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60 to 60: Shake it Off

Dogs shake their bodies for lots of different reasons, including excitement, pain, getting older and as a way to shake off tense moments. Our dogs like to shake their whole bodies. Tio* seems to wiggle her everything with all she's got, after a good swim. Olive, upon awakening from one of her many daily naps, quakes and shakes, stretches and then staggers off in search of her next sniff.

The nervous system is incredibly complex. A great deal of information gets sent and received, interpreted and responded to, in about one-millionth of a second. The parasympathetic nervous system allows us to rest and digest. The sympathetic nervous system is the “fight or flight or squeeze tight” reaction that some of us know, perhaps more than others, but we’ve all experienced it at one time or another. Our stress response is high.

When we shake our whole bodies, all of the charged up and heightened energy gets distributed. We’re naturally increasing circulation and activating and then releasing toxins and toxic thoughts. We shake off the experience. That’s why animals do it, too.

It’s the most natural reaction I’ve had in a couple of high-stress situations. When our daughter was less than a year old, we visited some family in the Keys of Florida. Jay and I were invited to go scuba diving with a gentleman who had his own boat and captain. He’d hire a dive master for us. Sure, we said, plus we had built-in free baby-sitting with Grandma! Off we went, with a lightness in our steps that only people with babies know. Ahhhh, a few hours off from the absolute hardest and best job there is.

After a nice, easy dive, we all surface. Hmmmm, no boat to be seen. As far as our eight eyeballs can see, no boat, nothing but sea. We inflate our buoyancy control (BC) vests in order to float comfortably. Our diver friend says, now don't worry, because this is my boat and my captain, so he'll be here any time.

Except that he wasn’t.

Not for an hour and a half.

Just that very morning (August 2004) I had read a New York Times article about a movie released called Open Water. In the film, an American couple goes scuba diving only to find themselves stranded miles from shore in shark-filled waters. They have been left behind after a member of the crew does an inaccurate head count. (A panic attack at depth, or any medical emergency, is one of a diver's worst fears. Being left behind miles from shore is right up there on that list, should we need something else to worry about.) The movie is based upon a true story. The divers were never found.

That’s what I've got going on in my brain as we float on the surface.

Look, I’m not great at chit chat on a good day. It's an extraverted-introvert situation. If I last more than an hour at an indoor party or loud bar scene, it’s a miracle. Here, in the ocean after about 45 minutes, the charm of this particular adventure has most decidedly worn off so no, I don’t want to hear another joke. I would like to see the boat. Any boat.

We got rescued by several members of the US Coast Guard, followed very shortly by the captain of our friend’s boat. (He had called for help, albeit sort of late.) The captain’s sun-baked face looked ashen. I was encouraged to get on the boat first. Sometimes old-fashioned gentlemanliness comes in handy, I’ll fight for equality another time.

After dropping my BC and mumbling to the boat captain, I immediately went to the head. First I grabbed onto the tiny sink. It felt good to hold on to something that was still. I told myself to take some deep breaths but my body was not having any of that. So, I began to shake. I shook my arms and my hands vigorously. Up and down, all around. My head and neck moved back and forth, up and down. Then my feet lifted up, my legs, hips, everything shaking. Then tears came and moved out, too. I had no idea what I was doing, I just knew I had to shake off that experience. It had been completely unexpected, very scary (mostly because of my own thoughts, admittedly) and utterly exhausting.

Fast forward many years, my baby is now in college and I’m continuing my studies in yoga teacher training. I’d practiced shaking in yoga classes before, both standing and lying down and knew its effectiveness. I learn that this is a breath kriya technique called Supta Tejas. Supta in Sanskrit refers to reclined or reclining, Tejas is fire, brightness, illumination. When we intentionally practice supta tejas, we’re powering up our vitality, lighting up, burning stuff away…all while lying down!

Will you try it?

No one has to know.

Lie down on a rug, mat, or towel. Lift your legs and arms up toward the sky, keeping the lower back/tailbone connected to the floor. Shake. Shake your arms and legs rapidly. Don't think. Inhale and exhale through the nose, or you can try exhaling out the mouth for a deeper release. In addition to the all of the other benefits, we are increasing lymph drainage and increasing brain health.

Try it for 10 seconds, maybe 30. In class we practice this breath kriya for a minimum of 4 minutes. After that amount of time, a person walks away most assuredly feeling different, lighter.

Put aside any feeling of silly or awkward or even embarrassed, just take a moment to see how you feel.

Me? I’m pretty sure the dogs and the yogis are on to something.

* Tio is short for Artio, a Celtic bear goddess. When we picked her up at the shelter she looked exactly like a black bear cub. Some people wonder why we named our girl “uncle,” which is tio in Spanish.)

So simple, so effective, free.


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