I believe in magic. What some people call “coincidence” is often so deep, even life-changing, that I call it magic. The universe abounds with magic, and if you think about it, your life is bookmarked by magic moments.
I believe that I was born with a strong intuition—a capacity for magic—and it has guided me throughout my life. I was a rebellious teen. I was artistic and creative and loved to paint and to write. Both my art and English teachers encouraged me to pursue art and writing. Senior year, I had an English class where we studied Eastern literature, which was essentially the life and writings of Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore from India. My magic awakened, and I wanted to know everything about India that I could. I would walk to the “India” store often, hanging around each object with reverence. I bought a poster of Tagore and hung on my bedroom wall. I kept it for many years. I sought out anything he wrote, reveling in his poems.
One day my boyfriend and I were walking through the university bookstore. A book dropped off the shelf in front of me. It was Yoga, Youth, and Reincarnation by Jess Stern. I picked it up and said, “I want to do this!” My boyfriend bought it for me, and I still have it. I started practicing yoga when I was seventeen. Two years later, I took a yoga class, and through it, I met a yoga monk from India and learned to meditate. Through more magic, I went to India in 1973 when I was 21, to be trained as a yoga and meditation teacher. It was free, but I had to live and work in an orphanage during the day, and a monk would come at night to teach the trainees.
Again, magic happened. The poet-philosopher Rumi said, “That which you are seeking is seeking you.” I’ve found that to be true for me throughout my life. One evening, after class, I was walking around the courtyard, gazing at the stars. I passed by the room where the orphans slept and heard singing. Peeking in, I saw the oldest—a girl twelve years old—massaging a baby. I was fascinated and quietly went to sit next to her. She spoke some English, I knew some Bengali, and she told me that in Indian families, the mother massages the children, especially the babies. I asked her to teach me, and she happily showed me how.
Something like fairy dust lit up my mind. I began to observe the children and saw that they were all relaxed, friendly, and responsible; I often saw a young boy with a baby on his hip. They played together with a lot of touching—rhythmic musical games when they held hands, and friends would walk around arm-in-arm.
I began to think that maybe having been massaged in their infancy made them this way—relaxed in their bodies, open and loving. Then I started to dream the same dream over and over. I was playing with two small children in a beautiful meadow; a boy who was around four years old and his younger sister. It would be another ten years before I remembered these dreams and realized I was dreaming about my future children. I woke up with such a strong pull in my heart, I wanted to go home.
Eight years later, I had two small children, and one day we were playing in a large park in the spring. The memory of those dreams came back to me in a rush of amazement. Magic has always been a part of my life.
After I returned from India, I dedicated myself to my yoga practice, meditating two hours, three times a day for the next three years. I didn’t realize it at the time because I was sort of obsessed with attaining enlightenment, but these years prepared me for a lifetime of both magic and challenge. I worked for a nonprofit humanitarian organization, as did my husband. I worked in Public Relations, honing my writing skills, learning how to conduct interviews, make public service announcements, and publish newsletters. In a meeting one day, a friend gave me a copy of the book Touching: the Human Significance of the Skin by Ashley Montagu. I kept it, but I didn’t read it. This gift turned out to be another bit of magic for my future.
In January of 1976, I discovered I was well into the magic of creating a human being. I increased my meditation time, ate a lot of healthy foods, and managed through the trials and tribulations that come with every pregnancy.
I remembered what I had learned in India, and decided that daily massage would be an integral part of our baby care. One day I was looking through our bookshelf to see if I had anything that would help or inspire me. I found the book Touching, and settled down to read it, all in one day. I thought about massaging my baby, and read about the incredible importance of nurturing touch — with mammals! I read through the bibliography and decided to find the research that Montagu’s claims were based on. I had a feeling that this information could be translated to humans. Montagu had made this connection throughout his book, and thinking about massaging my baby was suddenly very exciting.
I spent most of my pregnancy driving to the big medical library in Denver. I found every single piece of research in Montagu’s book, made copies, and brought them home. The more I learned about how animal mothers supply nurturing touch to their infants, and its crucial importance, the more excited I became.
September 16, 1976, we had our little boy. It was the most joyful experience of my life. I committed to breastfeeding, got what was called a Snugli, made by a friend of mine & later turned into a big business, It was a lovely front pack; I carried him all the time; he wanted to be close and sheltered, so that’s what I did. “Babywearing” was not a thing then, at least in America.
I began massaging him immediately after he was born. He had “colic” and was miserable, crying for hours at a time. He accepted the massage, but when I started massaging his belly, he would fuss and sometimes cry. I could tell he was uncomfortable and having pain in his stomach.
Most parents would stop and decide that he “didn’t like” being massaged. I had the feeling, from intuition and my research, that colic was simply an underdeveloped gastro-intestinal system. I comforted him but didn’t stop massaging. I thought about how the digestive system works, and I thought about yoga postures that I knew were especially for Irritable Bowel Syndrome, to help relieve gas that was trapped in the colon.
I began changing the strokes I had learned in India. I observed babies every day as I took my little one for walks around town. I noticed that when there are two moms with babies, as the mothers talk, the babies begin to reach out to each other with their feet. When a mother carrying her baby stopped to talk to someone, her baby would begin to reach out to that person with his feet. Sometimes the baby would look the other way, but his feet and legs were kicking out toward that other person. I called one of my mentors, Dr. Stephen Berman — who was our pediatrician and happened to be the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics — asking him about this, and he agreed.
I decided our massage should start with the legs and feet because that seemed to be the least vulnerable part of the baby’s body. Starting with the chest, as they did in India, can be difficult for some infants; they will curl up, trying to protect the center with their arms and legs, and can be startled easily.
I designed a series of strokes that combined the traditional Indian massage whose strokes were from the body outward to aid in releasing tension, with Swedish massage techniques, whose strokes were toward the heart to aid in circulation. I added some reflexology and modified yoga postures. I developed what I later called the Colic Relief Routine. Within two weeks, of practicing it, my baby’s colic had disappeared.
After around 3 months, I began going again to the medical library, with my baby in the Snugli, where he slept deeply. I discovered so many things that linked this kind of massage with important milestones in what I called the “fourth trimester.” I still didn’t have any plans to teach, but I thought about it.
I got illustrations of a baby’s internal organs. I learned that most mammals lick their newborns; for example, cats have rough tongues and lick their newborns, especially their tummies, like crazy. Everybody thinks it is to get them clean. But actually, they are massaging the babies to help their internal processes of respiration, digestion, and circulation. Without that, the kittens die. I had read about what is called “Marasmus” or “Failure to Thrive” when babies get depressed and spiral downward even though they are receiving the best nutrition. That was a magic moment for me.
One medical book I read was about a baby’s nervous system. It said that being held, breastfeeding, and nurturing touch actually help the baby’s nervous system mature. There is something called the “Myelin Sheath” which is to the baby’s nerves like the rubber covering around electric wires. The myelin sheath is not fully developed when babies are born. So another benefit of massage is that it helps the baby’s nervous system to mature.
By the time my baby was about 5 months old, I had developed a routine and then wrote a curriculum for a 5-session course. I made a little flyer and asked local businesses to have it on their counters & in their windows. My first class was in March of 1977, with 5 mothers, in the living room of our little apartment. I charged $15 and gave the moms a list of things to bring beforehand.
In May, Frederick Leboyer’s book Loving Hands was published. Baby massage was an idea whose time had come. I decided to call it infant massage to indicate that my classes were for babies under the crawling stage. Later I discovered that in Europe, the word “infant” refers to all children, so eventually, people in Europe would use the word “baby.” Leboyer also made a little movie called Loving Hands, of an Indian mother massaging her baby, and I was able to get a copy.
There was an explosion of interest in pregnancy, birth, and babies. Doctors John Kennell and Marshall Klaus did their research on bonding, which became the topic of the day. I looked into it deeply, and discovered that all of the elements of bonding were part of infant massage. So massage was a way to continue the bonding process with both parents in the fourth trimester and beyond. I knew this intuitively, but it was nice to get medical research to back it up. Dr. Klaus became a mentor for me, and would later review my book.
We moved to a big house, and by then I had 15 to 18 moms and babies coming to classes which I taught twice a week. I began to make up handouts for them, telling them how to prepare for the massage, recommending books, showing research, and I made a feedback form for them to fill out in the last class. In May of 1978, we had a surprise. I was pregnant again! Unplanned, but ecstatically welcomed.
I continued teaching. Soon, I had too many handouts. I decided to write a manuscript, and then figure out how to publish it, with a mind to have something I could either sell or increase my fee and provide to my students. My husband worked in a print shop, so we thought we could publish a little booklet. We were financially challenged, to say the least. I rented a typewriter — remember those? I had two weeks.
I sat at our dining room table with all my notes and handouts, and began to write. My son was 21 months old, talking and walking, getting into all kinds of mischief. I had morning sickness that lasted most of the day. But I was determined to finish this little book in the timeframe I had. I remember writing a sentence or two, then either dashing to the bathroom to throw up or rushing to save my little one from disaster. He was a cryer, and needed to be held a lot.
It was magic, though, as usual, and I finished my book on the day I had to return the typewriter.
I then turned my attention to my pregnancy and my little one. I stopped teaching for several months. In late November of 1978, I was over 8 months pregnant and big as a house. The phone rang one day, and it was a person from Lamaze International — the big Childbirth Educator’s organization — in Washington DC. She said that she had my little flyer! I have no idea how that happened, but it was magic for sure.
She said that Lamaze was having a national conference for Childbirth Educators in the mountains near Denver in early December, and she asked me if I could attend and give a talk about infant massage. Of course, I said — yes!
It was snowing like crazy. My husband and I packed our little, OLD car and headed to the conference with our 2-year-old in tow. I took the Leboyer movie with me. I managed to give a good talk because I was so excited about infant massage. I showed the movie and answered questions. I was thanked and congratulated by the Lamaze people. My husband was walking around with our 2-year old so I could concentrate.
As I was packing up to leave, a man from the audience came up and introduced himself. Here’s where the true story differs from what you may know. This interim story made the big story too long and complicated, and later I just eliminated it. Anyway, this man was from a company called Monterey Labs. He asked if I would write a book, and I told him that I had a manuscript in my bag. He said his company wanted to sell a package that would include the book and massage oil. I received a contract after I got home, and after making sure I would approve the oil, we had a deal. A woman from the company would come to Denver and help me with photographs. I found a good photographer, several parents with babies, and the whole experience was magical. The book came out — here’s my only copy — staple bound!
In less than a year, this woman called me and said she had secretly contacted a publisher in New York, and I should get a lawyer. It was all very clandestine. The owner of Monterey Labs called me, told me they were “making changes” to the company, and he wanted to buy the book outright. He was very aggressive, called me a nobody, said I didn’t know anything about publishing, and he would definitely buy out my contract and offered me what was a huge amount for me. I told him, no, he would not buy my book, and because he was so insulting to me he should be more careful in the future. A few months later, Monterey Labs was bankrupt. My lawyer assured me that the book was mine and not to worry. I went on teaching classes.
One day, there was a knock on my door. A man in a suit greeted me. I was so nervous, not knowing what this guy wanted. He was from a huge publisher called Bantam Books in New York City. He asked me if I was the infant massage lady. He said that they had heard about me and he offered me a contract. I said, “Yes, I would love that,” trying to keep my cool when I felt like throwing myself at him with a huge hug. Again, magic. This is not at all how writers get published! I received a contract the next week.
During this time, I got a phone call from someone in Los Angeles. She said her name was Femmy Delizer and she was helping Jane Fonda open her spa and wanted to teach infant massage. She wanted to come to Colorado and have me teach her my methods. I picked a dollar amount out of the air — it was very low — and said she could send a check and come to Boulder and I would teach her how to teach infant massage. I told her she would have to sign a contract with me to become certified. She didn’t want to pay or sign anything, so I turned her down. My intuition told me that she was trying to steal my program. During those years, several similar situations happened; I might have been worried about my work being stolen, but I wasn’t. I had a deep and strong feeling that infant massage was given to me to bring to popularity, and it was protected by the universe.
I began getting requests from childbirth educators who wanted to teach infant massage. So I finished my curriculum for instructor training and wrote the first edition of the Infant Massage Instructor Manual in 1980. I had a deep feeling that this was my life’s work and I should follow every lead. I taught several childbirth educators and some others to be Certified Infant Massage Instructors. The International Association of Infant Massage Instructors was born as a notion in my head.
I continued to train instructors 3 or 4 at a time, and teach my infant massage classes. One day in the early 80s I got a call from a major newspaper in Denver. They wanted to interview me and take pictures at my class. The article took an entire page of the Sunday paper, and I became, at least locally, famous.
On a day soon after that, a woman in her 50s whose name was Audrey Downes knocked on my door. I answered it with my toddler on my hip, and she was so excited she could barely make sense. I asked her to come in, and we sat and talked for a long time. She was from California, and her husband had business in Denver. He had picked up the paper and found my article in it. Because she was a nurse who worked with babies, he gave it to her, knowing that she would be interested in it.
She invited me to go to her home in Chico, California, and conduct an instructor training. We both felt that our connection was meant to be. That was my first real training, with my book and an instructor manual. Audrey had managed to find prospective instructors, and also moms and babies to come and allow me to demonstrate how to teach a class. It was a huge success, and Audrey had made up certificates to give the new instructors. We talked about making an organization and making it nonprofit.
After that, the publisher sent me on a book tour to 26 cities in the country. I had to leave my babies with my husband, trusting that he could manage. I missed them terribly, but I was so busy I had little time to cry. There were no computers and no cell phones then, so we all felt the distance.
I don’t have time to tell you all about the book tour. So many stories! And so much magic. I went to New York and was on Good Morning America, interviewed by Jane Pauly, a famous figure in the morning national news shows. A friend brought her baby to the studio for me to demonstrate on. Jane Pauly was dismissive— When I was demonstrating the gentle movements she remarked, “Oh, it’s just like dressing a chicken!” Afterward she walked with me across the street to my hotel. She was making arrangements at the counter, and when she finished, someone had stolen her briefcase. hmmm. Karma really is a bitch, I thought! Six months later, she found out she was pregnant with twins, and I laughed. Everywhere I went, I was carted around by a stretch limousine. I felt like a country bumpkin.
In Chicago, I was on the local Oprah Winfrey show and the Phil Donohue show, which was national. In every city, I did infant massage demonstrations on tv and was interviewed by radio and newspapers. It was a hectic time with many magical moments. Later we would make a policy that only parents can massage their babies. In my classes, I had my baby to demonstrate the strokes with; in these “publicity” situations, I demonstrated on babies whose parents agreed and brought them to the studios.
The demonstrations were always successful because I insisted on having at least 20 minutes with the baby before the demonstration. I would approach them with loving kindness, listen to them, and accustom them to my touch. When I demonstrated, even though the studio was cold, they always relaxed and smiled or giggled. The interviewers and their studio audiences were amazed. They expected a fad and discovered something very profound. When I got home, my editor called and told me they had to rush to print another 50,000 books (the first 200,000 had sold) because of my television demonstrations. I wish I had time to tell you how that all went. But you can probably imagine.
Audrey and I had long conversations on the phone. She offered to do all the paperwork for us to become a nonprofit organization. That was a LOT of work! When I told her what I wanted the name to be, she hesitated. “International?” she said. “We are barely national.” I told her that I wanted to touch parents and babies all over the world, not just at home. We would be international! Every time I talk to her now, she brings that up and we laugh.
I began training Instructor Trainers in 1982. We had our first board meeting in Portland, Oregon. We needed to assign places to people who served in different ways. One of our members started drawing a hierarchy graph, with top, middle, and low-level positions. I became more and more uncomfortable with this and waited to see if anybody said anything. There was a lot of silence and efforts to change the subject. That night, or actually early in the morning, I had a dream. I saw a flower, with a center and petals around it. I woke up and frantically scribbled it down. It turned out to be another bit of magic. At the meeting that day, I got up and interrupted the “flow chart” discussion. I went to the blackboard, and I drew a flower. At the center I wrote “babies and parents,” and the petals were placed both overlapping each other and complimenting the opposite petal — trainers, instructors, chapters, general assembly, international board, and education committee. It was accepted immediately and we had a lively discussion about it.
We had our first General Assembly with Ashley Montagu as the keynote speaker. I got to meet my hero — another magic moment. I kept traveling around the country, training certified instructors to be trainers.
In 1986, I was seriously stressed out. In between all of this, I had made several trips to India and managed to get all kinds of diseases, which weakened my immune system, and I had 2 kids under 7.
I was giving a training in Denver, feeling very weak and unwell. Determined to finish the training, I made it to the end. Jody Wright was there, becoming a Trainer. I was walking out the door on the last day, and I collapsed. I was taken to the hospital and diagnosed with severe Mononucleosis, which I had apparently gotten in India a month earlier.
I was literally struck down by this illness. Bedridden for months on end. We had many phone calls during those months when Audrey was working on the non-profit papers for the organization, and I was “Okay-ing” every part of it.
Finally, the Trainers got together and decided to move the main office to Sweden, and to re-name the organization the International Association of Infant Massage, leaving off the “Instructors” part. I wasn’t very happy with that, but I was too sick to do anything about it. I had to trust the people I had trained to do the right thing.
I got well, and I went back to school, studying Infant Psychology with a new professor who was a pediatrician who had written an amazing book about childhood trauma and the psychology of infants. I continued to train instructors and Trainers all over the United States.
But I was struck down again. First, in September of 1989, I was bitten by a brown recluse spider — the most poisonous spider in North America. There was no anti-venom, and I was seriously ill for three weeks. My body swelled up, turned crimson red with white circles around my eyes. I looked like a zombie! I had a high fever, the shakes, and itched all over. It was very painful, all over my body. My skin came off as if I had gotten a bad sunburn. The skin of my hands shed, and I ended up with a whole different palm print.
I treated the bite with an herbal tincture that I made myself, and it healed beautifully, I don’t even have a small scar; often people who are bitten by these spiders have to have surgery and even amputations. I was lucky, or maybe it was magic.
A week after I had healed from the spider bite, I fell from a twelve-foot high loft in my art studio, backward, landing on my head on the hardwood floor. I had a rotator cuff injury and a Traumatic Brain Injury, which led to a very serious case of Fibromyalgia, a newly discovered chronic pain disease that nobody knew about. I had to go to the Mayo Clinic to be diagnosed. I had a very severe case, and there had been no drugs invented that would help. I ended up taking narcotics for the pain, and was still having so much pain I can’t describe it. It lasted more than 25 years. I was able to work off and on during that period, as my symptoms were better sometimes.
In the meantime, Random House, which had merged with Bantam, allowed me to update and revise the book in 1982, 1989, 2000, 2014, and a whole new edition in 2017. I wrote 8 more books and hundreds of magazine articles. I had “accidentally” met the owner of a publishing company in California, and he immediately bought The Tao of Motherhood and all the books I wrote after that. Our connection was the last bit of magic before my illness completely disabled me. It was a dark time for me, and I was unable to find magic for many years.
At the end of August in 2014, I had just returned from my 5th hospitalization that year for pneumonia and a pulmonary embolism. I was overweight and pre-Diabetic. I went to the doctor and he told me that if something didn’t change, I was going to die.
In September of 2014, I was miraculously healed. September 16, which happens to be my son’s birthday, I woke up and had no pain, no symptoms at all. I went to the doctor again a couple of weeks later, and he was confounded; all my tests came back normal. To this day, nobody can explain how I went from total illness and disability — even the beginnings of dementia — to feeling better than I had my whole life. On my birthday this year I remarked jokingly that 66 felt so much older than 65. My son said, “Mom, when you were 56 you were old! Remember? You’re getting younger!” Both of my kids have said that they feel like a miracle happened, and they “got their mom back.” There is still no plausible answer to how I was healed overnight.
Today I am perfectly healthy and happy. I’m back into my life’s work, teaching small classes and writing. Throughout 2015, I worked on the new edition of Infant Massage. I was working, doing research, getting permissions for quotes, writing, rewriting, working with the copywriter at Random House, and finding past mentors and supporters to write reviews of the book. I had to finish it by January 1, 2016. On December 23, I ended up in the hospital with several serious conditions, probably from the months-long stress of working 9 hours a day. I got home on January 1st, finished the book on the 2nd, and sent it off to my publisher with a huge sigh of relief. I did a lot of self-care after that!
I have a meditation practice that I’ve had for 48 years, and I’m practicing yoga again I love my life and being a grandmother to 3 children. I continue to live at the assisted living place where I had to go when my disability was total. It is a small and nestled in the foothills in Boulder, Colorado, the first of its kind in Boulder. It’s a house with apartments, not an institution. For rent that I couldn’t afford anywhere in Boulder, I have a small apartment, all my vegetarian meals are provided, I don’t have to shop or cook or clean, I can do my laundry without going out, and I’ve made my little flat a sanctuary. I’m the healthiest person there, and living with people who are disabled and have dementia has made me more compassionate and loving. I look for opportunities to provide some surprising small magic to someone — I use my computer and printer to print out photographs for my neighbors. If I can, I buy flowers for somebody who is sick when I’m at the grocery store, and I buy little treats for special people when I know what they like. I have midwifed two good friends in the last months of their lives and experienced the joy and the sadness—and the magic— of that.
It’s quiet, peaceful, and the best location I could ever imagine. My long jogs take me around a lake that is nearby, with wildlife and trees and flowers and lovely people who I’ve come to know over the years. When I see someone wearing their baby, I introduce myself and give them my card, and I’ve taught some classes that way.
If I need anything extra or want to be around people, there is a shopping center only a half mile away, and I walk. I get free transportation to doctor visits and anything else that’s too far to walk. My kids and grandkids visit often and take me out for a meal or a picnic in the park.
NOW, THE SCIENCE OF MAGIC!
Pleasure is fantastic, powerful medicine. Our bodies are designed to renew when we feel joy, our bodies blossom and mend through the delights of earthly pleasures. In humans, nitric oxide (not nitrous oxide in the dentist’s office!) is a signaling molecule in our brains, blood, lungs, and gastrointestinal systems, dilating blood vessels, raising blood supply and helping to protect our tissues. It is also a neurotransmitter that is active on smooth muscle, and it is abundant in both the stomach and erectile tissues. The experience of pleasure such as orgasm is due to a release of nitric oxide, as is laughter, deep meditation, exercise such as yoga, aerobic activities, and pleasure in consuming delicious, healthy foods.
The feeling of the release of nitric oxide only lasts a few seconds or minutes, but it is sensational, setting off many feel-good chemicals such as endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin. You feel an incredible shift in energy and relaxation. Nitric oxide is what lights up a firefly! Research at Stanford University showed that nitric oxide is released when the egg and sperm meet, in a peak moment of universal creativity. There is an MRI video showing the moment a human sperm meets an egg, and a beautiful flash of light signals the release of nitric oxide.
Some women experience this moment, knowing they are pregnant at the time it happens. I experienced it with my second pregnancy. It is a bright, exquisite memory. It was late at night, and as my husband slept, I rose and walked to our second-floor window, gazing at the full moon. My body had a wave of goosebumps. I smiled, touched my belly, and said, “Hello!” Researcher Herbert Benson, M.D., author of The Relaxation Response, said that nitric oxide is an essential element in “peak experiences of ecstatic flow. . . it is a biological mechanism that encompasses the dynamics of human belief, the creative process, the essence of physical and mental performance, and even spiritual experience.” The Universe uses this natural magic to enchant our earthly experiences and bring us toward endless happiness, or enlightenment.
Neurotransmitters such as oxytocin, the “bonding hormone” are produced and used in the brain and cells throughout your body. Oxytocin is released during orgasm, breastfeeding, and during loving contact with your baby and other loved ones. You experience a warm, happy, relaxed feeling when mood-enhancing neurotransmitters are released from the brain and gut as a result of positive events, thoughts, and emotions. When you are pregnant, you can increase the visceral joy in which your new baby floats by consciously being positive and having pleasurable experiences.
Fear and anger deplete nitric oxide, so it is helpful to cultivate your ability to feel joy and compassion and to release resentment. Actually, righteous indignation, such as when you stand up for the vulnerable or against exploitation and control, can release nitric oxide. Followed by actions that help you feel empowered and courageous, this kind of anger is right for you; it is only when passion makes you feel helpless, disempowered, and sad that it is not at all good for you.
There is another neurotransmitter that plays a crucial role in how happy and calm we feel. It’s called anandamide. The name is taken from the Sanskrit word ananda, which means “bliss.” Anandamide was discovered in the 1990s by scientists trying to understand the effects of cannabis on the human body. They discovered that anandamide was part of the endocannabinoid system — a network of receptors and cannabis-like chemicals found throughout our bodies. The endocannabinoid system regulates almost every biological activity including sleep, appetite, our immune system, pain, mood, reproduction, and memory.
Anandamide reduces inflammation and is thought to have an anti-anxiety effect. The more anandamide we have, the happier we are. This direct link between anandamide and mental well-being got a further boost when scientists discovered that regions scoring highest for happiness, such as West Africa and Scandinavia, share a special genetic mutation. This means anandamide lasts longer in their systems before being used up. So in effect, thanks to their genetic abnormality, these countries are more resilient to stress and are generally happier.
High levels of anandamide in our bodies are linked to feelings of happiness and contentment, and a lack of them to depression and anxiety. Exercise is a great way to increase anandamide levels. Not only do we release endorphins, but scientists now know the infamous “runner’s high” is also attributed to a peak in anandamide and a release of nitric oxide. It has been shown that aerobic exercise causes an increase in anandamide levels, which is associated with mood-enhancing effects. Because anandamide is a euphoriant and aerobic exercise is associated with euphoric effects, it has been proposed that anandamide mediates the short-term mood-lifting effects of exercise by exercise-induced increases in its synthesis. It has been shown that an individual’s mood improves for the remainder of the day following physical exercise and that one’s mood is positively correlated with overall daily physical activity level.
When I jog around the lake near my place, I often feel “gooseflesh” in the last 20 minutes of my run. It is everywhere, especially my head, and sometimes tears will come for “no good reason!” Occasionally, I experience something like this in my meditation. I feel the goosebumps on my head, I feel a flash of light, and tears stream from my eyes.
I believe that when a parent learns and then consistently massages her baby, these amazing chemicals are released, both for baby and parent. Looking back on my classes, I remember mothers experiencing a level of joy that often made them cry with happiness. One mother of a preemie was stressed and almost frightened when she brought her baby to my class. I made sure to sit next to her and exude all the joy that I could. Practically, I used my words to help her relax and really see her baby. By the third class, she was confident and in love with her tiny infant. She stayed in touch with me and shared that she felt like massaging her baby was a kind of prayer they did together, and she often felt “high” afterward. Her baby grew and developed faster than expected, and she was proud and said she thought massage was critical in helping both her and her baby get over the stress of being in the NICU.
I hope you find every way that you can to have these amazing chemicals flowing through your system, because the more relaxed and joyful you are, the parents and babies you work with will get a “contact high” and discover their own experience of “ananda.”