Locked down and worried

Seven years ago, when I switched to a whole food plant-based (vegan) diet, I lost most of my friends because of it. Even long term friends were infuriated. They told me to my face that I am on a suicide trip, that I will lack essential nutrients, that I will become very sick, that I am a concern to the system. Even my doctor, a childhood friend, warned me of the dangers of a plant-based diet, including possible death. They were infuriated, not just worried. I stopped getting invitations. In fact, I was not invited to dinners, bbqs or group hangouts anymore. Also, at that time I stopped drinking alcohol, which made things just worse. I became an outcast for choosing compassion over consensus.

Now, seven years and Zero Colds later, with blood work so good it seemed genetically impossible in my family („your family always had high cholesterol”), people have calmed down a bit. Not that they read up on why plant-based diets are reasonable, it’s just that over time they became accustomed to the idea that some people chose to live on plant-based diets. It certainly is not for them, but at the occasional meat and booze heavy bbq usually at least half of the other guests seem to be ok with me eating just potatoes, garlic breads and green salads. And, of course, nowadays there’s enough people on a variety of plant-based diets so that we can enjoy dinner together without getting stern looks and questions like „What would happen to all the cows on the planet if everyone went vegan?” which usually is followed with warning statements like, „They would all die!” In turn, instead of arguing, I became accustomed to switching my brain to a blank stare to match the level of thinking going on in conversations with meat-lovers.

But since I went plant-based the times have become much worse. The long term warnings of scientists and doctors on devastating infectious diseases within livestock and also those originating from animal farming have been largely ignored. Much the opposite is true, intensive farming methods have been heavily subsidised and pushed forwards. We are now living in the age of almost unhindered creation and spreading of infectious diseases on one hand, with a rapid decline of effective antibiotics and medications on the other.

I—just like 35 million people living in Vietnam right now—have been locked up for months to stop the spread of Covid-19. The next step is for governments to „vaccinate the world” in hope that it will stop the spread.

However, I already had my fair share of medical errors and struggles to recover from them. I’m not taking any chances anymore. My tools are social distancing, wearing a mask, washing my hands frequently, and a healthy diet in accordance with various doctors’ recommendations who have specialised in plant-based diets. Sadly, I’m already losing friends over this, again. Even in my own family I’m looking at an infuriated father. He’s not just worried, he’s infuriated. He calls me a martyr. In a last attempt to talk some sense into me he told me to contact my childhood friend and doctor, the one who told me that I might harm myself with a plant-based diet (and the one who was first to administer covid vaccines in his county).

I start to be worried about what will happen to me if I continue to chose not to take the shots. The shots—military metaphors of modern medicine. I don’t know whom to trust or what to believe anymore. I opt for kindness, compassion, respect. I recall the words of the eight-year old girl, who in 1876 wrote:

»I’m a trapper in the Gamer Pit. I have to trap without a light and I’m scared. I go at four and sometimes half past three in the morning and come out at five and a half past. I never go to sleep. Sometimes I sing when I’ve light, but not in the dark, I dare not sing then.«

Their first duty is to connect

Did I fall away from time, or did I merely become more aware of the time that has passed? It’s morning, then mid-day, then evening. Then suddenly, it’s too late at night, and then it’s morning again. A rhythm of beats as fleeting as breathing.

At 7pm it’s already dark outside here in Ho Chi Minh City, in the South of Vietnam. And it’s silent. O for a muse did I miss the silence. I didn’t know how much I missed the silence until suddenly, at the first day of the total lockdown some weeks ago – or was it months? – I heard the sound of the the wind, and the night resting on the land. In  my mind I heard the absence of daylight, the absence of car horns, of reckless driving, of speeding, of broken mufflers on motorbikes; the absence of the sound people make when they hustle to earn a living at all costs, grinding, grinding.

Silence.

Then usually some reading. „Paths are the habits of a landscape. They are acts of consensual making. It’s hard to create a footpath on your own. The artist Richard Long did it once, treading a dead-straight line into desert sand by turning and turning about dozens of times. But this was a footmark not a footpath: it led nowhere except to its own end, and by walking it Long became a tiger pacing its cage or a swimmer doing lengths. With no promise of extension, his line was to a path what a snapped twig is to a tree. Paths connect. This is their first duty and their chief reason for being.” I read in Robert Macfarlane’s „The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot”.

I set the book aside. While reading about the caged-up tiger and the Icknield Way, old routes criss-crossing the British landscapes and waters, I started to think about Kegels and pelvic floor exercises. Isometric contractions of muscles that span from bone to bone without a joint in between. I recalled a short Youtube clip with Arnold Schwarzenegger, where he let his pecs dance on their own, one by one. Isometric contractions. His audience was laughing, he was laughing.

„Before my first [swimming] practice, I put swimming in the same category as walking and riding a bike: things one did to get from place to place. I never thought of how well I was doing them.” I read in David Sedaris’ book „Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls”, in a story called „Memory Laps.”

These days most of my walking is comprised by walking from the kitchen counter to the kitchen table, or from the kitchen table to the bathroom, or all the way from the kitchen to the living room area. These stations of my small, one bedroom apartment probably do not compare to Inns and B&B’s in the Great Plains or Scottish Highlands, but I still consider my walking as functional. Meaningful walking, real footpaths. But my walking is not long enough, not outdoors enough, to get much of anything from it.

Therefore I think of what’s available to me: my lower arm and my upper arm. They connect over what we call the elbow. A noun. To elbow. A verb. The elbow is not a thing on its own. It’s not a bone, not a muscle. It’s something that is created by using it, through its function: it’s a joint. The elbow joint. It starts to exist when we move the upper arm and lower arm in relation to each other. We also can lean on it.

There’s a big muscle, the Musculus Brachialis. That’s an old name. It’s from Latin, bracchium, and means just „arm” in modern English. So it’s the arm muscle. Interestingly the arm muscle doesn’t own the entire arm: it spans from the middle half of the upper arm down to the beginning of the lower arm, the outside bone of the lower arm to be more specific, the ulna. The arm muscle „is the prime mover of elbow flexion”, says Wikipedia, up to fifty percent more dedicated to elbow flexion than its prominent upstairs neighbours, the biceps.

„The (metaphysical) elbow joint springs into being only when we move through pathways that include arm flexion and extension”, I write, I can see a point, I think, „I’m listening, go on…”

I go on: there must be a whole lot of things in this world that only come into being through movement, through walking meaningful pathways. Friendship, love, like-mindedness come to mind. „It’s hard to create a footpath on your own”, I read Robert Macfarlane one more time. In this sense, for example, it’s hard to create kindness on your own. The possibility for kindness might exist just like a physical elbow might exist, but it must be exercised to actually spring into being. Kindness is only created by being kind—to someone else, or at least, to oneself.

I used to step out of the house at 9am and to walk over to one of the coffee shops that I discovered as my writing places. Mondays through Sundays. And I would return some time after noon, either when my writing was done or when I was feeling hungry, whichever turned up first. Now this rhythm, these pathways, are lost. But as long as I keep moving between places, no matter how close or far apart, new pathways are created. What will they be?

Thank you for reading, my dear.

Hey Siri, Fitness

Two months ago, when the hard lockdown started, I figured I should find a fitness video to hop along with (is it „to hop along with” or „to hop along to”?).

„Hey Siri, Fitness” I spoke into the Youtube search bar, and Youtube threw the big ones right at me: „Here, a big chested blonde woman in bikini and white sneakers, millions of guys like that!”, or „Here, a muscular guy tattooed from neck to toes without T-Shirt, millions of guys like that!”, or „Here, a group of extremely super fit fitness-professionals crushing it with a professional smile!”.

„Hey Siri, Fitness for Beginners”

Eventually I found a channel I felt quite comfortable with, Team Body Project. The instructors seemed passionate about movement and video, professional yet not only about the money. I felt treated like a human, and enjoyed the friendly, fun and light attitude.

I chose „Fat burning Beginner LOW IMPACT home cardio workout – all standing!” [link] , a 40 minutes workout to hop along with. I made it to 13 minutes and 45 seconds. Then I had to stop. Rewind. Watch again. Rewind. Skip back and forth. „Fascinating”, I quoted Lieutenant Commander Spock (USS Enterprise).

Here’s the part that brought me to a halt:

The instructors were demonstrating a simple exercise: a light bit of air boxing. But all three of them were doing the exercise differently! It’s not as if I didn’t know what to do, or as if I had a hard time choosing whom to follow – in fact, I tried all three variations; but the fact alone that such a simple exercise could be done in three, distinct ways threw me off track.

Of course one could argue „Not to worry, just move!” after all it’s just a simple, innocent cardio workout for beginners, and as long as you’re moving you’re doing good.  „And yet, and yet, and yet.” – to quote „The Sea, the Sky, the Birds Between: The Lost Logbook of Marian Graves” as quoted by Maggie Shipstead in her book „Great Circle”.

Now, two months later, I’m still thinking about the three good people who were doing the same exercise, but each differently. I can’t get over this, it seems like. Or maybe I just haven’t found the right fitness channel yet.

In order not to stall myself completely, however, I resorted to a bit of traditional stomping and hopping. Maybe something those old shamans on black and white film would do. I think of the rhythms of Louis Thomas Hardin, an American musician known as Moondog, and listen to the strange sounds of Apple Music’s „Signal to Noise” playlist. And stomp out some cardio to the wild workings of a heart beating in the 21st century.

The pressure of light on the pelvic floor

I woke up early. I was lying on my back, with my eyes open, before the talking would begin. My gaze traced the curtain and the light. I faced the ceiling, the matte, white, level screen floating above me, and watched what was there to be watched.

The light certainly has its ways, this I was sure. It slips through a tight opening, spreads out wide, and lights the room. It doesn’t seem to take effort in it. Neither does it look brutal, nor selfish. Yet here it comes, spreads, lights. This is the light. This is one of the crucial components for life. This is the thing that created eyes. Certainly it wasn’t the other way round.

I got up, ignored the bathroom scales, wiped the floor, took a shower, shaved, put on a fresh face mask, a baseball cap from a small company in Portland Maine, The Black Dog, and went downstairs, outside.

I switched on the Vitamin D management DMinder app, pressed »Start Sun Exposure« and hesitated. The strip of sunlight on the floor looked vigorous. The fiery version of strong rain. The light hit down hard onto the ground. The Vietnamese avoid being touched by it. Some even wear socks with their flip flops and dress in long trousers and long sleeved shirts with tall collars and have big hats on top. Only us foreigners run around in short trousers and short sleeved shirts.

I checked the DMinder app: it read an UVI of 8 for Ho Chi Minh City, which would be 14 a few hours later. I set the timer to 15 minutes. It felt good for the moment.

Side-note: UVI, an Ultra Violet radiation Index of 0-2 is considered save even for light skinned people, 8-10 is considered Very High and should be avoided. The public scale ends at 11 (Extreme).

Back in my apartment I felt like I had been sunbathing for a full hour. My skin didn’t tan much, but it was hot and dry. I felt some regret and put on aloe vera gel.

Then I opened one of the densely written medical books about the Pelvic Floor I’ve been meaning to read. I thought of a short imaginary exploration: imagine a flash light, one of those modern, small, strong flash lights, with bright LED lights… imagine holding it inside of yourself. Come from your heart and chest, point and shine downwards, towards your pelvic floor. Identify the different parts of your pelvic floor: the muscles in front around your urethra, and the ones in the middle, and the ones in the back around your anus.

But then, considering how I came back to my apartment, running from the light, I was thinking: the light needn’t go everywhere. We also need cool, secluded areas, serene shades, places of shelter, of safety, of retreat, places that are protected from the light.

Therefore, imagine to switch that flash light off again. In fact, forget about that flash light altogether. I’ll find something better. I closed the medical book and opened a page from „Nature as Teacher” by Victor Schauberger (1933):

„These very dark places and glistening water streams out of the Earth’s surface are the spawning-grounds of fish for good reason. If we examine such water at the very limit of light penetration, at the place where it first encounters light, a noticeable change can be detected: the first beginnings of life. The closer we approach the zone shielded from light, the more highly evolved the good bacterial life in the water becomes. Conversely bacteria are increasingly less complex the longer water flows in the light. For the fish, the closer the fish are to the spring, the tastier they are. Every fisherman knows that the powerful, stationary trout which live close to the spring, spurn every type of lure.”

Natural spring water from deep within the mountains, mountains that are covered by healthy old forests. The origins of life. The original microbiome. Nature, balance, health. Does this analogy compare to the healthy microbiome of the intestines, and the healthy microbiome of the bladder? To the balance and relations between the pelvic floor—that’s deep down in the pelvis—and all the other things, all the way out, including the surface?

I poured some stale oat flakes and chia seeds and bottled water into a bowl and called it breakfast.

Drawing parallels

„I tell my daughter and architecture students: just don’t stop drawing. You will draw as well as you drew when you stopped drawing. You could be 50. When you stopped drawing at 8, you will still be drawing like an 8 year old.” – Russ Tyson, Whitten Architects in Portland, Maine.

I heard that quote on Youtube [link] yesterday. Like so often recently, I was watching architecture videos as my pastime. Many of them are stunningly well made, beautiful.

Since I was a kid I am thinking about how I would have designed my father’s house. Actually it was „my parents” house, because my mother contributed big amounts of money. But then, in the end she had little to say in the design and construction phase, and worst of all, didn’t even get her name to the house. Which I guess was the cornerstone (so to speak) of my parent’s divorce 20 years later.

I digress. But „side-talking” (as a student once called it) might not only be my flaw, but also my forte. Some students watch my videos especially for the nuggets they will find. I myself, when watching these absolutely stunning architecture videos, I keep on wondering: how did these people afford to pay for all this? How did this project change their relationship to their parents and grandparents, to their spouses even? How’s the daily lives of the families living there—do they even live there?

Back to movement.

I would say that, allow me to make this case, it’s pretty much the same with movement as it is with drawing: just don’t stop moving. You will move as well as you moved when you stopped moving. You could be 50. When you stopped moving at 8, you will still be using the same level of skills you build up until you were 8 years old (which might be quite good actually). Minus impairments from accidents, disease, identity, overuse and ageing.

But what is movement? What is drawing? What parallels could we draw?

And nobody was crying

In the year 2004 I enrolled in a Feldenkrais Professional Training Program for several reasons:

  1. It gave me access to the (strongly guarded and unpublished) work of Moshé Feldenkrais, which was something I wanted to learn more about and understand,
  2. the work of Moshé Feldenkrais was presented in a well structured A‑Z way,
  3. I was ready for something new in my life.

Odd start of my blog post. Not where I wanted to go with this. Let me restart, with this montage of a screenshot:

Oddly enough, these two books were recommended to me today, on Amazon. They were next to each other. I chuckled. I thought, „Now isn’t that something”. My father took me to a 2-day Speed Reading seminar when I was 16. I was probably the only one he could convince to such a workshop. Plus it was a good adventure, father and son.

I can still remember the headache I got after a full day of trying to read with my eyes parallel in soft focus. My father had to get medication in the middle of the night. The headache was still there on the second day, and I felt sorry for the seminar host who was trying to one-on-one coach me during our lunch break. Since then I speed read quite a few books about Speed Reading. And then I was actually speed reading quite a few books. Or at least I did what I could.

And then I started to lose interest in books. And then I gave up on reading books altogether, a good two decades ago. And if you have been following me on my „Movement Based” portion of this blog, you already know that I’ve picked up reading books again this spring.

Now I select my books very carefully. And I don’t speed read. In fact, I despise speed reading and everything that stands for it. I only read books that

  1. I read for meaning, books that actually mean something to me
  2. and are written in a kind of language that I love to read, the wording, the phrasing.

Books that while I am reading them, I can be mind-to-mind, side-by-side, abreast with the authors, and be guided step by step into their world, their life’s Magnum Opus, and their thinking.

So, that’s not so many books. I’ve already looked at I guess well over a hundred books this year, and I finished eight. I read every word out loud in those eight books, and I took my time. Some of them have audio book versions for purchase, I always like to check their length; how long a professional voice needed to read them out loud.  Most times, when the audio book was, say, 4 hours, it took me much more than that, well over 10 hours to read it out loud to myself.

That’s all I have to say about Speed Reading nowadays. And the same goes for Power Napping, High Intensity Interval Training, prolonged water fasts, multiple days of meditation that require some people to take painkillers just to be able to sit motionless in one spot, and everything else in that category.

During my FELDENKRAIS® training I’ve seen somebody cry once in a while. Some Feldenkrais teacher would work with a student and that student would then burst out in tears. I observed that some students would cry because they were so moved by the lesson. Sometimes even observers would cry because they were so touched by what they just observed, witnesses to someone having found consolation, finally relief from long standing suffering. Or maybe it was a confirmation to a student, a sign that the treatment worked and the training was worth the time and money. And oddly enough, some of the teachers seemed to carry an odd sense of accomplishment, a certain kind of pride for their ability to move others to tears.

At that time I remembered some of the books I have been speed reading. Namely „Rebirthing in the New Age” by Leonard Orr, and „Holotropic Breathwork” by Stanislav Grof. These books, as far as I remembered, spoke of strong emotional releases from seminar participants, they spoke of pent up emotions, rigid chests, violent outbursts of expressions, screaming, discomfort, fatigue, drowsiness, and catharsis; being under the impression of having resolved all difficulties and problems, at least for the moment.

But back then, I also remembered a book by Bert Hellinger, a commentary on Family Constellations, in which he talked about times when he would not allow seminar participants to cry. When he required them to find a solution without crying, all within their emotional capacity.

It almost happened to myself, too: One of the teachers, while working with me one-on-one, placed her hands on my back, somewhere between my shoulder blades, and simply held one hand there, with light pressure.  I was in side-lying on a Feldenkrais table, my head supported by a pillow, and a pillow between my legs, nicely padded up. For a while nothing happened. I don’t know how long she held her hand on my back, her fingers pressed against some firm area next to my spine. It might have been several minutes, might have been half an hour.

But then, suddenly, my muscles gave in. Suddenly I felt how stiffly I had been holding myself. I let go of the muscles that held my chest rigid like an iron cage. It felt like as if years and years of burden and difficulty melted away in an instant. As if I dropped a weight as heavy as the world itself, Atlas Shrugged. That moment was indeed overwhelming, to be honest. I almost burst out into tears.

But then, milliseconds before the Niagara Falls would have been released from my eyes, I stopped the tears. And at the very same moment the Feldenkrais teacher moved her hands onwards and continued with her lesson, just like a piece for piano would move onwards to the next section.

Hours later I wondered if I had betrayed myself, if it was wrong of me to stop my catharsis, my big emotional release. I wondered if I should have cried on that table, for my own sake.

I turned to the original transcripts of Moshé Feldenkrais, to see what he was thinking about all this. In the transcript of Amherst, Week 5, 7th of July 1980, Moshé Feldenkrais said:

„That’s again a thing that is not quite obvious to everybody. What you are learning is disturbing because this is the first approximation for you. And it should be disturbing. And disturbing without you crying, which is a little bit different from what other disciplines do in order to teach a new way of finding oneself.”

He also spoke of security, and being able to make oneself feel safe. Not so much as a skill, but as a requirement for learning, and being able to act in this world. In Amherst, Week 3, 25th of June 1980, Moshé Feldenkrais said:

„You can see these are problems that must be clearly conceived and elucidated before you understand what we are doing. So many of you feel disoriented and feel changes and you don’t know whether it is good or bad. Many of you came here complaining that what we do seems to be so innocent, so gentle and yet you have deep emotional changes and some funny dreams and all sorts of things. Well, if it weren’t like that, what’s the use of doing it? The use, the difference, here we do it with a kind of feeling well after the lesson, doing it very slowly, very gently. And we have nobody crying here, or feeling terrible, as I have seen many therapists do that intentionally.”

In that same session Moshé Feldenkrais, a master storyteller, added a short little story:

„One student of mine was a former teacher in Canada. He had a Gestalt session in Esalen, not telling who and how, but the first time he came to my class I saw a miserable little thing, quivering. He cried, and everybody around said to him »Don’t cry. You’re a nice guy. You’re nice.« For two hours. He’s now a Feldenkrais teacher and since then I never saw him crying.”

I liked that. Mind-to-Mind with Moshé Feldenkrais in reading. I like his work, his way of thinking. I took example from him. Since then I have been working with thousands and thousands of clients in person. I could bring many to improve, to resolve longstanding, chronic pain, to feel better, to find a feeling of safety, to reconnect with meaning and purpose, to feel spirited again and to be on top of things again. My classes can be tranquil, sometimes even „mildly funny” (to quote one of my students). Sometimes we laugh. And sometimes someone gets mildly bored, or impatient. But nobody’s crying.

Summer break

South Vietnam. 35 million people in lockdown. The district I live in is called Thao Dien, in Ho Chi Minh City, and here the 4th lockdown started more than two months ago; and is rumoured to continue for another month. The guards gave me a sheet of paper that says that I might step outside Mondays and Thursdays to buy necessities and medicine. I buy rice, potatoes, Cashew nuts, bánh mì, Alluvia dark chocolate, strawberry jam and Vitamin D supplements.

Early last year, when I arrived in South Vietnam, the Air Quality Index was bad. Really bad. Asia is often praised for its holistic, natural therapies, but most of Asia itself has no good concept for balance and nature. The WHO estimates that more than 60,000 deaths in Vietnam each year are linked to air pollution. Climate Central estimates that large parts of South Vietnam will be submerged as soon as 2050, as a result of climate change. Nobody cares. The big dream of owning land and becoming rich turns them blind, deaf and annihilates their sense of smell.

But now, the air is lovely.

The lockdowns grinded the economy to a halt. They bound the people’s hands and feet, took them to the ground, where they struggle in Tetanus like contractions, eagerly awaiting the uncuffing, bending and breaking the lockdown rules wherever possible.

But for now the air is lovely, supremely pleasant for a city of 9 million people. It’s a joy to open the windows and take in the fragrant scents of the Plumeria trees nearby, the river, the wind, the sweet wind. Even the rain smells wonderful again, promising refreshment, clearing away clouds from my brain. I stick my head out of the window when it starts pouring.

It’s quiet outside. The absolutely mental noise of Vietnamese traffic is gone – only now and then a mad driver pushes down hard on his horn to warn others of his speeding and reckless driving.

This week I’ve seen the first mosquito in a year. And a small spider, crawling in plain sight outside over my living room’s window. There’s more insects again. And there’s more birds again. Not many yet, but small flocks of 4 to 6 birds here and there, some fly from tree to tree, and some fly high up in the sky. Nature does have the capacity to recover—if we let her escape the death grip of mankind’s iron hand and iron will.

For now I can feel nature again, her soothing, comforting touch.  I feel like a human again. I sit, I take long breaks, I download books, I look at the beautiful, many-coloured skies through my windows, I cook, I clean, I read, I read the updates on Pfizer and Moderna and what doctors and lawyers make of it, and I enjoy to be in Asia, in the eye of one of the hurricanes of climate change—Last Chance To See.