Depth

Going deeper

Go deeper.  Pay attention to what is beneath the threshold of awareness.  Dive below surface appearances and respond to what is really going on.” 

Kathy Tyler and Joy Drake

I cannot pretend that Focusing is the only way to go deeper and pay attention to the threshold of awareness. No, there are other ways. Some I have tried, and they haven’t always worked for me.

I can say that Focusing worked for me and I was amazed and delighted. And it works for a great many other people too.

One of the delights of Focusing is that it is a safe and gentle process, and can be learned by anyone. And most people learn it quite quickly – usually withing a session or two.

And it doesn’t end there, because, like many practices (cooking, running, carving, writing, Yoga, …), something can happen the very first try. And maybe it doesn’t. In either case, practising helps us to go deeper, to improve that way we do things, discard whatever doesn’t work, and be spurred on to practise more as we gain new insight. It doesn’t take long for most people to sense into Focusing and find it a helpful practice.

When I first learned I embarked on the Focusing Skills course, and after a few sessions, I thought I ‘knew’ Focusing, and couldn’t see why the course was 60 hours long.  You might be interested to know that before I trained as a Focusing Practitioner, I actually repeated the Focusing Skills course (not because I ‘failed’ – there is no failure!), but because I wanted to deepen my experience with a group of committed Focusers.

 

Sometimes as we explore more deeply in our Focusing practice difficult feelings might arise; and Focusing helps us understand more about them, and help us find ways to work with and through them.

Sometimes Focusing is joyful, as we uncover new understandings.

And sometimes there is neither joy nor difficulty.  Sometimes there is a feeling of roundedness, wholeness.

Whatever the feelings, we hold the space for them all.  As Rumi said in the poem I quoted in this blog, “Welcome and entertain them all.”

If you would like to read about Focusing from other people’s perspectives, go to the websites of the British Focusing Association, the International Focusing Institute and the European Focusing Association.

And if you would like to learn how to use Focusing in your life, please contact me here. This can be a one-to-one session, a one-day workshop, or a Focusing Skills course – or just a chat.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house

Every morning a new arrival,

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome them all!

Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,

who violently sweep your house

empty of its furniture,

still, treat each guest honourably.

He may be clearing you out 

for some new delight.

from “The Guest House” by Rumi

Compassion

So often we talk about the body as though it’s a machine, a highly complicated machine, but still a machine. We compare our bodies to intricate man-made things with pumps and pistons, filters and gears, hinges and joints.

And even though we liken our bodies to machines or engines, we sometimes feel as though our bodies have their own agenda, feeling separate from the rest of us. 

When we decide we want to go for a run, we grumble at our bodies if the legs feel too tired.  We are annoyed when we get a cold which spoils a holiday, or a stiff shoulder stops us from playing sport.  My body’s let me down, we might say.

And sometimes it shouts more loudly, and we become ill, and we rail against the illness for how it makes us feel, and what it means we can no longer do.

And yet, this is what we expect of our bodies.  We refuel, do some maintenance, some quick fixes, often according to what someone else, an expert maybe, has told us.

And then we might exercise, eat healthily, take sufficient rest, and look after it just as we would look after a machine or an engine. And sometimes we don’t even do that, and expect it to keep going, and going, until it doesn’t go any more.

That would be asking a lot of even a very good friend.

But maybe there is another way – a way of listening  closely to the body.

And that doesn’t only mean eating the right foods, taking enough exercise, having regular dental checks.

It’s about taking some time to really listen to what the body is trying to convey.  Diane Morrow in her book “One Year of Writing and Healing“, says it this way:

The body protests.  It defies us.  At other times the body simply seems to be in trouble.  It has needs, even urgent needs, though it may be having trouble articulating them.  Sometimes a leap occurs when we recognise this.  “Oh.  The body needs something …”

I’ve noticed that those who begin to speak of the body in this way … often become more in tune with the body rather than less. 

To find language for this separation is simply, I suspect, to be honest about the divide, and then, in turn, make the effort to call out across it.

It’s as if [a person] stands at the edge of  a chasm.  They call across.  Or, sometimes, they beckon toward the body.  Or, perhaps, they’re beckoning toward the part of the mind more closely associated with the body.  An unconscious part?  A subconscious part?  In any case, they lean forward a little.  They whisper, ‘What is it?  What do you need?’ 

It’s as if offering compassion towards the body were a beginning.  And then, not infrequently, the body, or some part of the mind associated with the body, finds language to respond – and the person is able to hear it.

Diane is talking about the body-mind intelligence that Eugene Gendlin called Focusing, and is practised by many people around the world.  You can read about some of the benefits of Focusing here and here.

Diane Morrow goes on to say:

It’s like meeting someone who speaks a different language, and then, rather than just continuing to speak one’s own language, ever louder and more insistently, it’s being willing at some point to make the effort to learn the other’s language.  It’s being willing, for some measure of time, to turn away from the cacophony of the external world and give the body and the inner world one’s undivided attention.

I can’t tell you if there’s a good time to learn Focusing, other than any time is good.  And I wished I’d learned it sooner.

When we are under stress or unwell, or when we are feeling great and the world is a wonderful place and it feels as though nothing can go wrong – at these times we might find it difficult to get into contact with what the body has to say about what is going on. So we might choose to learn Focusing then, and that’s great.  And it also a good time to learn when we are feeling just okay. Because we can use Focusing at any time.

I have a Focusing partner and we meet once a week on Skype.  Sometimes there are big issues that want to be addressed; sometimes surprises emerge, that might have been below our conscious radar; sometimes it’s about something that might seem quite trivial, and we learn more about why it has been niggling us; and sometimes we just spend time enjoying the feeling of being connected with our own selves in this way.

It is always nourishing, always worth doing, and I always feel enriched for having spent an hour or so in this way.

Please let me know below if you are a Focuser, and what it means for you.

And if you are not, and would like to learn, contact me here, and we can arrange a session or a course – face-to-face or on Skype or Facetime.” 

How Emotions are Made

surface of water with lightWhether you’re a generally calm person, floating unperturbed in a stream of tranquillity, unaffected by the vicissitudes of life; a more reactive person awash in a river of agony and ecstasy, easily moved by every little change in your surroundings; or somewhere in between, the science behind interoception*, grounded in the wiring of your brain, will help you see yourself in a new light.  It also demonstrates that you’re not at the mercy of emotions that arise unbidden to control your behaviour.  You are an architect of these experiences.  Your river of feelings might feel like it’s flowing over you, but actually you’re the river’s source.

Lisa Feldman Barrett: How Emotions are Made

Psychologist and neuroscientist, Feldman Barrett, recognises the value of Focusing, updating long-held views that emotions are not universally pre-programmed in our brains and bodies.  She says they are psychological experiences that each of us constructs, based on our unique personal history, physiology and environment.

Feldman Barrett suggests that we pay attention to combinations of emotions, feelings in the body, and memories that arise in the context of these.  She calls this ’emotional granularity’, and recommends that this is helpful in order to make sense of what’s going on for a person in the moment, and being aware of choices, rather than being ‘stuck’ in feelings of frustrating ‘blahness’.  I call this Focusing.

I will revisit this as my copy of the book is is like a prayer flag, with many sticky notes sticking out of the edge waiting for me to return to read again.  In the meantime, you might wish to buy a copy, or borrow one from your library.

 

* interoception: an on-going process which is your brain’s representation of all sensations from your internal organs and tissues, the hormones in your blood, and your immune system.  For more on interoception, see Lisa Feldman Barrett’s book, “How Emotions are Made”.

What is Yoga?

Yoga is about releasing and letting go, rather than the use of effort or force.  The postures are a concentration of mind and movement in which the breath undoes the stiffness and tensions of the body, strengthening its weaknesses and restoring breath.

Mary Stewart

If we are brave enough often enough we will fall

If we are brave enough often enough we will fall.  (Brene Brown)

Most of us, when we get beyond our infant years, have some fear of falling.

(And as I was typing this I mis-typed falling and wrote failing instead.  And fear of falling and fear of failing are not so different when you think about it.)

If we never reach out beyond what is comfortable, we cannot challenge ourselves and taste the fruit right at the end of the branch.  We won’t test ourselves to see if doing this particular something, or going to that particular place might be as joyful as we imagine it to be. 

When we stick with what we’ve always known, we get what we’ve always known.

That’s one of the riches to enjoy going to a Yoga class where the teacher invites us to try a new posture, or extend a little further in a familiar posture.

It doesn’t always work. 

We might wobble in Vrksasana – the Tree Pose.

We might need the support of a chair in Ardha Chandrasana – the Half-Moon Pose. 

And even when we have support we might shake and fall.

We might fall forwards in Bakasana – the Crane Pose.  

We might find that some poses that seemed impossible a month or so ago, are almost within sight today.

Or they might not.

It’s helpful to remind ourselves that Hatha Yoga practice is that – a practice. 

We are not aiming to ‘achieve’ anything.  It’s actually the side effects that are the most beneficial:

  • When we practise something, anything, regularly, you get used to noticing that some days things come more easily than others, and that’s okay.
  • We find that we can make time in a busy week for something that nourishes us.
  • We learn to trust ourselves more: in Yoga practice we learn that our body might not let us down as often as we might have once thought, and this can extend into other areas of our lives.
  • We learn that our mood can affect our Yoga; and that Yoga can affect our mood.
  • We find delight in the increased strength in our physical body on an everyday basis.
  • We get to know our bodies better, and become aware of changes in it sooner.
  • We might sleep more easily.
  • We might find that we can reduce medication for some health conditions.
  • We learn that comparisons with others are less fruitful than we might once have imagined: in the Yoga class might be people of all ages, body types and personalities, and if we continue to compare our ‘progress’ with another’s we will miss out on the joyful experience that is ours alone in practising the postures – no matter how long we can balance, stretch or hold our breath.

There are so many benefits which can translate directly or indirectly to our everyday lives.  And no, Yoga is not the only one.  But I know of few others that offer such a wide variety of benefits, accessible to anyone, of any age, of any level of health or fitness, of any means, who wants to explore its many aspects and gifts.

 

, ,

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.