• helene su

We are currently in the midst of a global pandemic and it brings up so many questions about how we live, act and interract as humans. I can taste a bittersweet irony of how far we have advanced on certain technological and intellectual levels, but then again on some basic human ones, we are still somewhat neanderthal.

A case in point is the mass panic buying that has resulted in empty supermarket shelves in countries around the world, not only of toilet paper and sanitary gel but also of non perishable foods, resulting in the lack of provisions for the needy. I opened my phone this morning to a personal email from a supermarket CEO urging us to only buy what we need, to ensure there is enough to go round for everyone. Of course people are very anxious in this tense climate of uncertainty and fear around coronavirus, and when we’re stressed we lose a lot of our prefrontal cognitive abilities and emotional regulation.

But not only does this stress eventually rot our brain (literally our brain cells are killed) which can lead to neuropsychiatric problems such as depression and alzheimers later on [1] , it also weakens our immune system. When we are anxious and stressed, our bodies are flooded with chemicals and hormones such as adrenalin (great when we needed to run from an attacking bear like our ancestors but in this case, the intruder is a lot more subtle), and cortisol which suppresses our immune system, lowering the number of lymphocytes or white blood cells we have. In other words, the lower our lymphocyte level the more chance we have of contracting catagious diseases and viruses…

Practicing consideration and compassion are now more important than ever, not only to extend caretaking to others who may be very isolated, but to improve our overall good health through toning our vagus nerve, dubbed our nerve of compassion. On a basic level we need to at least remain mindful of healthy breathing; allowing the breath deep into our bellies and taking long, full exhalations out, especially when we are feeling fearful.

It is surreal times…almost as if this is just a bad dream that we will all soon wake up from, and life will return to normal. I will finish on an optimistic note with a true story that illustrates both how quickly events can turnaround and also of the fundamental goodness of human nature, although granted it is not comparable in anyway to the gravity of the current situation.

I was driving home at about 6pm one cold, dark winter’s evening from my Dance Therapy course in Bristol, with my then 2 year old in the back. We were stopped at the traffic lights of the large roundabout down from Temple Meads train station. When the lights turned green I tried to change gear and my clutch cable broke. I was in five lane traffic in full rush hour.

As the traffic tried to move on, we were grounded and irate commuters honked and drove around me in their frenzy to get home. At this point my son, naturally sensing the difficulty of the situation, considerately decided to exercise his lungs at full throttle in distress. Lo and behold, that particular morning, in my rush to get us out of the house in time I had forgotten my phone. At that point, I was ready to get on my knees and pray, not only for a miracle to happen but also for forgiveness for being such an irresponsible mother and getting us into this situation in the first place.

Within minutes, two gentlemen had helped moved my car to the side (before a more serious accident occurred), a phone was whipped out and the AA came. Within an hour, with the help of a strategically placed rubber band car fix we were both safely at home. As I sat there watching my son happily playing again, I had to pinch myself to check I was in the right dream.

So yes I do believe in angels and miracles. And having faith does not have to be blasphemous. In fact, it is probably quite essential right now.

1 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26651008

Updated: Mar 4

They say that you teach what you most need to learn. I can vouch for that, my brain seems to run at the speed of light sometimes, processing, analysing, deliberating…makes me tired to even think about it.

However, if we are truely caught up in our thoughts, invariably of the worries and fears kind, we can find ourselves immobilised. We sit in a corner slumped, fretting with our brows furrowed. Some issues need to be resolved with mathematical precision, in which case a good old pen and paper solution, using mind maps, tables or diagrams may be just the ticket. But how often do we sit with thoughts that whizz around inside the endless maze of our skulls unable to find the exit, until we finally collapse from exhaustion?

Enter salvation. Stick on some music, coax the weary body upright and allow it to surrender to the music’s hypnotic beats, inviting its rhythms and sounds to seep into your weary soul. When I drop into free movement and lose myself to a rhythm, letting those sound waves wash over me, then yes I can almost imagine they are the warm ocean waves of the Mediterranean as I sun myself on vacation

Of course the choice of music will influence the feelings that may arise, and its frequencies could potentially incite or dissipate certain emotions; old school head bangers beware. However beginning to move the body engages new and different parts of the brain. When we start to move, especially if it becomes high intensity, blood is directed away from our prefrontal cortex which is responsible for our executive function processing. (I 'discovered' this one time when trying to write a complicated thesis, and suffered the most strapping pain across my forehead after, sounds familiar?)

However, when we stop moving the blood flow shifts back almost immediately. Our brains become sharper, more able to produce a steady flow of creative thoughts and answers. This increased brain flow also kick starts our cellular recovery process.

The nature of dance, with its irregularity of movement and rhythm helps to improve our brain plasticity.[1] Whilst aerobic exercise will increase our neurotransmitters, create new blood vessels and cells, the complexity of dance increases the complexity of our synaptic connections, strengthening and expanding them. Our thoughts start to take different directions, just like a river that meanders into different tributaries.

We have new ideas and fresh perspectives. Not only that but the boost in neurotransmitters and endorphins we receive gives us a more optimistic outlook.

So next time you have a difficult issue or problem to resolve and have reached a cognitive stalemate or impasse, you can thoroughly give yourself permission to put on some music and dance. Rather than being frivolous, it is forward thinking and fruitful.

So there you have it, start saving your favourite playlists.


1 Dr Ratey, J and Hagerman, E (2009:56), ‘Spark, How exercise will improve the performance of your brain’, Quercus, London.

#️Creativethinking #️strategy #️neuroplasticity #️endorphins

  • helene su

I spent the best part of a decade living in Asia and half of that in Japan, and it always warms my heart when I come across a story that beautifully synchronises East with West, the ancient with the contemporary, especially when it involves young people.

We may know that Mindfulness, the all new panacea for modern life is in theory “good” for us (though it is noted, not for everyone, especially people who may be holding some difficult experiences and memories within eg prisoners or war victims). For young people, the concept of stillness may be even more difficult to embrace, in the new world of Snapchat and Instagram.

So how refreshing to see how two 24 year old monks in Kyoto have formed a breakdancing duo called the Spinning Monks – Kaiten Bozu.[1] Their intention is to raise the awareness of the teachings of Buddhism through breakdancing, highlighting the qualities that are in both – peace and equality, without discrimination to race, age or gender. That’s right, its never too late to learn, and hey you might even find a new lease of life and “drop” ten years in the process (octogenarians, nonagenarians and centenarians may beg to differ, or perhaps (excuse the pun) have a new ‘spin’ on the name “break” dancing, but I digress..

And apparently break dancing may be added to the 2024 Paris Olympics. A lofty accolade indeed.

Certainly the focus and concentration that is needed to perform the steps and spinning involved in break dancing require a stillness and emptying of the mind, and bring a whole new descendant to moving meditations that we see in more traditional practices such as Tai Chi, Vinyasa Yoga and so on.

Thus to be embodied, in present moment total mind and body synchronised awareness, through movement and certain dance practices such as break dancing could, I venture to say, theoretically lead to - in Buddhist meditation terms - Liberation, Awakening and Nirvana. Now that is one cool way to do it.

1 https://www.thestar.com/news/world/asia/2019/12/31/pair-of-young-monks-in-japan-fuse-break-dance-and-buddhism.html

#️mindfulness #️movingmeditation #️liberation

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