Therapist Notes: movement as a therapy tool

Why and how to use movement in a therapy session

There are jokes about the therapy couch, but people expect to sit and talk during therapy. As I’ve said before, talking as the only healing path is limiting. Somatic therapists have other tools. Movement is an important one.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Movement facilitates the process of therapy. Muscular and joint activation increase access to memories and feelings through a process we call embodiment. Rather than intellectualizing experiences, we (somatic therapists) seek to embody them. Body psychotherapists use movement intentionally.

We support people to be present in their real life, not just a cognitive stew of memories or future fantasies. Remembering and imagining are important but they can be escapes from real life. Some people are so caught up in memories and what “should” have happened they miss what is happening now. Others are frantically trying to manage and control a future that hasn’t even happened yet, or are daydreaming possibilities that require groundwork in the present. Getting people present is a good start to a therapeutic session. Being present in your body is being embodied.

Embodiment is experiencing your body as it is right now, full of sensations, feelings, thoughts. Embodying your feelings means to feel them (not just think about them). Movement supports the process of embodiment, particularly for people who spend a lot of time in thinking, worrying, imagining or fantasizing.

Movement includes any motility of the body, including the flow of energy. Volitional movements help us in therapy. These include finger clenching, blinking, head shaking, jumping up and down, kicking, and punching a pillow. Different movement serve different functions. Below are some ways that movement helps us land in the here-and-now physical self.

Photo by Diego Rosa on Unsplash

Five functions that support becoming “embodied.”

Mobilizing or increasing energy in the body. Low-energy clients, whether due to fatigue, depression, or character, benefit from energizing the body. Movement literally requires energy, and it also creates the experience of energy moving through the body.

Increasing body awareness. In bioenergetic therapy, asking people to move spontaneously increases their awareness of the somatic experience. In part, this is because the movement of energy in the body generates sensations.

Reducing chronic muscular tensions and connective tissue contractions. Movement softens tight muscles in the upper back and neck, as well as the rigidly held shoulders. Softening allows energy — and therefore, feeling — to flow through those parts. Bioenergetic therapist and massage therapist Lucy Belter reminds me regularly, “Motion is lotion.” Loosening chronic constriction requires movement. Helping people to move their constricted parts also helps restore sensation and feeling in those areas.

Embodiment of emotional experience. Movement mobilizes energy, which creates sensations. Sensations are the building blocks of feeling. Movement can generate the flow of emotion very quickly. At other times, it can be a gradual building of somatic experience.

Healing and expanding relational capacities. Expressive movement with another person can be reparative. It offers a different way of being with one’s feelings, while relating to another person who is connected and present. We can translate this experience into opportunities for changing

relationships in the larger world. It helps an individual explore and develop new ways of relating to other people.

Movement expands the ability to feel and express feelings. It also provides a route for expression that people might not choose on their own. In therapy, we can invite people to use movement to process and express what they are feeling, and doing so makes it more likely that movement will become part of the person’s home toolkit.

Embodying feelings allows the person to experience and express their emotions to process and integrate them. The goal is for the person to experience their feelings, contain them without constricting or shutting down, express them appropriately, and have access to increased vitality, spontaneity, and clarity.

How do we do movement with clients?

First, we notice the client’s spontaneous movements. We can mirror them, invite the client to pay attention to them, ask them to exaggerate them, and check in on what that is like for the person.

You can ask a person to imagine what it would be like to move in a particular way. “How would it be right now to give that pillow a shake?”

If they find that interesting, invite the action. “Why not give it a try? See how it feels.”

Use your voice, eyes, and words to encourage. “Yeah! Shake that pillow.” Model narrowing your eyes and sticking out your jaw. “Give it to ‘em.”

When the client has moved, take a moment together to breathe and see what they experienced. “What was that like for you?”

Perhaps that will be enough, or maybe the person will do a little more. In any case, try out a little movement, especially if it is expressive movement like shaking a pillow, and then check in. Help the person find their inner safety. Notice breathing, grounding and connection to you. Allow for plenty of time to let feelings emerge and surface. Try not to rush to the next thing.

When we work with movement in session, we integrate it into the rest of the material. Usually, the movement will bring thoughts and feelings to the surface. These can be explored with more movement or with talking. Mostly we’re helping the client to be safe while becoming more aware of her own body experiences, so that she’ll be more free to feel when she’s not in therapy.

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

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

Embodied experience….or did I really fall off that cliff?

What’s that experience right before falling asleep? You know, the one where you are just starting to drop off and suddenly awaken with a jerk, feeling like you were falling through space? Yeah, that one.

What’s that experience right before falling asleep?  You know, the one where you are just starting to drop off and suddenly awaken with a jerk, feeling like you were falling through space?  Yeah, that one.

What do you make of that?   2014-08-13 12.23.56Being a scientific sort, I see the whole experience as some simple physiological reaction to the shift between waking and sleeping. But also being a wondering, curious sort, I can also imagine that I am falling between two worlds, really experiencing the liminal in a completely embodied way.  And that’s a much richer, more interesting, more human way to be with my own experience.

I have been thinking a lot about that word, embodied.   In a kind of cold, rational sense, everything we do and everything we are is, in fact, embodied….we ARE our bodies and that’s pretty much that.  But we live a lot in our minds, or perhaps another way to say that is we are often lost in memory or in future planning and often quite willing to experience our body sensations, feelings, and emotions in the most trivial or superficial of ways.  Sort of like when I want to scoff at my hypnagogic moment as a simple physiological phenomenon.

What makes us human beings is our capacity to make meaning out of our experiences.   And when we give that up, for example, if I don’t notice that my chest is tight and my heart beating a bit faster and my breathing becoming more shallow and my toes are curling up, then I give up seeing what meaning an event has for me.   The fact is, events HAVE meaning for us, whether we choose to acknowledge that or not.   We MAKE meaning out of events and when we refused to notice the effect that meaning is having on our bodies, we miss out on a whole range of human experience.

Body psychotherapy helps us to tune in to what the body is experiencing so we can connect to the meanings we are making in our lives.   

In trauma, our bodies know the meaning that we have made of traumatic events even when our minds have shut those events out.  Our bodies re-enact the events, over and over, telling us the stories of  terror and struggle.  We ignore them, trying to overrule from the top down, telling ourselves a different story.   But the body isn’t convinced by words.  The body needs more than platitudes and positive thinking.  It needs to have us acknowledge the meaning that the original event had for us.   That original meaning could be distorted and unrealistic; it could be completely out of whack with the facts.   Particularly when the trauma comes from childhood, the story of necessity has a child’s eye perspective.   But simply switching perspective isn’t usually enough to make lasting change.  The embodied story has to be heard.  The memories have to be unearthed and opened up to fresh air and the stories heard with the compassion and kind curiosity that allows full expression.   Once those meanings are opened up, they become free to change.  The actual work of trauma therapy is allowing the body to bring the meaning of the traumatic event into the room.  Then the body and nervous system can heal themselves.

Embodied experience: tuning into the experience of being alive from the point of view of oneself as an organism….as a human being in a human body.   How do you know when you are “in your body?”   How do you know when you are no longer in touch with those moment-to-moment experiences?  Can you notice the shifts that happen?   Doing grounding exercise can make a difference.  Try this now….take a moment to notice whatever is present to you right now.  Notice the screen, any noises from electronics, any light impinging on you, your body standing or sitting or lying down.  Then stand up and bring your clear attention to the way that your feet connect to the floor.   Bend and straighten your legs a few times, each time pushing your feet deeper into the floor.   Imagine roots going deep into the earth to support you.  Then stop and re-assess….do you experience your body differently?   How much are the external stimuli impinging on you? How aware are you of thoughts and sensations?  Have you moved more “into” your body?   Have you increased your momentary awareness of your body experience?   What meanings do you ascribe to the experience you have just provided for yourself?

Certainly when I am in my bed and feel like I have fallen off a cliff, I have not actually fallen off a cliff.  In fact, I have never fallen off a cliff, so I am not even experiencing a memory.  But I have made a meaning (“falling off a cliff”) for the sensations I experience, and so to me I have fallen off cliffs many times as I drift off to sleep.   The experience is in the body;  the meaning is also in the body.

 

 

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

 

coming home

Last week I was on Prince Edward Island on retreat.  This was the first of the new Bioenergetics Summer Retreat program, following up on the 24 year run that Rosalind McVicar and Bethany Doyle, certified bioenergetic therapists from the Maritimes, had created.  For me, it was quite a new experience, as I was there in the capacity of therapist rather than participant.

One part of the new programming included Valerie Anderson’s offering of Mindful Movements, drawn from the work of Thich Nhat Hanh.  Valerie is a psychologist from Newfoundland, currently living in Brampton, Ontario.    In addition to offering bioenergetics, she is skillful in helping people move into mindfulness.  One of her reminders was about breathing;   coming home to the breath.   We sat to cultivate mindful attention, and she reminded us to think about coming home to our own breath as it moves in the body.

I love that;  when I think about coming home (“home”) to my breath, my attention goes to my heart center,  my awareness of my body increases, and I almostImage instantly can feel my way into the experience of this moment.    As I geographically came home from PEI, and emotionally came home to my house, my family, my dog, I am aware of how my overall FEELING shifted and changed.   I can have that same experience within my own body as I attend to my breath….coming home to my breath.

Coming home isn’t about changing anything.  It isn’t about working or striving.  It is more about relaxing into an awareness of the familiar.   Oh, yes, this is my breath.  I know this.   I can sit with this and just let my awareness rest lightly on it.

If I can come home to my breath, then I can be at home anywhere.

Metaphor: a link between body and mind

Stories are the way that we make sense of our worlds, at least for most of us. We make sense of our day through narrative.  “Oh, today was a good day, because I got a parking place right away at work, and I had lunch with a good friend, and I was productive at work, and my favorite song was on the radio during the ride home.”   That might not sound like much of a story, but it is certainly a typical way for a person to make sense of experiences.  There is also judgment within the story, an indication of pleasure or displeasure about the way that the experience unfolded.   And that story can have a lot of power.   For example, a story about a “good day at work” can influence mood and social interactions for the whole evening, and maybe even predispose the storyteller to experience the next day in a positive way.

Of course it works in less obvious ways, as well.   We can tell ourselves stories about how we’ve been badly treated, about how the world dispenses injustice, or about the things we would like to do to act out on feelings we’re having.    We can tell ourselves stories about how we can do something or about how we cannot do something.   Stories help us to construct our sense of ourselves as well as our sense of the world around us.

Stories tell us who we are and explain the world to us.

When we hear stories, we often respond viscerally. That is, we have a feeling about the story we hear. There is a set of sensations in the body, responses that happen just as a result of hearing a story, reading a story, watching a movie or tv show. We don’t even need to be “into it” very much to have a response. In fact, distancing can be a response to a story.
The story you tell yourself helps to create the YOU that you are. You can choose the story, though. You are not stuck with the story you have already in place. Perhaps you could tell yourself a story about a person who was stuck in old patterns, who had few different ways to behave, who was not so spontaneous, who didn’t feel feelings very clearly. Perhaps this person was learning about other ways to be in the world, was starting to think about taking some risks to be different than before. Perhaps he or she was getting ready to become someone different. Below is an exercise using a metaphor around this kind of story.

Gold chrysalises

  • You can bring your body into this exercise, or just attend to your thinking and notice that your body comes along. For example, you might imagine that you are going through a change process, perhaps like the one that turns caterpillars into butterflies. You could imagine yourself all wrapped up tightly in a chrysalis, change happening but not yet visible to the outside world. If you want to, use your body to help your mind in this imagining.
    • Feel the tightness of the hard case around you; feel your own desire to break out and begin to move freely.
    • Notice how your face and head feel, how your back and legs and torso feel, while in this tight casing.
    • Notice your own awareness of the changes in your consciousness as you have been learning more about yourself.
    • Notice the parts of your body that particularly want to expand and open.
    • Then using your powers of mind, imagine the hard casing of the chrysalis easing open, gently splitting to reveal …. what? Now just let that opening happen and allow whatever is there to emerge, providing a welcome to whatever is present for you at this moment. Welcome the new sensations, images, feelings, ideas, with compassion. If they are not what you wanted, still welcome them with kindness, knowing that there is something there for you, even if it might not be what you decided in advance should be there.

Acceptance of what is allows things to change.

Many thanks to ” Erica Marshall of muddyboots.org ” for the insect photos, and to Brenda on Flickr for the books.   My apologies for using an old saw…the butterfly metaphor….but it works.

How do you see yourself reflected in the stories you tell yourself? What would it mean for you to know that you are not your stories? How might your life open up?

Chicken and egg take two

Which comes first, the thought or the feeling?  Do our thoughts actually create our feelings?  Or does a sensation in the body give rise to a thought, which would suggest that feelings come first?

One of the things I have learned in my studies is that when you have an apparent dichotomy, you can bring the level of analysis down to a finer view and the dichotomy will disappear.  Okay, that’s a fancy way of saying that most things look different when you take a different point of view.

So ages ago, psychologists theorized that a sensation in the body was just that, until the person gave it a label and then it became an emotion.  Much later, pioneers in the cognitive therapy movement suggested that what we THINK can dramatically affect how we feel;  specifically, we can generate a whole lot of personal distress by thinking distressing thoughts.  That doesn’t address the question of where those thoughts actually arise, though.  Lowen (check out the lowen foundation for his writings, and audio and video recordings….http://http://lowenfoundation.org/index.html) was ahead of his time, really, in pointing out that the neural activity of a thought likely arises from a sensation in the body.   Damasio offers a variety of clinical and scientific support for this…that the FEELING of what happens is what creates our thinking and our behaviour.

WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES ANY OF THIS MAKE?

Okay, I am getting there.   You know that I love the theoretical but the practical is infinitely more, well, useful.   What it means is that everyone has a piece of the truth.  In your own experience, you can point to times when thinking about something in an unhelpful way has made you feel worse than you were feeling before.  So that part is verifiable with experience.   And when you develop your body awareness so that sensations register on your consciousness, it becomes apparent that there are links between body sensations and at least some of the thoughts that seem to arise spontaneously.   Here’s a pretty crude example:   You start to notice an empty feeling in your belly, and then there are some noises from in there, and at the same time, you suddenly notice that someone in an office down the hall must have popped popcorn (that should be illegal unless they plan to share) and you have a thought…..Maybe I’ll go out for lunch.    It would be hard to argue that the internal sensations, the external stimulation and the thought were unrelated.

Try it…try to see what connections you can find between your thoughts and your body sensations.   Or just your thoughts and your feelings (emotions, or overall mood states).   Notice when your thinking is affecting your feeling state.  Notice what thoughts arise when you experience particular body states.   See if you can figure out which is chicken, and which is egg.

So tired…..

I’ve been sick this winter, actually, officially sick with a diagnosis and antibiotics and all of that.   While I am healing well, I am left with lower-than-usual energy and a sense that fatigue overtakes me quickly.

One of the mindfulness practices I learned while taking Dr. Bill Cook’s Body-Mind Awareness program back in 2009 was about attending to where in the body intention arises.   That sounded terribly foreign to me at first;  if I intend to get up from my chair, it seems to me that the intention arises in my thoughts.  But no, if I am careful, take time, and bring attention to my body with the question, I can actually sense into my body where and how that intention arises.

So with this fatigue, I have been using this practice to locate “tired” in my body.  This is probably easier than the intention to change position.  What I notice is this:   my mind will say something like, Oh, I feel tired….then I turn my attention to my body.  Where in my body do I sense this “tired?”  What is it like?   When have I felt something like this before?   What does it remind me of…and what else might be there, along with “tired?”

That last question is a good one.  What else is in there, in this felt sense that I have labelled, perhaps too quickly, as “tired?”  On Saturday, I took to the dog for his weekend walk along the river.  We plowed through shin-deep snow, watching the sun come up through snow clouds, and feeling the barely freezing temperature rise a bit and fall a bit, shifting the nature of the precipitation.  When I turned to walk back to the car, calling for the dog, I was suddenly aware of sensation in my calves, like melting butter, achingly draining to my heels….there it was!  That was my fatigue.   Internally, I named it and asked, what else is there?  As I breathed into my belly and let my attention rise from my legs to my abdomen and diaphragm and chest, I realized that there was more there.   I felt a sensation that I labelled tears;  tension that I wanted to discharge in my core, tension in my pelvis that hard sobbing would release.  So there was more than tired;  there was a deep tension of holding back sadness, right there.

Tired happens when you have been sick.  Tired also happens when things feel like just too much, and when you need to cry and you don’t give yourself the space to really experience those feelings.  Having to “hold in” and “hold on” to yourself to keep those tears in check is a really exhausting way to live.

When you feel tired, where in your body do you notice it?  What else is in there?

It doesn’t take much for me to feel wiped out these days.  But how do I know that I am tired?