Discharge to Recharge

You can make your self-soothing activities a lot more effective by doing one simple thing first.

Most people are a little more stressed and tense now, during the COVID crisis, than usual. Some people are a lot more distressed. Everywhere you look there are articles about how to calm yourself, how to soothe yourself and your children, and how to cope and take good care of yourself.

adult alone anxious black and white
Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

It is a good idea to manage our stress. When we are stressed, we are not our best selves. We are less able to make good decisions. We are less flexible in our thinking. We may be short of temper or spacey and dissociated. None of these will make self-isolating, physical distancing, or working from home any better.

We can do a lot to help calm ourselves. We can breathe more deeply, do relaxation or meditation, take a warm bath, read or do crafts.  All of these can be soothing to the over-stressed nervous system.

However, you can make your self-soothing activities a lot more effective by doing one simple thing first.

Think about your body’s energy system. I’m not talking about some esoteric or cosmic energy. I am talking about that energy that you use to live. You take in food and turn it into energy that keeps your tissues healthy and growing, allows you to move and think and dance and run, even to sleep and regenerate. When you are stressed your body is recruiting your energy to be prepared for the emergency. Energy is tied up in keeping your muscles tense, your gut disrupted, your thoughts racing. Your energy is being used to be prepared.

In this case, you are prepared to fight or run away from a virus.

However, that is pretty useless. No amount of fighting is going to vanquish this foe. Running away isn’t possible either. The energy of preparation is caught up in your system keeping you stressed and distressed. This is a very real manifestation of energy being blocked from moving through your body. You can turn it into obsessive thinking, excessive news consumption, overeating, body tensions and rigidity, and irritability. It can erupt in bouts of rage or crying or excessive cleaning.

Calming that distress is needed. However, you need to free up some of this energy for your self-soothing, calming activities to work effectively. You need to create an opportunity for discharge.

Please note! I am offering these simple ways to discharge energy for you to use at your discretion. Please remember that everything isn’t useful or recommended for everyone. Be self-aware and monitor yourself as you practice.  You can use these with kids, too, but remember that you’ll be monitoring yourself AND them.

Effective and easy ways to discharge

Shake Your Body

Shaking your body all over is a way to discharge energy that is simple, effective, and feels good.

Start from a grounded standing position. Stand up with both feet solidly on the ground. Feel your feet on the ground, and make sure you are standing solidly on both feet. Soften your knees, so that you can feel your whole leg from the sole of your foot up to your torso. You might need to bend and straighten your knees a few times before this is clear in your mind.

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Think about your feet being deeply rooted in the earth. Just for a moment, imagine that your feet have grown a long, strong taproot connecting them way into the earth like an oak tree. Imagine that you are rooted so deeply that you may bend and sway in the wind, but you will never fall over.

From this deeply grounded place, start to shake your body. You can shake starting from your arms and shoulders, shaking your head, bouncing a little in your knees. Monitor yourself; you can do a little or a lot, and what works best for you will depend on you. Shake, shake, shake, and then shake some more. Notice any parts of you that want to shake and then shake them. Shake like you are in a big wind and then let the wind settle down into a small breeze, and finally, let your shaking come to stillness.

Check in with your body and mind. What did this discharge exercise do for you? Go to How the End Any Discharge Exercise, below.  After this, move into your self-soothing and comforting activities.

Twist and Growl

Start from a grounded standing position. Stand up with both feet solidly on the ground. Feel your feet on the ground, and make sure you are standing solidly on both feet. Soften your knees, so that you can feel your whole leg from the sole of your foot up to your torso. You might need to bend and straighten your knees a few times before this is clear in your mind.  (You might notice repetition here…that’s for a good reason.  Being grounded helps us to discharge. Every discharge activity begins from being grounded.)

Holding a hand towel or dishtowel out in front of you, begin to twist it. Let your hands really work that towel. Hold it up at eye height, look right at it (or beyond it), and twist. Narrow your gaze and stick out your jaw. Maybe make a growling noise. Grrrr! Damn towel! Damn coronavirus! Damn working from home! Allow yourself to think and say whatever angry thoughts might come to mind. Damn stress!

What else could you do with that hand towel? Shift your feet so that one is ahead of the other, shift your grip on the towel so you are holding one end, and use the towel to hit a bed or couch. Really get into the swing of it, using your whole arm, and keeping your eyes and jaw focused outward.  Try it with the other arm.  What is that like for you?

Then drop the towel and shake out your arms, your jaw, your neck. Let everything shake.

See if your body wants to do another round. If you are finished, head to How to End Any Discharge Exercise.

Stompa Your Feet

Start from a grounded standing position. Feel your feet on the ground, and make sure you are standing solidly on both feet. Soften your knees, so that you can feel your whole leg from the sole of your foot up to your torso. You might need to bend and straighten your knees a few times before this is clear in your mind.

Now stamp one foot. Just smack it into the ground. Notice what that feels like.

Stamp the other foot and take a moment to notice what THAT feels like. Similar? Different?

Now try stamping your feet one after the other. Really PUSH those feet into the ground, feeling your legs all the way up.

Check in and see what your hands want to do. They might want to form into fists, or even if they don’t, you can try that. Stamp your feet and shake your fists.

Now take a moment to rest, breathe in and out, and notice what you are noticing in your body and in your mind.

This might be enough discharge for you. You can check in on yourself and notice. Does my body want a little more of this? If so, continue. You can always stop whenever you want to.

To continue with discharge, re-engage the stamping and fists. This time stick out your jaw and narrow your eyes. You can say or think something like, “I don’t like this!” *

Depending on your level of privacy and how this exercise is sitting in you, you can go to town. You can stamp and shake and shout as much as you like. You can also do it just a little to try it out. Either way is effective and you are in charge.

How To End Any Discharge Exercise; forward bend

This exercise allows your body to integrate and assimilate what has been happening, and gives your mind a chance to catch up. See if you are able to stay attuned to body sensations before letting thinking overwhelm your body experience.

You will stop, rest, breathe and take in your experience by doing the forward bend. Keeping your feet planted, allow your body to hang over, letting your head hang loose, arms not quite touching the ground, and breathe into your belly there. Stay in this position as long as it feels right. When you decide it is time to come up, push your feet into the floor and allow your spine to straighten very slowly with your head coming up last. This way you minimize the likelihood of getting dizzy.

Once you come back up to a standing position, take a few moments to notice how your body and mind are doing. You may be more agitated, or angry, or you may have uncovered some sadness, or you might notice a different lightness in your shoulders and arms. Whatever you notice is your body’s response to the exercise.

vening light with reflections
Beaudette, 2014. Evening light with reflections.

 

Now is a good time to engage your self-soothing activities. Try lying down on the floor and letting your body rest deeply. You can use your hands to gently stroke your face, shoulders and arms, saying soothing things, or you can just let yourself be. Notice how your body naturally lets down after discharge. You may feel the impulse to turn on your side and curl up; follow that impulse, watching your body’s response. This time is about settling in and settling down.

* An important postscript about vocalizing and verbalizing while doing discharge work

It is okay to make sounds or shout out words: this is a way of discharging energy. Stomp your feet, shake your fists, stick out your jaw and narrow your eyes and say the words you want to say about this situation.

People often struggle to say out loud some of the things that they are saying in their minds. They judge themselves for the words that they say.  Vocalizing is a helpful way to discharge.  Use your discretion if there are other people in your house.

What should you say? Well, only you know what is in your mind, but if you want to discharge, here are some tips.

Short, declarative statements work better than long explanations. (“Stop it!”) (“Get out!”)

Stretching out the sound helps you to breathe more deeply. (“Stooooooop!”)

A long, drawn-out, loud “Nooooooooo!” will make you breathe more deeply.

 

From Sensorimotor Psychotherapy to Bioenergetics Analysis…a big week for me.

Pat-Ogden-piccy-e1391085239545-150x150   Here is Pat Ogden, creator of Sensorimotor Psychotherapy.

On Monday and Tuesday, I had the privilege of hearing Pat Ogden talk about and demonstrate her well-articulated and immensely practical Sensorimotor Psychotherapy at a training in Charlottetown, PEI, Canada.  She was engaging and her presentation included much that is clinically useful…has been useful already here in the therapy room.

Then,  I headed off to Massachusetts for the Fall Conference of the Massachusetts Society for Bioenergetic Analysis, the method of body psychotherapy in which I am trained and certified.  So last week was pretty well packed with opportunities to learn, play and grow in the work of somatic psychotherapy or body-based psychotherapy.

photo-guestbook_lowen2Here’s a picture of Alexander Lowen, the founder of bioenergetics, leading a group some years ago.  This picture is courtesy of The Lowen Foundation.

A body approach to psychotherapy is only sensible.  Emotions are a body experience;  thoughts, actually, are a body experience.  If you get right down to it. there is not a single experience that you can have that isn’t mediated by being in a body.   Even at your most spiritual, the sensations, thoughts, feelings, and experiences you are having are being HAD by your body.  Your brain is, after all, part of that wonderful construction.

So both bio and SI privilege the somatic over the cognitive in therapy.   This has immediate benefits for clients:  first, access to issues is a lot faster and more clear when communication happens through the body.   If a client is willing to mindfully stay with his experience and report on it, without censor or judgment, then whatever is getting in the way is going to be available to work with directly.

There are differences between Bio and SI.   What is fundamentally the same is that the human experience of living in a body is the content of the session, and working with that is how healing happens.  

I know that when I move vigorously, express myself with my body and my voice, I can feel my own motivations, feelings and impulses more.  In a very concrete sense, I have more of myself.   In that way, I can be more self-possessed….I actually possess mySELF, and so I am not subject to reacting defensively or unconsciously.

Bioenergetic therapy gives us lots of tools.  We have movement, expression, vocalization, our words and stories,  our experiences of living in our bodies and telling others about those experiences.   This work is worth doing, to get in touch with what is really TRUE about yourself and how you relate to the world.

If you are interested in learning more, you can go to the website for the International Institute for Bioenergetic Analysis here bioenergetic therapy.  Or you can look for a Bioenergetic Exercise class in your community.  Or call a bioenergetic therapist for an appointment.

Do it for yourself.

Shake it up, baby! On doing morning releasing exercises as a practice

If I am unwilling or unable to feel my emotions as they are happening, then I have to do something to keep them from being in my consciousness. So I tense my musculature, tighten and constrict so that nothing gets through.

Sunrise thanks to creative commons
Okay, so today is only Day Three, and maybe that’s a little early to be making any statements about this new practice of mine. I am trying to commit to a 28 day practice of engaging in the sequence of bioenergetic exercises that David Bercelli has pulled together and labeled “Trauma Releasing Exercises.” Click here to go to his website: trauma prevention

I’m not sure I entirely accept all of the claims made by the proponents of the method but I do know that the first part of the series is profoundly grounding and the second part opens up the opportunity for the body to discharge a lot of energy in the form of movement.  I also know that when I work through a stress-release, stress-release sequence of movements, I usually can feel a lot more and mostly I feel better.

Cat stretch creative commons wikimedia

The FEELING more is what counts for me.  I am pretty good at shutting things down in my organism, i.e., my body.    I  look quite contained and relaxed, and situations and events do not visibly distress me.  I also have chronic tension in my neck and shoulders (my physiotherapist would just shake her head at this point) and sometimes stomach upsets and sometimes trouble with sleeping.  If I am unwilling or unable to feel my emotions as they are happening, then I have to do something to keep them from being in my consciousness.  So I tense my musculature, tighten and constrict so that nothing gets through.  Not feelings, not energy, and if I am particularly tight, I can even limit the flow of fluids through my tissues.  And I am not alone in this:  many people are expert at this sort of shutting down.  So opening up is a good thing!

On the weekend, I was delighted to have a group of bioenergetic therapists and trainees visiting me in my home and office.  We shared a lot of good ideas and some of our particular interests.  Margaret Bernard of PEI led our group through the TRE and that was a great reminder for me that daily bodywork is really a must for me to stay connected to myself.  I can readily connect with my thinking parts but find connecting with the feeling parts takes more attention. TRE helps me to bring that attention and also to let go of the holding and constriction.

So in only three days, I’m noticing that my feet are connecting to the ground differently.   I have increased flexibility in my toes, which is a bigger deal that you think.  Toes are a critical connector to the ground, and thus when we have good movement in our toes, they can hold on better.  Really!  Take off your shoes and try it.  Squinch up your toes and try to walk around. Yes, really do it.  Do it until your feet have some intensity of feeling in them, say, a seven out of ten. (Intensity, also known as PAIN!!!) Then mindfully spread out your toes on the floor, feeling everything (relief?) and try walking with all of them active and engaged.  Aahhh……thank you, toes.

Nicer toes than mine....flexible looking! creatve commons
Nicer toes than mine….flexible looking! creative commons

    So toes.  That’s good.  I also notice that when the vibrations get going,, I can let them move quite readily up my body but that things get hung up at my diaphragm and throat.  This is not new news to me; I know that I have blocks there, pretty typical ones from childhood.   But when I allow myself to make a sound with those vibrations, the blocks ease up a bit.  And when the sound starts to soar, almost like it isn’t part of me, then my body opens up to laughing and sobbing and all sorts of spontaneous movement.  It is very cool.

From traumaprevention.com with thanks
From traumaprevention.com with thanks

I stay aware in this process, too, because I know that these kinds of unusual movements often permit the free flow of thoughts, memories, images, and sensations in the body-mind. This is access to my unconscious, and I don’t want to miss a thing! What I have found is that after I am finished (and how to decide to be “finished?”), I sit to write in my journal and the ideas are also flowing….ideas about so many things, not just the constricted content of my usual thoughts.  Who knew that bioenergetic exercise would also open up my thinking self?

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I’ll keep doing my daily practice and let you know how it proceeds.  In the meantime, you can do TRE also…there are books and videos available from that website and also therapists and bodyworkers who are trained to help you learn the sequence.  You can find a practitioner on the website. You can also just follow  your body into movement and charge and discharge, but I know that can be harder to do than it sounds.   Let me know how you do!  Below is a video about TRE.

TRE video

Who’s in charge of your life? on not letting mood dictate your behaviour

I wonder how often I attribute my choices to my mood?  “I wasn’t in the mood to do the dishes,” for example.  Or, “I’d exercise more, but I’m just not in the mood.”  When I think this way, it is almost as if my mood is something outside of me, or something that comes over me without my awareness, knowledge, or permission.   And then I give it the power to decide whether I’ll do the dishes or exercise.

Or maybe (MAYBE) I let my mood dictate my behaviors because I don’t want to take responsibility for my choices.  Somehow it would not be as okay to claim the choice to sit on my couch and not do something.

We often feel like we are subject to the whims of our internal lives, as if our moods and emotions rule us.  I don’t think we were constructed that way:  I think that moods and emotions are information for us but they are not masters and we their slaves.  But when we just react our way through our days without even really noticing our inner life, then it may feel like our feelings are running US.

How do we get out of that?  How do we get to take charge of our own lives?

We first have to have awareness of our thoughts, our feelings, and our body sensations.  We need to be able to notice our vitality affects, for example (energy level), and notice sensations of prickling, tightness, openness or lightness, whateer sensations are present.  We need to be attuned to our own selves as well as to the world around us, and that means that sometimes we have to turn down the stimulation and just check inside ourselves.

Atmospheric phenomenon to which we attribute meaning
Atmospheric phenomenon to which we attribute meaning

Pay attention to the shift in your emotion, no matter how small. When you notice yourself getting more upset or distressed, ask yourself, “What am I telling myself right now?” or “What is making me feel upset?”  It is likely a thought which has occurred to you.  But how might you feel if that thought had not occurred to you?

In other words, how would you feel if you didn’t believe that thought?

Ah….maybe I’d feel just fine, thank you very much.

Conversely, the body can give us messages that we interpret to mean something.  The other day, I felt fabulous…had just finished a long walk with a little running, was working a positive inner dialogue about my progress, was able to notice the trees, the air, the birds…all those things that contribute to my personal sense of well-being (your list will be different).  Suddenly I found myself irritated at some minor frustration, very irritated.  Wait!  How did I get from feeling fabulous to feeling irritated?   I checked in on my thoughts, my experiences, and by body sensations and yes, there it was…the tiniest little bit of aching in my groin from running.  The endorphin flow had slowed, I could start to feel the work that my joints had done, it was painful though only slightly….and suddenly I was easily irritated.  And probably underlying that body ache was some automatic thought…”Oh, this again,” or “Ugh, I hurt,” or “I don’t feel so good,” and so irritation happened.

Mood is a number of things but whether we let our moods dictate our lives is a personal choice.  If I only did things when I felt like it, well, I’d have some pretty severe limits on my life!  So I choose to watch my thoughts and remember that thoughts, mood, and feelings are all part of my body, and they all are fluid and shifting…so I might as well live my life and let my mood catch up with me.

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When Pleasure Fails

Dr. Scott Baum, in his paper “When Love Avails Not” has written about anhedonia in the person whose mistreatment at the hands of others has resulted in the death (and dearth) of love.  That is, in people who have been so badly abused that all love, all capacity for experiencing the general goodness of the world, has been drained or squeezed or ripped out of them.

“People use the word pleasure to cover a broad spectrum of feelings. We could break it down into many categories: relief, gratification, satisfaction, enjoyment, joy, fulfillment—and surely there are more. Not all these meanings are tied to goodness—for example, sadistic revenge can be gratifying, and we ignore that fact at our peril. However, I choose to use “pleasure” as I think Reich and Lowen intended—meaning the capacity to feel connected to the benevolence in the universe. Surely this is related to love….Pleasure’s opposite, anhedonia, is a complicated psychosomatic phenomenon. … One aspect of anhedonia is that the person’s capacity for love — to feel the cushioning, warming envelopment of the energetic field, which I am quite sure exists on some physical level—is destroyed. This can, of course, be a temporary state. In grief, for example, or in the aftermath of a catastrophic event, a person may lose the capacity for pleasure or hopefulness. This loss may be intermittent or persistent, but it is a transient state, and eventually the person’s underlying capabilities to experience pleasure are reinvigorated. This can happen with the passage of time or because of more direct intervention, such as psychotherapy, where this restoration of function is a directly intended outcome.”

Fortunately, most people experience anhedonia as a temporary situation, one in which the capacity for pleasure has become limited.  Focusing on the body’s language helps people to notice both their lack of enjoyment (pleasure, gratification, joy) and also the tiny light that appears as one begins to regain that capacity for feeling.  Often, there is an obstacle that lies in the way of pleasure.   For many of us, it can be our practice of avoidance.  That is, we may believe we have a need to avoid our unpleasant thoughts, memories, images…any of the mental content that generates big unpleasant feelings.   It seems paradoxical:  in order to get back our capacity for enjoyment, we need to dive right into what many people consider the opposite: our rage, our terror, our horror, our despair.

frightened child

In simple terms, when you work to shut down emotional experience in one realm, you effectively shut it down across the affective area in general.  Specifically, suppose I was terrified as a child, spent my very early childhood fearful of parental anger, and subsequent years trying my hardest to keep my parent happy, or at least avoid getting him or her angry.  In order to get out in the world and survive, for example, in order to manage school, I  had to figure out a way to function without being frozen, so I learned to numb out that fear. I  also avoided ever feeling angry, because that would trigger my angry parent.  I probably didn’t feel much in the way of sadness, either, and happiness was a very light surface skim of a feeling, mostly relief because it went with avoiding punishment.

As an adolescent, I might have found places to go where there was a bit more safety, or I might have just assumed that all places were as unsafe as my home.  As an adult, I might actually begin to look at my childhood and realize that everyone didn’t have terrifying parents, and that maybe there are lovely people in my life and I could perhaps learn to be a little trusting.  But feeling good….well, that might not actually be possible.  It might be far to frighterning to feel good….and I certainly don’t want to go into feeling that terror from childhood.  I grew up so I didn’t have to feel that, right?

credit:  http://ttactechtuesday.pbworks.com/w/page/7857889/AT%20Solutions%20for%20Writing
credit: http://ttactechtuesday.pbworks.com/w/page/7857889/AT%20Solutions%20for%20Writing

Unfortunately, that model isn’t reflective of how people actually work….If I want to feel the joy that I think is probably available to me, then I need to let my body feel that terror, that rage, that despair that are all stuck in me somewhere.  Saying yes to pleasure means I have to say yes to all of my feelings, not just the ones I think I’d like to experience.

Mark Nepo, in Seven Thousand Ways to Listen, says “…there are small pressure points of residual feelings that live in our bodies, small pockets of trauma that hold the sediment of the stories that have shaped us.  We carry these residual feelings like emotional time capsules……” and sometimes those time capsules open right up.  We try out best to shut them down, to close them up, and we do it using our bodies.  We tighten, we cut off our breathing, clench the jaw, tense the shoulders, do whatever we can to not feel. But then we miss out.  Nepo goes on to say about those emotional time capsules “… whose small doses of healing are released when we bump into life unexpectedly.  It is natural to recoil from the rupture of those potent feelings but it’s the meaning carried in them over the years that begins to heal us…” And once we have allowed those feelings, actually felt them, allowed the body to open up, expand and integrate the feelings and the meanings we make of our experience, then, THEN, pleasure can become available again.  Baxter State Park, Maine, 2010

We can start the process of feeling pleasure by tuning into sensations. Notice the warmth of your coffee cup on your hands.  Notice the way that the warmth moves into your hands and begins to move up your arms.

Thanks to Katie Huffman, of Looking at Life through Agreeable Hours
Thanks to Katie Huffman, of Looking at Life through Agreeable Hours

Notice where you are blocked, and where you are holding on tightly, so that you cannot feel.  Allow warmth and softening to enter those tight places and notice what else is present to you at this moment.  Notice any sensations of movement within your body, or desire or intention to move in some way.  Notice whatever sensations and feelings arise for you without judging or turning away from what you experience.  Let your experience happen;  let your life flow bringing whatever emotions are present for you.  Feel whatever it is and let it flow.  The path to pleasure can be circuitous, especially if you have cut off the pathways for many years.  But getting back there is so worth the effort.

Many thanks to Dr. Scott Baum, Video of Dr. Baum on bioenergetics

And to Mark Nepo  Mark’s website

Simple pleasures

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There is not much more important than experiencing pleasure for us human-type beings.   Pleasure is a label for certain types of sensory experiences: some things we do are pleasurable.  Sometimes, things that once were pleasurable do not seem to evoke pleasure any more.  When I hear that from people, I take note.  Anhedonia, or the inability to feel pleasure, often accompanies depression, and sometimes is the most difficult part of depression.

Pleasure is an enormous motivator for us.  We’ll do a lot of things because the consequence is experienced as pleasurable.  These things can range from preparing and eating gourmet cuisine to climbing up rock faces.   And when pleasure as a motivator is not available, due to depression, stress, or preoccupation, then it can be difficult to do some of the things that we need or want to do.

Pleasure is a body experience.  That is, we have an experience of pleasure through our sensory systems. There is also a cognitive component, as there is for many emotionally-based experiences.  We’ll have words or images to reflect our pleasure (“Mmm, mmm, good..”).  We savor pleasure.  Pleasure requires our sustained attention, and when we cannot give our attention to our experience, we have a dearth of pleasure in our everyday life.

When people present in the office with symptoms of depression, I ask a lot about what they enjoy….have they been having any fun lately?  Lots of times people are taken by surprise by this question.  First surprise, then a sudden realization and often sadness….no, no fun lately.  In fact, often people cannot think of anything at all that would be fun.

Finding the pleasure again is essential.  When depression is the diagnosis, we look at shifting thinking, motivating activity, and regulating sleep, appetite, and attention.   Simultaneously, I ask people to start to notice where they can feel pleasure, even the most limited little bit of enjoyment, or even just relief of negative symptoms.   This is a mindfulness task, requiring attention to sensory experience in the here and now, and is a very useful marker for getting better.

Pleasure is our birthright.  We are creatures who have a wonderful and awe-inspiring capacity for pleasure….what will you enjoy today?

Reflection on the 2014 Retreat….

PEI lupinsThe 2014 Summer Bioenergetics Retreat on Prince Edward Island is history now.  It was and it will not come again.  There may be other retreats and they may be wonderful but this particular one will not be repeated.

I was fortunate to be a participant in the original retreats offered by Bethany Doyle and Rosalind McVicar.  I began in 2003 and attended annually through 2012, which was the final year of their program.   The retreat in 2003 was my introduction to bioenergetic therapy, and I was hooked, so much so that I applied for the training program that was starting that fall.   I was fortunate to be accepted and trained with Rosalind and Bethany, as well as with Michael Maley, Louise Frechette, and Chuck Lustfield, the International Trainers who traveled to PEI for us.  And I got to go to the retreat for all those years.

Several members of the initial training group are now Certified Bioenergetic Therapists (CBTs), and we have created a team to continue to offer a summer retreat on PEI.   Last month, we had our second retreat with 20 participants, three therapists (see below for contact information), offerings in creativity, spirituality, and grounding movement,  West African drumming, opportunities to share responsibility and support our community, plus to have massage and body work available.   During the week, I also felt my connection to those who have come before, as Rosalind and Bethany offered their best wishes, and from others in my training group who sent email and phone support.

PEI Aerial view

The heart of the retreat program is bioenergetics:  more exercise to increase body awareness and express strong feeling, group process where we all get to know ourselves and each other, individual therapy where people can work out material that comes up in the heightened context of the group.   The absolute confidentiality of the group makes it a safe place for people to work with what really matters to them, and the chance to work with deep feeling, whatever it is, opens energy for laughter and spontaneous play.    And there was much laughter and much spontaneous play last week!

I feel grateful to have had the opportunity to shape and support the processes of this retreat.  I learned a lot about myself and my connections to others, even as a therapist, and I appreciate the openness and willingness of all of our participants to engage in the process and support one another.

Planning for next year is underway!   Mark your calendar:  July 4-10, 2015, Saturday to Saturday.

 

Therapists:    Laurie Ure,  Gloucester, MA, USA   http://laurieure.com/

Jessie DeBaie, Nova Scotia, CA  http://www.bioenergetictherapy.ca/jessiepage.htm

Leslie Ann Costello, New Brunswick, CA https://frederictonbioenergetics.wordpress.com/

Massage and body work:

Ailsa Keppie, Halifax, Nova Scotia, CA http://www.aninspiredheart.com/

Anticipation of joy? Or joyful anticipation?

PEI

We leave tomorrow for the week-long bioenergetic retreat in Prince Edward Island.  We have spent a year preparing, with more active preparation going on since January, and accelerating toward tomorrow.  The program begins on Friday evening and runs through the following Friday at mid-day, and each year it draws a diverse group that somehow becomes a community during our time together.   And I can imagine that the people who are joining us from all over the world are preparing, packing, and anticipating.

I have been busy with getting ready, looking after details, checking in with the rest of the team, and preparing myself for the work of therapy.  Body psychotherapists use their bodies in their work, so part of my preparation has been to be sure I do my bioenergetic exercises, to be aware of my sleep and nutrition, to work through any internal logjams that may get in my way.

And now, today, I am feeling that lovely anticipatory excitement that comes up when you are heading off for an experience that is new and also likely to be challenging and deepening and supportive and connecting.   The closest comparison I can get is that feeling I had when I was maybe eight years old of expecting Santa to come and bring presents on Christmas Eve.  There was an element of surprise but also the expectation was that things would be pretty good.

I am looking forward to seeing what gifts the next week brings.  Gifts are not always in bright packages:  in fact, the gifts of the retreat often arrive in the form of difficult feelings, ones we prefer to avoid.  I guess maybe the gifts come when people are offered a time and space to be themselves, bring their struggles, challenges, and their joys, express whatever their bodies need to express, and then see what happens.   Part of my anticipation is that I don’t know what will come up;  part of my joy is that I do know that things will happen, people will have opening experiences, and we will become a community.

I wish you all the gifts that freedom of expression can bring.

 

Morning lupins
Morning lupins

logoblu

 

What’s wrong with positive thinking?

Positive thinking is fine.  There is nothing inherently bad about it.   Usually when people refer to thinking positively, they are actually experiencing unpleasant thoughts….thoughts that might create imaginary catastrophes, thoughts of criticism or judgment, or just overt pessimism.   Those thoughts generally don’t lead to better outcomes, so people want to change them.  And that’s okay.

mountain-aven

If all it took to recover from traumatic stress was positive thinking, we’d probably all be just fine.  And therapists like me might have a lot less to do at work.

There is a lot that happens in our thinking.  And there is also a lot that happens in our minds apart from our conscious, word-based thoughts.   That’s where the over-simplification of “positive thinking” starts to fall apart.

What else is in there?   If you sit, quieting your body and breathing and just noticing your mental activity for a period of time, you’ll become aware of the constant overlapping parade of ideas, words, memories, anticipations, and images that are flowing through your conscious mind.   Then you might be able to start to notice the spaces:   can you find space between the discrete items in that steady parade?  Then, over time and practice, you might notice specific types of items in your continuous mental flow, or you might focus on paying more attention to the empty space, allowing stillness to come into your mind as well as in your body.

This practice helps us to become more acquainted with the contents of our minds, and helps us to access some things that we may have been avoiding or simply not noticing in the chaos of the untrained mind.

The danger of “positive thinking” is that we might use it to avoid looking deeply into ourselves, to pack away uncomfortable feelings and memories, to try to keep ourselves from feeling sad, for example, or angry or afraid.   While there is certainly some short-term utility to that approach, in the longer term we end up cutting off parts of ourselves.

Wow, that sounds brutal!  But what might it actually look and feel like, to have cut off parts of yourself?   Well, one example might be that you have very poor memory for parts of your life.    Or you may only experience a very restricted range of feelings:  you feel happy, sad, angry or afraid, but only a little bit and you wonder what all the fuss is about, when other people seem to experience their feelings more powerfully.  Or you just feel slightly anxious much of the time, with no apparent reason.  Perhaps you everything in your life looks just fine from the outside, but you feel like something is missing….but it is embarrassing to say that because your life is “just fine.”   These are all possible indications that you are out of contact with parts of yourself.

sunrise over the st john

Looking deeply into ourselves, staying with the thoughts, feelings, and body sensations that arise, can be an act of great courage.   Really experiencing our experiences, whether we label them “good” or “bad,”  “positive” or “negative,” or (my preferred label) “pleasant” or “unpleasant,” allows us to find the hidden parts and embrace them.  

Positive thinking isn’t bad, especially if you are trying to change a pattern of catastrophizing, what iffing, or shoulds.    Using it to numb us to our uncomfortable thoughts and feelings can keep us stuck in our old patterns, though.  Be aware of what you most want to avoid…there is usually something of value there!

Happy Spring!

 

Body pain, emotional pain: why I don’t work out at the gym

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Working out challenges me. I am challenged physically, of course, and also in terms of my attitude and thoughts, so I guess I could say that I am cognitively challenged, too. I have to stay positive, to avoid over-thinking and to just DO IT.

But what I have found out about working out at home, is that the sensations in my body allow to me access other kinds of emotional responses than I thought likely…or even possible. I suppose if I had not been a client of bioenergetic therapy for more than ten years, I would perhaps not feel free to allow the behavioural expression of my experience. But I do, and I am amazed and full of wonder at what is going on.

Specifically, when I work through some of the deepest and most chronic of my body tensions, it hurts. It hurts a lot, but I am okay there, knowing that what hurts is my own tension. I am not injuring myself but pressing extraordinarily tight tissues against gentle resistance, such as the foam roller, or opening my hip outward using a strap to support my leg. What happens is this: I wait with the sensation, sink into the intensity, try to allow relaxation to happen around the exquisite pain of the place where my resistance meets the roller (for example). And I am moved to sobbing, deep, deep sobbing, tears and wailing. It feels pulled out of me, from my deepest self, like part of me is tearing apart. Rolling my thoracic spine over the roller has a piquancy that is like nothing else, but as the roller descends toward my lower ribs, to the area of my diaphragm, the intensity increases. It is painful, genuinely painful, but I know it is not the pain of injury. It is the pain of my chronic tensions, chronic defenses against living my own life, resisting the pressure to soften, to release, to let go, to allow, to surrender.

So I do let go; I let go into the sobbing and wailing and that contributes to some softening and relaxing. I can’t stay for long; the sensations are too intense, my reactions are big, and I can only hold that space for a few moments.   There it is:  my body letting go another tiny bit, releasing ancient tensions through sobbing and vibration.  I don’t have any stories to tell myself about WHY I am crying, don’t have any need to locate a reason in my everyday world.  It just happens.  Then it is over.  And then I can step away, take a deep breath, and rest in the experience of a new and different body, a calmer and more alive self than just a few moments before.  The ground feels more secure, the world looks brighter, and I am intensely present to myself.