Good morning, all! I apologize for not having been around over the last couple of days, but things have been whirlwind. Let me apologize for how long this post became, but once I started I found myself in a writing frenzy.
One of the most exciting things that has been keeping me busy is a course I have cross-registered for at another graduate program in Boston. As much as I have enjoyed and appreciated my own program, my own wellness journey has changed me (and my focus) a great deal. I no longer want to do traditional counseling. For me it is incredibly important to integrate other aspects of wellness into my work. Unfortunately my own program does not focus on these types of wellness, so I had to go elsewhere.
The course I am taking is a two-weekend course called Body-Oriented Psychotherapy. It meets Friday from 6-10pm, then Saturday and Sunday from 9am-6pm, two weekends in January. Last night was the first class and I can honestly say that it was already one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had, in a class or otherwise. Being in the class was much more like being at a wellness workshop or conference than anything, but I have already learned SO much.
We started out the class by pushing all of the tables (which were arranged in rows rather than desks) out to the side of the room and all sat on the floor. This particular school has seats called back jacks that are essentially designed so you can sit on the floor more comfortably. Sitting on the floor made everything feel much more intimate and helped make the group feel incredibly welcoming even though my friend and I were the only two students not from the program. This was also helped by the fact that the group really is just a fantastic and open group of people.
Then we began talking a bit about the theory and history of body-oriented psychotherapy and its components of bioenergetics, core energetics, Hakomi, and others. I had already started reading a book that outlined some of the theory, but learning some of the history and why there became a need for orientations like bioenergetics and core energetics fascinated me.
One of the things about body-oriented psychotherapy is how centered it is on touch and movement. In body-oriented psychotherapy, there is no division between body and mind. Instead, the belief is that we as humans are psychosomatic unities and that our body is impacted by our history, thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. In essence, our physical body becomes a map of our experience and what is going on in our body is often a reflection on what has gone on in our lives previously, both physically and emotionally/spiritually.
After some discussion and a great deal of very rich and powerful sharing, we started integrating our own movement. We began with some breathing exercises and then moved on to some grounding. We used tennis balls rolled under our feet to start our grounding and then moved on to several stretching and plyometric exercises throughout various parts of our bodies. I had done some very similar exercises before, but never in succession and never with such intention and focus on my breathing and the experiences throughout my body.
We spent well over an hour doing these exercises and my body started to heat up dramatically. The entire experiences was akin to doing yoga for over an hour, but with a somewhat different focus than most yoga practices (I won’t say all because I don’t know).
After grounding ourselves, we partnered up to do more focused breathing, working first to individually on extend our breathing to other parts of our body and imagining the breath actually traveling to those body parts. I sometimes have my clients do this in session, but what I found interesting is that I found some of my own body parts were harder to reach. Just as I was struggling, our professor suggested we place our hands on a body part that seemed hard to reach and see if touch helped to encourage the movement of the breath. I was amazed at how powerful my own touch was at doing exactly that.
Once we had focused our breathing, each partner took a turn being the “breather” and being a witness to the breather. We say witness because there was more to what we did than staring or watching. One partner closed his or her eyes and began the breathing exercise again, trying to project breathing throughout the body. The other partner took a very nonjudgmental, positive regard while allowing him or herself to accept whatever information the breather’s body was sending out. The partner witnessing was free to move around the partner who was breathing, noticing any slight movements in the breather, any parts of the body that seemed not to be fully breathing, etc. Then the witness was free to gently suggest body parts where the breather might direct more breath. Finally, with permission, the witness took care to touch the breather’s aura, directing breath to various body parts.
Thinking about auras was something not altogether new to me. When I was much younger my grandmother, who had a very holistic leaning, loaned me a book about reading people’s auras. Still, when the idea was first introduced that we were to touch our partner’s aura and direct his or her breathing, I wasn’t sure it would work (or even if I would know what I was doing).
In my partnership I went first as the witness and was amazed at how much energy I could feel coming from my hands as well as how much energy I could feel my partner’s body giving back to me. It was also quite amazing how her body reacted to the areas of her aura that I touched. Once she opened her eyes, she described feelings of warmth and support over the areas of her aura that I had touched. I was not sure I would get the same experience from it, but once I became the breather I realized how incredibly powerful it was to have your aura touched in addition to being the one to touch the aura.
As I was breathing I could feel a great deal of support over particular parts of my body, especially my right shoulder/back. Then, toward the end of the experience, I suddenly felt very elongated, like my head was being lifted toward the ceiling by a string attached to the top of my head.
Before opening our eyes, the witness was instructed to “retreat” from our personal space, but when I opened my eyes I was amazed at just how far away my partner was. In many ways I could still feel her energy very close to me. I had never met my partner, but felt very close to her, closer than I have felt to virtually any other stranger before. We talked about our experiences and she said that she felt my body was somewhat out of balance and that she should spend more time on my right side when she was at my back. She had spent a great deal of time over my right shoulder. Then she stood at my head for quite some time.
We ended our class period shortly thereafter, but not before bringing ourselves back to the real world. That is, we all talked about putting our “safety caps” or “thinking caps” back on so that we weren’t all so focused into our own bodies as to walk out into traffic.
The energy in my body had completely changed after the class and I noticed it a great deal as I walked to my car. I felt very alive and like my body had been awakened. At the same time, I felt very relaxed. In class we talked a bit about how our society encourages a separation of the body and mind and how this can block or squelch our natural energy. After class I could feel this in myself. My energy flow felt much more natural and I could easily identify ways in which I feel various parts of my life squelch my natural energy. It was incredibly powerful.
While we wouldn’t be going through a process of touching a client’s aura, we might help direct breathing and encourage the use of touch to direct their breathing. Much of what we did in class last night was to help us become oriented to our own bodies because without that orientation, it will be practically impossible to help our clients become oriented to theirs.
I have never been so excited to go back to a class before, especially one that will last 9 hours both today and tomorrow, but I frankly can’t wait to get there. I feel like not only will all of this make me a much better counselor and wellness coach, it is helping me become a better and more alive individual. I know this type of experience may sound odd to some and not everyone is a fan of holistic approaches, but I feel honestly changed by just the first class. Realizing that has helped me to realize how important this is to my own approach and the work I will be doing.
Thank you for taking the time to share in this experience with me. I hope you all find ways to tap into your own energy and life flow because there is honestly nothing like it. Whatever you do today, do it because you want to or because it gives you life. We all have responsibilities that aren’t quite so life-giving, but make sure to spend time doing those things that re-energize you. The difference is amazing.