Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Forms of Bodywork East and West

This picture demonstrates the state of our bodies nicely:

Yes, it seems that we are stopped, see the red color, when our bodies and postures are out of whack. When balanced we are in the green. Simplistic but true.

In my N=1 experiments on myself and my studies of all things health and psychotherapy,  I have both surveyed and practiced the popular and some obscure forms of body and movement work east and west.

I would say that the one form of bodywork that we all know about is yoga. Having scoffed at the more athletic forms, I have finally been won over by yoga stretching. There's something about doing some pose that stretches an entire chain of muscles, tendons, and ligaments running all up the body that makes you feel awesome afterwards.

I have also stumbled upon an obscure stretching technique  from Australia which combines yoga with athletic stretching...

Let me officially begin this post now by introducing the what and why of bodywork, then I will survey the main categories and types of approaches out there. My hope is that the few who may read this will find something that sticks in their mind to explore further. Us modern hominids need to get out of our heads and into our bodies somehow.

Hopefully that will soon be you!

Bodywork comes in many different forms and from many different traditions. From western psychotherapy, athletics, sports to the eastern religions and inner traditions.

Each tradition tends to have a very different goal in mind from the others and working with the breath is just about the only thing most of them have in common.

I'll begin by introducing the western approaches, simply because they tend to be much more obscure than the eastern practices:

The Feldenkrais Method and The Alexander Technique are two similar schools of bodywork that focus on what I call "wrong use of self." This means that our everyday movements and postures contain many tensions and movements that are not optimal towards our functioning.

Humans are born premature compared to other mammals and learn virtually every movement by modelling others. Thus, we don't always learn the best ways to go about everyday moving and doing and expressing. The structure of modern society also constricts the movements and postures we habitually take.

Then there are the more psychological approaches such as Reichian Therapy and Bioenergetics which are two classical bodywork schools that came out of psychoanalysis. I have practiced techniques from these often, but am not a fan of some of the regressive and cathartic emphasis they both carry. For example, one technique is acting out a temper tantrum until you can feel childhood frustrations and anger you were carrying around in your body.

Another great way of bodywork is the Gestalt Therapy emphasis on acting out whatever actions seem to want to surface. Unlike Reichian and Bioenergetic therapies, Gestalt Therapy doesn't usually rely on exact techniques. This is a problem I've found with much bodywork: there's an overemphasis on techniques over spontaneous expression.

A more modern approach which works with trauma draws heavily on Gestalt Therapy is Sensorimotor Psychotherapy which also draws heavily on the work of Peter Levine. There's been an awesome resurrgence of body oriented therapies due to the new wave of trauma work in therapy.
Another example is something called the Trauma Release Exercises. These are a neat set of simple exercises which steal much from Bioenergetics to induce these natural tremors which seem to release held tensions in the muscles and possibly release traumatic experiences without having to directly re-experience them.

Several other approaches are RolfingThe Rosen Method, and Hakomi.

One of the main differences between the eastern and western approaches is that the eastern approaches tend to work with so called subtle energies and such. The western methods also recognize our emotional history and traumas being stored in our bodily tissues and how working through those things lead to deep bodily and psychological changes.

So although the eastern methods are more widely known, they don't take our psychological experience into account as deeply as the western methods do.

Yoga is extremely popular but I doubt the average practitioner truly knows very much about it's true origins and intent. Yoga tends to come from the tantric or mystical and esoteric forms of Hinduism. The body poses and stretches are but one piece of these practices.

In my past in the martial arts, I practiced tai chi and qi gong. I have fond memories of going through these techniques by the side of a lake in a kempo-karate seminar.

On a practical level, I have found the eastern methods tend to help a practitioner to be able to move in sync with the breath and the deep stretching seems to cause an awesome relaxation response in the musculature. It's the feeling of having had a deep tissue massage.

I hope you can find an approach that works for you. Take a look at these links to find a body practitioner near you. Many of them currently combine methods and it's rare to find someone set only on one technique.

A Meditation Hack (Or just correct technique)

I love the old adage "learn the rules, follow the rules, break the rules," of which Bruce Lee loved to quote. Unfortunetly most of us spend an inordinate amount of time in the first two steps. To optimize learning and internalizing a path of health or a specific practice or skill, it is helpful to follow the three steps but quickly move to #3.

This would have saved me the good portion of a decade of my meditation practice if I would've known this earlier. As I described in an earlier post on meditation, despite years of diligent practice, I didn't get anywhere with it until I began to both experiment with every method I could find and learn to tweak the technique myself and follow my own N=1 experience.

I've been inspired to write this post because I have recently discovered what might be a short cut to effective meditation.

Having studied much about breathing and its link with the nervous system, I have come to find that the breath is one of the greatest ways to induce that subtle altered state of powerful meditation.

One of the main ways I do this is by beginning by seeking out anywhere in my body that isn't relaxed and one the out-breath I send out the intention to relax. Next I focus on the out-breath and let my body relax deeper and deeper and enter the focused state deeper and deeper each time.

Why the out-breath? Because the out-breath stimulates the relaxation response, or the parasympathetic nervous system. I have come to believe that one cannot directly battle their anxious and jumpy mind with intention, which equals more of a mental directive, which leads to more stress and tension due to the inevitable failure that ensues.

No, the quickest way I know of is to calm the body and nervous system while also taking the time to focus on something, such as the belly, or nostrils, or body in general and going deeper and deeper.

Now, onto what I've discovered:

  • When we focus our attention on the breath, we usually cannot separate our sense of control to the natural process of breathing.
  • We control our breathing (and thus whole body and nervous system/psychology) on the out-breath as much as the in breath.
  • Simply focusing on the breath, even for long-ass retreats doesn't always tend to lead to a giving up control over breathing. 
  • In a normally relaxed state it does not make sense to intentionally push the breath outwards with muscular effort.
  • When taught to let go of effort and control of the out-breath, there tends to be a sense of calm that ensues that even severely anxious people can attain quite easily.
This will all make sense when I describe the exact technique I've been practicing:

  • After relaxing into a meditation position and relaxing my bodily held tensions...
  • I begin to let my out-breaths happen until my whole core relaxes and all air is expelled, with the exception of what would take effort to expel...
  • I let go of any intention to continue the breath and let it pause until my body seems to want to automatically take an in-breath...
  • All the while focusing on my lower belly.
It is simply letting the out-breath occur fully and naturally without any conscious muscular effort to expel air, then to allow the normal and automatic process of taking an in-breath to occur. Thus, you are meditating on letting the body or the animal inside us breathe us. Not our minds or conscious egos.

I feel that this is what Zen meditation teachers are getting at when they say to just sit and/or count the breaths and breathe normally and you will eventually figure how to breathe correctly. It is being present, focused and surrendering to the autonomic process of breathing while simultaneously aware of the breath. 

This is no easy task as we normally unconsciously equate conscious observation of our bodily processes with somatic control. 

Let me end with saying that there is a time and place for this giving up control to breathing and doing specific breathing technniques that are intentional, such as pranayama or bioenergetic breath work. 

Try it and let me know what happens. Don't try it if you have any breathing problems or psychiatric problems that would conflict with this level of giving up mental control to the body. 

Here are some recommended readings:

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Free Association ain't Dead!

(Note, I wrote this for a defunct blog that I began last year aimed at a clinical audience so I apologize if it may be highly technical)

(Freud's Couch)

This title is meant to reference a famous magazine article (I think it was Time) that announced on the cover that Freud isn't dead. 
I remember a professor in my psychology undergrad who referenced the cover in a presentation about psychoanalysis. Now I am not a psychoanalyst but recently I have begun to see what of his theories have stood the test of time. First, is transference. Is it any wonder why transference and counter transference are widely taught in modern social work or counseling programs?
Next, there is the idea of ego defenses. They’re everywhere, albeit re-constructed on in many ways they have stood up to much empirical testing and exist to keep reality distorted and difficult affects at bay. For some reason I always think of Beck’s cognitive distortions when I think of ego defenses. I believe he was an analyst at one point.
Anyways, a quick look upon the EBSCO search engine revealed a surprising number of hits. Many from modern day psychoanalysts and many from other fields such as research. Why am I interested in free-association? Why do I think that it’s relevant?
What are we as clinicians doing in therapy? Why talk, listen to stories and so on? Why, because we are waiting for associated material to arise in relation to narratives that can be worked with. How is memory formed? By associations. What are the moments that cause vivid memories to be stored? 
Those moments during high sympathetic arousal. Pain and pleasure cause long term potentiation in the brain. Before Freud abandoned the trauma theory on neurosis he discovered disowned memories and affects would arise when the mind was taught to flow freely. Defenses would stop this flow and as worked through they would reveal more places of disowned experience and memories.
The analyst Ferenczi believed that the ability to free-associate in and of itself was a marker of termination of therapy (Free Association). What does this mean? When one’s experience can flow without having to be defended one is healthy. 
The world of psychoanalytic interpretation and over theorizing is hubris. I’m saying this harsh statement from an experiential humanistic standpoint. I do love many ideas in psychoanalysis but the over theorizing has always been a limitation to the field.
Perls and Jung were both influenced by early Freudian ideas but took free association in other directions. Perls taught a continuum of awareness where free association was moved to the realm of the body and behaviors (Naranjo). Jung taught his active imagination where the image generating aspects of the mind were cultivated freely. 
Then there was Karen Horney who wrote the first self-help psychoanalytic book (Horney). Her method is essential to let the mind flow when issues arise until the cause of the feeling or character pattern comes to light.
Some describe free association as exposing the cracks in the mind and how this leads to a deeper contact with energy-motivational systems leading to greater wholeness (Barratt 2013). This same author, himself a psychoanalyst makes a great argument for the use of the body in free association. In a way that seems common sense to me, free association has a relation to imagination (Lothane 2007). 
Even though Jung rejected the free association method (Hoffer 2001), his method of active imagination could be likened to a free associating or free flowing of the mind in relation to one’s subjectivity brilliantly represented by images. Even psychoanalysts with a foot in hard neuroscience (who’d ever thought) argue that free-association is a holistic mind-body method of bringing implicit memory to the fore (Klockars 2004). Barratt above also describes the method as radically opposed to Cartesian dualism. Lothane (2006) makes an argument that a therapist is much more effective if they are in touch with their own flow of associations in their mind and body in dyadic relationship. 
This reminds of a superb book called “Attachment in Psychotherapy” where Wallin (2007) writes at length about being in touch with somatic and cognitive associations in relation to the client’s process. At times the author’s examples of his associations are so spot on to what is unconscious in the client it is freaky. As if he has this 3rd eye that can see inside the other. I’m sure mirror neurons and other great things from the field of interpersonal neurobiology can explain these phenomenon easily.
A final interesting aspect of free associating that I have found in a surface researching of the topic, is that positive affect appears to relate to more global associations while negative moods and states cause more narrow and binary associations (Brunye et al. 2013). For example, a person in a negative state has the tendency to associate warm with cold, light with dark and so on. A person in a positive state may have an enhanced tendency to association warm with Summer breeze, or light with a feather. 
This brings to mind clients living in an inner world of dysphoria, generally depressed to feeling terrible from their struggles. Their world is much more constricted and defended. Their minds may lack the tendency to go towards narratives that bring out healing on their own and thus need guidance for this to occur. Sound plausible?
Personally, I am not a psychoanalyst, although I have studied much of it to see what gold can be milked from the field. So I am not very apt to sit behind a client while they lay on a couch and free associate while I interpret with a notepad divided in half. But I have found great benefit in assisting clients to free associate in “spurts” when stuck on an issue or when there’s a felt-sense (more on this later) they’re stuck with feeling. 
I say things such as “let your mind flow around it without censoring anything” or “just let whatever comes up be and tell me what’s happening.” Something like that. It can be difficult for more guarded, anxious-dismissing attachment styles to be able to let their mind-body system flow for the fear of dreaded vulnerability or emotion in general to arise. 
Then the other end of the spectrum: anxious-preoccupied or disorganized individuals may easily associate but may appear overwhelmed by any part of their narrative of associations that arise. I find deep breathing and mindfulness techniques to bring them out of their inner world helpful. I’m sure you have your own.
Overall, I find that anything that leads to a communication between body, mind and emotion facilitates the person as a self-righting process. It’s even fun to do on your own, you truly cannot predict what will arise.
Barratt, B. B. (2013). Free-associating with the bodymind. International Forum Of Psychoanalysis, 22(3), 161-175. doi:10.1080/0803706X.2012.729860
BrunyƩ, T. T., Gagnon, S. A., Paczynski, M., Shenhav, A., Mahoney, C. R., & Taylor, H. A. (2013). Happiness by association: Breadth of free association influences affective states. Cognition, 127(1), 93-98. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2012.11.015
Hoffer, A. (2001). Jung's analysis of Sabina Spielrein and his use of Freud's free association method. Journal Of Analytical Psychology, 46(1), 117.
Klockars, L. (2004). Linking mind, body and language: Free association revisited. The Scandinavian Psychoanalytic Review, 27(2), 105-112.
Lothane, Z. (2007). Imagination as reciprocal process and its role in the psychoanalytic situation. International Forum Of Psychoanalysis, 16(3), 152-163.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Allopathic Medicine and "Both and"

"What are you a doctor of?"

Said Doctor Who in one of the early seasons of the new show. And yes I love sci fi!

It would be nice if more professionals in the medical and psychiatric community would think this way. Unfortunately, the majority of health professionals know a lot in their little sphere of work but don't venture too far out into new and innovative territory.

All the while anything that is not medically mainstream is labelled as fringe, alternative, and the like. Even simple health choices and paths that have great empirical support are marginalized in favor the the biological disease model.

The main reason I chose a social work degree over any other path to the same end (counseling) is that I was drawn to their meta-theory of empirical holism, general systems theory and ecological theory.

This can be summed up by considering that every being is a being-in-context.

That we are always in relation to the systems that we interact with.

One of the main problems I see in modern health and psychiatry I see is not their specific treatments, it is the underlying philosophical assumptions that guide practitioners.

Somewhere in my graduate program I read a paper that opened my eyes deeply into the pitfalls of the standard biological disease model.

Consider this scenario:

General Zod is running amok, destroying the city.
The people of the city are helpless to stop him. Along comes Superman, an alien from another world with god-like superpowers. He attacks Zod and saves the city. Much of the time in a violent battle which destroys it further.

Such is the underlying philosophy of health. The body or brain is a sick and broken down machine. It requires a foreign and invasive treatment to be healed.

If you've studied ancestral health for any length of time you probably have heard that this paradigm works well for trauma, microbial diseases, and severe organ dysfunctions, but not well for the chronic diseases of modern civilization.

So, to me, it is not the specific treatments of modern medicine that bothers me, it's the underlying paradigm that it functions by. I see this as confusing a piece of the problem (even if it's a large piece) for the whole.

When a person criticizes modern medicine like this, there are always those who love to remind you that you cannot just forgo modern treatments to those "alternative" things because of how dangerous it would be.

This is another problem in standard thought. An old paradigm of either/or, this or that. Think politics. "I'm for this side and revile the other side."

That is not at all what I am getting at. This stale and obsolete either/or mentality has been questioned by some philosophers in favor of a Both/and philosophy, where a truly integrated system transcends and includes what came before it.

That might be difficult to wrap your mind around if you're not used to thinking in a systems based and integral fashion.

I propose not to wait until modern health and medicine gets there. We have the power to act to heal ourselves while still working with medical professionals and not denying their methods.

I believe that the majority of physicians do truly want to help people, I just see them anchored in a limited philosophy of health and healing. In the mean time, educate yourself and take action for your own bodily and mental health.

Holism can be just as empirical as allopathic health.


I have a few plans for this blog whether anyone reads it or not. I hope one person does but then again there are many blogs out there.

Firstly, I plan to do several future posts on Attachment Theory, especially as it relates to evolutionary theory.

I'm also about to make a series of posts about emotion and emotion theory, as it is so poorly understood and repressed by western culture. There are abundant juicy links between emotion theory and evolution.

I'm also highly interested in the relaxation response and it's potential for physical-mental healing. If anyone out there knows more about how stretching and yoga in particular creates a state of muscle relaxation on a physiological level, let me know. Something about stretching those tight hamstrings makes me feel like I just took an opiate!

I will soon back my posts up with more research as I love sifting through articles and such but my main computer is down and my passwords to JSTOR and EBSCO are on it and I'm left using my chromebook. Google scholar is not help and pubmed tends towards physical medicine.

I posted amazon links at the bottom of my page for the top self-help material that I recommend and have used liberally in my life. I only recommend self-help material that is based off of real research and sound psychological theories and therapies. I have little patience for that "10 Steps to Complete Happiness" fluff.

I'm working on improving the layout of this site, but I'm not too savvy with web development, I'm a bit behind things with the standard level of computer knowledge so bear with me, I have friends and family helping me out!

Let me leave you with this great body of work until next time:

The Relaxation Response

Monday, November 3, 2014

Those Things You Pick Up After Years of Meditating

There's something I haven't tried yet, meditating inside a gigantic bell! Totally taking a trip to Burma now.

Google how to meditate and you'll find hundreds of sites describing meditation 101. It's usually something along the lines of sitting up straight, following the breath or belly. Those methods are just fine for the average person and will get you started.

I have been meditating using different methods for over a decade and I have found that time and again, the basic descriptions of how to meditate always fell short of truly helping me to meditate effectively. I've spent hours and whole day long meditation retreats in my head.

Such is the power of our normal state of consciousness to sabotage any practice that would take us somewhere else.

I persevered through years of frustration, always keeping to my practice despite mediocre meditation sessions 9/10 times. I went through periods where I stopped meditating and stuck to my other practices such as bodywork and Focusing along with some Gestalt awareness techniques.

What kept me returning to meditating was finding a new angle, a new method of it and experimenting with it. Eventually I let go of the standard teachings on how to meditate and began to figure it out myself.

Through my endless tweaking and experiments I have figured out several things about meditating that are not usually taught or well emphasized, which made a universe of difference to me.

The first thing is that you must figure out what works for you: 

Everyone is different, we all have different minds, different emotional histories, different drives and motivations. Some of us may be drawn to more spiritual or religious forms of meditation while others keep it secular.

You'll eventually find an approach or tradition that clicks. Many of us including myself have forced ourselves into boxes, thinking that we have to meditate a certain way or follow a certain path. Let your felt sense of what works guide you. You'll know when/if meditation works and which approach that is.

Next, the body is essential in any form of meditation:

So many approaches and teachers emphasize stopping or wrestling with thoughts. If we can just let go of our thoughts and beliefs we'll be free, or enlightened or whatever goal is taught.

I disagree. Yes meditation gives us space away from habitual thinking until we are much less moved by the mind, it is just one degree of awareness. Beliefs go much much deeper than what can be verbally stated. I believe that beliefs are in the body just as much as the mind.

Furthermore, our mental/emotional history is just as much in the body as in the mind. Fritz Perls even stated in one of his books that the unconscious is stored in the body. Well, it's in both.

I found new levels of experience when I included the body sensation in my practice. If you think about it, all we truly know for an existential fact is our outward senses and perceptions and our inward sense of our body. It may take a lot of meditating for some people to understand this last point.

When you sit with the body, you are significantly more anchored in reality, which is all meditation is truly about. Then, what is repressed in the body can eventually come up to be processed.

Tweak it!

A meditation practice should be one in which you can never pin down. Every time you sit, is a growth of practice. You are always learning how to come to a deeper meditation session on a more and more consistent basis.

It took me 5-6 years to finally forget how I was supposed to meditate, begin from scratch and tweak my practice from the feedback I received from it.

That's what learning, is: making mistakes and tweaking behavior from there. Unfortunately, the modern education system does not let one make mistakes...

Find an Induction:

I don't meditate nearly as much as I used to. Maybe 20-30 minutes a day. So I need to be able to get into a meditation state quickly and consistently. What I have found is that some sort of small ritual or focus on intention can help a transition away from everyday consciousness to a focused state.

Someone with a more theistic bent may pray, others may take deep breaths, or chant, or do a few yoga stretches, light candles or incense, or anything else.

Meditation is about an altered state:

Having come from a Zen tradition originally, it was de-emphasized to me that meditating was about reaching an altered state. It was more about being in a sober state of awareness.

Because of this belief, I did not work to stop thinking or keep to a focused, deep state of consciousness. Most of the time, my attention was scattered and I would compulsively go into my head (which is my default place to be).

It has dawned on my recently that any practice of change creates an altered state of consciousness. An altered state is more than being in a deep hypnotic trance, LSD trip, or being drunk, they can be extremely subtle.

In therapy sessions, deep emotional work tends to create significantly altered states. Just guiding a person to listen inwardly to the felt sense in their body about the issue can lead to almost hypnotic like states. Once I led a client through a session on working with parts, or subpersonalities. When she opened her eyes out of it, it was like I was a hypnotist waking a client up out of a deep session. I didn't mean to induce any type of state and I am not a hypnotist!

I have heard it said that a person can meditate indefinitely and never come to the altered brain patterns that is required for meditating. They would essentially be in their head a normal but think that they are meditating because they're in the right posture and their eyes are closed and they're somewhat aware of the breath.

I have heard of people using biofeedback to assist meditators in learning what that (alpha, delta, theta?) correct brain pattern feels like. It's very easy for us to deceive ourselves.

Meditation DOES NOT cure all psychological ills:

When I began intensely meditating I experienced a seam of pain which seemed to go down my entire front, as if I was one of those cadavers who've just been through an autopsy in a crime show. It was a preconscious emotional pain that made me almost double over. But after some time it was gone.

Many things came up and were processed throughout the years, especially with my focus on the sensation of the body and emotions. But it is a grave fallacy to assume that meditation is the magic bullet for all psychological problems. Many gurus out there speak of being able to transcend one's psychological ego self.

I call this "the view from the top." It may seem in theory that with enough meditation, almost any psychological problem will eventually come up. But this is not the case in reality. There is much that can only be dealt with by working with another person. Many problems and issues also require a more active approach to overcome.

Many seekers who depend on meditation and spiritual methods in general to heal their psycho-emotive problems end up with it all further repressed and pushed to the unconscious. Much of the time the solution isn't to rise above a problem but go through it, or work through it.

Meditation is an essential element in healing and growth but it is not at all a magic bullet.

Learn to get into the meditative state by relaxing the body:

What I mean by this is that when you first sit, take a moment to sense the body and to consciously let every muscle relax except for those that keep you upright.

Throughout our day we subconsciously keep many muscles tense, such as the small muscles of the face and shoulders. When we can relax out of these habitual tensions, we can enter the right state much quicker.

I tend to breathe and on my long outbreaths, I let my body relax and sink while keeping myself straight. I also search around for tense places and bring the intention for that part of my body to relax. It really can work wonders.

Bring awareness to yourself and your perceptions throughout your day:

Meditation doesn't "take" if you focus on awareness only when sitting. There should be a practice of being aware of your present reality throughout your day.

Who are you around? What are you doing? What are you feeling? What are you thinking? What habits of character are you re-enacting?

Make the effort to observe yourself without trying to change your experience. It doesn't have to be every second of your day (I've made this mistake), just simply catch yourself and bring your awareness to the moment, both inside your body sensation and outward on your context.

I hope that you can take something from this. I'm always learning more subtle ways of meditating better. I attempt for every day but don't worry if I miss a day. A practice should be able to fit with your life and enhance it rather than being a chore. That's a big red flag when it becomes a chore.

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Art of Focusing for Greater Intuition and Body Connection

Do we really know who we are and what we want and need with our minds? 

What if our visceral, i.e. embodied felt-experience could tell us more about ourselves than another mental process could? 

Well a whole line of self-help and psychotherapy comes from just this idea. It is called Focusing, or Focusing-Oriented-Therapy. 

Back in the hey day of humanistic psychology and psychotherapy there was the infamous Carl Rogers:

who poineered the use of empathy (along side Winnicott and Kohut coming from the psychodynamic school) and the therapy relationship as well as a more emotion focus over mental insight to cause change.

One of his proteges, a Dr. Eugene Gendlin:

was working under Rogers in the 1960's. He was researching the essential elements that caused psychotherapy to be successful. What he discovered was that successful therapy could be predicted if a client could begin to slow their speech down and begin to talk from their direct, felt experience.

For example: imagine a client in a therapy session. They're discussing their issue that brought them to counseling, when they become aware of a feeling in the pit of their stomach. This person, naturally connected with their felt-experience would begin describing what this feeling in their stomach was about. They may say something like:

"This feeling in my stomach feels like a heavy-tense ball... like my problem with my husband is a heavy feeling hanging over me... it's like I want to to get angry at him but I just hold it in all the time... now I feel it relaxing a bit... now, it's like an energy... like I can feel my frustration towards him... yes, that's it, I don't have to just hold it in my stomach anymore. I feel like I can say XYZ to him now... I feel better, like I can breathe now."

I made this up, but it represents what I have seen in my clients and experience in myself hundreds of times. Notice how the client is in touch with the quality of her experience. She's not thinking about her experience but is reporting on it and describing it as it appears in the moment. 

It may be an abstract issue, but it is now on the level of how it is held in the body. When it is listened to and attended to, especially in the presence of a non-judgmental other, it tends to shift. This is called a "felt-shift."
The felt-shift is usually accompanied by a sense of feeling better, new truths and directions arising, new actions steps, a sense of space, that the person can breathe and so on.

This "felt-sense" is a sense of a whole of something in the body. I'm not sure where I heard this, but someone involved in neuroscience once said that there is more information coming from the body into the brain than the brain sending information into the body. 

The body literally holds countless bits of information about a subject or problem. 

Try this:

  • Take two different things or people. Such as your mother vs your father, or one season vs another season.
  • Take the first thing or person and get a sense of the whole of, or "all about" the first thing. Feel that amorphous sense in your body of your entire experience with it or him/her.
  • Now, get a sense of the whole or all about the second thing or person. 
  • Compare how each was different. Fall feels different from Spring, Your experience of your mother has a different quality than your father.
This is the "felt-sense" or what I like to call: the felt-dimension of experience. 

The felt sense is a sense of the whole of something. Is is usually implicit, or in the background. Like a background hum of things. When focused on and described using qualitative language, it tends to become a focused feeling in the body. Usually in the middle of the body.

As a client or Focusing practitioner takes time with the felt sense of something unfinished, like a problem or issue, it tends to shift and reveal meaning. And one's relationship with the problem shifts, even if the problem isn't solved. Hopefully this leads to new energy and a sense of what to do to change the problem.

This is one of the few psychotherapy techniques to be taught as a self-help technique. It has also been empirically studied since the 1960's, well before very much else in psychotherapy was empirically studied. 

From the genius from Dr. Fosha, an experiential psychotherapist and founder of a specific school of psychotherapy, I have learned to go beyond focusing for a shift, to focusing on the experience of change and feeling better. In a therapy, counseling, or coaching setting, this focusing on and reflecting on the change process itself, sets of waves of healing emotions which are like high octane fuel for rapid transformation. But more on positive emotion and this "meta-therapeutic processing" on another post. 

For now, I want to lay out a simple way to begin Focusing and to share some helpful links on the subject.

To get the general feel of Focusing, which becomes a way of life over a technique with time:

  • Take several minutes to slow down and deepen into the moment and what you are aware of.
  • Breathe deeply, meditate, feel the sense of the body and perceptions of the moment or anything else that slows you down and helps you become focused.
  • Ask yourself a question such as:
    • "Am I completely okay right now?"
    • "What's between me and feeling completely fine right now, or at peace right now?"
    • "What has been going on in my life?"
    • "Is there something coming up right now?"
  • Take a moment to feel the sense of the whole of it, or "the all" of it.
  • Begin to describe what it feels like and sense the middle of the body, from the face to the lower belly.
  • Continue describing what's there and notice how it might change and become embodied. 
  • Or sit with it patiently until it seems heard or felt so that it can have space to be. Sometimes just sitting with a felt-sense that doesn't seem to shift causes a shift to occur spontaneously at another time (this has been my experience)
This is just an intro. There are specific steps and the right language to use and so on from the main teachers of this method. The above it what works for me, but I have been practicing this for 6-7 years and have tinkered with it at length. 

I recommend learning this way of inner listening. It will change your life. Your true self is embodied, not an image in your head. There is vastly more knowledge in your body and emotions than in your thoughts and mental maps. 

Here are the main sites to learn Focusing from: