epigenetic transmission may not be at the root. Instead, Nestler proposes, “the female might know she had sex with a loser. She knows it’s a tainted male she had sex with, so she cares for her pups differently,” accounting for the results.

Despite his findings, no consensus has yet emerged. The latest evidence, published in the Jan. 25 issue of the journal Science, suggests that epigenetic changes in mice are usually erased, but not always. The erasure is imperfect, and sometimes the affected genes may make it through to the next generation, setting the stage for transmission of the altered traits in descendants as well. 


What’s Next?

The studies keep piling on. One line of research traces memory loss in old age to epigenetic alterations in brain neurons. Another connects post-traumatic stress disorder to methylation of the gene coding for neurotrophic factor, a protein that regulates the growth of neurons in the brain.

If it is true that epigenetic changes to genes active in certain regions of the brain underlie our emotional and intellectual intelligence — our tendency to be calm or fearful, our ability to learn or to forget — then the question arises: Why can’t we just take a drug to rinse away the unwanted methyl groups like a bar of epigenetic Irish Spring? 

The hunt is on. Giant pharmaceutical and smaller biotech firms are searching for epigenetic compounds to boost learning and memory. It has been lost on no one that epigenetic medications might succeed in treating depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder where today’s psychiatric drugs have failed. 

But it is going to be a leap. How could we be sure that epigenetic drugs would scrub clean only the dangerous marks, leaving beneficial — perhaps essential — methyl groups intact? And what if we could create a pill potent enough to wipe clean the epigenetic slate of all that history wrote? If such a pill could free the genes within your brain of the epigenetic detritus left by all the wars, the rapes, the abandonments and cheated childhoods of your ancestors, would you take it?








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To be done upon waking each morning for 5-10 minutes before getting up. Do a few sweeps of the spine with your awareness and breath.  Start at the base of the spine and go up as far as your breath and body will allow without any forcing.  This is a gentle massage of your body with awareness and breath and yet it will show you places of contraction or resistance.  DO NOT PUSH through.  Rather, exhale into any of these places you wish to bless with kindness.  If you get to the top of the head then exhale back down into the belly and floor of pelvis gently.  Its fine to fall asleep, or be sleepy, or be unclear during this practice. 
After completing the first meditation, sit up and read the second meditation below daily. Sit for another 5 minutes and follow the instructions you just  read. Please print out read the meditation daily.  
For this practice you may sit on a chair, couch or meditation cushion. The only requirement is to stay in one place for 10 – 20 minutes. If you become uncomfortable,  shift your position i.e. move your legs, hands, scratch an itch, stretch your neck and so on. But, don’t get up and move around or relocate your body.  Remain comfortable, quiet and awake.
Within these parameters, simply do whatever you’re doing. Think what you’re thinking, feel what you’re feeling, experience what you’re experiencing. There’s no right or wrong way to meditate. If you’re following your breath, follow your breath. If you’re reciting a mantra, recite a mantra. If you’re doing nothing in particular, do nothing in particular. There’s no need to follow a thought, nothing to concentrate on, nothing you need to do. If you’re captivated by a particular line of thought, a feeling, or a physical sensation, that’s fine. If you observe this process you do, if you don’t you don’t. There’s nothing to correct or adjust, no guidelines about what you’re supposed to be concentrating on, such as breathing, thoughts, feelings or sensations.
If your eyes are open, let them be open. If they’re closed let them be closed. If you open them, close them, then open them again and let them wander around, let all this happen. If you need to distract yourself, then, within the parameters of this practice, distract yourself. It doesn’t matter whether you’re concentrated or distracted. In fact, because there’s no object of meditation and no need to meditate, there are no distractions. You don’t need to do anything other than what you’re doing. You can’t go wrong. If you enjoy a session, you enjoy it, if you don’t you don’t.  Enjoying your contemplation is no better than enduring it.
Because it consists of doing whatever you’re doing when you’re sitting, this practice incorporates any other meditation practice you may be engaged in. To begin this practice, you don’t need to know how it relates to this course or even why you’re doing it.

If an alarm clock is used set to 10 minutes earlier than usual, as you may fall back to sleep during the process.  Hit the snooze button when you awake rather than turn it off.  I recommend a  Zen Alarm Clock, its very conducive to timing this, but any alarm clock is fine. Begin this practice as asap, and continue doing Meditation 1 as well.  If you’re an advanced practitioner or have a long standing meditation practice, do the above for 5 – 10 minutes before then your regular meditation practice.  If you’re meditating with another use this at the beginning and end of each meditation for 5 minutes.  PLEASE do this practice daily from now until the retreat.  This practice is call just sitting or simply sitting or perhaps un-meditation.
You may have never been able to meditate, or even strongly dislike meditation, but find you like these practices.  
For those of you who are advanced meditators, the second one is at the same time the most advanced, and the most basic; as it deconstructs meditation altogether.  It will serve to fine tune your current practices.  The second one is great to do before you start your established practice.

Meditation 3- Advanced

       When you go to sleep and when you wake up replace the body scan meditation with a long slow inhale.   The first act of your life was an inhale, Begin pretending that each inhale is the first act of your life, Relish this for a few breaths while gently smiling and having your attention lightly on your heart area.   After a few breaths, at the top of the breath, internally say “yes” to this increase of life; and “welcome” to any sensations into your heart.  It may be pleasant, unpleasant, or a mixture.  On each exhale make a sound.  DO THIS FOR 20 BREATHS (I use my right hand thumb touching each of the four fingers and when I get to the pinky I uncurl one finger of the five on the left hand.  Once the left hand is completely open I have done 20 repetitions.)
 It is ok to fall asleep in the morning session and if you have time, then do a few before rising.  After your 20 reps: in the morning-hold your intention for your life in the your heart a few moments or longer then sit up and do the second prep meditation (or read it) for a 5 to 10 minutes.
After your 20 reps: in the evening-if you are still awake- rave to the Divine about what you appreciated about you that day and what you appreciate about the Divine.  What are you grateful for this day having come to a close.

If you have at least tried to carve out the time and it is not working, then begin a very simple 5 minute morning practice before you get out of bed: with your eyes still closed, scan your body with your awareness.  You may experiment with going from one part to the next or blanketing your entire body with your awareness.  As you do this…breathe the part or area into your heart on a gentle in breath, and extend your kindness or an inner smile of greeting toward the part or area from your heart on the out breath.  If you like, continue with the same part or area for 3-5 breaths and move on.  OR just one breath and move on.

What is Embodiment?

I’ve been noticing myself talking endlessly about embodiment as of late, and have had to ask myself, “What exactly is embodiment?”
My answer is: Embodiment is a continuously unravelling experience of being able to feel more than you ever have, pushing edges of experience you’ve never fathomed could exist. And those edges are all YOU- places where you can experience more of you and how you relate to the world around you. There is a rich feeling of aliveness and you begin to feel more deeply connected to yourself and others every day. Your capacity for both pain and pleasure expand as you realize you can sit with a full range of sensations- that it is within your range of tolerance to sit with more and more of the sensations life offers. We “get out of our heads” and learn to direct the mind by creating choice in every moment, including the choice to feel, even when it’s uncomfortable. It begins as we come out of the dissociation that is inherent in being a human. We begin to access more and more all parts of our psyche that we have disowned or unconsciously shut down out of fear or denied because we were negatively impacted others when we expressed them.

I notice myself wanting to keep bringing myself back to embodied presence constantly. Craving it. Not wanting to live without it. Some days it’s easy. Some days I have resistance to it.. but as soon as I notice disconnection or resistance and flip the switch back to embodiment, everything lightens, opens, and I feel like home to something incredible again. Breath is the key ingredient to dive into embodiment. This shows up most distinctly in my yoga practice. If I set my breath just right in the beginning of my practice, I can experience total bliss, even ecstasy, with tears and deep insights. If I don’t set my breath before practice, chances are that my yoga practice will be filled with impatience and anxiousness until the class is over. (I can show you how to get your breath down and how to use it to get incredibly grounded- setting up a guided meditation/coaching session could be very helpful.)

So, what does embodiment feel like?
This might sound lofty, but it feels like Awakening. Like I’m waking up to myself as spirit in a human form. I’m incarnating on a deeper level and because of it, I have access to much more energy and resource than I would otherwise. I don’t notice my body as an object anymore but as a vessel for a should to animate and connect with myself, others, and life. As I touch every new space in myself with deep presence, those areas light up and I discover a new world that’s alive and palpable, where I can feel more than I ever felt before, where I can feel things in myself I never could have imagined were there. This connection through presence feels like actual physical contact is being made with myself and others, because there is no separation, just connection. My heart opens up, I breathe deeply, I feel all parts of my body, and I’m vulnerable but strong. Every part of my body feels light.

All embodiment starts with the breath, and the breath then transforms the nervous system. Once we get a somatic (body) memory of this new and altered state, we can duplicate the experience. The more we practice this new state, the more we re-wire our brain for a new experience of life. In yoga, there are certain mantras that are considered “bij”, or seed mantras. Every new experience, mantra, thought, belief is considered to be in a seed state until the brain is rewired with a strong enough neural pathway that this new experience becomes the new you and old behaviors/thoughts/beliefs are rewired. While in this seedling state of transformation, it is so, so important to be gentle, yet, to devote more care and attention to the practice than you normally would. When the seed is treated as precious, it receives the nutrients, care and attention it needs to grow strong while in a fragile state. Once that seed has grown into something big and strong, you don’t need to keep your eye on it as much- you can shift your awareness to growing something else that’s become more important to you.

Some of the main practices to begin experiencing embodiment are: breath work, energy work, dance, meditation, authentic relating practice and yoga. If you’d like anyone to assist you in coming into this state, please feel free to ask me. I’d love to be of service as this work is so much fun!! Love to you all:)


I need the sea because it teaches me -Pablo Neruda

“I need the sea because it teaches me” – Pablo Neruda

When I was young, I dreamt repeatingly of being dropped into the middle of this dark blue sea, in the dark, at night, not knowing what creatures were below me. The sea no longer scares me, because I have found that the sea is my wholeness. That sea will hold me, nourish me, shatter me and then put me back together again, all the while forcing me to long more and more deeply for union with the divine. It forces me to love with devotion. Forces me to experience the death of my ego in order to blossom into grace, humility, and loving wholeness.

It’s never been a choice for me. You can’t hide from the sea that surrounds you; there’s no where to go. The only way out is through. Every new discovery creates a new choice: can I love this? can I rock this into peaceful grace? can I be its greatest protector even if it scares me? can I offer this child warmth, hold it unconditionally and not reject it? Every time I dive in with love, washing every little piece with affection, sweetness, tenderness what once seemed dark, mysterious, threatening becomes my truth, my life, my perfection in completeness.