Mind-Body Connection

I call my newsletter Mind-Body Connection, because I find that both Focusing and Yoga can be transformative in sensing into the connections that are there between mind and body, and we often don’t see or dismiss.

When we first learn Yoga, it can take a while to move from our need to ‘get it right’, and find out how to make our bodies form a triangle or an eagle, say.  Apart from not injuring yourself, it doesn’t matter too much – Yoga can be adapted so that it benefits all people, no matter their age, flexibility, strength, or any other restriction you might think of.  It’s for everyone

Our teachers help us find the best way to gain the most benefit from our Yoga postures.  And as we move through that, we begin to feel the benefits of our practice.  We discover how Hatha Yoga can energise us, calm us, relax us, soften tense areas, bring awareness to forgotten parts of our bodies, and sometimes can heal us – all of which work on the mind as well.

Focusing works in a different (and complementary) way.  You may be familiar with meditation (and Mindfulness is one form of meditation), where we pay close attention to what we are doing in this moment, or our thoughts as they come in and out of our minds.  Meditation is excellent at this, and helps many people (including me). 

Focusing goes further. 

Focusing is a very respectful Mind-Body awareness that helps us access the connections between mind and body.  And by doing this it helps us release old patterns which can keep us stuck and unable to move forwards in some areas of our lives.  Even very difficult emotions can be transformed and you can see them as opportunities for growth.

And Focusing can be a joyous and sometimes spiritual experience.

Focusing has been well studied, and if you’re looking for evidence of its benefits, there is much to read here.

And you don’t need to visit a therapist to learn Focusing.  Focusing is taught by therapists, and also by many Focusing Practitioners who are not therapists. 

Once you’ve learned Focusing, you can choose whether to continue Focusing with your practitioner, and you can also Focus with a Focusing partner in a peer relationship, or by yourself.  So it’s a skill that’s with you for the rest of your life, and doesn’t take long to learn. 

Contact me here to find out more, have some one-to-one Focusing, or join a workshop.

Click here to sign up for my occasional newsletters – The Mind-Body Connection (at the bottom of the page),

All procrastination is fear

This is a quotation from author Elizabeth Gilbert.  She goes on to say,

“Anything that you do that stops you from the work that is gnawing at you, the work that wants to be made through you, the creative project that is begging you to realise it, … anything you do that blocks that is fear.”

How do we move through this fear, this fear that affects us all at one time or another?  And how do we find out what is at the root of the fear?

It could be about showing the artwork that you’ve been working on in your back bedroom.  Or it may be speaking aloud the poem you’ve written, finishing you short story, or making a speech.  Or painting your front door the colour that you love.  Taking a trip to a place you’ve always wanted to visit.

Or any other creative endeavour that makes your heart sing, but for some reason that you can’t quite work out, you don’t go on with, or even start.

For me, I kept putting off learning how to make pots from clay.  I am always drawn to pottery – I love handling a handmade cup or bowl or vase.  And I wanted to learn, but I feared that I wouldn’t be good enough.  I would waste my money learning something that I would never be good at.

We can easily say to another – you won’t be good enough unless you learn.  But what if I learned and my work turns out to be terrible?

Focusing is such a helpful way to help us here.  Of course many people go on to fight their fears and get through the procrastination without Focusing.  But Focusing can help us work out why there is this problem, why we don’t do what a big part of us wants to do.  It may be fear of failure, and it may be something else entirely.  

And through Focusing we can get to the root of it, so that we can make a start, and it doesn’t sabotage us another time.

And yes, I worked out why I resisted learning pottery.  I may not be a Lucy Rie, but I do love the process of making a cup or a plate that I can use.  There is a lot to learn, and although I sometimes get frustrated at my slow progress, I am procrastinating no longer – I’ve lost that particular fear.

Do you find yourself wobbling in the balances?

That’s actually good.  Our bodies are not static.  All of the time we are moving – even in sleep our hearts continue to move blood around our bodies; our lungs continue to inhale the air from which we extract oxygen. 

Oak tree - Carolann Samuels

Oak tree – Carolann Samuels

When we balance on one leg as in, for example, Tree Pose (Vrksasana), Dancer King Pose (Natarajasana), Eagle Pose (Garudasana), we expect our bodies to hold us there.  For some of us that can pose problems – maybe every time, or maybe just sometimes.  I would urge you not to let that discourage you from practising balances. 

If you find you wobble, then practise close to a wall or something else that you can easily, and lightly touch.  You may find that just the proximity of the support is enough for you to feel more stable, and generates enough confidence in you to relax a little more into the balance.

If this doesn’t happen, then still practise and take the support that is there. 

Photo by Carolann Samuels

Rest your hand or your back lightly on the support, maintaining the alignment of the body.  And ask yourself,

  • What is it in me that doesn’t want to balance today? 
  • What is it in me that needs more support today?

Then listen for the responses.  Don’t be alarmed if the responses that come from within you make you wobble more, just try again, and keep listening to what’s going on inside for you, in this moment. 

And if there’s no wobble, you can ask yourself,

What is it in me that loves to balance today?

And using support or not:

  • Feel the floor underneath your foot. 
  • Allow your body to take that support, and feel it moving upwards throughout your body.
  • Notice the alignment of your body – are you leaning to one side, slightly forwards or back?
  • What about the hip girdle – is it aligned just as if both feet were on the floor? 
  • Check that there is no twist in the knee joint.
  • How does the spine feel?
  • How can I feel most alive in this posture, really present in this moment?

You may have heard the advice to focus your gaze on something that is not moving – other students wobbling in the class can be a distraction.  And it’s good advice.  However, bring your awareness to your gaze and check that your gaze is not fixed and hard.  Aim to keep a lightness there, as well as in the posture. 

 

Neither the tree, the dancer, nor the eagle maintain their balances by any hardness. Flexibility, awareness to what’s going on all around and responding to it, all improve the balance that they keep.

And the wobbling, whether or not you use support, is beneficial. 

It helps to bring awareness to the feet and legs, the alignment of the whole body and the breath.

All the movements strengthen the muscles holding you there. 

Bearing weight on one leg helps to strengthen bones and guard against osteoporosis.

 

What do you find works for you in your balance postures?  Tell me here.

 

 

News from the British Focusing Association

I am very happy to tell you that the latest edition of the British Focusing Association (BFA) newsletter is now available to read on its website here.

There is something for everyone, and this contents list may give you an inkling of just a few of the ways that Focusing is used.

  • Congratulations Gene Gendlin on Your 90th Birthday 
  • ‘The Shift’—a poem by Helen Evans 
  • Listening—a Precious Gift by Karen Liebenguth 
  • We Need to Listen Fully 
  • Becoming a Better Focusing Partner through Community by Marilyn Harding 
  • Focusing and Touch—an Experiential Review by Gordon Adam
  • To Touch or Not to Touch—Focusing, Healing and Touch by Pamela Carr 
  • Focusing and the Enneagram by Chris Wilson 
  • Focusing and Photography by Manjudeva 
  • Introducing Focusing to Women who have Experienced Prison or Immigration Detention by Suzi Mackenzie & Alex Brew
  • Practitioner Profile—Rob Matthews
  • Letters to the Editors 
  • Workshops, Events, Groups Listing 

Read the newsletter in full hereand sign up for future editions here.

How do you feel when you are standing?

Blue Mountains – Carolann Samuels

Tadasana

Tadasana is the Sanskrit word for Mountain Pose. It is one of the most important poses we practise in Yoga, for it is one which we use most often in our everyday lives. And all we have to do is stand.

When you are ‘just standing’, how do you feel?

Do you tend to lean on one side? Maybe you slouch a little, or stand up tall and quite stiff? Does your back ache? How are your shoulders?
In which direction are your feet pointing?  is your face relaxed?  And how are your hands?

When we stand with awareness, we can notice all of this, and more.

We keep balanced with ease.
Movement is minimal – just enough to keep us standing here without effort, remembering that even mountains move a little.
Standing up tall in a conscious way may be new for us. It may feel awkward, as though we’re not straight. It might be helpful to ask someone if we lean to one side, or stick out our abdomens.
Then when we know how to be tall and straight, we can practise at any time: in a queue, when brushing teeth, speaking with a friend; looking at a picture. And someone looking at you wouldn’t say, she’s making an effort to stand tall, they would say, that person is standing comfortably, at ease with herself.

As we become aware, we begin to make more connections – between the authentic self and the physical self.

Where do I stand on important issues?

Do I stand up for myself, or for someone else?

We look ahead – facing what is ahead of us.

We are not running somewhere.

We look without and within.

We take stock; observe; feel; see.

Where am I?

Where do I want to be?

Where do I want to go?

What do I want to do about myself?

Are there obstacles?

What about the strength of a mountain?

Avalanches and rockslides sometimes happen on mountains.

If we spend all our time in our heads, not only do we have to deal with all the messy thoughts spinning around, but we also find ways of seeking solutions to all our problems and navigating our lives through only one vehicle: the mind.

The mind is not meant for all that work.

The mind can only work with what is in the mind, so creative solutions must come from outside the mind.

We experience shifts in perception through our skin, inside us – in our throat, our stomach, solar plexus, maybe. We feel a new awareness, and then we can store it in our minds for future reference. It doesn’t work the other way round – we can’t think before we feel it.

Standing in our own body helps open the throat for the opportunity to speak with our own voice. It also helps to move us out of our thinking centre and into a place of feeling and sensation. It’s the place of feeling that we are present. Thoughts keep us in the past or future.

Only when we are truly present can we know who we are.

And as we pay attention to our bodily experience, we find we can tap into the wisdom of the body, and the whole complexity of how we are, in this moment.

Yoga and Focusing each work very well to help us in gaining this awareness.  Put them together and the whole effect is so much more powerful.  If you would like to know more, contact me here.

(With acknowledgements and thanks to Swami Sivananda Radha and Laraine Herring for their writings on Tadasana)

Where are you?

Volcano and a puff of cloud – Carolann Samuels

For many years my creativity remained hidden.  It peeped out now and again, but ever so shyly, and retreated if anyone even looked at it the wrong way (whatever the wrong way is – I didn’t know).  I hid myself behind computers, numbers, duties.  I could become creative within these confines I imposed upon myself, but I didn’t trust it, nor did I pursue it.

 

I admired the creativity of others, but didn’t think that could ever apply to me.  

 

Who was I to think I might ever draw, paint, make pots, write, …?

Then I found Focusing.  I didn’t realise it at the time, but a door was opened.  Something in me knew that I could find some room for these practices that previously felt so alien to me.  And I didn’t notice it happening – not until I found myself in art shops, signing up for courses, and actually practising at home.  

 

I love the subtle way this happened.

 

I have written about this is other blogs, so you can see what a big deal it has been (and is) for me.

 

I also have a sense that many creative people already are Focusing.  

 

This may be because they have learned Focusing one way or another or it might be instinctive. You only have to read some of our great poets to see how they pay attention to what is going on inside them.  One example is this poem of Robert Browning: “Truth is within Ourselves”.  

And I have recently come upon another example.  Orna Ross teaches the principles, practices and process of creativism, conscious creation and creative living through her Go Creative! books and blog and the weekly Go Creative Show.  Here is one of her poems, which I think describes her creative process, especially when she says, “just be quiet. Unmask, that is all, and she will offer herself, unasked and unasking. No demands from her, ever, to know: where are you?

 

Where are you?

Where are you? The splendour of creation awaits.
Beauty veiled, she dallies, playing with the wings
of birds passing, swaying her hips with the wind,
wanting to dance, to bring you music from planets
and clouds. Call her by right name, hear her answer.
Male or female, she is yours. She lingers, singing
and playing, holding out a braceletted hand, all tinkle
and glint. She wants to roll ecstasy over and under
your skin, swirl bubblings into your blood, breathe
you away through the waves of the ages. You can stay
where you are (where are you?) and just listen. No,
don’t even listen, just be quiet. Unmask, that is all,
and she will offer herself, unasked and unasking. No
demands from her, ever, to know: where are you?
Orna Ross

 

If you would like to find out how Focusing can help with your creativity, contact me.

Most people don’t know this.

Ancient rocks – Carolann Samuels

What is split off, not felt, remains the same. When it is felt, it changes.

Most people don’t know this.

They think that by not permitting the feeling of their negative ways, they make themselves good.

On the contrary, that keeps these negatives static, the same from year to year.

A few moments of feeling it in your body allows it to change.

If there is in you something bad or sick or unsound, let it inwardly be, and breathe.

That’s the only way it can evolve and change into the form it needs. (Eugene Gendlin)

 

Find out more about how Focusing can help this change – at the bottom of this page.

Are you in the Driving Seat of Your Life?

Are you in the driving seat? Carolann Samuels

Are you in the driving seat? Carolann Samuels

Mmm. Sometimes I feel I am and sometimes not.

I can say with certainty that the balance is now tipped more on to the ‘Yes I am’ side than the ‘out of control’ side. Of course there are still times when I feel all at sea: life continues to test all of us. But I have learned that I am more easily able to ride the storms now. And yes, it’s Focusing that has helped me so much.  And how has that come about?

 

When I first learned about Focusing, it was more about curiosity.

 

What is it about this method of paying attention to what’s going on inside us, that people say is so helpful?

It took me a little while to understand what Eugene Gendlin was saying in his book ‘Focusing’. His method of ‘clearing a space’ at the beginning of a Focusing session didn’t work very well for me at that time. And even though I wrote down the sequence of instructions so that I didn’t have to keep flicking the pages of the book, I just didn’t ‘get it’.

So I sought a teacher, and came across the very talented Kay Hoffmann. With her I found myself in a Focusing experience that very first time.

Later I did find Gendlin’s method useful for me some of the time – depending on how I was feeling at that moment. Of course the rest of his book is wonderful, instructive and inspiring.

 

Having experienced Focusing, I couldn’t get enough of it.

 

I embarked on training with Kay and finding out all the ways in which Focusing can benefit people – all people.

In those early days of learning Focusing, I found that it helped me to get more in touch with my own creativity. I found myself, almost accidentally, writing more. I embarked on a course in ceramics.  

I even picked up a paintbrush, which I hadn’t for decades. I had no confidence in any of these, and in a way, I felt shy about trying them. I was even slightly furtive when buying the equipment, in case I met someone I knew in the shop and they might question me.

I’m almost embarrassed to admit this in such a public place, but I would like you, my reader, to get a glimpse of just what a change was happening, oh so subtly, in my life.

 

The results of Focusing can sometimes happen immediately, and sometimes they trickle quietly into our lives, almost unnoticeably, until one day we realise the subtlety, or even the enormity, of what’s occurred.

 

So the creativity side was definitely one of these trickles. And there are others too.

Later, I made a big lifestyle decision which I found very difficult to justify to anyone else. Something in me knew that it was the right thing to do. I spent quite a few Focusing sessions testing it out with the part of me that confirmed this ‘rightness’, and the parts that were worried for me. Each time my body affirmed very definitely that yes, this was the right path.

And so that’s what I did then. And now there’s another change as I let go of something that has been very rich in my life for a number of years. There’s fear; there’s apprehension; there’s sadness there too. I can acknowledge and respect all of these, and I can feel very open to the new doors that are just beginning to show themselves.

I cannot be certain whether without the reassurance of Focusing I would have made these decisions or not. What I can be sure about is that Focusing enables me to feel much more confident about changes, and being open to the new that will come – whatever it is.

yoga platform

How can I feel more calm and relaxed throughout the day?

yoga platform

  • Do you come back from your Yoga or Meditation class feeling calm and relaxed?
  • Do you wish you could feel more like that every day?

Well you can. For most of us it takes a little while to practise, but it’s so worthwhile, why wouldn’t you?

The stillness we find at the end of the class isn’t just for the Yoga class, when we’re sitting quietly, maybe with candles lighting the corners of the room, with the temperature just right.  I think we all want to take this stillness into the world when we leave the class. Soon after we’ve packed up our kit we might find ourselves negotiating weather and traffic, other people, even.

Can we take this energy of stillness with us?

Can we, in our daily lives, as we become involved with disagreements, arguments, joys and sorrows, can we come back to stillness then, without sitting on the floor with peaceful music playing in the background? Or do we need to go back to join the race of the rat?

Do we need to be right? Do we need to persuade ourselves to become better – better at our jobs, better at parenting, better at being a friend, a better person?

Toni Packer calls this the “smog of our daily lives” that we not only suffer from, but also become attached to – it’s our existence after all.

I suggest that the more often we come back to quietness, in the midst of whatever is our daily life, the more we can get a glimmer of how we are acting when we’re in the smog.

We can catch ourselves, observe ourselves, remind ourselves that there is another way. We can change how we think.

We might find that we begin to notice those times when we speak harshly to a colleague, or are angry with another road user, or find our child irritating. Maybe not soon enough to change anything just then, but the next time it happens a little voice might say to us:

Slow down, choose how to feel, choose how to respond.

As we sit quietly, we remind ourselves of what has happened, and think about our future responses.

Habits take time to acquire, and time to change.

We might think we can’t change the habits of a lifetime – whether our lifetime is twenty years or sixty years. I think we can. When you start a new job you have to get used to the way things happen in the new workplace. When you move to a new town, you get used to the layout of the town and that you might have to drive twenty miles to buy clothes, but food is now five minutes walk away. When you learn a new activity or hobby, you learn new ways of doing things.  

Kindness works best with all beings, especially with ourselves.

And the best person to start with is ourself. Being aware, that’s the answer; awareness is always available. As we watch ourselves how we act, how we respond; we can think of different ways of acting and responding.

When we go home from the class we quickly find ourselves caught up in our routines of yesterday. One way that works for me is to set myself a reminder.  You might too – something that will work for you. Think ahead to the next day and choose a time when you will have ten minutes to yourself, then set yourself a reminder in your diary, on your phone, maybe a sticky note on your desk or fridge.

For that ten minutes take yourself away from everything – you might find a park bench, or walk down the aisle of a shop, or sit in your car – somewhere you can bring yourself into the present moment. If it’s really difficult not to be interrupted, you might pretend to be reading a book, or on the phone to give yourself some privacy. Or you might choose your quiet time to be first thing in the morning before the rest of the family is awake.  

Then observe yourself and your thoughts. By the time you get to the place you’ve chosen you may have only five minutes, that’s enough. Be aware, if only for a moment. Then reset your reminder for the next day – maybe it will be the same time, or another.

And it you don’t have ten minutes, five will do.

Another little trick is to choose something that you do fairly often during the day. It could be waiting for the kettle to boil; or walking through a particular door; or waiting for traffic lights to change colour. It doesn’t matter, just choose something.  And if that doesn’t work choose something else. At first you might need tangible reminders, such as a note by the kettle. Then in those few moments while you are waiting, bring yourself to the present moment.

Ask yourself how you are feeling – here in your chest, or in your gut, or if your teeth are clenched. That’s all. Just notice and be aware.

And if you find that you haven’t done any of this for a whole day, or a week or more even, then don’t be cross with yourself, but be curious as to why you couldn’t find that space – and be kind.

Kindness is what matters.

There will be times when it doesn’t work – that’s the same for all of us.  But I have noticed that those people who practise more often, find more parts of each day where they feel calmer, and more able to cope with the turbulence of life.

And I have found that Focusing has enhanced my ability to observe how I respond to the difficulties of life.  It has brought me a new calmness and ability to cope when things get tough.

tangled tree roots

An Undervalued Human Gift

tangled tree roots

Helping someone to untangle their thoughts

The capacity to listen is the most persistently undervalued human gift.  Marcel Theroux.

When we have a conversation, one of us talks for a while, the other listens and then takes a turn at talking.  We don’t measure the length of time each of us has for talking. 

When we’re speaking we’re sometimes aware that our companion might not be fully listening.  We know this by their reactions, which might tell us either that they have not been fully listening, or that they haven’t understood. 

How do we respond to that? 

How does it make you feel when you’ve been talking and your companion hasn’t been listening? 

Or when they have interrupted you?

Or when they try to advise you, when you might not want advice. 

Or when they sneaked a look at their mobile.

 

Then when we are listening to someone else, how does it feel to really listen to them? 

  • Do we sometimes find out mind wandering? 
  • Wondering about something that might be happening later?
  • Something that our companion has said has reminded us of something that we want to say too.  And our minds switch off from them, and we’re thinking about how we’re going to say it.
  • How might we make our part of the conversation sound entertaining, emotive or sensational
  • When we’re listening to someone else do we try to analyse what they’re saying, interpret it, or judge it?

All this doesn’t mean that our everyday conversations are any the less valuable, enjoyable, fun, supportive or interesting.  It’s just that there is another way of Listening that we can use as well.  It looks similar, but it feels different.  And it’s something that anyone can learn. 

You may know people who are naturally good listeners, and you find that after a conversation with them that you come away feeling, perhaps, refreshed in some way.  You feel as though you have worked through a problem.  You see something in a different light.

 

In Focusing we learn to really Listen to our companion.  (I am using a capital letter to differentiate from everyday listening.)

  • We sometimes say back to them what they’ve said.
  • We don’t judge.
  • We don’t analyse.
  • We don’t say they’re doing well, or not doing it right.
  • We don’t even try to understand what they’re saying.
  • We Listen. 
  • We give the person this time entirely for them.
  • We stay with them while they pay attention to their inner world.
  • We give them our full attention for this time.
  • And that is all.

It is a great gift for someone to give us their time.  And as Marcel Theroux says, an underrated gift.

We can all improve our Listening skills – would you like to?

 

The next one-day Introduction to Focusing will be on 4th February 2017  in Canterbury.

Day 2 will be on 28th February.