Myanmar tidbits

It’s been a while since I had the opportunity to visit a a contry that I haven’t been in and taste a little of a different culture. A short visit to Myanmar offered just that. Bordered by 5 different countries, Bangladesh, India, China, Laos and Thailand and made out of more than 100 ethnic group Myanmar is a hot pot of cultures which unfortunately still bubble together in violent outbursts at certain location.

So many temples

So many temples

The relative recent downfall of the military dictatorship and opening to the west seem to have brought about some strange phenomenon.
In 1970 all traffic was moved to the right however there are is a lot of import of cars from Japan that are made to drive on the left side. Even some busses have Japanese stickers in them.
The electric sockets seem to have the same split personality and cover a variety of  different inputs. Tourism is also a relatively new income and the powers at play are trying to make the most out of it. Many different areas require a tourist permit to just be in the area. For instance in Bagan we payed around 20 $ landing in the airport. Some travelers were telling us it wasn’t too hard to avoid these checkpoints if you use busses and taxis to get around. Also turned out the myth about only excepting new $ bills with absolutely no folding signs is at least partially right. Some places were OK with my folded bills while others offered a worse exchange rate for them and others totally rejected them. I tried to track down the source of this behaviour, some blame Taiwanese banks which were the main exchange at some point in the history, others claim it’s a psychological effect stemming from seeing the foreign  bills as an actual resource like gold. If anyone has a better explanation let me know. Another outdated meme was that locals reacted to the fact I came from America as “best contry Obama”.
The two main things I did in my short trip was visit temples and eat local food. The temple in Yangon had a ticket for foreigners and the main surprise was

worship those LED

the LED decorated Buddhas. In Bagan the main attraction was motobike g around the thousands of temples that date from around 800 years ago when the areas was a center in a local kingdom. building temples and releasing captured birds are a way to get good Karma points. I wish education children and studying science would be considered as giving people good karma. Alas, religious memes rarely benefit society as a whole.

As for the food it was way better than I expected. The tea leaf salad, shan nuddles and curries where all great and I have been missing sugar cane juice ever since my time in Vietnam.
Building by all genders

Building by all genders

On the gender front I enjoyed seeing men wearing skirts but it turns out the type of skirts and how you tie them are gender based. Both men and women were working performing hard labor in the building industry and I saw some Burmese transgender women walking down the street, unfortunately getting a lot if stares and whispers from the men around but in this one un-representing case there were no loud calls or harassment.

Consent Angel

When the dutch burning man organisation asked for volunteers to help make the decomp party a safer space by advocating consent, I sent them an email with suggestions saying I would be happy to volunteer. I got a generic thank you message claiming they would contact me with more details. They never did. Despite that I still decided to do what little I could in face of massive sexual harassment this party suffered from. Read on for some tales including self defense and intervention tips which I would love to get more feedback on.

———This might be triggering for some. ———————-

Every self made sheriff needs a badge

The Playa Provides
At the very beginning of the party as I was putting my costume on someone offered me a gift. ‘We made badges of all the 10 principles of burning man, well actually 11. This year we also have a consent badge, do you want to be an angel of one of these principles?’ He asked. Guess which one I chose? And so, the playa provided me with a very useful tool, my makeshift little badge.

During the night I realized the people violating consent could be fit in broad categories on a ranging scale. Despite wanting to punch all of them I kept violence mostly to the bare necessity preferring to educate and get people to realize their behavior was hurtful.

The “nice yet insensitive” – these people model others as they model themselves. All of us have been guilty of this at some time. It is a natural statistical mistake. For some men if something doesn’t bother them it’s hard for them to Imagine it will bother women. These people are quick to apologize once called out and open for deeper discussion on these topics.

Are you a safe person?

Example 1: I facilitated a consensual massage circle with 2 others when some guy sat by me and touched me on the shoulder.
“Ask before touching,” I told him in a neutral tone.
“Oh, right sorry, I thought touching you on the shoulder would be ok. But I should ask, you are right. Can I touch you?”
“What type of touch?” (Negotiating specifics is a good thing especially if you don’t know each other)
“Just join the massage circle, I’ve never seen this in a party”.
“Sure, this is burning man and for me it’s part of the culture to be able to gift physical fun as long as its consensual,” I explained and we continued to discuss this.

Example 2: There was a nude woman volunteering to be a live art piece others can draw on. She was being ‘pimped out’ by some guy. “Can I ask her if she gives consent for me to draw on her?” I ask.
“You don’t need to she’s a living art piece,” he said. I cringed, this is a very similar idea for an art project I suggested to the burning man organisation. Just imagine how awesome it would be to get people to practice asking for consent in this fun interactive way instead of silencing this woman’s voice and telling people to do what ever they want.
“She is alive so I’m going to ask.” She thanks me for asking and I draw on her shoulder. I see a friends of mine is using his spit and finger to fix some of his drawing. “You know you should probably ask if she’s ok with that. Being ok with people drawing on you with brushes isn’t the same as people using some of their saliva on your skin.”
“Hmm, I’d be ok with it but you are right I should ask,” he said and proceeded to ask the model. Do not be afraid to call out on your friends too. If they are the good guys they will be happy to remodel and make sure they are not hurting someone.

“The over privileged” – These are people who’s parent’s never taught them to ask for permission before taking other’s toys. The walk around believing the world was made for their enjoyment. They don’t want to hurt anyone but their enjoyment comes first.

Example 1: Before I left the living sculpture, I saw a woman take some black tape and without asking tape the model’s mouth shut. Both me and the model seemed shocked by that. “You know, you should probably ask before doing that, maybe she doesn’t want that?” The model nodded and took the tape off.  To my shock the woman laughed, and took the tape off the model’s hands and taped her mouth shut again. The model took the tape off again and said it’s not comfortable. She didn’t need me to help her but I was still deeply disturbed by this woman’s actions. “You know by taping her mouth you are really changing this art piece from something very beautiful and special to just another image objectifying and silencing women which is also very triggering for some. “Oh yeah I didn’t think about that,” she admitted.

bm

The most consensual hug the whole evening

Example 2: A woman was on a couch, lying on top of her chosen partner for the night and making out with him, her back was towards the room. A guy passed by and reached out to her with a long slow creepy “caress”.

“Do you know her?” I asked in a friendly voice.

“No,” he answered.

“Do you think maybe you should ask her before touching her?”

I can see his red alarm go off and he begins to get very defensive. “I didn’t touch her butt, just her back. I didn’t mean it that way…”

I engage with the female, presumably friend, he is with. “A lot of women really don’t like to be touched by strangers, right?” I ask her.

She nods “yeah, you should ask,” she says cautiously.

With his friend now siding with me he retreats and apologizes (although it’s not me he needs to apologize to) and says he will make sure to ask next time.

example 3: A guy took a close up picture of me while dancing. “you know you should ask me if i’m ok with you taking my picture.” I pointed out.

“oh yeah, I saw the signs”, he says dismissively.

“And?” I persisted and he goes on the defense.

“you can’t see your face in the pictures.”

“I don’t know that and for some people it might make them feel unsafe.”

“This is a public space,”his aggression started getting higher.

I engage with another man standing besides me “No, this isn’t. It’s burning man and we are trying to build a community that is safe for everyone. People come here to take off the masks they have to put on in public spaces right?” The guy beside me answers with a nod.

The selfish photographer’s social brain starts rewriting itself “oh, I guess I should reconsider.” he says slowly somethings sinking in. But is it enough?

For me burning man has always been an opportunity to explore gender fluidity.

Example 4: While standing on line for the party a guy decided to try to bully me because of my non binary gender appearance.

He laughed out load pointed figures and started asking me if I’m a guy or a girl.

“Does it matter?” I smiled.

“What the fuck?” he kept pointing and shouting loudly. Like all bullies he wanted attention so I do the opposite. I engage with others, not sure if they are his friends or not but they were very tense and silent. “I’m a complicated creature. Not everyone can be normal,” I tell them smiling.  All of us except him have a good laugh and they start speaking up for me. “Yeah, we should all just do what’s good for us.” one says. The bully is still trying to get attention “But why? why do that?” he asks. One of the people started to intervene on my behalf. “It’s ok, I can tell him”. I looked at him, some parts of my brain actually managed to muster up some compassion for this fearful attention seeking creature, he really was afraid of me. I came close and while holding his gaze openly I whispered into his ear “Because life is too short to be just one person”.

His behavior totally changed. “I’m sorry, case closed” he said and went quite muttering to himself “I get it now, I get it”. Honestly I don’t think it really mattered what I told him it was more about me totally lowering my defenses, somehow projecting this notion that he has nothing to fear from me, despite my difference I would be kind and friendly if he did the same.

The hungry rapist creeps – These are people that are starving for some semblance of power, cowards at heart looking to take by force that which should only be given freely.

Example 1: I was dancing in the corner when I see a man approached a woman dancing near me. He stepped into her space uninvited. She stepped back into the wall cowering, putting up her hands defensively. He tried to kiss her and she moved her head sideways trying to push him off her.I jumped in between them stationing myself so I can still see him but providing her with some space. “Do you know this guy?” I asked her.

“Yes, he’s my friend.” she answered.

“Do you want him to touch you in this way?”

“No, I just want to dance,” she said.

I turn to the guy. “You should ask before you touch people.”

“She’s my friend”, he tried to move past me towards her but i’m faster then him and I blocked his way.

“What do you think you’re doing?” I pumped up the aggression and used my crazy eyes. He mirrored my actions and pumped up his chest. I break the formation and changed my body position moving faster and stranger then he’s probably ever seen. My hands were still in front of me if I needed to use them but they are hanging as if I was a strange puppet on strings. “She doesn’t want to kiss you.” I say with my head tilted side ways and a crooked smile.

His chest deflates he he isn’t sure how to react. “you are giving me bad vibes, let me talk to my friend”, he tries to reach around and grab her.

I fake on the most overly flirtations and sexually aggressive smile and put my hand around him. “Oh really? I didn’t mean to give you bad vibes.” I shoved my bearded side of the face towards him as if trying to kiss him.

“Don’t touch me!” he retreated freaking out.

I took a step back too. “Oh you are right. I’m so sorry I should have asked before I touched you,” I smiled his brain goes into freeze mode again and I can see this recalculation, him starting to understand he like the creep I was to him.

I talked to the woman again, showed her my make shift badge and told her she can ask me for help if she needs it. I made sure she wasnt’ dependent on this creep to get home and told her to be careful because if he doesn’t respect her boundaries here he will not respect her boundaries in other places. She thanked me and said she will talk to him. They sit down and talk I continue to dance while watching them. I also talk to another person beside me, explain the situation and tell him that if that creep harasses her again I might need his help to get security so we can kick this guy out. Honestly this was probably the hardest thing for me to do that night. My big feminist ego doesn’t want to ask for help but it is 100% the right move, so do not be ashamed to use it. The creep moved away. I talked to the woman again, gift her a blinky finger LED and did some shadow boxing example of what I would like to do to creep guys. She laughed and told me that he is a friend that just wants more from her and she explained to him she isn’t interested. I urged her to be careful and told her if i’m not around she can ask anyone else for help because there are a lot of good people in this party.

But this isn’t the end of creep guy. Later that night someone caressed my arm while I was moving on the dance floor. When I realized it was him I jumped forward and pressed a blinky toy forcefully into the corner of his eye. He let out a yelp of pain and I could see real fear on his face. “You do not touch me” I said keeping pressure on his eye doing everything I could to hold back from doing actual damage. I gave him a little shove and moved back looking at him like the despicable pathetic animal that his is. He puffed up his chest trying to save his bruised ego. But I’ve learnt that once they are really afraid of you they might keep barking but they will stay away from your bite. (Unless they are there with friends in which case get the fuck out of the place because trouble is coming).

None of my actions were perfect, nor would I advise anyone to necessarily take these specific courses of action. Self Defense is based on what characters you feel safe and able to bring out of yourself. I do hope the men and (woman) I interacted with will have some changes in their behavior, become better allies, more considerate of others or in the case of the creep I hope a small part of his brain starts predicting a woman being able to cause him massive physical damage. Despite the fact that most the harassment I encountered (although not all!) were by men and the women I personally  danced with or even cuddled/made out with all asked for my consent, a male friend of mine fell asleep and was woken up by a woman laying down on him and touching him. He was rightfully angry but he did not feel physically threatened. I asked him what would have happened if he had drank too much and couldn’t physically stand up to her. “that would have been bad,” he said a tiny glimpse of the fear so many woman carry around with them flashed on to his face.

What ever course of action you do choose to take I strongly suggest you keep your eyes open and do not let these types of behaviors go unnoticed. If you are intervening on behalf of others don’t presume you know what is going on and ask. I personally regret not asking the women how she would like me to help her before taking control of the situation and I should have intervened by asking her if she can show me were there toilets where or something that would get her away without me needing to resort to more drastic measures. If you do not feel you are able to intervene ask someone else or go get help. Don’t be a silent bystander.

And to the dutch burning man organisation I have this to say. You have utterly failed in making the decompression a safe space. As I have written to you before, putting signs up in the bathroom and entrance isn’t enough! You have paid some private outside security company (the head of security wouldn’t give me the name of the company just said it was his private company!). This company did not manage to deal with the queues and people were almost getting squashed and a woman with claustrophobia collapsed! To my knowledge this security company didn’t do anything to make this a safe space. I talked to another security guy and he said he didn’t deal with any men behaving badly, which mostly means he didn’t look for any. What I describe here is only part of the of the violations of consent I saw or experienced myself so I can only be fearful in estimating the amount of people that felt violated. Dear organizers I know you are working your asses off and I know you mean well but this should be your number 1 priority. No matter how amazing the art, how good the music, if people are getting harassed on your watch at this scale (this is actually a lot worse than the usual parties I go to!!!) you are doing something very wrong. Talk to me I have ideas.

In the meantime here are 3 tips that I’ve compiled based on my studies of brain and behaviour for the past 2 years, training in Martial Arts and self defense for over 20 and previously being part of the Israeli police forensics, investigating violent crimes.

  1. Break the prediction break the brain
    To cut things short, the brain is a prediction machine, if you break the prediction you break the brain.
    Sexual predictors or bullies predictions are simple, they are usually not the most creative or intelligent specimens of humanity. They are mostly predicting fear and obedience when they harass. They almost always start with checking your borders, either by a “vague” inappropriate touch or verbally. When someone stands up to them they are predicting the regular “who has a bigger dick” behavior pattern, puffing up their chest,  slowly pumping up their adrenaline and meager amount of bravery to get ready for a fight.
    To break these predictions create the most unpredictable batshit crazy character. Allow yourself to be anything, from overly nice to overly scary, overly stupid, overly violent, overly sexual or even animalistic or speak gibberish. If you do not respond in the predicted way a momentarily freeze response will occur in your attackers brain. For a brief moment their brain is susceptible to your influence. Which you can use to deescalate, get away or cause serious physical damage if necessary. The moment an attacker begins to take control switch again and do something totally unpredictable.
  2. Use Your Social Brain
    Humans have social brains, massive parts of our self identity are what others see in us. Once conflict arises, get the attentions of others as soon as possible. Engage them in the story you are creating, a story in which your perpetrator isn’t someone to be feared. The situation isn’t about just you and the perpetrator there is an active crowd now, and you can use their attention to divert the story in many ways. See the crowd as good Samaritans and not silent bystanders. The perpetrator must take notice of what’s happening and this destabilized the very simplistic social hierarchy pattern he is used to modeling. If the bystanders are friendlies don’t be ashamed to ask them for help, direct them as you would actors. If the others are the perpetrator’s friends that can still play to your advantage. Give all your attention to one of the friends, if you can tell who is the second ranking in their social hierarchy even better, pay him a compliment “what did this guy do to deserve such a cute friend like you?” Make indirect fun of the perpetrator while speaking to his friends “Are you like the spice girls and he is scary spice?” These type of social hierarchies are just waiting to start ripping each other apart. If you tell a story in which this “second in command” is actually the most powerful and an ally you might just get them to turn on each other. Remember you are smarter than these ass holes they only know how to play one game and it’s a game that is quite easy to play if you really have to.
  3. Play the Game
    For most of us, especially women violence is a language not well understood, and a brain that doesn’t know how to predict violence will freeze when facing it. That’s why I do advocate some real hands on self defense but even without that our imagination is our greatest tool. If you don’t feel you could crush this guy just imagine someone who would decimate this idiot and enjoy it too. Look them square in the eye and see them being crushed. See  their nose getting squashed by a fist, an elbow splitting their jaw sending splinterd teeth all over the room, a knee exploding their balls. Whatever gory blood thirsty images your brain can muster, bring them out, and imagine somebody (if not you), enjoying these images. Imagine that someone smile and let your mouth follow that imagination. There is nothing scarier than an unpredictable crazy person who enjoys ripping people’s eyes out. Vocalize your threats if you need to. I once screamed at a guy “I am going to rip your balls out and stuff them down your throat”. Since most men haven’t encountered a woman that can kick their ass it’s not part of their prediction. They do not believe they can come to any harm if they harass women. You don’t have to be able to hurt them just to induce the belief that maybe you can. These are cowards not looking for a fair fight. A friend of mine once got a group of fanatics looking to attack us to run away just by shouting “Dan, Mark, John, let’s kill these fuckers” while running towards them…” there were no Dan Mark or John, just me watching and learning. That same friend got out of a bunch of trouble once by speaking into his jacket lapel and shouting “Detective carter requesting immediate assistance at…”.

Remember even if your lies are found out you can always go back to playing nice, dumb or what ever. A woman in a wheel chair saved her self by relentlessly barking like a dog. You could also play the frightened cooperating person but make sure you have a joker up your sleeve. The earlier you can break the story your attacker is predicting the more able you will be to make a different ending. My recommendation is whatever happens do everything you can to not be moved to another location.

Playing glimpses of this violence loving character while giving the perpetrator a way out that maintains his delicate bruised ego (for instance by suddenly playing nice again or totally making light of the matter by laughing) should be enough to control the situation. If it isn’t and all else fails and you have no where to run, let this bloodthirsty character out to fight and shout and keep shouting! Viciously shred anyone that dares to try to harm you. Go for the neck or eyes, throw what ever you can and try to get to safety. You are so much stronger then you know!

The Feminist Viking?

24 hours after my first “Historical European Martial Art” class I found myself jogging in the forest and improvising an axe from two sticks and some vines. Read on for some thoughts about how playing with violence is good for the brain.
~Warning this post contains nudity~

That shield was sooo heavy!

That shield was sooo heavy!

The moment I entered the sports center I notice some statistical variations. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a room with so many men with long hair. Not surprisingly beards were also in fashion.

Improvised axe

Improvised axe

After completing some rigorous repeated exercises for the warm up, I was taken to the side with 2 other new people to get basic instruction. Most importantly we were taught how not to hurt any players including myself. “Keep the shield below chin level and never deflect a sword attack upwards,” I was told.  In western countries, when you play with real steal weapons safety needs to be taken seriously. With all these lawsuits and over protective governments, one death might be enough to make this fun activity illegal.

My instructor was impressed with my zeal yet recommended that I don’t rush into attacking. “Stay more defensive and wait,” he said. But where is the fun in that? My body has learnt the fear of getting punched in the head or kicked in the gut but is seemed to have not yet learnt the fear of rushing into pointy objects so all too many spares and swords kept encountering my body. It wasn’t very pleasant but didn’t leave any marks. It has been a long time since I enjoyed playing with violence so much. This is the only style I know of that practices fighting in a “group vs group setting”, side by side, protecting each other, becoming a larger organism. This brought about a very primal sense of belonging to a bigger group. All team sports might be a sublimation of this.

 

Let’s talk about brains for a bit

How many wins does your personal slot machine have?

How many wins does your personal slot machine have?

I would like you to imagine them as slot machines. Brains always predict the future and the future they predict is basically a type of statistical gamble choosing from these possible options, like the rotating wheel of a slot machine. Just as the 3 bars of a slot machine are categorized as either a win or a loss, each future the brain predicts probably comes with some type of ‘cost’ function labeling how good or bad that future is for us.

A newborn baby resembles a slot machine with only a few different images. Let’s say just the 777 and the cherry, no diamonds or bells or cash. As we grow our slot machine gets more and more images, by interacting with the environment. Every time the future we predict isn’t exactly what happens new images will be created to allow for better prediction. We also seem to copy many images from other slot machines around us. But will these new images turn into a win or a loss? At the very beginning that only depends on the context and timing from the environment. For instance an image followed by food will be categorized as a win while an image followed by an electric shock will be a loss. This is obviously an over simplifications but it’s a useful analogy. The more images the slot machine categorizes as wins the more likely it is to land on wins. The more good experiences we have the more likely we are to be ‘optimistic’ and predict a good future.

That’s why the notion of play is so important as I explained previously. Playing allows kids to experiment and increases the chances for categorizing things as wins. Not necessary wins over others, it doesn’t have to be a 0 sum game where if someone wins the other loses. It just has to be a good learning experience, where we are allowed to make mistakes and the brains predictions don’t have to narrow down too much.

The Feminist Battles.

The workshop ended early because neighbors complained :(

The workshop ended early because neighbors complained :(

For whatever reasons, in most cultures being born with a vagina usually meant not being allowed to play with violence. Vikings are thought to be a type of exception. It’s hard to know exactly how many warriors had vaginas but the fact is that their stories and myths along with the artwork and burial sites indicate that it was part of their society. I too am a sort of exception of this age, one of the privileged few in these modern times who did get to play with violence in a safe and empowering setting and honestly it’s probably the main thing that has kept me relatively sane and functional.

It's just some skin!

It’s just some skin! Photo by SimplyWeb Photography

On the previous weekend I went to the F-Word, a feminist festival. I arrived early and volunteered to help with the setup including helping an amazonian blacksmith create an inspiring mobile metal workshop. However, not everything sat so well with me, especially at the party at night where I felt a strange sextual opression in the air. It was really hot and all I was wearing was a warm jumper. In festivals like Burning Man I wouldn’t have had to think twice about taking my shirt off and being topless, but here It felt like my boobs represented all these bigger issues. Feminism has always been a complex label for me and I don’t like labels in general. I do understand that in big battles soldiers have to fight under a banner that allows them to unite and not accidently kill each other on the battlefield. And this is how I view feminism. A banner needed in order to identify waring factors.  But when it comes to ideas about sex I often find myself standing on the minority side battling against most feminists for the freedom to do whatever I want with my vagina.

I think that for so many, sexuality has been tainted with pain and abuse that anything that has to do with sex might be categorized as a potential ‘loss’. I will do my best not to judge those that have been hurt but I won’t let their fear take away my freedom. All I can do is offer a different possibility, as given by my slot machine that was built by playing with violence, a glimpse at my brain that is able to predict ‘wins’ even under very extreme cases and a look at my very privileged vagina for which sex is just another simple fun activity, untainted by patriarchy or fear. Yes, I am very aware of my privileges but I would much rather share them instead of give them up and isn’t that what a healthy community should be about?

Burn Babies Burn

This was my third time at burning man but my first time to stay all the way to the end and have a personal encounter with the ‘fire god’ at the burning of the temple on the last day. Read on for more.

Temple burn (photo by Liz Altmiller)

Temple burn (photo by Liz Altmiller)

Despite my cynicism and eversion from religion, already at my first burn it was obvious this was a place for me. Black rock city is one of the few places I don’t have to inhibit my “strangeness”, a place where I can push my boundaries and explore without scaring others or getting arrested.

upgraded mood badges, thanks Ashley Newton for the idea of adding an interactive dial.

upgraded mood badges, thanks Ashley Newton for the idea of adding an interactive dial.

This year I brought practice swords and challenged people to dual. I experimented with latex body parts asking people to explore their sense of touch. Played truth or dare with strangers using my modified mood badges. I even took my first totally naked bike ride (after padding the bike seat).
No other place has so many opportunities for learning new stuff and practicing problem solving. As I explained last year, no other place is so inducing of improvisation and play.

As part of the build crew in my camp I learnt to drill in wood, tie knots, build shade structures and more. Exploring the workshops in the city I increased my jumping distance in a parkour lesson,  practiced clenching each butt cheek separately in a twearking class, learnt some poi tricks, did some metal work, as well as gave a mini lecture on my psychedelic work, learnt about the possible future of genetic engineering from industry leaders and so much more.

metal

I made this.

Revisiting Past Vs. Present
Returning to the same place with some of the same people allowed me to get glimpses of my progress in some domains. Each year I have gone to the roller disco and stumbled around. This year was no different until my eye caught a women who knew what she was doing. The past year I have been learning a lot about the motor system and have been practicing letting my mirror system take over. I looked at this roller disco women and ‘became her’. Suddenly there was stability in my movement. What had changed? I noticed how my head had moved forward over my toes, allowing the toes and feet to connect to the ground and control the movement. My ankles were not strong enough to maintain this posture for more than a few minutes at a time but I was so greatful and amazed at my body’s ability to learn.

Hammock forest with climbable two stories of hammocks. Structurally sound with no knots!

Hammock forest with climbable two stories of hammocks. Structurally sound with no knots! (photo by Liz Altmiller)

Since this was my 3rd year with the couch burning camp which tends to have many virgin burners I could contribute much more to camp then previous years. We were a very small and hardworking group of builders that set up almost everything within two days. We were one of the first camps to have an open bar, music, chill space (and showers for members) even before official doors opened. The efficiency of the small crew was total bliss for me until the third day when we doubled our workforce which resulted in the productivity halving. A strange variant of the bystander effects seemed to be taking place.

On my first burn, the visit to the temple, a place that naturally emerged in burn culture to allow for morning and letting go of loved ones did nothing to me. I was too emotionally blocked to feel anything. Last year I collapsed. Thanks to my connection with Shlomo parts of my limbic emotional system had been reconnected but they had the maturity of an undeveloped baby and were overwhelmed by sensing  everyone’s pain and sadness. I collapsed to the ground shaking and crying like a little baby and could barely crawl out of there. This year I entered more prepared. If this brain can mirror physical states it can mirror emotional states too. I asked Shlomo to walk in the temple with me holding my hand and he agreed to be my emotional container. It wasn’t easy. Tears started streaming down and I could feel the shaking start to take over but I held on to his haמd tightly, sucking his calmness though my skin. I reminded myself that even when hurt this system isn’t a baby. It can walk, it can talk and it can breath deeply. Once breathing was stabilised things were easier. My grandmother had died this past year but I couldn’t bring myself to write her name in the temple. It was too much of a religious act, like writing a note in the wailing wall. Instead, when we left the temple I told shlomo about her. How she was the strongest female role model in my life and how it hurt me to see her stubbornness and belief in religion stand in her way of growth and happiness.
Despite the success of the temple visit later that night these baby networks awoke with wave after wave of perceived pain. I’m not sure I’ll ever know what is the reason for the pain these networks recorded because whatever the reason is, it is long gone but live echos of the original pain remain unchanged by the flow of time. I felt the temple burn might be my last chance to try to get these networks to update their model before I head home and I really didn’t want to head home with all this pain.

Burnt temple. (Photo by Liz Altmiller)

Burnt temple. (Photo by Liz Altmiller)

So there I was sitting in a mostly silent crowd of thousands of people waiting for the torch to be lit. Unlike the mayam of the man burn when all the art cars are blasting contradicting music and stinking the area with gasoline fumes, the temple burn is sober and calm. Suddenly the temple was lit up in massive flames, a wave of heat flowing over the crowd. I was in an almost hypnotic state staring at the largest fire I have ever come close to. Fire is the release of stored solar energy, as Feynman explains and this fire could release the painful stored information in my brain as well, this was the time to burn the babies.  ‘Death brings new life’ something deep in this brain was chanting. ‘We can be like fire, flowing, changing and powerful’. Another part of my brain was doing statistical calculation, understanding that the painful sample recorded early on was still just a sample, not the entire reality. Many babies might never feel this type of pain, and even if it ever had any adaptive survival value it doesn’t have that anymore.

Aftermath
Two weeks in such harsh dry conditions with constant lack of sleep and massive amounts of novelty and emotional upheaval leave some long lasting effects. I’m still tired, my pores overcompensating for dryness are now giving me pimples and swollen tingling finger tips, parts of my dusty hair might need to be chopped off. On the emotional side I’m carefully optimistic. These baby networks are still babies, they haven’t been fully integrated into the rest of the brain and babies are oversensitive and confused and cry sometimes but at least it seems that they aren’t automatically biased to predict and experience massive amounts of pain and now it’s up to my grownup parts together with the incredible support I have from my loved ones to help them grow up healthy.

Fusion

I just got back from my first big ‘non burning-man’ festival and have some thoughts and stories to share. From the first moment I kept trying not to compare this festival to ‘Burning man’ and just see it as a thing of itself. But brains, they love comparing.

Workshop area, slack line, and capoeira in the background

Workshop area, slack line and capoeira in the background

The Set Up
The entry line into the festival was split into 2, those with cars and those on foot. I came on the festival bus so was lucky to enter after less than an hour of waiting. A friend in a car waiting 6 hours. Despite being told Id’s would be checked to confirm the ticket ownership that didn’t happen.
Despite lots of “no border” signs and “refugees welcome” banners, the festival had three layers of gates and guards. There was one border for entering from the outside world into the camping area, then another for entering from the camping area to the main festival area and then another for entering the area for families that had many circus tents and performances. Every time you left the main area you got this green token you had to give back when you entered. Obviously at some point I lost it and had to go to the entrance with an ID to get another one.
The camping area is ‘first come first conquer’, no real order and just groups of people taking up as much space for their friends that will arrive later. It was overly crowded by the second day and snoring strangers could be heard all around me.
A strange moment was passing through one of these check points which had only black security guards. This under privileged minority getting some amount of power over the privileged seemed to result in them taking their job much more seriously than the rest of the guards I encountered. It was a very strange scene, while they were making sure to be ‘in charge’ they were still there ones working, supposedly for our enjoyment.

The workshops 

My pyramid graffiti

My pyramid graffiti

This was probably the favorite part of the festival for me. The workshops were consolidated in two area’s so even without a schedule I could just pass by and was guaranteed something interesting was happening.
Dance, martial arts, sewing BDSM clothing, making jewelry, discussing utopias, graffiti were some of the things I attended. Some of the workshops did require extra money for the materials.
There were also many very high level circus, theater and dance performances.

The Art
I was impressed by the amount and quality of the art works. No it wasn’t burning man but it was damn good. Many of the art works had an interactive element which made them even more awesome. There were also random Telephone lines around the place which you could call and hopeful someone would answer. I tried communicating with some strangers this way but honestly I was never very good with phones.

The Germans

One of the strange things I wore... ended up taking it all off and dancing topless within 5 min.

One of the strange things I wore… ended up taking it all off and dancing topless within 5 min.

I was surprised at how German the festival was. Yes, it is in Germany but I was expecting a more international feeling. All the signs were in German and the vast majority of people were German and the largest drug consumption was by far alcohol. I was also disappointed at the almost total lack of nudity. I was the only one walking around topless and encountered only one nude guy. We talked briefly sharing our surprised at all these clothed people at a festival that is described as “clothing optional” especially since most of the time the weather was warm and sunny. The same goes for cool costumes. You could see them here and there but there idea of contributing to the festival with personal costumes hasn’t gotten hold. I was also surprised at the relative lack of queer/trans visibility.

The Food and Garbage Economy
Within the first day piles and piles of garbage were mounting everywhere. In order to combat this the festival provides everyone with a garbage bag and if you return a full bag with a part of your ticket you receive 10 euro’s. Many people were collecting bottles probably to recycle outside of the festival. I was walking around with my burner cup asking the food stales to use it. The food itself was vegetarian only and very cheap for around 3.5-5 euro’s you could get a great meal. I noticed that the fact that money was still involved in interactions with the food servers made us less friendly towards each other. Unlike burning man, this person was not volunteering their time for the community and thus attempting to connect to it, they were doing it so they could take the money they earned and go have fun somewhere else.

The music
The main area of the festival wasn’t so big and massive sound systems were bleeding into each other causing a massive amount of chaotic mess in most areas. I was impressed with myself when my ears actually recognized some funktion one speakers at one of the main electronic music stages. As I got closer my eyes recognized them too. As for music there was a very large variety, which were the idea of “fusion” is supposed to stem for. There were even robots playing music and classical piano concerts. One again I realized how little of my brain actually finds music (without dancing) recharging. Trying to just listen to music a little voice in my head went “This information is not relevant for survival”.

In Conclusion
I did have a great time, mostly because I learnt a lot and made a new friend in one of the workshops but for the future I’ll probably save my money for Burning Man.

Mayhem @Berghain

The Berghain started out as a gay club in Berlin in 2004. Today it’s incredibly famous for its subculture as well as techno music . Here is my take after a weekend adventure in Berlin.

Preparations, black pants and practicing a bored ennoyed look

Preparations, black pants and practicing a bored ennoyed look

The Berghain is not a club people come to have fun in, it is a place of worship with strict entry rules. The general idea is to maintain its unique environment by keeping mainstream tourists away. If you want to get in you have to look like someone who has already been there. Dressing in black and looking unhappy is a good start. I came with a friend, a regular known to the guards so there wasn’t any problems. We still came sunday morning to avoid the que. I got stamped and returned in the evening, when the ‘returners’ line was ‘just’ 20 min. She was there for over 22 hours straight. If you get through the door prepare to be searched and pat down, a sticker will be put on your cell phone camera. Put the money on the counter, do not attempt to hand it to the worker. Why? Don’t ask why, like any other religion this is about power, you are the low level worshiper they are the druids.
The club is situated in an industrial maze of a building spread over 3 floors. The top floor, called panorama is relatively mild if you take out the little cubicles were people sometimes have sex in. There actually isn’t that much sex going on, but it does happen.
The bottom most floor where you enter has some chill spaces including an out door space with a statue of a giant penis.
On the mid level, you will find the actual Berghain. The Berghain doesn’t play music, it plays techno war drums. People there do not dance, they put on their war face and go to battle, stomping and elbowing their fists beating the air. Hour after hour in a sweaty frenzy they will release their anger in a strange sublimation ceremony. Be it anger at patriarchy, frustration with social norms or just personal hardship, the clubbers will battle their way until monday morning. For those who last until the end I was told there is a type of catharsis, an addictive release. No matter how much I tried I couldn’t connect to this for more than a few minutes at a time. Due to my martial arts training I release anger in short sprouts against opponents or a punching bag. With out the feeling of impact my anger goes no where.

The Bathrooms
Like many other clubs the bathroom is also a type of kitchen were people go to consume. If your looking for nourishment I was told you should find the most Italian looking guy standing in or near the bathroom and ask.
For those of you that actually need to pee and can’t use the urinals there is a bathroom with out a door on the second floor that has almost no line. If you are shy bring a friend to stand in front of it or ask someone around otherwise you might have to wait for half an hour or longer.

German Efficiency
I lost the tiny wallet I brought with me that had 50 euros and this mettle numbered card to the gardiova, where my coat and cell phone were hanging. I was dreading trying to get them back but they had an amazing efficient procedure. Fill in forms, describe your stuff, be able to provide proof that it’s yours, for instance be able to unlock the phone. Then go through the lines of hanging coats one by one with a worker. Luckley my friend remembered the general vicinity the coat was taken to so after a few min of going through black leather jackets,(some one say needle in a hay stack?) I found it. Just as I did, someone returned my metal card saying they found it on the floor. The wallet with 50 euro wasn’t with it. This was still nice as it saved me paying 10 euro for the lost card.

Safety
Early on I took off my shirt and was dancing topless. This was a non issue even though only a small minority of women were doing the same. Despite the overwhelming crowded environment people stayed civil and there were no aggressive pushers or potential sexual predators to be weary of. The only harassment came from a friend of a friend, who decided it was ok to slap my butt while dancing. He was quickly corrected by me going berserk on him, although as a friend of a friend I didn’t break his nose. It ended with lots of apologises on his side and gifted ice cream. I hope he will never do that again. There was also a strange scene in the bar in Panorama. There was a ridiculously hot women who I literally gave my place in line to so I could start a conversation with. The female bartender brought over some ice and told this women she would like to put some ice in her cleavage. We all laughed, then the male bartender just stuck a straw in the womans cleavage which was totally inappropriate. She got comped free chasers but was still irritated. Maybe she went down to the Berghain to stump her rage out at idiot men who have 0 ability to take other people’s perspective and act on their first impulse.

Psychedelic Science

I just came back from ICPR, The interdisciplinary conference on psychedelic research, where I presented my work, a theoretical model based on the predictive processing framework and current Neuroscience data that explains the psychedelic phenomenon. It was really well received and many people asked to have access to the slides and manuscript for the paper me and my supervisor are writing so here they are:

PowerPoint

Manuscript

I’m all for sharing data so use it as you wish but please give us credit for this work.

And here is an ameture vid taken of the lecture itself.

 

I’ll end with a few anthropological experiences and very interesting data I learned in other lectures so read on if you are interested:

20160604_130825

Lunch time

In the last conference I went to I was the only one that sat on the grass and ate lunch, getting stared at by all the other participants siting at the tables. This conference was a lot more laid back. Lots of us took our Lunch to sit on the edge of the canal. Many deep, personal and meaningful conversations were going on all around and I made some very interesting friendships I hope will last.

The biggest surprise to my was how much Ayahuasca research was going on and what a big part of the conference that was, most likely because in many countries it is still legal and used by many as a religious and healing ritual.

One of the most interesting finding it this research was that Harmine, a substance in Ayahuasca, seems to induce neurogenesis, creating more neurons in the brain. This can have massive implication for many degenerative diseases.

got gifted this beautiful coloring book by the artist!

got gifted this beautiful coloring book by the artist!

The down side of focusing on this research is the massive use of the word ‘spirituality’ which I am highly allergic to, due to my religious upbringing and very skeptical thought panels. The conference had two panels running at the same time, neuroscience vs spirituality. The spiritual panel got the bigger room and a much bigger audience. I seemed to be the only one concerned with this. When I asked about the scientists thought’s on this in the neuroscience panels I wasn’t taken seriously and got the answer “Well we are reductionists so we are ok with the small room”.

Partially to combat this ‘spiritual’ take over, and mostly because I found it amusing, I walked around with my rubber hand showing people how easy it is to trick their brain into thinking a rubber hand is a part of them. Explaining the brain is a predictive machine that just correlates sensory inputs and that these feeling of ‘oneness’ happen when you mess around with these predictive abilities and the brain stopes being able to differentiate between the self-organism and the environment. For me these explanations don’t reduce the ‘magic’ of psychedelics they increase them, but I always loved seeing behind the scenes of how magic tricks work.

This is not to say that we can’t learn from traditional rituals but we should sift through the data carefully. And just to show that I’m not totally closed minded here is a great story from the Ayahuasca tradition.  A person comes to a shaman asking for advice.
‘I have two wolves inside of me. One is kind and loving and the other is full of hate and anger. Which one will take control? ‘ He asked.
The  shaman think for a moment and answers, ‘The one that is fed more’.

I love this story because this really is the essence of what we are, feedback loops. And the best thing we can do is put our self in a loving and nourishing environment and practice the things we want to get better at.

Finally, in lectures regarding MDMA therapy I was pleased to hear that some of the methods I’ve been using to deal with my shit are being used in therapy. For instance, drawing brain maps and using objects and music to anchor good memories to, so they can be easily retrieved by looking, touching the object or listening to the music.

 

 

 

Floating in the void

For ages now I’ve been itching to try a sensory deprivation tanל. This Easter I finally got the chance and it was an experience very hard to put into word. That doesn’t mean I won’t try, read on for more.

Just before closing the tank and turning off the light.

Just before closing the tank and turning off the light.

Sensory deprivation tanks have been around since the 50’s, a body temperature salt water bath that is enclosed in a totally dark booth with sound isolation. Why would someone want to try such a thing? Well these tanks were first used in experimentation trying to test the hypothesis that if all senses were cut off the brain would go to sleep. Long story short, people do not fall asleep in isolation tanks but their brain does have stronger slow theta waves seen normally right before sleeping, in meditation states and in children.     People also reported many different altered states of consciousness, hallucinations and claim that after the tank their senses were hyper strong and clear.

 

My experience

Getting into a laying down position in the tank wasn’t as easy as I imagined, every little movement would cause me body to rotate and move. It felt like I was in space. When I found a good position and turned off the lights it felt like slowly falling into an endless abyss. Everywhere around me there was nothing.

After a few minutes I began ‘seeing’ some purple color and shapes but that too went away and I had to remind myself to blink because I forgot if my eyes were open or closed. The most phantom feeling was in my feet. Occasionally I ‘felt’ my feet were touching the ground and had to wiggle my toes to make sure that they weren’t. After a few more minutes I began hearing the hum of electric machinery and at some point I was wondering about a ruckus someone with high heels was making, stomping around, but then realised it was my own heart beat. Usually when I meditate a thousand thoughts will pop up, mostly worrying about the future, school, finances and relationships. This time there were almost no verbal thoughts. My brain was very much awake and mostly silent. When I sent a query looking for the usual ‘stream’ the only thing that came back was: “All is good now, the future will come when it does”

My whole life I’ve experienced some oversensitivity to sensory stimulus, mainly in the soma sensory (touch) system. I hated wearing socks as a kid, everything would constantly itch me and drive me crazy. In kindergarten I was obsessed with sifting the sand in the sand box so I could run my hands through it without feeling all of these annoying bits and pieces. Whenever I would try to meditate in my martial arts training my senses would start ‘screaming’ and become overly irritated. I was hoping that this deprivation tank will help answer which part of my brain is causing the trouble.

Sensory deprivation tanks do not cut off your sensory input but they ‘feed’ the sensory receptors with information that has very little variance. In general, variance and change is exactly what your brain models. For those of you who have been following my posts, you should know by now that the brain is a hierarchical system with each layer explaining away and turning off the information from lower layers. Only the information that hasn’t been predicted progresses up the brain hierarchy in the form of ‘prediction errors’. So, once a stimulus stops changing our predictive mechanism easily explains it away and there is no information to communicate to higher brain areas. This will happen even with eyesight. Your eyes constantly make tiny micro movements to change the inputs of information. Without these movements, if you keep your eyes still you will go blind after a few moments, you can try this yourself.

My theory was the if the over sensitivity in my brain was due to increases top down prediction versus bottom up information, putting me in an isolation tank wouldn’t help and these prediction would enforce themselves on my perception anyway, perhaps even more so. But if my over sensitivity was due to increased precision of bottom up prediction errors steaming from my lower sensory areas than an isolation tank will decrease my symptoms. My top down predictions in these lower brain areas would finally be able to catch up and predict the over simplified sensory stimulus.

After a marvelous peaceful hour in the tank I have very little doubt that the second theory is much more likely.  I would postulate that ‘normally’ these overly precise prediction errors drive sensory input to higher areas in my brain than most people leading to a bunch of interesting symptoms and compensatory mechanisms.

Back to the real world

The lights faded in slowly yet still caught me by surprise. I climbed out of the tank and gravity immediately hit me. I wobbled around trying to get my ‘land’ legs back. In the shower, rinsing off the salt, the stream felt like a thousand little needles hitting my skin and I jumped up startled. I took my time in the waiting room, drinking some tea and trying to prepare myself for the outside world. The ‘noise’ came back again once I hit the streets.There was a sense of ‘self pity’, but instead of giving in to that I tried to top down ‘instruct’ this brain: “Try to get to those previous quiet states now that you know they exist.  I don’t know how plastic this brain is but I do believe that exposing it to this quiet state might allow it learn how to reach this state even in noisier environments.

When people ask me why I do all the strange things that I do I usually answer “because I can’t just sit down and stare at the wall in peace”. This experience has taught me that maybe I can. The wall just has to be total darkness and I have to be floating in a bath of salt water.

Finally, this has made me realize the possible benefits both in research and in therapeutic mechanisms floating can have and I will definitely be back for more. Next time I just have to remember to take out all the salt out of my ears because that’s driving me crazy now.

 

 

 

Seeing Is Believing

A friend’s visit took me to a museum exhibition that allows you to experience blindness for an hour. You navigate different locations in total blackness with only the voice of your visually impaired guide calling out to you.  Read on for some thoughts and insights about our brain.

download (1)

Ever since reading the philosophy of David Hume this realization that “I” am my sensory input has stuck with me. A year into my neuro science masters I’ll tell you that “I” am also these top down predictions that have been learnt throughout the years, but these predictions have been created in order to deal with sensory input. So what are blind people’s predictions? How do they experience the world without such a strong sense?

First we were given a cane and a crash course how to walk with it, tapping on the floor directly in front of us. While everyone just took a cane I took some time checking different sizes wanted my ‘extra’ limb to feel good.

Different sense modalities provide us with information about different distances and sight allows us to extend out world model to include further away environments. That’s why I chose a longer cane hoping that would help compensate and provide me with information about further away surroundings.

For me it was a scary experience especially leaving my eyes open. When I closed my eyes and saw nothing the prediction error wasn’t as big. But staring into total nothingness the brain refused to let go that nothing was there. “Are you seeing these white shiny dots?” my friend asked midway. As fake top down hallucinations took over her perception.

In most people alpha waves increase when closing their eyes, even compared to total darkness. This is most likely an inhibitory mechanism to prevent these false inferences. Would this still occur with blind people? Would their alpha waves of blind people be different? I couldn’t find any information on that.

I asked our guide about anxiety levels when she goes out and she said she doesn’t feel frightened unless she is going somewhere totally knew. It felt so limiting. I kept trying to find the challenge within the limitation and also remain patient because everything just takes much longer. It was also very hard that we were a bunch of ‘new’ blind people constantly bumping into each other. It was so tiring for my brain and I kept sitting down whenever I managed to feel up a bench or a sofa.

The next realization I had was that the directionality of perception spread out. Without the visual input coming from the front there was a different sense of three dimensionality, my brain was modeling the back of the body and the sides with the same amount of resources. This resulted in a slight sense of floatation.

We were taken to a fake supermarket trying to feel our way through shelves packed with stuff. I asked about technological aid and was told that some apps exist where you can take a picture and get information about it. Now I see that there is also a site where you can lend your eyes to a blind person. http://www.bemyeyes.org/. Too bad it’s just on iphone

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what happen when two sets of eyes meet and stare at each other.  It’s not just the knowledge that someone is watching you, it’s the knowledge that they are admitting to watching you. It’s like a ‘handshake’ protocol both sides saying “Yes, I see you”.   Supposedly blind people don’t have this, they don’t know when people are ‘looking’ at them and I was wandering if this gave them some extra freedom but my guide said she somehow did have a sense of when she was being looked at.

Finally we were led into the light and I felt how the power structure changed. In the dark we were dependent on our guide to call out to us so we would follow in the right direction and now suddenly we had access to much more information than her. I thanked her for the profound experience hoping that one day she would at least be able to have a taste of our world.

 

Seeing Is Believing

A friend’s visit took me to a museum exhibition that allows you to experience blindness for an hour. You navigate different locations in total blackness with only the voice of your visually impaired guide calling out to you.  Read on for some thoughts and a recommendation to try your-self.

Ever since reading the philosophy of David Hume this realization that “I” am my sensory input has stuck with me. A year into my neuro science masters I’ll tell you that “I” am also these top down predictions that have been learnt throughout the years, but these predictions have been created in order to deal with sensory input. So what are blind people’s predictions? How do they experience the world without such a strong sense?

First we were given a cane and a crash course how to walk with it, tapping on the floor directly in front of us. While everyone just took a cane I took some time checking different sizes wanted my ‘extra’ limb to feel good.

Different sense modalities provide us with information about different distances and sight allows us to extend out world model to include further away environments. That’s why I chose a longer cane hoping that would help compensate and provide me with information about further away surroundings.

For me it was a scary experience especially leaving my eyes open. When I closed my eyes and saw nothing the prediction error wasn’t as big. But staring into total nothingness the brain refused to let go that nothing was there. “Are you seeing these white shiny dots?” my friend asked midway. As fake top down hallucinations took over her perception.  

In most people alpha waves increase when closing their eyes, even compared to total darkness. This is most likely an inhibitory mechanism to prevent these false inferences. Would this still occur with blind people? Would their alpha waves of blind people be different? I couldn’t find any information on that.

I asked our guide about anxiety levels when she goes out and she said she doesn’t feel frightened unless she is going somewhere totally knew. It felt so limiting. I kept trying to find the challenge within the limitation and also remain patient because everything just takes much longer. It was also very hard that we were a bunch of ‘new’ blind people constantly bumping into each other. It was so tiring for my brain and I kept sitting down whenever I managed to feel up a bench or a sofa.  

The next realization I had was that the directionality of perception spread out. Without the visual input coming from the front there was a different sense of three dimensionality, my brain was modeling the back of the body and the sides with the same amount of resources. This resulted in a slight sense of floatation.

We were taken to a fake supermarket trying to feel our way through shelves packed with stuff. I asked about technological aid and was told that some apps exist where you can take a picture and get information about it. Now I see that there is also a site where you can lend your eyes to a blind person. http://www.bemyeyes.org/. Too bad it’s just on iphone

 

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what happen when two sets of eyes meet and stare at each other.  It’s not just the knowledge that someone is watching you, it’s the knowledge that they are admitting to watching you. It’s like a ‘handshake’ protocol both sides saying “Yes, I see you”.   Supposedly blind people don’t have this, they don’t know when people are ‘looking’ at them and I was wandering if this gave them some extra freedom but my guide said she somehow did have a sense of when she was being looked at.

Finally we were led into the light and I felt how the power structure changed. In the dark we were dependent on our guide to call out to us so we would follow in the right direction and now suddenly we had access to much more information than her.

 

30 Day Posture Challenge

A video with posture exercises crossed my path last month via my facebook feed. After trying the exercising and finding them extremely difficult I decided to finally listen to all my martial arts instructors and to try to get my head in the right place, literally!

The first thing I did was find a few friends to take on a monthly challenge with me, read on for our experiences including a “miracle” exercise that is helping my lower back pain immensely. P.S I am not a DR. or medical practitioner so don’t take any of this as professional advice just my own experiences. P.P.S In some of the photos in this post you will see my nipples, if you have a problem with that, don’t look.

Week 1

The first few days were filled with a lot of research, learning about posture types trying to figure out what is a good posture to begin with and trying out different exercises (see summary at the end)

I realized that correct alignment should come from the feet, where you should have 3 point support structure, toe, little finger and heel all holding the weight equally. With me the small toe doesn’t push the ground at all and that changes the whole center of gravity and moves it forward.

I also learnt about correct alignment of skeleton, having a neutral pelvic not tilting up or down, 2 cm deep curve in lower back when leaning on wall, 4 cm difference in neck, ears should be in line with shoulders and also how dangerous forward head posture could be because as we get older it will effect blood flow to our brain. Here are some video’s I liked.

Diagnostic vids

Types of postures
Correct alignment
Test posture
Dangers of forward head posture

 

On the second day I noticed how much your posture affects your visual input. Sitting in a better posture forced me to change the angle of my eyes too if I wanted to get the same visual input I’m used to falling on my Fovea. I also realized how always being short and looking up using my neck has had an effect on my posture. I’m guessing tall people have the same effect just in reverse.

 

Week 2

All three of us participating in this challenge began to feel the original exercises were getting easier. Ashley was reported decrees in her usual neck pain. On day 13 I was brushing my teeth and thinking how big my boobs look! Then I realized I was standing in a really good posture. In my regular hunched posture my boobs disappeared. I think a lot of this posture comes from when I was growing up and hated having boobs. We weren’t the most diligent bunch, and sometimes exchanged the exercises with a massage or yoga but updating each other via a joint Hackpad, reminded kept us going.

Week 3

I combed through a long Reddit post about good posture, and a few posts recommended foundation training. I was very skeptical when watching the charismatic chiropractor give this Ted talk claiming that all our problems were from sitting and that he has one exercise to fix it all. I did try the exercise though and lo and behold it has been a miracle exercise for me. It lengthens and strengthens the entire back and the next day I didn’t wake up with my chronic lower back. It actually helped me realize what the other exercises were about and do them better. Since then whenever I feel my back start to ‘twinge’ I’ll do this exercise (including morning and night) and it has an amazing affect, activating the strong back muscles that support the spine reducing the pain immediately. This has made me think that perhaps some of the stretches I have been doing weren’t good, even though they provided some immediate relief, I might have been weakening my muscles instead of strengthening them. This is always the big debate about stretches.

I also got a picture of me taken while slacklining and really didn’t like the posture I saw. I looked terrified and frozen which actually was the case. So much of our posture is based on emotional wellbeing.

 

Eran 30 day summary:

I think I am more aware of my posture, in the sense that I think about it more times during the day and try to adjust it.
Sitting in incorrect posture in bed is more painful than it was before the exercises
I think I am standing more straight.
Complete speculation and possibly unrelated – but I feel like I had more positive (more interactions and they were more positive) social interactions with strangers in the last month.

 

Ashley – 30 day summary

I think I should have focused on my lower back posture more. Especially given the focus on posture from the past month, I noticed recently how inflexible my lower back is versus my neck/shoulders. I pretty much exclusively did the #2 exercise for upper back/neck. I found that exercise was quite helpful to my upper back/shoulder posture and felt good, but also found it quite burdensome to do regularly, especially twice a day.

It helped to have the group tracking going on, and i regularly wished we were tracking other things besides the posture stuff, as it helped me keep going. that said i seemed to mostly fall off the band wagon after when i stopped doing the exercises/lost my routine. After that break in the pattern, I seemed to mostly only be able to keep up the prior routine i have in place with yoga, that I rationalized as being equivalent/inclusive of doing “posture exercises”… definitely a rationalization as my neck feels much less good than it was feeling around day 7.  I think in order to really start to improve my posture I’m gonna need to figure out a better way to integrate it into my day rather than just these annoying repetitive exercises I have to do twice a day.

My 30 day summary and before/after pics:

Hopefully I don't have to tell you what's before and what's after

Hopefully I don’t have to tell you what’s before and what’s after

The main outer difference is probably opening of my upper chest, I think my neck and shoulders still need a lot of work.

The inner difference is much less lower back pain, more awareness about posture and the deep realisation (once again) that these changes in habit must come from enjoyment and not just repetitive exercises. I now have a few different variations of exercises (see below) that I play with and include dancing/ kundalini shaking and focus on the “feel good” of the movement. Also doing this thing with friends was awesome and highly recommended. Thanks!

Summary of exercises

Foundation training basic exercise. Helps me more than I could imagine.
use foam roller slowly to open back and relax and some sitting exersizes
The basic exercise we were doing, I was also doing it laying down and sitting instead of standing sometimes
Warming up neck and chin tucks that can be done when sitting http://www.posturecisecrashcourse.com/forward-head-posture?mc_cid=b49d8e1a38&mc_eid=a24c4430d9
Finding movement and alignment in your spine
Hannan somatic stretches I’ve been doing for years on and off
Kundalini shaking
Back mobility exercises I learnt from dancers