…and often a lot more effective than drugs
The room was full of adults bouncing, jammed together in a space that was too small, all of them trying hard not to bounce into each other.
On that cold late winter morning in Kashmir our breath was visible around us—a mix of stale night air expelled from morning lungs, and the bitter-smell of anxiety being released from churning guts.
Almost everyone was young, but not very fit. They were starting to sweat, even in the thin cold air.
But no-one cared because we were bouncing, and it’s hard not to laugh when you’re bobbing about.
One of the group was both gasping and laughing.
‘No more!’ She stopped, her hands on her knees, panting.
‘Come on,’ the others puffed back at her.
She frowned as she began to bounce again, just tentative knee dips at first, but as she did, the laughter began again.
The air we breathe in Kashmir has a particular make up in winter. It is one-part pollution, another part the thin frailty of Himalayan air under siege from too much crammed in life. The final third, and perhaps the major component, is the static of fear. It is recycled with every inhale and exhale to the extent that it has become part of the cellular make-up of people in the valley
This was why we were bouncing in that slightly smelly room because we spend every working day trying to puncture through this same thick mist of fear. The bouncing releases the build-up of tension that comes of sitting beside those in physical and mental pain, day after day, hearing their stories, accompanying them through the pain.
There is a lot to shake off—vast human loads of suffering, anxiety and malignant sadness.
There are two predominant reasons for this.
The first is that it allows the body to shake off the excess survival hormones that accumulate when people are living with daily violence. Our primal reaction to danger is usually referred to as the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response. It is a hair-trigger reaction to anything that the mind reads as a potential threat. It results in a build-up of the two hormones that enable the survival response, adrenaline (epinephrine) and cortisol (hydrocortisone). The hormones speed up our system to fight, flee, or freeze, this survival mode putting the subtle ‘thinking brain’ onto a lower priority setting. In shorthand, that’s about 2.5 billion years of evolution on hormonal override. If actual physical fight, flight or freeze is not required then we feel restless, agitated, unable to concentrate, anxious.
Bouncing gets rid of this surplus of hormones. It is what animals are doing when they shake things off—the way dogs get up after fighting, shake furiously, and then trot off as though nothing has happened, any excess of ‘fight’ hormones having been released.
The second reason is that we were bouncing in that cramped room in a place described as a ‘disturbed area’. This is a questionable euphemism, a political expedient that translates in human language into a very heavy security presence, and a constant round of violent unrest, killings, arrests without warrant, imprisonments without trail, and ‘disappearances’. The population is often locked down under curfew for extended period, stretches of time shut, in, cooped up, unable to move. As I write this, they are caged again.
We humans are designed by those 2.5 billion years of evolution to move. When we do not our immunity is compromised, blood and lymph circulation slow down, undermining all the systems that keep us functioning well. Bodies stagnate. People feel unwell as they swing between a hyper-adrenalized state and one of deep fatigue.
Bouncing shakes everything up, moving stuck toxins around and out of the body, increasing the circulation, releasing tense muscles.
The Chinese describe it as ‘Shaking the Tree’, as in moving ‘Chi’ or energy around the body. Another way of looking at this is that bouncing frees human sap to rise again.
Like so many of the best antidotes to physical and mental pain, it is quite simple, though perhaps not necessarily so easy for some to adopt.
You could try now–just for the fun of it.
If you are alone, then why not?
If you are with other people, perhaps this is your chance to start a bounce revolution with your friends, those you work with, the people at the café tables around you?
How to bounce
It starts simply, standing with your feet about hip width apart.
Have a soft bend in the knees, and then just start bouncing—arms loose, body relaxed, toes un-gripped.
We are not talking about Masai warrior leaping. This is not about trying to wow the tribe with our strength. It is just moving the body up and down, each muscle, each bone, doing its job, rebounding from the ground, moving into the air, for a moment, a split second of flight, of freedom.
As the body warms up, and as we move through the first ‘what the hell am I doing’ wall of resistance, there is a loose-limbed ease and rhythm to it that makes it hard not to smile, even as the heart rate soars, and the panting begins.
Starting with maybe just ten or twenty seconds is a good beginning. Building towards several minutes, maybe three or even four, well, if you are physically able to bounce, then I would pick it over anti-depressants and pain-killers every time.
Come on. Get up.
See what happens.