Infants are sensitive to pleasant touch


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The latest from the “but we knew that, right?” department: a study showing how infants process the sensation of “pleasant” touch – and how young they learn it.

Touch is critical to human development, and in fact, as my friend Christine Kraemer pointed out, most baby mammals will die without it. Much writing has been done on the topic of the crucial role of touch in bonding, healthy development, and general emotional and social health. But it’s always nice to see more detailed studies like these, that begin to examine the mechanisms by which these things work.

Of greatest interest to me was the following quote. For context, the researchers were brushing the infants’ skin with a paintbrush:

Interestingly, infants’ slower heart rate during medium-velocity brushstrokes was uniquely correlated with the primary caregivers’ own self-reported sensitivity to touch. That is, the more sensitive the caregiver was to touch, the more the infant’s heart rate slowed in response to medium-velocity touch.

This brings powerfully to mind the relationship between the synergist and the client in an RSM session, and how the energy and mood of the synergist communicates through to the client through touch, and vice versa. It’s also remarkable to me that this happened in the research even though the caregivers weren’t touching the infants directly.

Think about what it’s like to be near someone who is warm and calm and welcoming, and then think about what it’s like to be around someone high-strung, nervous, or angry. Mood is contagious, and touch amplifies it. This research seems to show, at least by correlation, that sensitivity can also be contagious.

Read it here.


“Watch quietly and observe.”


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Inspiration from an unlikely place this morning: a teenager who decided that enough was enough, and developed a line of bras for young developing girls that are not hypersexualized and inappropriate. I was touched both by this girl’s passion and drive, and by the messages embedded in the marketing.

Yellowberry espouses six ‘mantras’ that are printed on its hangtags, and which were written years ago following the tragic death at age 5 of Megan’s youngest sister Caroline, who fell from moving float during a parade.

Those mantras, written by Caroline’s godparents as a tribute to the little girl’s bright spirit, encourage people to celebrate their youth in a loving and natural way… and not feel so rushed. ‘Water the flowers everyday’‘Watch quietly and observe’‘Find a hug when you need one’‘Go barefoot’. And finally, ‘Campfires are rare; eat as many marshmallows as you can’.

Megan has taken those truths and applied them to Yellowberry‘s business plan and its broader purpose of supporting young girls.

I love that we are living in an age when crowdsourcing is making it possible for young girls to do things that are so positive for healthy body image. In a time when the world seems bent on making girls grow up faster and faster, and when the beauty and wholeness of the human body is being undermined by marketing messages at every turn, this kind of thing is inspiring.

Check out the full article here:

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can cause brain damage


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Sticks and Stones – Hurtful Words Damage the Brain – from Psychology Today

A column describing how verbal taunting or abuse, whether from parents or other kids, can hinder development of critical structures in the brain, causing greater risks for future depression, anxiety, drug abuse, and other psychological issues.

What you say matters.


The Power of April Fool’s


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Carnival in Venice

Today, in the US at least, we celebrate that divine silliness which is April Fool’s Day.  The Internet brings us its usual bevy of pranks, your office manager might have swapped out the salt for the sugar in the break room, and weird Uncle Larry, who never quite got the whole April Fool thing, is sending you selfies with his underwear on his head per usual.

But the real power of April Fool’s derives from a deeper tradition of fooling, of topsy-turviness, of Carnivalia, if you like, that is about rule-breaking, role-shifting, and speaking truth to power.

For centuries, the time of Carnival in many Western nations has been about turning power structures upside-down for a time, allowing people’s more animal natures to run wild in the streets, crowning commoners as temporary royalty, and letting the masses, as it were, “get it out of their systems.”

Court jesters, those fools so celebrated in Shakespeare’s plays, were often the only people allowed to speak truly in a critical way about a sovereign’s policies (though at times they risked hanging anyway). Great comics like Pieter-Dirk Uys of South Africa and our own Stephen Colbert are stellar examples of jesters working in the modern court, skewering the corrupt power-mongers by showing them a distorted mirror.

And so in some way, today is a day for all of us to look at ourselves, at our place, at our sources of power and persecution, and to laugh at the absurdity of it all.

That may sound like a serious call of duty for a day that’s supposed to be about Whoopee cushions and fake dog poo.  But there’s a reason the blog’s called Power In Your Hands.

What are you doing with your power, with your humor, and with your mischief today?

It’s spring. Sex for everyone! (Except people who don’t want it!)


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Because why not?

Hello, lovely readers! Yesterday was the first day of spring.  And with spring in the air, folks’ thoughts tend to turn to friskiness.

As a person who helps those who are struggling with body, sexuality and gender issues, one of the things that is clear is that there are not nearly enough images in the media of people demonstrating something other than standard, mainstream sexuality. While images of gay couples are becoming more and more common, the vast, vast majority of images in the media that depict sexuality show people who are white, able-bodied, straight, thin, and performing traditional masculinity or femininity based on their biological sex only.

With that in mind, and with the caveat that clicking these links will take you very firmly into Not Safe For Work territory, I wanted to share two links that I discovered this week that made me want to celebrate.

First, a Buzzfeed link, of all things.  Last week, this collection of boudoir images caught my eye. Not because I particularly enjoy looking at boudoir images: they are usually the most vapid and objectifying form of traditional feminine sexuality that I can imagine.  But these, advertised only as “impossibly sexy,” also contain a multitude of body types and skin colors, without making any mention of either. This mainstream presentation of larger women – and smaller ones! – as equally sexy was lovely to see, and sparked a conversation elsewhere.

In the course of that conversation, another friend pointed me to a Tumblr (this one is really not safe for work) containing words, images, and thoughts about all different kinds of sexuality and gender: queer, disabled, trans, asexual, cross-dressing, happily kinky – basically the whole gamut.  Named Sex Is Not The Enemy, the Tumblr seeks to bust open what people think about what is sexy, and more importantly, to bring sexuality – which is, after all, a huge part of what it means to be human – out of the shadows and shame and into the light – for everyone.

Highlights for me: a picture of a beautiful, proud, post-mastectomy naked woman; a set of paired photographs of people of varying body types posing to look beautiful, then posing unflatteringly on purpose; this adorable shot of an old gay couple (one of them is 100!) celebrating the anniversary of Stonewall.

A note that many of these images are far more graphic than the ones I’ve described, and may be in danger of changing the way you think about how people love.  You have been warned.

Happy Spring, everyone.


Just breathe.


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I had a great insight from a client this week, and as usual, it was something so simple, yet so hard to grasp for most people.  Ilana Rubenfeld used to talk about “a-ha moments,” and a wonderful classmate of mine in the Rubenfeld training talked about “duh-huh moments.” Coming to realizations like this can seem like the latter at times, but in my experience, that’s when you know they’re really important.

The realization was this: to go inward, the very first step is to breathe.

In this fast-paced world, it can be very easy for us to forget ourselves, to forget self-care, and to forget that in order to be effective in the world and helpful to others, we have to make sure we are clear. But some people don’t even know how to begin to go inward, rather than constantly reaching out for validation, for activity, for distraction, for love.

Here’s the answer: breathe, and pay attention to your breathing.

There is nothing so simple and effective as listening to your own breath to bring you into the moment, to connect you with yourself, and to begin to understand what is going on inside your own body and heart. You don’t need to believe in chakras or chi, you don’t have to hold crystals or light candles or believe in any gods or even take long walks in the woods (though I recommend that). You don’t even have to do anything as radical as talking to your body and seeing what it says back. Just take ten seconds, right now, to breathe out whatever is currently clogging up your mental works, then slowly let your lungs fill up again.  Then, do it again.  One more time.

Just breathe, as the song says. And see what happens to your mind, your body, your heart.

I dare you.


Self-care made simple


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From Dr. Kathleen Young's blogOne of the most potent things I have found, both in my training and with my clients, is the utmost importance of self-care. For every acute problem, every chronic stress, every relationship explosion, cancer diagnosis, loathed job or existential crisis, self-care comes up again and again as not just the most important, but the very first thing that needs doing.

This is true not just for my clients, but for me, and other practitioners.  As they say, you’ve gotta make sure your own oxygen mask is secure before helping others.  And as the Rubenfeld principle goes, self care is the first step to client care.  And, lest we forget that other principle: each client is ultimately responsible for his or her own healing.

So it’s not all that surprising that when a client tells me something difficult, and I can feel my mirror neurons firing and my shoulders tightening, my breath growing shallow…the first thing I need to do, before I can even respond, is to check my own breath, my own body, return to my center, and respond from there.  If I do anything else, I put myself in it with them.  And, as anyone who has had someone so upset over something that happened to you that you ended up taking care of them knows, nothing good can come of that.

In my own continuing therapeutic journey, I’ve recently been introduced to Oasis in the Overwhelm, a little book by ex-Catholic nun, nightclub singer, type A go-getter, and Rubenfeld Synergist Millie Grenough.  Its essential core is four 60-second strategies for re-centering and calming yourself, basically at any time and place.

I already have a number of strategies that I use for this, and I pass them on to my clients when I feel they are needed. And of course there are more involved self-care pieces: working out more, eating better, getting enough sleep – all those things that your doctor is always telling you to do.

But for people who want solutions that they can learn quickly and use anywhere…I have to say that this is pretty fabulous.  Once I internalize them myself, I will definitely be incorporating them into my practice. Hint: they involve stretching, breathing, checking in with your body, and focusing on an object of comfort.

Go check it out.


Things Without (Shame)


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I recently discovered the wonderful little comic, Things Without Arms and Without Legs (A Comic About Creatures Who Are Kind), and it delights me.

But as adorable and lovely as they are all on their own, I was especially taken when I found this old post, about some favorite topics of mine: vulnerability and shame.

Dear Things,” begins this post, which addresses the creatures directly and seeks to know what it is that their creator likes so much about them.  

You don’t carry shame. Shame that slowly steel the stars, creeping up like pollution and city lights. Stars diminishing in number, the weakest lights smothered first, then a narrowing field of the brightest lights, and maybe the smog will take them too.

Things, you don’t carry shame. Sometimes you feel guilt, but that is different. Sometimes guilt can face the risk of turning into shame and presses against you, but it is a puzzling thing to be looked at, to be asked questions, treated firmly and kindly and put down. There is no shame in worry, no shame in vulnerability, just an open, natural questioning. For you, shame is not a natural piece of star stealing virtue. Even shame is something you look at without shame.

The post then links to this wonderful video by Ze Frank:

And of course, in the end, it all comes back to Brene Brown.

Many layers of linkage for a Friday.  Enjoy, everyone, and come back here and tell me about your experiences with guilt, shame, and vulnerability.

Cultivating a consent culture


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by Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy PoirrierI was reading Psychology Today’s recent article, The Power of No, this morning, and it got me thinking about a question that haunts alternative sexuality communities, or should.

The question is this: in a world where we accept the feminist precept that rape culture exists – which needless to say, I do – how do people – especially men – negotiate consent responsibly? And in particular: what can good men – men who do not want to contribute to this culture, but also want healthy, fulfilling sex lives – do?

In the mainstream world, women have been speaking up about phenomena like Schrödinger’s Rapist: the idea that anyone a woman meets may sexually assault her, and she is best served by behaving as if he will until she knows otherwise. With rape culture being what it is – an environment where men are often subtly or overtly taught to feel entitled to women’s bodies, and where women are taught that being nice is more important than protecting your boundaries – it’s not just difficult for women to say no, or for men to hear and respect it.  It’s equally difficult for women to say yes, and mean it. The larger culture around sexuality in this country doesn’t teach us how to say, and hear, no, or how to hear, or say, yes.  It teaches us to make moves, use lines, seduce, talk people into bed – or to accelerate sexually without getting a further green light.  It teaches us to resist, or be coy, or play hard to get so we won’t be labeled sluts.  Men who refuse to participate in these dangerous games become “nice guys” – many of whom wind up not behaving so nicely; women get trapped into a virgin/whore dichotomy, where their choice to say yes or no depends on how they want to be regarded, not on what they actually want.

In such an environment, is it any surprise that people don’t feel like they have any agency with regard to their own desires, their own bodies?

Groups such as polyamorous, queer, and BDSM communities, as well as other touch- and sex-positive groups, are under extra pressure to make sure that their members negotiate consent and boundaries well, because the frequency of initiating contact is so much higher than in the mainstream, monogamous world.  While these groups are by no means immune from abuse, rape, and other violations of bodily autonomy, they are places where people are deliberately practicing the skills of negotiating consent, all the time.

In my experience, the result of this practice, and the self-policing that communities like this tend to do, is incredibly beneficial. In the most obvious sense, it gives people the opportunity to practice saying no fairly often, and saying it in ways that minimize a sense of rejection.  It also gives people practice hearing ‘no,’ and responding to it in a respectful way.  Moreover, though, it gives people practice saying and hearing ‘yes’: an option that is impossible in a world where it is never clear whether your ‘no’ will be respected.  In the best of these types of communities, the need to frequently negotiate sexual and romantic boundaries provides a kind of laboratory space for people to experiment with agency, specificity, and desire: yes, you may touch me here, but not there.  Yes, I’d like to do this with you, but not that.  Yes, I’d like to be this to you, but I can’t be that for you. Someone else will have to fill that need.

In the best of circumstances, this kind of environment helps teach the men in it that asking is okay, so long as it’s done without pressure and so long as a ‘no’ is met with immediate, respectful backing off.  In turn, this teaches women that such a thing is not only possible, but the norm – which makes it safer for her to say ‘yes.’

What would it be like, I began to wonder as I thought about this, if all kids were taught early on how to negotiate specific, ongoing, and enthusiastic consent? If our culture wasn’t so afraid of, and screwed up about, sexuality that we could talk about it openly enough to exercise it healthily? What if “How To Say, and Hear, No – And Yes” were a required class for every college freshman? What if people who are not, and will never be, involved in alternative sexuality communities had some other means of practicing these essential skills so that they could flirt, date, have sex, live together, get married and raise kids in a way that involved conscious, clear, joyful choice?

If you wonder about this too, and want help finding your own boundaries and agency, contact me for a consultation.


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