Thursday, November 26, 2020

Post-Pandemic Body and Tango



Will tango survive the pandemic?  

What helps the body survive is exactly what will help tango survive. But surviving is not the same as thriving.  If you ask a pediatrician or geriatric physician about what "failure to thrive" means in medicine, they will tell stories of vulnerable children and mature adults who died from a lack of touch.  A "failure to thrive" tango community has a problem with touch too.  Death looms.

The need for human touch is correlated to human longevity itself.  That is what "thriving" is!  However, once the risk of a dangerous virus is gone, fear can remain for a lifetime.  World Wars and the Great Depression are examples of tragedies replayed in the psyches of many for their entire lives. People go to their graves with this fear of losing everything again. Even so with the Pandemic of 2020, unfortunately, we will have those who will never get over this experience.  Being traumatized will halt what needs to happen.  We will continue needing touch on two levels. First, on the biological level, the microbiome needs social interaction because of the biological need for diversity of the bacteria in our bodies. Scientists have been ignorant about this until more recently, and the general public and many physicians do not know it. Post-pandemic, some dancers sequestering themselves for a lifetime will unwittingly create the likelihood of a weakened immune system.  That's where a short lifespan comes into play.  Second, on the psychological level without touch, failure to thrive starts--all the food and comforts do not keep children, the elderly, and yes, the forlorn dancer alive, who are all dying of a lack of touch and interaction--it's more than just the dance.  The body and/or tango die out if the population is now avoidant of one thing: Touch. But that won't happen, at least to you, if you know how important touch is.

What are some of the foreseeable challenges for the Tango community?
  • Some milonga venues will be lost, never to return.
  • Some organizers were truly harmed financially by the pandemic and will not want to face the risk again.
  • Many teachers will have gone on to some other way to make their living.  Being a teacher was already hard, but the pandemic had them take their talents elsewhere. 
  • Some dancers just cannot afford to go dance as they did before.
  • New blood, that is, the new dancers who would have come to tango has stopped flowing for nearly a year.  What does that do to a village when reproduction stops and the toddlers also died out? (Tango "toddlers" are the dancer who were one- and two-year-olds tanguer@s when the pandemic started.) 
  • And my biggest concern as a therapist mentioned above:  Some dancers have been traumatized by this pandemic.  The tragedy is abundant: Friends and family have died, even dancers you knew. Many dancers will be forever changed in the way they understand a hug from a stranger.  The pool of people who will continue to hug may shrink.  That, I fear will shrink a dance whose foundation is a musical hug.
How was the pre-pandemic embrace in your community?
Something else adds to my concern: A warm tango embrace was already rare in many communities. That should send off an alarm bell if you love tango.  If indeed touch is the epicenter of tango's survival, then many communities may have already been in decline before the pandemic even started.  Does the "close embrace" make many in your community uncomfortable?  I have a frank suggestion for touch-avoidant dancers: Consider learning how to dance ballroom which is mostly a museum of dead dances.  Do you have any friends going out to dance the Viennese Waltz, the Quick-Step lately? No? How about the Paso Doble? Museums have signs everywhere: "Don't Touch!

Once it is safe again, just as it was after the 1918 pandemic, tango will live again as long as the embrace is warm and gladly given.



Note:  This post completes 12 years of Tango-Therapist and the 418th post.  Many have stayed with me that long. Thank you for your kind words and support.  The research I have put into many posts has been a great education for me, and I hope for my readers.
      --Mark Word,  Thanksgiving Day 2020.

Photo credit: This photo is about the importance of children pointing, but I like the image of God as a child giving life to Adam (humanity).  God knows that touch gives life.  Children know.  Adults have to think about it, or discover it late in life when going to a milonga.  https://www.adam-mila.com/milestones/language-development/pointing/


Saturday, October 24, 2020

Dancing through life with balance


The tango community is filled with people who are a rare breed of humanity.  

Throughout time, people who learn the arts with passion often look at the world in a different way.  What makes tango and my tango friends special, I think, is that this art form has its origins in social connection and improvisation.  

Tango is a rare "performing art" for just two people.


Even though tango has a special place among the arts, all artists--passionate dancers, artists, musicians--have at least a chance of looking at all of life in a deeper way.  I think the passion for dancing tango helps people to find a more harmonized world view.  Ancient civilizations or any modern country that appreciates the arts has more of a three-dimensional view of life in general. Tango, with its social, improvisational core, makes it especially wonderful for helping people gain a multi-dimensional world-view.

I have garnered many close friendships from dancing tango with people from all over the world.  And the one thing that is most amazing is not that tango is a universal body language, but it also helps all of us be more balanced in our world-views. The world around us tends to try to understand reality empirically.  That is good but limited.  In a sense, it is the "body" or "outward manifestation" model. The ancient Greeks had a great way of explaining three ways to understand reality.  This is the artist's view, a three-dimensional model to look at the perceptual world:  Body, soul and spirit.  This 3-D model is a common way for truly amazing tango dancers to see the world, and here below I think, is how they understand their art. 

Harmonizing of a 3-D World Body (outward expression model) Soul (the balance of intellect & emotion model) Spirit (energy & flow model)
BODY (Greek: soma): Health Model: Wellness-focused dancers take care of their body's health. They avoid over-use, which leads to injury and pain. She sleeps, eats, and exercises to maintain bodily health. A healthy body relies on other qualities from soul and spirit. A healthy middle ear is the only reason a dancer can physically balance. This type of balance is only an analogy of the balance of intellect and emotion (soul).
SOUL (Greek: psyche*). Balance Model: A long-term excellent dancer who has emotional and intellectual balance is creative, passionate but intellectually aware. The balance (soul) model is dissimilar to the body wellness/sickness model of the soul. "Mental health" exists in ancient literature but only as poetry and analogy. Still today, "mental health," is simply a way for "therapists" (from Greek "healers") to be accepted into the payment side of insurance and the medical system. Have a balanced soul but a healthy body! Even then with balance and wellness, finally, where does energy/flow come from? Something is missing, and that is the third model of Spirit.
SPIRIT (Greek: pneuma*). Energy Flow Model: Certain dancers, although older, may have a huge reservoir of energy flow or Chi. Where does that come from? Sometimes the ONLY time they really have great energy is when they are dancing. When the music stops, they may even limp off the dance floor and are weary again.

How well are you harmonizing these three models in your dance, or for that matter, your life? Look around. Many apparently good dancers may have dead-end dance and personal lives. They mistreat their body with over-use, poor sleep, too much alcohol, or push themselves to dance when they are not well. Even if the body is well, perhaps they may not be balanced in their psyche because they spend too much on intellectual choreography or are passionate but too much in their own world. Or perhaps, they are healthy in body and balanced with emotion and intellect, but some dancers may be burnout, leaving tango because they lack energy flow. Their energy may wain or be totally blocked by events in their life which will cause this energy to go off on some other tangent.

Harmonizing body, soul, and spirit is the ancient way of harmonizing everything, including dancing. Isn't dance one of the most ancient wonders of the world? Being a healthy, balanced, and spirited dancer makes you a living ancient wonder in our modern myopic health-and-body-focused world. You, a tango dancer, have learned, indirectly perhaps, a three-dimensional view. That is why you love the dance and the people in the community who organically see many of the world issues similarly and harmonize with the planet more than most communities to which they belong.

My hope is to my body, soul, and spirit into everything you do.


*Spirit in Greek is pneuma. and means breath, wind, and spirit in Ancient Greek. Other words used by ancient writers used shakti (Sanskrit) and chi (Chinese). **Psyche does not mean the "mind" in Greek but means "soul" which is a balance of emotions and intellect. Note: Did you notice that I did not have to explain soma, "body." Everyone seems to understand the empirical, externalized, non-contemplative, what-you-see-is-what-you-get model. :-)

Photo credits:

Sunday, September 6, 2020

A Sexless Marriage and the Mystery of Tango


When I was new to tango, I was single.  I was in a new job, and for three years I was a perfectly happy single man. This was the longest period that I was not in a relationship in my whole life. Tango was enough--at least for a time.  It was a good time to get to know myself. Social dance filled a void.

As a therapist, I have been fascinated by social interactions in tango, my own and others'.  Let's say that I was distracted a bit from this mysterious phenomenon, I will call the "tango-is-enough phenomenon."

The Sexless Marriage
A while back, I was astounded
with a story from a confidante that she was having an extra-marital affair before starting tango. But tango was enough, she said. She stopped seeing her lover.  Her sexless marriage drove her to seek out what she was missing, but the extramarital affair, she found, was not as fulfilling as tango. Tango was enough. She didn't have time for something that suddenly felt shallow.

Astounding.

Then I heard the story again! And again! But then I thought about it.  Why am I astounded when that was my experience too that tango is enough? 

Mystery versus the Myth of Passion
I realize that for those who understand the social interaction in a tango community, these stories will not seem that unusual. All I am suggesting here is that the tango-is-enough phenomenon is unfortunately overpowered by stories of tango passion and gossip-worthy scandals. Something is very precious about this phenomenon of tango being better than an affair. You know, people meet each other in bowling clubs, or book clubs, at work, or whatever. Then the love affair/marriage might follow.  But do other activities you know of stop extra-marital affairs?* There is a mystery here. Something is strange at the quantum biophysics level.   :-)

Lock-Down to Think About Things
During this pandemic, as we go into flu season, we have a chance to realize more about the mystery of life and what is important to us. What brings us to be grateful? Pandemic or not, many of the elements of the beauty of life are requesting our intention and attention.  The many facets of tango are still there--connections with others, listening to music, dancing ecstatically alone, learning more about the music and orchestras, and most of all being in the zone, mindful in all things.  

I suggest staying in the present, full of joy. Tango is not just a dance but the way to understand that life is meant to be a mystery, lived in the present, and that the mystery of happiness is enough, joy is enough, life is enough.  Tango is merely a sweet signpost along the way to keep us on this path.


*Even though tango just indeed may be enough, my suggestion to the sex-deprived spouses (sometimes both having affairs) is that they seek marital counseling, specifically a sex therapist.  


Photo credit: Need a ring?   https://www.damiani.com/us/en/



Saturday, August 22, 2020

The Best Pandemic Tango Ever

 



What is pandemic tango? 

Or even
 w
hat is endemic tango?

Endemic and pandemic are not words only meant for disease!  In fact, these words have nothing to do with disease directly.  They have the same base meaning: -demic means "population."  En-demic is in-the-population and pan-demic is throughout-the-population from the original Greek. 

For those who follow this blog, I have suggested the four endemic M's in tango--Music, Motion, eMbrace, and Mindfulness.  Some friends even have suggested Manners (etiquette), and eMotion to make it six M's.  These "Ms" are pandemic to tango--present in the tango community no matter where you go.  Some of these M's may be really a lot more important to you now that you have not been dancing much.

So be mindful of what you miss during this time of being separated from your love of dance.  That defines what your body and mind seek out the most essential elements of tango.

The Element We Most Miss
Endemic to tango, at least for social tango, is the embrace, and many tango dancers miss the embrace the most during our physical distancing during this pandemic phase of our lives.  A colleague at work was the first person to touch me. We worried that she would die, and she was in the intensive care unit. I really didn't know her very well, but when she came back to work, I told her that I had prayed for her every day.  She wanted to embrace me, but she settled on a handshake. It felt so amazing to have social contact again. 

Let's be positive and proactive
Using the word "endemic"--prevalent or characteristic--helps us get back to basics to what dance really means.  Maybe it is not the social touch for you.  But what is the positive pandemic element in tango for you? What is always present and important to you?

A Prediction
At least for me, I think that I have also found what is endemic to a healthy life. This forced break from tango has brought me to see some of the positive things that have sprung up:  More reading, more deep sleep, more important projects that have been neglected, more conversations with my partner--these are also endemic to a healthy life.  As horrible as COVID-19 has been--as with all its tragedies--we humans can also find ways of surviving and being better. It is not a normal outcome of tragedies, but it can and does often happen.  I predict that many will transform their tango to be more regulated with earlier milongas and better sleep, and certainly, we will all be much better huggers when this is all over.



If you wish to contact me:  mark.word1@gmail.com .


Definition of pandemic is from Webster's

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Tango and Reincarnation


Reincarnation means something different in tango. 

Juan D'Arienzo's orchestra plays and you embody the music in a totally different way than if Troilo's orchestra is playing.  When your body changes so much, I would argue that this is a type of new "incarnation."  A new tanda starts, and then the next orchestra is Di Sarli. Now your incarnation of the music transforms you yet again.

So this sort of "reincarnation" is possible when we dancers let go of all the steps we have learned.  Reincarnation happens by listening to the music rather than nervously trying to knit one' "moves" all together during a tanda.  Let that go!  Breathe. Reincarnate as the music guides you to a new embodiment, moving uniquely through this present tanda.

Really it's bad karma to dance the same way to no matter what music is playing.

Why wait to die to be reincarnated the old way?  Each tanda, each orchestra, really each song gives you the chance at reincarnation.  I do not want to be flippant about Hindews or others who truly believe in reincarnation, but isn't it sad to leave your partner behind in reincarnation? Tango offers reincarnation with a partner; nirvana with a partner; heaven-on-earth with a partner.  If we get to choose, I choose reincarnation with every tanda and with every partner.  During a pandemic, it may mean dancing with a broom, dancing alone, but whatever you do--experience reincarnation regularly.

Photo credit

Monday, July 13, 2020

Generalizing Tango Ecstacy during the pandemic


Moments of tango ecstasy are generalizing to other places in my life.  Did you ever feel like you were walking on the streets of heaven--even a bit lost? Well, with any luck, you will stay lost!

Let me explain "generalizing." If a person has a specific anxiety for driving over tall bridges, for example, that anxiety may become generalized into being afraid of any bridge, such as an overpass. Now the fear is starting to grow to the point that no driving is possible without debilitating fear.  Driving and perhaps even going out of the house becomes difficult. This person probably has Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). COVID-19 is creating temporary and even permanent GAD symptoms in the world. What can we do to help others or ourselves?*

GAD is not you
Today's disorder-focused world of psychology tends to see the world with dark glasses on, that is, modern psychology focuses on what is wrong--something that psychologists would quickly point out as being abnormal if one of their patients did this. But whose calling who crazy here?!  

So let's do just something more positive:

Generalized Ecstasy Delight (GED not GAD)
A more positive generalized emotion is ecstasy, or joy, or happiness. Worry can be "nurtured" but other emotions can also be nurtured. Why not? Positive experiences make this possible only when we generalize the positive emotions we found with tango.  I think that tango has enriched my life so much as to generalize its beauty to other activities, other new or old passions. My connection to my partner, my meditative spiritual practice, my joy at work, my love of nature--all these help me to nurture my GED.  Thank you tango!  I see tango--really dance and music--as a path, pointing to other ways to find joy in all things. The pandemic cannot take away ecstasy if this emotion becomes generalized.  It doesn't just happen; it's a Quest.

Generalized-Ecstasy-Delight moments show us a path, the way of and to joy and ecstasy.  The path is the process, not just some destination.  Meet you on the golden streets of Nirvana? Let's get lost there!

_________//_________
//  


Maybe you or another person you love is fighting with Generalized Anxiety Disorder?  Here is a step-by-step alternative to the symptoms which describe GAD:

GED (Generalized Ecstatic Delight) versus
GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder)
By Mark Word


Generalized Anxiety Disorder  GAD symptoms

Generalized Ecstatic Delight
GED resiliencies

Persistent worrying or anxiety about a number of areas that are out of proportion to the impact of the events

Persistent ecstasy and delight in more than one avocation, person, group, activity. Even the simple things in life bring enjoyment

Overthinking plans and solutions to all possible worst-case outcomes

Visualizing plans and ideas that give great enjoyment in creative thought

Perceiving situations and events as threatening, even when they aren't

Finding ecstasy in situations and events even as others may see these as “mundane”:  Connection to others, a simple walk alone, gratitude that comes easy

Difficulty handling uncertainty

Riding the wave of uncertainty as a chance for psychological or spiritual growth

Indecisiveness and fear of making the wrong decision

Allowing decisions to be an example of being human and doing our best from what we know

Inability to set aside or let go of a worry

Living in the present (mindful) rather in the past (regret/depression) or future (worry/anxiety)

Inability to relax, feeling restless, and feeling keyed up or on edge

Living in serenity & courage with wisdom coaching when one or the other is chosen for the moment

Difficulty concentrating, or the feeling that your mind "goes blank"


Credit: Mayo Clinic’s symptoms of GAD


Practicing using a balance of intellect/emotions (psyche) beyond just constant inner talk, such, as visualizing, feeling the pulse in different places in the body, being attentive to sensations, noises, the awesome sound of silence or music. Blank is good


Note about GAD: Many people have unresolved PTSD and not GAD.  Medication alone is usually insufficient to help combat anxiety.  Ancient peoples did not call it therapy, but the same principle is what "treats" it: One must face the anxiety in order to overcome it.  "If you fall off the horse, get back on."  Sounds simple, but it's not for the person who must do it.

*Feeling safe is not necessarily good. 
Grandiose Delusional Disorder allows people to believe they are safe when they are not during this and all other pandemics in human history, but that is another story.)

Photo credit:  Streets of Gold


Sunday, June 28, 2020

Why I am not ready to dance yet


Are you ready or not?

I am not. 

Perhaps, if it were safe, we'd all be ready to go.  But it's not safe, and I have things to do!

I don't want to spend a moment of time pining over the pandemic, and then miss what I can work on under the circumstances.  I wish it were all over for everyone--especially those who are sick and dying--but wishing for an early end seems unrealistic.

What is realistic is avoiding futile wishes for it all to disappear, as a few politicians have predicted and wished.  Please join me in a search of personal growth as a dancers and as a people during this tragic time. The pandemic gives us all an opportunity to learn something.  Here is a list of things that I am working on:

1. Build a robust immune system insomuch a as I am able before dancing again.  If you dance long enough, you will join me in the over-65 risk group for COVID-19 or other possible epidemics in the future.  This is the time to get really smart out bolstering my immune system.  Before the pandemic, I had completed a post's draft on some insights for tango about tango's unique help in building our immune system. Pre-pandemic, I had read the book, 10% Human, and I do everything I can to build and maintain a robust immune system.  It was perfect timing to read that book. See footnotes for more on the immune system for dancers.

2. Become a better breather before I dance again.  It will make you a better dancer. I incorporate better breathing into my own dance-alone practice.  The pandemic teaches us that our respiratory system needs to be exercised. I regularly do breath-work.  Let me give you some resources and ideas that may change your dance and even help increase you level of wellness (given at the bottom of this post). 

3. Establish the best sleep discipline of my life before I dance again.  Then you will realize how often tango may have been harming your health.  Be part of a revolution of early milongas, encuentros, festivals.  It is already happening in my area.  Before the pandemic, organizers gave 7-10 or 11pm a try, and more people came out than ever for these Saturday milongas.  Be a part of the Early Milonga Revolution, but start good sleep habits now while you have the time and focus. Sleep scientists came up with the simple equation:  Sleep better = dance longer in life with a better sex life too.  No kidding.

4. Establish foot health--the best I have had since starting tango.  Have you noticed the healing process of your worn-out feet?  My feet are so much better off! Pay attention to your feet so they do not wish that the pandemic is their best friend.  You'll need your whole body-with-feet, soul, and spirit happy to dance again.

5. Take lessons online to support your own development and your favorite teacher.  You can get a degree online, meet with your doctor online, meet with a therapist online.  You can learn tango online too. Amazing but true.

6. Finally, learn more about tango music.  Can you name a rock band when it plays?  Can you even tell which album or approximate year your favorite band played a particular song?  Do that with tango.  It's easy:  I suggest a book like Tango Stories, or simply write "Laurenz tanda" or "DiSarli tanda" in a YouTube search.  Play only one orchestra as you are doing chores or dancing by yourself or with your partner.  Become good at the game "Name that Tune" when i comes to tango music.

I have a lot of work to do to prepare for the return of our milongas. We may be in solitary confinement, but I can hear you dancing in the cell next to me, and that brings me joy.



Footnotes for tasks 1 and 2 above.

1. Immune system ideas
  • I learned that one's immune system is harmed on a long-term basis by social distancing because sharing our individual microbiome through social contact makes us healthier.  However, this is not true during a pandemic, but we need to get back to dancing eventually!  Many people are older in our tango community and make up many of the best dancers. So if you want to dance long, work on this first task more than anything else. 
  • How old were you when you heard the word "antibiotic"? What about "probiotic"?  My spell checker still has not heard of "probiotic." This is our problem. We kill micorbes and viruses and fungi without knowing that through good nutrition we get all of these living in our bodies and helping us. Nutrition and knowledge about the microbiome are essential to overcome even what your primary care physician does not know about your health.  Learn now and dance longer!
  • My experience working in as a behavioral health consultant in a primary care clinic is that our habits, behaviors, and emotions are the things that keep us healthy or get our bodies unwell.  Far fewer of the problems we confront in primary care are from our patients' genetic disposition. So change some habits, maybe? A long list of immune system diseases creates a certain equation:  Immune system disorders = less dancing in your life. Do what you can in order to dance long and well.  Prepare now.
2. Better breathing resources:
  • Read "Breath: The Science and Lost Art of Breathing by David Nestor.  This book has changed my life.  It was just published in May 2020.  I am a better breather than ever before and no longer breath through my mouth at night because of this book. At least, I suggest listening to the NPR podcast with the author.  I sleep so much better now.
  • Yoga breathing.  Make one or more of the many breathwork styles your own. Follow them exactly at first and then improvise tango-style. :-)  I like this breathing technique, but I use my heartbeat to determine how long I hold my breath.  Get curious and learn more from a yoga teacher.
  • Learn about the Wim Hoff Method.  I started in 2019.  The method includes breathing and retention.  I like this video the most. After a long retention, I feel euphoric all day. Cold-water exposure is a part of this method. The Method has changed my immune system for the better. I am less and less reactive to allergens.  
  • May I suggest my own invention I use with anxiety patients?  My style of the "Game of Thrones" is breathing more often and as a habit. That means, deep breathing each time you are on the "throne." (Men: it's time to sit down.)  People who die, pee their pants because finally they are fully relaxed.  I was frustrated that people did not practice.  So this is a "health coach" hack:  If you breathe deeply for at least 8 times, then retain for a while and exhale on the toilet, you will empty your bladder some more because you are more relaxed. Important: do this on the throne. Here's the game of "thrones" motto: "Don't wait until you're dead to finally relax and pee."  



Monday, May 25, 2020

Tango Withdrawal Symptoms



I have some good news for tango addicts:  It's unlikely that you are going through a true tango addiction withdrawal.  It's been hard, but you will come out better on the other end.  This is why:

What many dancers I know are experiencing lately has been refreshing:  More time to read and do things they wanted to do. As for me, I am sleeping really well.  I have read several great books.  I meditate a lot.  I am in contact with more old friends.  I see that others have been talking on social media about all the things they are doing.  "I am not dancing tango, so I did this instead..." they write.  Life has gone on, and in some respects because of tango, we are better at being social animals even without tango in our lives.  The pandemic has given a reprieve to our world's environment and our internal world too.

Were we ever really addicted?  The word "addiction" is now used to market video games and food; so sure, in the new meaning of the word, everyone reading this blog is probably "addicted." We all might be having a new-aged tango withdrawal!  But thank goodness it is not a withdrawal in the outdated medical meaning of the word, which the medical world needs to abandon, as other words have been such as "mentally retarded."

But for the few of you who are addicted, this is what addiction would look like in the medical sense of the word:

Sudden Tango Cessation Disorder
Consider Mary.  Because of the pandemic, Mary has the common withdrawal symptoms from STCD (sudden tango cessation disorder).*  Like typical addiction withdrawal, she suffers from four things:  (1) anxiety--panic attacks, restlessness, irritability; (2) depression--social isolation, lack of enjoyment; fatigue, poor appetite; (3) insomnia--both falling asleep and staying asleep; and (4) her mind doesn't work well--she has poor concentration, poor memory.  She has many of the physical symptoms of COVID-19 too.  That is how she went in for help.  The physician reassures her that she will live.  The doctor goes to the waiting room. "She will probably go back to dancing at the end of the pandemic," the doctor tells her grieving family.  Her mother sobs. 

True, Mary did not need long hospitalization.  Will she ever recover?  She may not. 

But you will.

Your withdrawal is probably just a withdrawal from tango and not a tango withdrawal.  There is a difference.  In fact, the next time we meet, you may be all the better for this withdrawal from tango. You have a deeper appreciation of the joy of dance and the miracle of a warm embrace.  During your withdrawal from tango, you really listened to the music more carefully, and as you dance you better recognized the orchestra you learned to identify better during the pandemic.  

You are grateful for the things you took for granted.  This probably means that you are now addicted to life.  And that is a good thing.



*I am making this diagnosis up, of course.  But medically defined addictions?  They have all these symptoms and can include stroke, heart attacks, and hallucinations.  

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Time to Dance Alone


Tango is just a dance, you know. It is meant for two people. But sometimes there's a time to dance alone. Dancing allows us to be in our bodies.  It makes time stop or race. It makes regular people feel as if the music has them doing things better than anything else they have ever done in life.  It's an excuse to hug people and be transported to oxytocin heaven without even knowing each other's names.  It transfers warmth to everything we do in life. . . .  But it's just a dance. 

***

The pandemic is likely going to bring Jerry to psychological ruin.  Tango had pulled him out of a deep depression in 2008.  He didn't even know he was depressed, or at least how depressed he was.  He found refuge in dancing salsa, and that was fun.  Depression's best medication is fun, but tango was not a psychotropic medication--it was therapy and medication.

"I told myself that I would never be so vulnerable," Jerry tells himself as the first milongas began being canceled.  Being cut off from dancing is as scary for him as was getting a divorce.  He is afraid that he has let himself fall in love again. He thought he was safe because a dance should not be able to abandon him as a woman could.  "This is only a dance!" he tells himself over and over like a mantra.

He knows this is a bad omen when he starts catastrophizing with slogan-like phrases:

"A close embrace will never be the same."

"Everyone will be afraid of microbes and viruses." 

"Even if things get back to normal, I will be all rusty and lose the flow." 

"I'll be lonelier than ever before." 

He looks at himself in the mirror and tells himself to slow the onslaught of negative thoughts.  "It will only take over my mind and make me spiral down into despair," his internal psychologist tells him.  

Tango is just a dance, but his fear of being depressed--not the lack of dancing--is what he truly dreads. Another episode of his blood flowing slowly in his veins looms. Depression knocks at the door.

But that's not going to happen. Tango did not leave him; his wife did.

Now he has skills he never had before.  He just doesn't really know it yet.  Like many others in the tango community, life indeed goes on during a pandemic or if a dance partner dies or if a foot gets broken.  Jerry, like others, starts connecting to family and friends on video chats and messages and texts. They read books. And tango dances with them through life, but just in a different way.

His mother is the most amazing connection during the pandemic and this dearth of social touch. Going to his therapist, David, helped him most reconnect to his mother.  "I don't want to get on medications again," Jerry warns his on-and-off therapist. "But I am dreaming a lot. Some are okay dreams but they are very vivid.  I keep dreaming about my mother, who died in 2018, along with my grandparents the same year."

***

It is good to reconnect with David, who is his old self, even on a normal video chat, which now federal law allows patients to use during the pandemic.  David peers over his glasses and stares at Jerry.  He's silent for longer than usual--as if he is stumped by this dream problem.  "Well, well ..." he finally says haltingly.  "I know you are an agnostic, but you are presenting me with a spiritual issue."

"How's that?" Jerry retorts.

"If you're haunted by your dead mother.  She is a spirit, and therefore, is this not a spiritual issue?"

"Not really . . . no, it's not."

"Okay, then. Do you want to talk about something besides ghosts, then?"

"Actually, I want to talk about my fear of another bout of depression now that I cannot go dance. But these dreams are bugging me the most."

"Okay, then tell me what you dream about."'

"I dream over and over about her casket going into the ground, and I have no feelings. I cannot cry. My ex-wife and my Mom kept in touch after our divorce.  I was kind of jealous.  Then, just as it truly happened, Nicole comes to the funeral, staying on the out edge of the funeral party. Then and now, these scenes are like a close-up zoom lens. I can only see Nicole there crying as I am numb and cannot cry. I feel jealous that she can cry and I can't.  At the same time,  the audio is turned up, and I hear the casket being lowered into the ground.  People in the funeral party take a shovel full of dirt and throw on the casket.  They wait for me to do it too, but I am paralyzed."

"So who is the producer of this film in your head?" David asks Jerry.

"I guess, I am."

"Right.  And who is the director?"

"Me."

"Really?"

"Yeah, who else?"

Again David is silent and looking over the top edge of his glasses.  "You are watching a B movie that no one wants to watch; not even you.  And that is because there is no director.  Jerry, what do you want me to say?  Should I be like a psychoanalyst and find the archetypes and deep meanings of your cast of characters?  Should I be a shaman and help you speak with the dead?   Or would you prefer that I help you be a better film director to change this shitty movie into something worth watching? It's your choice."

"Okay, help me with that.  That is better than having a spiritual problem."

"Then just maybe this is a spiritual problem? That you have not spoken to your mother except in B movie films at night?  And even then you are the emotionally paralyzed child who has no voice.  How would you make this a better film?  A film that you would want to watch or want to show to some intimate friend.  Would you wait for your dream life to come up with better storylines or would you sit down during the day and create a better film?"

David and Jerry go on about his worries about the pandemic, how his anxieties are returning, and how depression is his greatest fear.  But all of that is a blur.  The thing about showing up as a director, that is all he can really remember about their video call.  Now the empty director's chair haunts him rather than his mother.

***

Jerry sits at his desk and pulls out some things he still has from his mother:  A cross that she had from her mother.  A ring.  And some papers that he has forgotten, including a completed a genogram from an undergraduate sociology course.  He recalls his mother. She tells him about the family as far back as she knows. He charts dutifully as he had learned in class--that square boxes are for men and circles are for women.  Then came the amazing stories from his mother.  Her first husband's father had raped her.  She has told no one until they sit there together, filling out the genogram. Also, she admits that she had given away her first child to adoption. On a lighter note, she recounts how Jerry's sister is such a natural ballet dancer; how his half-brother is a musician; and his brother is a natural artist and sculptor. She recounts how Jerry was playing guitar even as a toddler.  Jerry connects the dots. He is the musician/dancer in a family of artists.

Jerry stops to think. "Here is a movie worth watching right under my nose."  Well, at least he realizes he has something better than the B movie he has been watching in his dreams.

Memories pour in.  Mom teaching the kids to cook, taking them to church, and the words on the wall in light blue, painted with a 3-D effect:  "God is Love."

"I don't want a melancholy movie," the Producer says, leaning over Jerry's Director's Chair.

"Fuck off.  Fire me and get another Director."

***
"Mom, I want to tell you how it felt when I visited you. I could finally really hug you.  I have to admit something.  I learned that from tango.  I learned to hug people.  I had forgotten how.  I knew how to do it as a kid.  I relearned with my first girlfriend, but after my divorce, I had forgotten. I was even afraid.  But I had long stopped hugging you since my teen years.  I wish I could've hugged you more. From tango, I learned to dance with the young and the old.  I hug the young women, the daughters I never had. Yes, I hug the sexy ladies who miraculously allow me to dance with me because of my musicality. I hug friends who giggled with my playfulness. I hug the older ladies like they were my aunts or even you. So when I visited you, it was easy to hug you again. Do you remember the time we went back to church, and I kissed my old Sunday school teacher on both cheeks as if she were a venerable tango teacher visiting from Argentina? I could see it in her eyes. You both were as surprised as you were delighted.  But I just had learned how to do this because of tango.  It was a reflex. It was etiquette. It is the new me."

"And Mom?" Jerry went on, then pausing.  "I want to keep hugging you.  Holding you long.  This feels right.  David tells me that I can have a growing relationship with you. And I know how I can do this.  When I dance by myself, please come with me.  I have danced with others who were hurt like you were in your divorce and sexual assault.  They found healing.  And I too will find healing dancing with you.  I am glad Nicole came to say good-bye to you.  It was her right and yours too.  It was your right to have all the people who love you to come to your funeral.  And she had the right to say goodbye.  Maybe death talked to her and told her that we are all connected and the times we loved were the only moments we were truly alive. I am grateful for those moments. Anyway, it was your funeral, sorry that I have been so fucking selfish. . . "

"Don't say that word, okay Jerry?" a motherly voice says in his head.

Jerry knows that he has reconnected with his mom at that moment.  That voice.  It isn't what his mother would say; it is what she is saying.  "David was right," he admits to himself. "I have had a spiritual problem."

The pandemic will give him plenty of time to get back to dancing by "himself."  He can work on knowing the music better, knowing Laurenz and Tanturi and some other lesser-known orchestras better.  But mostly, he is sure that he can find a deeper sense of himself and a healed past--or better said a "revised past, a different storyline."

***
In a video group room with tango friends three days later, he hears someone in the group say, "Tango is only a dance, you know."

"Not in my Movie," he whispers under his breath.  The voices in the chat group dim as he reflects: "It is who I am--the musician/dancer who learned his warm embrace from his mother."





Story by Mark Word


Art credit:  

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Post-Pandemic Chance for Musicality



Musicality has a chance in our post-pandemic world. 

A wonderful, maybe even radical change away from dancing-like-always-before is upon us. Musicality has a chance to grow because we have no milongas and the meaning of a warm embrace will be forever changed for the entire planet. Life seems more precious and fragile too. The good news is that we can take this time to feel the music in our body and come back to the milongas in the future with a new vision and return as better dancers, even better people.

Father and Dancing Son Advice
My 21-year old son misses dancing as I do.  He is in Europe and very restricted in his movements.  He wonders about being a very rusty dancer too.  So some of the following ideas were from some father-son advice that I will allow you to eavesdrop in on.

There's a good reason that when we return to dancing, that we can be better than ever before.  I told him to forget figures from his ballroom classes for now. "This is a time to put on music and just let your body move without a partner," I told him.  "Let it be a time to find musicality--being attentive to how the music moves your body. Your body's physical response to music is what dance truly is."  "Yeah, Dad," he said, "I have been doing that when no one is looking. I'll do it some more."

The Dancer/Musician
My son is a dancer-musician.  I told him that I used to believe that being a musician helped me as a dancer. Perhaps. . . but upon reflection, it may be just the opposite.  Being an improvisational dancer has helped me to be a better musician. I told him that if you add up all musicians of all time, dancers have instructed nearly all musicians to express themselves with better musicality. If you are aware of tango orchestras' histories, certainly you will see this as the path of the greatest orchestras: They played in front of dancers, and dancers' responses further helped them hone how the musicians would play. Jazz, Rock, and Tango all died as powerful cultural phenomena of their times when dancers started to sit down and merely watch.

Great Musicians Dance with no Partner
Great musicians dance with their instruments and not a partner. To demonstrate the musicality of a musician who dances, let me introduce you to a video of a musical prodigy, Alma Deutscher, when she was 12 years old.  Here (in the video below) she is "dancing" behind the piano. Watch her body language change its "dance" too. I start the video below when she is moving her body to the orchestra's happier moments. She dances to the orchestrata. No partner. She is not playing. But then listen and watch her musical expression as the mood changes to a deeply moving piano dialogue with the orchestra.  Is she crying?  Perhaps. She may be holding back tears, but her fingers and body are crying.  Body and soul: This is musicality.  Innate.  Internal. Expressed with competence.  I weep every time I see this performance.



The awesome depth of human experience includes musical moments. Not being able to go out and dance is forcing us to be closer to the music in our solitude.  I suggest being a minimalist and discover your musicality. The simple- but-musical tango walk helps with the nuances of expressing the music in one's body. Nearly all of the private lessons that I have taken in the last five years have been on the tango walk. Simplicity is complex.

Your search for musicality finds its greatest satisfaction when tears come to your eyes because of the beauty of art that you have shared with just yourself. Later it will become just one other person.  Musicality is entirely internal, and a pandemic is giving you a chance to find the landscape of your heart and in that heart, your unique musically as only you can express it.  In the end, doing this will be more than just learning to better at musicality as a dancer. This practice will be medicine for your soul.


Photo credit:  https://www.thewrap.com/purpose-driven-content-time-pandemic-peter-samuelson/

This blog post is dedicated to my two awesome sons--both musicians and dancers, who in spite of being in their early twenties, turn to me as an older-and-wiser friend. Many fathers would love to be so blessed.  It's a two-way street: We learn from each other and inspire each other. 



Monday, April 6, 2020

Will we ever dance again?

Yes...


We Will Dance Again

Alone with no dancing in sight,
How many long to dance again?
No time for dance as we hide
From a virus that has found
Its way into our bodies and lives.

I try to feel dance in my body,
And I find it in my hands.
I feel your right hand in mine.
I feel your back and hold you closer.
I smell your favorite perfume
Mixed with mine--the smell of you.
I hear the music moving us as one.
I feel your chest against mine,
Each nuance of the music
Translated by two hearts.
I feel our feet on the world, dancing.
On this planet, spinning towards
A twilight predicted by all...
This speck of dirt and water--
Eventually again in the cosmic womb,
And then another Big-Bang Beginning.
In a New Time dance will reappear.
It cannot hide forever.
Once again music, joy, happiness and love
Will make souls dance in a new age.
Sooner or later, perhaps later than soon,
Even we can live this new age in our own time,
And we will dance again.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

The Rare Epicurean Tanguer@s

" Not what we have but what we enjoy, constitutes our abundance."  --Epicurus


Epicurian philosophy 
is simple:  Seek pleasure and avoid pain. So you might think there are many Epicurean tanguer@s out there, right?

The problem is that Epicurean philosophy is a wisdom tradition, not a lifestyle.  Seeking pleasure often has no philosophy or ethical basis.

Sure, there are many who seek pleasure and avoid pain, but may lack wisdom entirely. A philosopher thinks deeply about this principle of pleasure and pain. One of my greatest pleasures in life is to dance.  But it took a while for me to find some wisdom of how to be wise enough to create life-long pleasure and to avoid loss, pain, and distress.

Pleasure without Self-Harm
I started thinking about this Pleasure Principle as I was trying to help a patient of mine suffering with sleeplessness.  I think he considered himself a true Epicurean.  He explained that he wanted to enjoy life. So that meant that he wanted to enjoy his cigarette before bed, drink whiskey before bed, and watch TV in bed. Of course, all of these things undermine good sleep and were harming his health. Pleasure without self-harm takes some wisdom.

Tango and the Pleasure Principle
I recommend lots of pleasure.  But I want to be an Epicurean Tanguero.  My tango path for many years was not as an Epicurean philosopher.  I have more and more pleasure in tango, but that was made possible because of becoming wiser--joining the Epicurean wisdom of seeking pleasure and avoiding pain for the long-term good.

If I want more pleasure and less pain, I know that I need to . . .
  • Dance less so I can have good sleep. 
  • Dance less so I can have good foot care. 
  • Wear special earplugs* so I am not deaf later in life. (Get a good decibel app.)
  • Dance in moderation in order to have plenty of other helping activities that will maintain my tango to be long-lived--such as . . .
    >Tai chi for balance
    >Working out for stamina and strength
    >Yoga for flexibility
    >Breathing practice for lung capacity and body awareness
    >Mindful meditation for flow and calming the inner-voice that is not mine.
The path of a philosopher for me is to have ecstatic moments in tango but not at the expense of not taking care of my body's health, my psychological wellness, and my spiritual life.

The Pleasure Principle, philosophically practiced, makes our tango glow, and allows us to be an asset to the tango community, which by the nature of any community will need more wisdom and less shallow pleasure-seeking.  Seek pleasure; eschew pain.  But be a true Epicurean Tangue@.

Photo credit:  https://smudgyguide.net/the-epicureans/

* In order to maintain one's hearing acuity, young or old, I suggest getting good quality earplugs, even some made just for your ears.  Some milongas employ partially deaf DJ's who blast their music.  In the workplace, your employer must provide hearing protection over 85 decibels.  I know DJ's who blast music over 100 decibels all night. Avoid these deaf DJ's if you can, or simply do as I do:  Wear earplugs specifically made for ... wait for it ... DJ's.  Whatever you do, don't tell them to turn down their music.  They're deaf and won't hear you.   :-/

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Feeding your Tango Cat during the Black Plague

Feed your cat!  Do you remember from your history classes the Black Plague that killed half the population in Europe? What did panicked-stricken city-dwellers do? You will remember that, unfortunately, they killed the cats and then outlawed people from having them. Unbeknownst to the people of that time, the cats were keeping the disease-carrying fleas on rodents out of their homes.  Eventually, the word got out that people who were refusing to kill their cats were protected and the cat-killing law was repealed.

Coronavirus?  Through analogy, tango has made your cat healthy--so much so, that you may as well call your cat "Tango."  In today's world with a modern pandemic from COVID-19 you have to keep your cat at home for a while, but it's not forever. In reality tango feeds your cat.  This means that ample physical social contact before an epidemic makes you and your microbiome more resilient during epidemics. Tango is also psychologically powerful to bolster your immune system.

Your cat is more like your microbiome.  Cats cannot live on tango alone. They need good food to keep the gut bacteria balanced and healthy. They need pure water, probiotics, fresh air and sun. They need lots of sleep. They need to avoid psychologically toxic relationships. It's not just tango, but that's a big part of your biological and psychological resiliency.  Even if you were to have had an awesome, strong cat, during the Black Plague, you would not have gone out shaking everyone's hand just because you had power-cat!  You'd stay in.  So it is with tango. Stay in during a pandemic!!!  

Not only your mind but your body wants you to return to the milonga.
Microbiologists are unequivocally showing us that practicing social distancing, even social isolation, during times of pandemic could be a life-and-death matter for many--if not you, then someone you could possibly infect.  However, during healthy times before and after an epidemic, physical social contact bolsters our immune system.  Meeting, touching and hugging people (also called "tango") increases the diversity of the microbiome in your body and you are stronger for it. Tango is the perfect medicine for the general public's over-sanitized  lifestyles.  More and more people sit behind computers, communicate, chat, date and even have virtual sex. This is a problem for the "sanitized" microbiome which needs to have more social contact in order to be robust.  Then this same socially isolated person who already lacks a diversified microbiome, let's say, gets a viral infection, runs to his doctor and further damages his microbiome with a round of antibiotics. Think PRObiotics and not antibiotics, unless it is a serious infection. Antibiotics, by the way, have NO effect on viruses.
Read this book!
More than 90% of your body
is your microbiome.
Really.

Your enemy was never bacteria, viruses, and fungi.  The majority of these microbes, viruses, and fungi work in your body to keep you healthy or are harmless when kept in balance.  Without a good balance of diverse bacteria, people become depressed, anxious and physically sick. (So eat probiotic foods.) The recipe for good health requires a balance in your microbiome.  Little is known about how they do it, but all three are mostly our friends.  Yes, certain viruses, like HIV, are seriously not good.  And Candida Fungi are not good when out of balance. Yersinia Pestis (bubonic plague) are extremely dangerous bacteria.  But don't kill all the cats!  Most are good.  Tango cats especially.  One day soon we will all need to get back to embracing one another.  Long-term survival is the real issue at hand.  For the time being while not dancing so much, stay home, and take good care of your Tango Cat.
___________




Photoshop credit:  Thanks, Benjamin Word, for your knowledge in International Advertising and the manipulation of Internet cat pictures.

Photo credits:
Kitten with yarn (before photoshop): https://kittentoob.com/20-toys-never-let-cat-play/
Coronavirus: https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/coronavirus-resource-center

Footnotes:   How is it that the rodents didn't get sick from the fleas that they carried? Well, to this day they carry a virus that would keep them from dying from the Bubonic Plague if it were to come back. (In the 1990's the US had 10 cases.  So it has come back but has been controlled.  Is it not interesting that humans and rats have certain viruses that protect us!  It's just that they can carry a virus that helps them but not homo sapiens.   

Even though the bubonic Plague would not be as deadly as it was in the 1300s, it is because we have other things that protect us:  Sewers, less malnutrition and better overall hygiene, more cats and fewer rodents.  In 1340, the population was hit with a mini-ice age and was weakened with malnutrition.  Cities were dirty and full of rodents.  Killing the cats, who officials believed were carrying the disease, was the absolute worse thing to do.

Sources:  

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Tango, the Microbiome and the Coronavirus


If you dance tango, you do it because it makes you happier.  The microbes in your body are dancing too. Literally dancing.

[I wrote this post before the Corona Virus pandemic started, but I had it in my drafts. The new meaning with a pandemic is this:  Many people will never return to tango. And many will deny the danger of a pandemic. Both of these things are unfortunate reactions. But I hope scientific knowledge will grow for the general public. For over a century, we have mostly misunderstood the significance of the discovery of microbes (bacteria), and the much smaller viruses, and fungi.  What we still do not understand--perhaps especially in the medical field--is that the vast majority of these microbes coexist with our minority human genome in our body. Did you know that many viruses are good for us?  Did you know that even fungi happily have a balance on our skin and mouths and everywhere else in our bodies? It is a matter of balance! When the pandemic is over, it will be best that you return to tango for your own physical and emotional well being.  You need social touch for a healthy, robust immune system.]

One reason that you may be coming back to dance is that tango dancers are likely to be happier and healthier from social contact than if they stayed home.  By "social contact," I mean not just psychological contact but also physical contact. A growing body of evidence shows that we return to eat and do things because our microbes are bidding these behaviors. Can it be that we are returning to dance and do many things at the bidding of the microbiome's influence on our behavior and even our personalities?  (See article below, "Gut Bacteria May Be Linked to Personality Traits.")

Luckily, dancing is good for us.  The other good news is that dancers are likely to have a more robust microbiome because of their close physical interaction with others. Sharing the good bacteria in social contact gives us a greater diversity of bacteria in our bodies. A person with less diversity is likely to get sick and depressed or anxious.  So yes, you are happier when you dance. Your heart and soul dance and your body dance. But there is more . . .

Your microbiome dances.
 

10% of all the DNA cells in your body indicate that you are human.  90% are all sorts of DNA that are not human.  Trillions of cells make up a huge "community" of diverse bacteria, fungi, and viruses.  Most of these co-exist with our minority human DNA and allow us to live well on the planet.  New studies are showing that people with a lack of diversity in their microbiome (helpful microbes throughout our body) have weaker immune systems and are more likely to be depressed.

People who lack a diverse microbiome have both more physical illnesses and also lack psychological resilience. So the diverse community in your microbiome is "dancing" and very happy when you have close social contact with each other.

Here's a wonderfully produced info video from NPR on the microbiome. It's especially helpful if you doubt that your microbiome really dances. :-)  (Or keep reading below the video if you have no doubts so far.)




Tango dancers are likely NOT to be germophobic. Germophobia creates more and more isolation and even more and more mental problems, especially debilitating Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). The germophobe thinks he or she is justified in their permanent social isolation. Why not? For now over 100 years, the human race has grown more and more germophobic. But we only have seen half the story. The vast majority of our microbiome we have attained through physical contact is helping us survive! Look at our medicine and commercials of anti-bacterial products. We all know what anti-bacterial agents are. Even modern doctors have little sense of the harm they are doing to their patients by giving patients antibiotics, which kill the good bacteria (the majority) along with a few bad guys. And for what purpose? Why kill bacteria if you are fighting a virus? People-pleasing doctors are unwilling to educate a misinformed public because the American Medical Association has been in a senseless war on microbes without knowing the whole story, which has caused "superbugs." Except for epidemics, stop using antibiotics if at all possible! Stop using antibacterial sprays and soaps. Even children in households with no dishwasher are healthier than the more sterile environments of homes with dishwashers. And, of course, dance more tango.

New Vocabulary Words
The general public has not been able to talk about these truths until recently. If you know the word "probiotic" it probably is new to your vocabulary in comparison to "antibiotic." A recent study by Dr. Katrina Johnson in the Human Microbiome Journal looked at social behavior and microbes. She wrote: “Our modern-day living may provide a perfect storm for dysbiosis [microbial imbalance or maladaptation] of the gut. We lead stressful lives with fewer social interactions and less time spent with nature, our diets are typically deficient in fiber, we inhabit over-sanitized environments and are dependent on antibiotic treatments. All these factors can influence the gut microbiome and so may be affecting our behavior and psychological well-being in currently unknown ways,” said Johnson.

But not Tango Dancers, Dr. Johnson! We are a diverse bunch of people. In nearly every tango community I have been in, we share collectively five or more languages, nationalities. Racial diversity is common. But one thing we really share is our microbes, and 99.9% of the time this is very good for our physical and mental well being since microbiome diversity is so good for our physical well being. Generally speaking outside of epidemics, hiding out and avoiding social contact is dangerous for the body and mind.

So let your body dance as if no one is looking. The microbiome has been dancing as if no one is watching since the beginning of the human race--because we have hot been watching! It's only now that we are aware of this incredible dance. And now, we are finally watching. Hopefully, our microbiome won't get nervous.

________________



Photo credit (and below article):  https://psychcentral.com/news/2020/02/13/gut-bacteria-may-be-linked-to-personality-traits/154172.html


Here is the article so you don't have to look it up:

 

Gut Bacteria May Be Linked to Personality Traits

A new large study finds that some of our personality traits may be linked to the composition and diversity of our gut bacteria (microbiome). The findings are published in the Human Microbiome Journal.
“There has been growing research linking the gut microbiome to the brain and behaviour, known as the microbiome-gut-brain axis,” said Dr. Katerina Johnson, who conducted her Ph.D. in the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford in the U.K.
“Most research has been conducted in animals, whilst studies in humans have focused on the role of the gut microbiome in neuropsychiatric conditions. In contrast, my key interest was to look in the general population to see how variation in the types of bacteria living in the gut may be related to personality.”
Prior research has linked the gut microbiome to autism (a condition characterized by impaired social behavior). Johnson’s study suggests that numerous types of bacteria previously linked to autism are also related to differences in sociability in the general population.
“This suggests that the gut microbiome may contribute not only to the extreme behavioral traits seen in autism but also to variation in social behavior in the general population. However, since this is a cross-sectional study, future research may benefit from directly investigating the potential effect these bacteria may have on behavior, which may help inform the development of new therapies for autism and depression,” said Johnson.
One interesting finding was that people with larger social networks tend to have a more diverse gut microbiome, which is often associated with better gut health and general health.
“This is the first study to find a link between sociability and microbiome diversity in humans and follows on from similar findings in primates which have shown that social interactions can promote gut microbiome diversity,” said Johnson. “This result suggests the same may also be true in human populations.”
Conversely, the study shows that people with higher stress or anxiety had a lower microbiome diversity. In addition, the researchers found that adults who had been formula-fed as children had a less diverse microbiome in adulthood.
“This is the first time this has been investigated in adults and the results suggest that infant nutrition may have long-term consequences for gut health,” said Johnson.
Diversity was also positively related to international travel, perhaps due to exposure to novel microbes and different diets. More adventurous eaters had a more diverse gut microbiome whilst those on a dairy-free diet had lower diversity.
In addition, diversity was greater in people with a diet high in natural sources of probiotics (e.g. fermented cheese, sauerkraut, kimchi) and prebiotics (e.g. banana, legumes, whole grains, asparagus, onion, leek), but notably not when taken in supplement form.
“Our modern-day living may provide a perfect storm for dysbiosis of the gut. We lead stressful lives with fewer social interactions and less time spent with nature, our diets are typically deficient in fibre, we inhabit oversanitized environments and are dependent on antibiotic treatments. All these factors can influence the gut microbiome and so may be affecting our behavior and psychological well-being in currently unknown ways,” said Johnson.