Many people are aware that they are limiting themselves in some way—perhaps a nagging feeling that they could be appreciating the precious gift of life more fully—yet they also find that, try as they might, they fall back to what is familiar or safe for them. It was not until I had a better understanding of the developmental aspects of the energy cycle in the human organism that I began to be able to help people who are stuck in this way.
If our goal is, say, life fulfillment, then the feelings we have along the way are just that: the experience of how it is to be moving toward a goal we are committed to. But if we have been taught not to follow our instinctive and healthy longings, we often settle for a quasi-goal, that of feeling comfortable, perhaps happy. Since feelings are sign posts along the way, or ways of knowing about ourselves and our envi- ronment, intuitively and non-linearly, then a feeling cannot be a true goal. To repeat: if we have been frustrated in our natural development in our early upbringing and schooling, we will often settle on a feeling goal, rather than, say, being healthy on all levels.
If I take the last as an example, I might go to a doctor to check out some symptoms, the result of which might make me feel extremely uncomfortable, but the commitment to the goal of health makes the uncomfortable feelings secondary to the goal itself. If, on the other hand, I prevaricate on the commitment to health, I’m in danger of just trying to maintain an even keel, which may lead to being in denial about an important matter regarding my health.
In what follows, I am very much indebted to Jack Painter, Ph.D., who developed the processes of Postural and Energetic Integration and Pelvic-Heart Release.
The unblocked energetic cycle in humans starts with equilibrium. In the way it shows up in our breathing, the inhale and exhale are given equal emphasis. The breathing is balanced, full, and easy, and maintains a steady rhythm. When we are in this stage (stage I), we aren’t thinking of getting anywhere, or becoming something, we’re simply establishing our safety and sense of wholeness—our right to exist.
In Stage II, once our safety is established, we naturally want to expand. The nourishing breath emphasizes the inhale, while the exhale is very soft and relaxed. If your nasal passages are open, try breathing in through your open mouth, reaching for the nourishment with gently extended lips, relaxed tongue, throat and neck, and breathing out with a soft sound, your mouth gently closed. You can imagine the nourishment of the inhale traveling to any part of your body which feels hungry or depleted, aiding such transfer of energy by placing your hand or hands on that part of your body.
Once we are filled enough, we begin to want to explore—either our environment or our feelings or thoughts. The breath now emphasizes the exhale, and, if your mouth has been closed on the exhale as suggested for Stage II, now open your mouth for the “explore breath” and make a more expres-sive sound, or even “Wow!” To make the point more obvious, vigorously shake successive parts of your body with each exhale: your right arm, your left arm, your right leg, your left leg, now both your arms, now both your legs, now both your legs and both your arms! Pause a moment after this exercise and feel your body. People often report tingling, pleasant, and more alive sensations in their bodies. The important point here is that, although in one sense, we’ve been emphasizing the discharge—the exhale, with sound and movement while breathing out—overall the energy level is still rising.
The next stage is called the free breath, and can be thought of as a combination of stages II and III: we freely breathe in (the nourishing breath), and we freely breathe out (the explore breath). If we think of the inhale as making us bigger, and the exhale as making us smaller, then we can think of the free breath as embodying the freedom to be either big or small, or any size in between.
One movement visualization to help with this is to imagine your feet resting on the earth. As you breathe in, spread your arms wide and imagine yourself getting bigger and bigger, and look down and see the earth as a small ball way down there and your body as big as the solar system, or the Milky Way. Then, breathing out, your arms gradually coming back down and you are becoming smaller and tinier; the earth rushes up to meet you, and you are now as small as an ant with the grasses towering above you, the earth infinitely wide, perhaps you have become as small as a molecule. Repeat these movements and visualizations several times.
If we were to repeat these four stages, but this time allow each stage to merge into the next, we would discover that our energy is smoothly rising, as though heading toward a climax; and it is precisely what happens in any unblocked organismic energy cycle: the energy builds up, reaches a peak, then returns to the level at which we started. Stage I, therefore, the secure breath, would be returned to, only this time we could recognize that the slow rhythmic breathing would also characterize our need for integration, not just the establishment of our existence and safety.
This energy cycle can be thought of in terms of different timescales: a few minutes, a whole lifetime, or mapped onto early childhood developmental stages. Stage I, pre- and peri-natal. Stage II, infancy and oral needs. Stage III, toddlership. Stage IV, around the age of toilet learning. Stage V, not dealt with in this article, is the excitement phase, and heralds the advent of genitality, when the energy of the child is finally anchored in the pelvis. In this stage we repeat the previous four stages—to feel secure in our excitement, to nourish it, to explore it, and be free with it—but at a higher level of energy.
Once we understand the normal development of energy in any cycle, the blocks to this flow, at least in terms of breathing, are readily apparent. In stage I, instead of an even inhale, even exhale, the breath becomes chaotic and disorganized or frozen; energy accumulates in the head. In character-analytic or bioenergetic analysis this is labeled the schizoid block.
The stage II block is described as follows: just when we need to be emphasizing our inhale, we emphasize our exhale. This is the depleted breath. Sometimes it takes the form of endless talking (endless exhale!), or repeated sighing.
The stage III block corresponds to the toddler who is suddenly not allowed to be little anymore. He has to stay inflated; he’d better watch out and not fall down and cry and be needy. So the exhale is inhibited just when greater expression is needed. If someone with this block lies down, you will see that the ribcage will be permanently raised, most noticeably around the diaphragm.
The stage IV block will be a combination of the previous two: neither is a full inspiration, nor a full exhalation allowed. Life is constricted to a narrow band, resulting in a thickening and a density, both physically and emotionally.
Now we are in a position to answer the problem posed at the outset of this article. A person who has “made it” to stage IV and exhibits this limitation in the blocked form—some compression and constriction—will also have the capacity to organize their life effectively enough to have gotten ahead with succeeding at quite a few of the demands which our culture seems to impose on us: getting a job, buying a car, etc., etc.
A crisis of midlife, kids leaving home, a parent dying, an “unexpected” divorce, a physical illness, sudden unexplained difficulties with coworkers—something like these events may penetrate the compression and unleash very scary feelings which were buried for many years. It is as though the lack of a complete inhale, and an
inhibition of a thorough exhale—the respiratory equivalent of compression—have conspired to create a thick wall of ice upon which the person’s conscious self resides, but now the hot processes of life itself have caused the ice to become precariously thin at some places, completely thawed through in others, and the person’s sense of self becomes in danger of fragmenting.
For reasons of safety, the unconscious defense processes will want to reestablish the old familiar ice, but there is something none of us can resist in the end: the force of life is stronger than we are, and, though it can be terrifying, we do better when our conscious selves decide to risk going along with the life force, or, at least, not trying to fight it.
To put this in developmental terms, remember that stage IV, the free breath, corresponds to around two years old. By then we will have developed a minimal capacity to think for ourselves and some minor independence, at least psycho-logically. If our still earlier life experiences have been anything like what was considered normal in terms of Western child-rearing practices until very recently, then those years from birth to two years old will have been marked with many experiences of overwhelming disappointment, whose pain we can only indirectly experience.
This is why it can be so hard for us to move beyond a life of quiet efficiency and endurance and allow life to come at us though the cracks: in order to breathe more deeply so that our life can be appreciated more fully, we need to be prepared to deal with feelings which may shock us in their intensity. And, worse still, once we begin to thaw out, we not only feel the gratitude of finally coming to a greater sense of flow—which we yearn for—we also discover that our reassuring previous life of endurance, compression, and block has become mere icebergs on a thawed-out sea which can now experience, horror of horrors, the inevitable changes in weather which come from living in the ocean of life. But there is a saving grace in all of this: as our defenses melt, and the tight holdings near our center begin to soften, we become deeply united with life once again. No matter how rough or becalmed the surface waters of our feelings become, in the depth of our core the steady forces of creation and wholeness beat with a rhythm of peace and connection.
In closing, I wish us all the courage to open up to our life journeys.
Peter Moore graduated from Oxford University, and, since 1980, has pursued his interest in healing. Included with his study of a variety of modalities is certification and postgraduate training with Siegmar Gerken Ph.D., and John Pierrakos M.D., the founder of Core Energetics, an approach which attempts to unify the personality on the levels of body, feelings, mind, will, and spirit. Peter is a licensed marriage and family therapist who also offers consultation and training to healers and bodyworkers. Peter’s practice is located in Eureka, California, he can be reached at (707) 442-7228.
All living things move, and change, however imperceptibly. For that is almost how we define life – by the ability to move, towards and away from, to open and to close, to interact with the world around. Time- lapse photography has given us breathtaking pictures of flowers opening and closing their petals in the dance of life, and slow motion pictures allowed us to observe the sheer delight of the movement of seagulls’ wings in their elegant and sinuous three dimensional figure- of-eight flight patterns. In order to see and appreciate these movements, we needed to adjust time – to speed it up, to slow it down.
Similarly, in bodywork, I’ve learnt that time, and the rhythms of movement, have a logic and beauty quite of their own . It matters most to find the time it takes to focus inward – on a body part, or body process, on the flowing and ebbing of body rhythms and movements. Then, real insight and a new awareness, or a memory, can open up and be connected with the here and now. In bodywork, as in meditation, or in paying intense attention to a friend, or when absorbed in some creative activity, time changes. It expands and contracts to quite a different beat – and we are all the richer for it.
Of course, the body is not uniform – different parts move at quite different rates of speed and frequency. The head is fast and, often, has a high rhythm and buzzy frequency. The heart takes much more time, and in the “middle ground” moves more gently and more slowly. The belly has a really low frequency, and slower rythms still – fuller and rounder. Other factors too influence the movements of the energetic cycle: the more on the outside events and processes are, the quicker tend the rhythms to be, and the more inward and deeper, the more the need for time.
To allow the rhythms to vary, to give time to breathe, to take in, to hold, to assimilate, to focus , and then to let go – these ‘breaks in time’ form the essential warp and woof in weaving a web of connectedness and understanding with ourselves and with others And the time spent “doing nothing” often is the most important time in bodywork. It is then that the meshing between the parts takes place, that attention has time to travel to and with the energetic flow.
Learning to respect the rhythms of a person, an experience, a movement; learning to give ourselves the proper time to be with somebody or something, is a life skill. It is a life skill that often gets damaged by an upbringing and a society which lives by clock time, by public time, and by other peoples’ timings. The small child who is constantly harrassed to hurry up will end up losing the trust and attentiveness to the inner rhythm, and will be alienated from its own bodily felt reality and knowledge, and the ability to self-regulate.
Just to give time often is the greatest gift another human being can give us – time and attention, and a willingness to adjust to shared time and rhythm. Observation of nonverbal movement and communication patterns allows us to observe a “dance” between the people involved, where on a bodily level – and almost certainly unconsciously – the partners move in near simultanious rhythms, co-ordinating their interaction – like birds in a flock.
When working with the body, I am forever fascinated by the changes in speed, in frequency, in energetic landscapes, which I encounter. I am intrigued too by the sense of liberation which comes from tissues taking time to breathe in properly, letting go deeply – and then moving on to change.
The childlike ability to be totally in one sensation, one emotion, one movement pattern – and shortly after to change utterly and completely, and follow a different rhythm, pattern and emotion – does not get lost with growing up: only frozen and stuck. And it can be recaptured, and inform our living once again, if we allow the time to complete unfinished movements and patterns. The sparkle of the “now” can arise with new life, like a phoenix from the ashes of the old – and often it only takes time, and attention, and a willingness to play with rhythms.
© Silke Ziehl 1994
This article was first printed in the Open Centre brochure in 1994
Bodywork as Poetry by Silke Ziehl
I have always loved poetry. I love how a word, a phrase, a rhythm evokes a response from deep within, how it reverberates. A poem can connect to other levels of reality, to deeper meanings and concerns. It can invite to look afresh, to listen anew, to something deemed familiar. Like the light in Greece, it renders everyday objects luminous with being.
Working with the body is like poetry. Paying attention, focusing on the body here and now, in space and time, brings to the surface layers and layers of meaning and associations, opening up multiple dimensions. A gesture, a movement, a touch, evokes such old and deep responses from within. It brings up memories, connects to all the stories stored within, in our cells and tissues and fluids in the body, adding their flavour and taste and shade and sound to what is happening now.
That movement of the head – a little boy of maybe eighteen months snuggling up to mother. That tickling of the little toe – a baby self awakens and giggles with delight. That looking away not listening – and it reverberates with all the times she did not listen, he ignored me…
A bodywork session is a poetic journey, which both, practitioner and client, share in and experience – each separate, yet deeply linked in dialogue and contact. Much of this dialogue and contact is non- verbal, and happens in the moving, touching, breathing. That is, below the surface of the verbal dialogue and interweaving with it, yet often not focused on in conscious awareness, a rich and complex non-verbal dialogue goes on. What is said with words and between words, what is said with gestures and touch, and between gestures and touch, all the many layers of meanings evoked get woven into a somatic poem. In paying attention, I can listen to the poem and can allow it to touch me, and to move me.
Each gesture matters. Each gesture I make carries my intention, my story, my conscious and unconscious being. The person I am with will respond not only to the words I speak, but even more to the words my body speaks. For meaning and intention, purpose and relationship are held by non-verbal communication rather than by words alone. How somebody says something, or does something, matters profoundly. The meaning reverberates. The story continues.
For example, I can touch somebody in such a way that my touch says: “You can take your time; I am interested to meet you; where are you? Is this Ok for you? Will you meet me here?” I can touch in such a way that each finger has eyes and ears as I make contact with the other person. When I touch in this manner, I am more likely to be receptive to who the other person is, and what they want, and what they are saying with their body at the moment. From this somatic dialogue, we get to know each other more deeply. For we can hear the non-verbal story, the somatic history as it comes across in those gestures, movements, sounds, and this helps understanding, respecting and honouring who this person is. And luminosity happens.
© Silke Ziehl 2005
First published in: Open Centre, vol 29, no.1, Jan-Aug 2005