Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Pneuma-Tango: Solution Number Five

Pneuma-Tango: Solution Number Five
The third installment on the theme of solutions to rejection. See earlier solutions 1-4.

Solution Five for rejection is a walking embrace. I knew from my own experiences that graceful walking was powerful for helping the brain find solutions. Nearly every human being has experienced finding resolutions on a plain ol’ walk. A graceful, purposeful walk is even stronger (solution 4). Now add the embrace to this, as it is done in traditional Argentine tango and now you have, I believe, the essence of why tango by mistake is something that can have remarkable therapeutic power. The embrace by itself keeps us alive. Without a caring embrace babies die or languish, and old people have higher rates of illnesses--as has been documented extensively in health care literature and research.

Recently, I went to a grave side service for a 21 year-old man who died on his way to spend Easter with his parents. I stood in line to greet them. The way that I and everyone before me expressed themselves was with an embrace. Why is an embrace so powerfully expressive?

Tango is a walking embrace full of uncharted power!  I am convinced bi-lateral stimulation (graceful walking) and a simultaneous embrace enables the brain to find resolution from emotional pain or simply to find answers to difficult questions confronting us.

When I started this series on “solutions,” I focused on rejection as a single psychological obstacle for tangueros/tangueras. The “solutions” now are much bigger than rejection or any one psychological theme (rejection, bereavement, jealousy, hate). And the idea of tango-as-therapy (self-care) is far more powerful than I realized since starting this project. I have given examples before, but now people who have read my reflections are telling me their experiences too.

Let me give an example. At a tango festival recently, I found a tanguera friend from Boston who told me about a recent break-up and rejection. I told her about my training as an EMDR therapist and then my recent discoveries with bi-lateral stimulation in a tango walk. I explained how a graceful tango (contra-body) walk affects the brain just like traditional EMDR techniques. We were at a park some hours before the milonga. I had her bring up the most hurtful moment of her recent break-up. I held her in a traditional tango embrace and right there in the park we only did weight changes because of the bike traffic on the path. In a remarkably short time (under 5 minutes) her hurt was so resolved that when her ex-boy friend unexpectedly ARRIVED at the festival, she felt no jealousy, no hurt, no pain as she had just days before when she saw him at milongas in Boston. If I had not seen this happen, I doubt that I would fully believe such an account of resolution in five minutes.  I cannot expect that emotional hurts can dissolve so easily as hers did, but in some ways I am not surprised either because I have seen EMDR quickly and effectively treat horrific traumas/tragedies that combat vets have experienced.*

A friend recently wrote me after I told her about my reflections on the walking embrace that I was about to write. Her story also confirms Solution Five (although this is about bereavement). She gave me permission to share this:

“Recently I spent my father’s last six weeks by his side in another state. At my first milonga after his death, a fellow dancer asked me why he had not seen me for such a long time. I started to explain, but then teared up and could not go on. His response was to open his arms, envelop me in a tender embrace, and move us into the line of dance. As we circled the room I quieted down and my sadness melted away. By the time we came to a stop I was at peace. I said thank you and we parted. This was the first time I had experienced the power of tango to soothe, and I remain profoundly grateful to my dancing partner for his moving gesture.”

So what shall we call the power of two people in embrace, walking gracefully? I have called it tango therapy, but “therapy” is inadequate. However, I have no better word. I would prefer to call this phenomenon “Pneuma-Tango,” using a Greek term.  The Greeks felt that invisible, powerful wind (pneuma) that moved ships was the same “wind/spirit” that comes in and out of the lungs of a living soul. Wind, spirit, ghost are terms all described by one word in the original Greek of the New Testament, including the Holy Pneuma.

So if we were to think of Pneuma-Tango as a combination of the life-giving essence—breathing as one, moving as one, embracing as one—then we might better estimate the power of this little-understood phenomenon. Pneuma-tango is something that countless tango dancers have experienced. How sad that many tango dancers have tended to mistake the powerful sensations as something less than spiritual, such as fun, sensual, or like falling in love.

Pneuma-Tango has the thrill of anything that is fun, but the joy is deeper than amusement. Tango provides a similar physical joy (eros), but it happens without overt arousal. It feels like love (agape), but without the bonding as one experiences while truly in love. Moreover, I believe it innately helps us to resolve our hurts and find more adaptive solutions to obstacles in our lives.

Let me give one final example of Solution Five: Just a week ago, a tanguera told me the company she worked for had folded. No job. Three children. She was not distressed. However, I told her about Solution Five. We went to an empty studio after a milonga and we breathed as one, and walked as one in embrace. By the third time we walked and stopped for a moment, her mind was so full of ideas that her face turned red with joy, miming that she needed to write, needed to write! (At the time I did not think about it, but losing one’s job is a subset of rejection.)

You do not have to be a therapist or have a therapist to experience Pneuma-tango. But it will help if you allow a different paradigm to inform yourself about what tango really creates in your heart and mind. Is it really just fun? Just another sensual pattern dance like rumba? Is it just a nice hobby? Maybe it’s just plain addicting? I would posit that tango is a much more powerful thing than any of us ever realized. My hope is to do research on these discoveries that we all are making at every milonga we go to. I would love to hear your stories.
I wish you lots of Pnuematic-Tango, mis compañeros de tango!

*Note about therapy: Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing (
EMDR) therapy is separate from what I have called here Pneuma-Tango. Tango is a type of self-care and a natural way to find solutions and not “therapy” in the medical sense but in the spiritual sense. I fully endorse having a skilled therapist for serious distress. I especially endorse EMDR as a therapy modality with a qualified EMDR therapist—because it works like tango! If you find yourself sobbing at a milonga and do not know why, I think I do: You need a guide because you are “flooding” from the bi-lateral stimulation of the tango walk. Seek an EMDR therapist to guide you out of your stuck part. Not resolving the problem with emotional “flooding” could have you avoiding tango after a while.

Coming soon: Solution 7 (music); Solution 8 (the tango community). The theme is still rejection.

Monday, April 5, 2010


Soul-Work through Tango Therapy

Earlier, we looked a 3 solutions to get through and over rejection as a tango dancer (and in life).  The next few solutions are surprisingly effective and  are higher-level solutions.  SOLUTION Four for rejection is all about working alone, using tango in a way that finds remarkable resolution to feelings of rejection and other negative thoughts. 

SOLUTION Four is called in the psychological community "bi-lateral stimulation," which positively influences the brain to access memories.  Bi-lateral stimulation has also been found in other cultures.  The Zulu Tribe has a left-right stamping dance that they use with warriors to deal with psychological trauma. [The tanguera pictured here has the right idea.  However, I suggest comfortable shoes and clothes that will help you NOT attract a partner!  SOLUTION Four is tango for one.]

My plan was to write about connections with the type of therapy that uses bi-lateral stimulation used in the West, called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy.  I use EMDR nearly daily with combat vets.  This therapy is so effective that it inspires me and has me joyously going to work in this normally "burn-out" job, working with PTSD. 

Explaining bi-lateral stimulation in depth is too complex for a blog.  Suffice it to say, that when one has a physical activity that goes clearly from the right hand/left hand or right leg/left leg, to the right with one's eyes and then left, this actually has been proven to help a person access memories around a negative event that allows one to come to better cognitive solutions to problems.  NO WONDER that people feel that tango is "addictive"!  Tango is a complex group of good things happening (music, friends, touch, and movement). 

So SOLUTION Four is bi-lateral stimulation, and it partially accounts for why going out to dance feels so very good for you after a hard day.  Most people do not discover Four on their own because the other things (music, friends, touch) get in the way.  But these powerful things (music, friends, touch) can also become paired stimuli to rejection, or any of these elements can amplify rejection. SOLUTION Four focuses only on you and your brain:  Soul Work.

Sometimes simplicity is necessary and being alone is at times necessary to find good solutions.  A tango walk is powerful for this.  Buddhists have walking meditations.  St. Paul found Christ on a walk to to Damascus and St Luke gives an account of two other disciples finding themselves conversing with the resurrected Jesus on a walk to Emmaus.  When they figured out who he was he disappeared from their sight.  Now that is a tango walk!  Authors and artists are known to have had their best ideas out on a walk.  What about you?  Have you discovered the power of a graceful, tango walk?

Let's review the lesser evolved solutions:
  • Solution one was to realize that the person who reject you may one day wish he/she hadn't.
  • Solution two was to ask the person (a risky but sometimes effective way to better oneself).
  • Solution three was called the "military solution" because it focused on just stuffing one's feelings and getting out there to dance with friends, enjoy the music and "get over it."  Although less evolved, it is by far the most used solution.
For SOLUTION Four to work better, walking gracefully with your torso moving in what tangueros called "contra-body" walking is very important for brainwave lateralization. Just walking will not be as effective. Collecting is also very important because it helps the mind to experience bi-lateral stimulation.

I will give two personal examples of using SOLUTION Four -- a walk by myself:  As I started writing this reflection, I celebrated my birthday alone on March 21st.  I got lots of care and love from the tango community, but I did not get a single call from my family or my young children who live in Germany. I was doing just fine with this -- or so I thought, but I wanted to use this theme of rejection and practise SOLUTION Four to give me new insights about this idea.  As I walked, I found my thoughts flooding with negative events concerning my birthday and how my children are either blocked from contacting me or not helped to remember me.  I realized that when I use EMDR as a therapist, I stop to help the combat vet process the flood of thoughts. One of the major mistakes of new EMDR therapists is they stop and talk too much. So I like the tango analogy.  Take only short pauses to think. Stop only for a moment to chat with yourself.  This is a pause in your dance, not the "cortinas." The outcome of my walk was fantastic. 

As I walked my tango walk, I started to remember how my boys' mother never reminds them about Father's Day since our divorce.  She often didn't remind them even when we were married. Since our divorce, I have bought the children flowers to give to their mother for her birthday, but she will not reciprocate.  You probably can imagine that I have a lot of history with rejection with two small boys growing up (they are still pretty young -- 11 and 16).  Anyway, as I walked the memories pored down. As with therapy with PTSD with combat vets, it got ugly before it got better:  Feelings of rejection, anger.  But then the solution started to emerge:  I became deeply aware that my children love me.  I also realized that many people who truly love me may forget my birthday, and I forget theirs.  True, I intellectually knew this before (military solution), but my "inner child" felt the solution at the deepest level: I am loved. I can forgive.

Let me give you a second example, but first a little explanation about bi-lateral stimulation and the brain: 

Your brain while focusing on a Negative Cognition about self (proven through brain scans) will show way too much activity in the limbic part of your brain and the right side. Bi-lateral stimulation with a graceful tango walk will begin helping your brain to lateralize the thoughts to other parts of your brain, especially the left prefrontal cortex which has not been fully activated as with other rejections you feel are "resolved" enough to no longer bother you.  When there is too little left brain activity, a brain scan would probably reveal why one often is immersed in one's own inner world of hurt -- the left brain is "silent."

Okay, now another example of SOLUTION Four:  This January, I had my very first experience with a therapeutic tango walk with rejection.  I was really hurt after dancing with a woman at the Houston Tango Festival. We spoke Spanish to one another briefly. Helena simply said after the first dance, "Gracias," and then she left the floor with me standing there like a fool! Did I hold her too tight? Did I remind her of her weird uncle, Flaco? Did I have the breath of a horse?  I will never know.

I saw her later. She was dancing an Argentinean folk dance with such joy. I realized that she was a great dancer. That hurt even more. Middle School stuff of rejection set in. I could try to use SOLUTION ONE (get better so she'd feel sorry she rejection me) or SOLUTION TWO (ask her why) or solution three (just get over it). Yet, she will probably be on a higher level until I die (solution one), and it is just not cool to ask a stranger "why" without being pitiful (solution two). Solution three (just get over it) was not working either. I was stuck in Middle School Rejection in Houston.

SOLUTION Four in action:  Knowing what I know about Bi-Lateral Stimulation (BLS) as a therapist, I decided to try meditation and the power of a graceful tango walk out in a park in Houston. I was feeling like I was not that good of a dancer although I have worked so hard at it.  The SOLUTION was immediate:  Only after walking less than a minute, I was totally free. I told myself, "It feels so good to be able to be mature enough to allow a woman to walk away if she feels uncomfortable without becoming angered, hurt and resentful. I am totally okay with this." I laughed. I was free.  I still am.
I have written a lot more on this theme, using an advanced protocol of EMDR, but it is too involved for a blog.  For simple rejection (one person, one event), the solution is in a graceful, meditative walk while pondering the hurtful event. However, if you have something more complex, the full SOLUTION Four is NOT just going out on a walk and kind of thinking about moments of rejection or psychological hurts. There is an important protocol to follow which has proven effective results as used to help rape victims and others who have faced physical trauma and tragic events.  For more complex hurts, I suggest a guide to avoid going deeper into hurt and not finding your way out of a sticky depression.

For simple rejection, however, please give solution a fair trail.  You should not believe me. Try finding a hurtful rejection in your past, and through a graceful tango walk, go out and try SOLUTION Four.  I am convinced that you will experience some resolution that perhaps has lingered for years.  I would love to hear what happens.  Send me a message at mark.word1@gmail.com.

Preview:  Solutions 5-7 are shorter (I promise) but also very powerful.  I have shared them with a few people, and now I have testimonies to their "solution power."