Social Justice

Body Clocks + Biorhythms: Immunity, Mood, and Well-Being

A few weeks ago, I did a post on Seasonal Affective Disorder that advised exposure to light early in the day (within two hours of waking) and recommended other practices. That post lacked context, and prompted the apology post you’ll see after it. At the time, I promised to provide that context. Here it is. Almost all species have internal rhythms and a sense of time, which are the focus of a field now known as chronobiology. We have internal circadian (24-hour) clocks that generate and shape daily cycles in our physiology, emotion, and behavior.  Most organisms inherit the ability to track time on this 24-hour scale. For example, bees use their clocks to visit flowers at the appropriate time of day so they can feed when flowers are open. Birds use their biological clocks during migration to compensate for the changing position of the sun throughout the day. Other …

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The Art of Inquiry: How to Create and Undo + Create Ourselves:

    You know those rare moments when an idea, person, or experience moves you from a static place to a place of disorganization and discomfort, but ultimately, transformation? One of those occurred for me in March of 2017. I was in the middle of a strength training session in the gym, casually listening to an On Being podcast episode which featured the poet, theologian, and social healer Padraig O’Tuama. His words hit me mid-pullup, echoing in the special way that signals things will never be the same. The passage: “There’s a Buddhist concept,” says O’Tuama, “where if you’re asking a poor question—if a question is being asked, “Are you this or that?” Robert Pirsig says that you can answer, according to his telling of the Zen tradition, you can answer with the word mu, m-u, which means, “Un-ask the question, because there’s a better question to be asked.” The …

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How sexual harassment impacts our sense of personal space

Proprioception is our sixth sense. It encompasses our awareness of movement, the position of our body and its parts in space, how we occupy space, balance, the senses of effort and force and heaviness, and our posture or shape. Proprioception also includes the space around our bodies—and sometimes others’ bodies too. It involves a symphony of actions, reactions, predictions, and functions in which multiple instruments playing both in harmony and in a state of intelligent entropy.   Proprioception is not just part of our sensorium. It’s a scaffold for our sense of self. And an integral part of proprioception—and thus, our sense of self—is how we negotiate peripersonal space, the area that surrounds our bodies.  Peripersonal space is brought to us in part by the frontal and parietal regions in the brain. These regions team up with peripersonal neurons throughout our bodies in a mutual and multi-sensory network of visual, auditory, …

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Neuroplasticity is a Social Construct

Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s capacity to change with experience—plastic meaning mutable. If we play the piano once, we briefly stimulate the piano-playing centers of the brain, and not much changes. Play every day for a year, however, and the brain transforms in several ways. It can grow new cells. It can enhance cell size or cell activity. It can prune away pathways that are no longer used, a process known as neural sculpting. And it can forge new relations between entire networks of cells; this is called connectivity. These cellular changes occur in service to getting better at what we practice—in this case, playing the piano. We practice other things, too, some of them not so harmless. Neuroplasticity is also a social construct. It evokes the way communities shape themselves through practice. We change or stay the same because of and in relation to one another. Think of the …

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Why yoga + the body are social and political

  In response to a recent email, I received several notes saying, “I didn’t sign up for your newsletter to hear about your political views.” I get that. Yet to separate integrative, mind-body approaches from politics sets up a false division between them. I’d like to explain why that is—and how it has a negative impact on well-being. Let’s start with the body.   Why Integrative Therapies are Inherently Social (and Political) From personal feelings like anger or sadness to social emotions like shame or trust, emotions have their origin as sensations in the body. As this origin story begins, receptors in your skin and internal organs collect information. These receptors specialize in distinct sensations: the speed of your heart, the pace and depth of your breath, hunger or fullness, warmth or coolness, activity or soreness in your muscles, emptiness or fullness in your abdomen (and bladder and rectum), and …

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A Public Figure’s Guide to Messing up and Learning in Public

This week, several people asked me to listen to the intro of a yoga podcast in which the host, J. Brown, defends a blog he wrote refuting the firsthand account of Christie Roe about how yoga teacher Mark Whitwell sexually assaulted her.* [See below for a link and content warning.] The people who asked me to review this intro were understandably confused. They had many questions. What made them so viscerally uncomfortable? Was the host entitled to tell “his side of the story,” as he put it? If he apologizes for his actions and seems contrite, even tearful, should he be given a third, fourth, fifth chance at making things right? What comprises a full apology (as opposed to an emotional one)? Why are so many people defending his intentions? And what exactly is learning in public? There’s so much to unpack here, and others have already addressed several of …

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When Advance Requires a Retreat

At the close of 2016, I embarked on a 10-day silent retreat in western Massachusetts. It was necessary: chronic overwork, multi-tasking, and the political events of the year had fractured my attention and taxed my nervous system. Ten days might be hard, I thought to myself, but it was also necessary—like “attentional rehab.” It was hard. It was also nourishing. And it was full-on, life-changing extraordinary. Most of us have heard alluring tales of mystical experiences that arise during a retreat: unity with the Divine, a direct encounter with emptiness, and other such happenings. It’s tempting to think that mystical experiences are “the payoff” of a retreat. Yet most of us, myself included, have close encounters of a more pedestrian kind: intense, searing pain, for instance. Sleepiness (I much prefer the Buddhist terms “sloth” and “torpor,” which sound more dramatic and justified). Alien forms of thought that invade our mind: …

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