The Body Keeps the Score

In my exploration of things that make my mind feel better, my GOADS (Get Out And Do Stuff) focus on synchronized movement with others comes from The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk.

A year ago, van der Kolk was interviewed by Ezra Klein on his podcast. As I write this, the book is #3 on the New York Times non-fiction bestseller list—not bad for a book written in 2014. In the podcast, van der Kolk was even more supportive of non-western modalities to treat trauma than he was in the book.

In the West (Northern Europe and America), historically people dealt with feeling bad by talking about it or drinking. This has been distilled (pun intended) to our current acceptable treatments for mental health of talk therapy and drugs.

But in the East and Africa, people sing together, move together, and play music together. Think tai chi, chi gong, chanting, dance, and drums. Van der Kolk says that the human brain wants to be in sync with other humans and that moving or singing together helps traumatized brains sync up with others’ brains.

Here’s how he explains it:

“Being in tune with other members of our species via the VVC (Vaso-Vagal Complex) is enormously rewarding. What begins as the attuned play of mother and child continues with the rhythmicity of a good basketball game, the synchrony of tango dancing, and the harmony of choral singing… all of which foster a deep sense of pleasure and connection.”

And also:

“All rely on interpersonal rhythms, visceral awareness, and vocal and facial communication, which help shift people out of fight/flight states, reorganize their perception of danger, and increase their capacity to manage relationships.”

My experiences tell me this is true. In crowded events—business networking sessions, fund-raising galas—I’m awkward. There are too many people. I want to squish myself into a corner and stay there.

My default mode in a crowd is discomfort, but put me in a line dance and I’m fine. There are no decisions to make about finding someone to talk to because we’re not talking. There are no decisions about where or how to stand because we’re not standing. We’re dancing.

The music is moving us. We might catch an eye, or offer a smile, but the only speaker is the one calling out the moves. My heart lifts as my pulse rises.

We each move a little differently and the pros toss in some flourishes, but we dance together in the splendid knowing that if we were not moving together, this dance would not be possible.

Since the grand GOADS experiment, I’ve African danced, country line danced, contra danced, and played drums and pickleball with others. It’s time to focus and make choices about what I will continue.

  1. African dance, because it moves my whole body and makes me sweat. Plan: twice a month, on Saturday mornings.
  2. Contra dance, because it offers human touch. Plan: twice a month, on Monday evenings.
  3. Pickleball, because I can walk from my condo to the courts, and I like the rhythm of the ball hitting the paddle. Plan: twice a week, on weekday mornings.

That means I’ll be playing pickleball twice a week and dancing once a week. I think my mind will like that.

My soul, too.

Chewing the Cud of Good

Thankful for friends who kindly offer wise advice.



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