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.

2015-06-25 16.59.47

All I ever wanted…

“All I ever wanted since I arrived here on Earth were the things that turned out to be within reach, the same things I needed as a baby — to go from cold to warm, lonely to held, the vessel to the giver, empty to full. You can change the world with a hot bath, if you sink into it from a place of knowing that you are worth profound care, even when you’re dirty and rattled. Who knew?”

This quote is from an article in the Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/14/eating-healthy-habits-how-to-satisfy-your-soul_n_1940936.html) that is an excerpt from Anne Lamott’s new book.

It sure made me think.  To go from cold to warm…from lonely to held….from empty to full.  All body states, all states of being in the body.   We think, and so because we think, we assume that thinking holds the answers or the keys to our well being or our sense of “okayness.”      Thinking is an important tool, for sure.  It is essential for solving problems, and for generating new creations.  But to FEEL okay is a body thing.

 

It is funny, or at least ironic, that we assume that we need to THINK about stuff in order to feel better.  We certainly know that our thinking can make us feel worse.    So we make the logical assumption that we need to think in order to feel better.  But what if that is a false assumption?

Maybe we just need to FEEL in order to feel better.  Maybe we need to get in touch with what our body is experiencing right here and right now.   If I can’t feel what’s going on in my body, then I am out of touch with the largest part of myself.   So when I can’t FEEL, I need to move some energy in my body so that sensation becomes available to consciousness.

Check in right now.  What are you aware of IN YOUR BODY?    If you aren’t feeling all that much, get up, swing your arms around, pick your knees up, one after the other, jog in place, or do a few old-faithful jumping jacks.  Move enough so that your breathing changes.   Then slow your motion until you find a place of stillness, and check in again.  What’s there for you?  Where are you on the cold-to-warm, lonely-to-held, empty-to-full continua?  What is your full experience right in this moment?

 

 

 

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.