Learn Focusing in a small supportive group

bay of firesI am delighted to tell you that I have four Focusing workshops coming up in Canterbury, Kent.

Focusing Skills for Life will be at Canterbury Christchurch University on the following Saturdays:

Day 1 – 16th September 2017 and 6th January 2018

Day 2 – 21st October 2017 and 17th February 2017

Day 1 is suitable for anyone interested in Focusing, and

Day 2 is suitable for anyone who has had an introduction to Focusing.

Reserve your places here and here.

And for more information please contact me here.

Focusing Newsletter – July 2017

The latest Focusing Newsletter is now available to read on the British Focusing Association website and here.

Most people will find something of interest to read, so have a look.  The contents include:

  • In Remembrance of Gene Gendlin
  • If I Keep Nothing Between—a Tribute to Gene Gendlin
  • Untangling Parts of Ourselves
  • Children Focusing in the UK
  • Biospirituality: a Brief Overview
  • Your Body is Your Home: Poems on a Biospiritual Theme
  • Embodied Presence
  • My Biotope: Finding Your Optimal Inner Environmen
  • Focusing with Pain
  • BFA Summer Focusing Community Camp
  • UEA Counselling Course Closure
  • The Wisdom of Groundhog Day—a Book Review
  • Practitioner Profile—Carolann Samuels
  • Workshops, Events, & Groups Listing
  • Focusing Resources Information
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Is your body feeling stiff?

Is your body stiff?

I am interested in the work of Moshe Feldenkrais, and in his book Embodied Wisdom, he writes:

A general improvement in the way we use our skeleton allows us to enjoy the full range of movements of the joints and intervertebral discs.  All too often, the bodily limitations that we believe are due to not being limber are, instead, caused by a habitual contraction and shortening of our muscles of which we are not conscious.  Unwittingly, our postures become distorted, and the joints of our bodies suffer unequal pressures.

“Degeneration of the joint surfaces imposes, in its turn, a further restriction of muscular activity so as to avoid pain and discomfort in movement.  Thus a vicious cycle is established, which gradually distorts the skeleton, the spine, and the intervertebral discs, resulting in an elderly body whose range of movements is reduced long before we have become old.  Actually, age has little to do with this sad event.  On the contrary, it is quite possible to restore the body’s ability to perform every movement of which the skeleton is capable.

“Up until sixty years of age, anyone of good health who is not suffering serious illness can attain this optimal ability with little more than an hour of retraining for each year of one’s life.  It is possible to attain this condition even beyond sixty years – depending on the person’s intelligence and will to live.”

Elsewhere in the same book he says:

Old age, for instance, begins with the self-imposed restriction on forming new body patterns.  First one selects attitudes and postures to fit an assumed dignity and so rejects certain actions, such as sitting on the floor or jumping, which then soon become impossible to perform.  The resumption and reintegration of even these simple actions has a marked rejuvenating effect not only on the mechanics of the body but also on the personality as a whole.”

Yoga is very good at achieving all that Feldenkrais advocates.

Well, that’s good news isn’t it!  

And I agree.  I have seen people in my Yoga classes who have denied that they would ever stand on one leg, said it would be impossible for them to touch the floor with straight legs in Uttanasana* (standing forward bend), would never be able to hold the Vasisthasana / Side Plank pose*.

And I have seen them come to accomplish these, as well as many other Yoga postures.

Students in their middle years have grown in height as their spinal columns realign, the intervertabral discs find more space to do what they’re supposed to do, and all the rest of the body takes its cue and breathes a sigh of relief as it begins to move more freely and with more ease.

I am amazed at how many Yoga students seem to avoid many of the age-related illnesses of middle and older life: for example, diabetes, heart problems, lung disease.  Or if they do get them they don’t seem to be so severe.

This isn’t to say that we practise Yoga or Feldenkrais technique for ‘accomplishments’ such as these, but it is rather wonderful when people find they can do things they thought they never would.  And I also believe that training our bodies in these ways makes us feel more alive, and as a good friend told me:

You are not stiff because you’re old.  You are old because you are stiff.

This good friend is nearer 80 than 70, and her Yoga practice and teaching ensure that she is energetic, strong, flexible and still able to practise the very strong postures such as “Wild thing”*, which many much younger people find difficult.

So my message to you is to commit to your practice – whether it’s Yoga, Feldenkrais technique, or another that ensures flexibility and strength.  Once a week is good, but as Feldenkrais says, you get better results if you can practise more frequently.

I can’t guarantee you a long life, but I think you’ll find that you’ll enjoy it a lot more without the stiffness, aches and pains that might otherwise hold you back.

(*I am sorry that my drawing skills are not up to posting pictures of these posture on-line – please look them up!)

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.