Trauma

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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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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Of Trauma and Emotional Freedom

When I was about sixteen, squirrels invaded our house. They came and went freely and inhabited the attic, where they could be heard running wind sprints across the eaves, usually late at night when we were trying to sleep. F—ing bastards, my Dad would growl. We tried several methods to lure them back into their natural habitat; the more dramatic of these I won’t describe. But the squirrels, of course, were smarter. They’d outwit the mechanism, chow down on $7.99 all-natural peanut butter, and clamber back into the rafters. They were well-fed, these squirrels—and that’s what led, finally, to their demise. One spring day, in response to the sound of panicked squealing, we climbed the attic stairs to find a young, chubby, grass-and-peanut-fed squirrel inside one of the traps. My Dad and I elected my brother to place the cage in the back seat of the family Volvo and we drove, squirrel …

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Israel, from Desert to Sea

People often ask why I travel so much to teach yoga. The long plane rides push my body’s limits: 23 hours to Hong Kong, anyone? Nutritional challenges come up as well: why can’t I find cooked greens in Copenhagen in October? And luck can turn in a moment, bringing mishaps that make me want to go home: I still recall a bathroom flooding, foretold by me and ignored by the concierge, that had me perched for hours on the lumpy bed in a quaint Paris hotel). It’s difficult to explain why I travel. Yet something compels me to do so, as though I’m trying to learn a lesson that remains tantalizingly out of reach. Last November, I finished my travel year in Israel: first at the Moa Oasis just north of the southern port of Eilat, where the dry heat was intense. Dust infiltrated the filaments of my bronchial tubes, …

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