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5th Mar 2016

Images of Wholebody Focusing

Wholebody Focusing

Images of Wholebody Focusing

by Alex Maunder & Lucie Therrien

Originally published in “Focusing Connection”, publ. Ann Weiser Cornell (Vol XXIX No 5, Sept 2012)

Have you always wished you could see into the brain of a person who is Focusing? Have you wished that someone would apply modern brain scanning technology to have a look at a person’s brain before, during, and after Focusing? Alex Maunder and Lucie Therrien have done just that, with a person doing WholeBody Focusing. What a great thing to do! We’re publishing a shorter, less technical version of their article, and you can see the full study with the full-color brain scan images on their website: www.wholebodyfocusing.org. What I find especially interesting is their discussion of the ideas from Kevin McEvenue and Karen Whalen about holding two different objects of attention at the same time.

WholeBody Focusing is an empowering method for allowing the whole body to bring presence and healing to hurts and stoppages in body and emotional process. In WholeBody Focusing, the Focuser typically stands rather than sits, and allows spontaneous movement to emerge from inner felt awareness. WholeBody Focusing was developed by Kevin McEvenue and blends elements of the Alexander Technique with Focusing, with Kevin’s unique genius. Today WholeBody Focusing (WBF) is taught all over the world.

Having felt the profound shifts that take place in consciousness during Wholebody Focusing (WBF) sessions, we (the authors) really wanted to try and research this and capture this magic in images of some sort and to understand the fundamental principles at work. Long term, we also wanted to see if permanent changes in personality and functioning can result from Wholebody Focusing sessions and to prove this in a scientific way.

There are very subtle differences in methodology and procedure between Focusing and WBF, although in essence they are both working with the felt sense as a method of self-enquiry. In WBF we start by inviting the body to function as a whole, and we emphasize the concept of the body as a container using “the power of awareness to awaken the inner wisdom of the living body” (McEvenue & Whalen, Advanced WBF Manual). It is only when I feel grounded and connected to something bigger than myself that I can know who I really am. In a sense WBF is making explicit what is always implicit in the Focusing process: by observing the place that does not feel right within myself, I am also implying that there must be another part of myself that does feel right and it is the interconnection and support generated by these two parts that allows the transformation and shift to take place in the whole intelligent, living organism.

Another subtle difference when working with WBF and the sense of the whole body as a container is that I can often connect with a part of me that feels profoundly joyous – no matter what my outer situation might be – fairly early on in the session. Call it a sense of lightness, of joy, of “Beingness” – this is experienced in the whole of the organism and it is much bigger than, and can contain, the part of me that does not feel right. In regular Focusing this wonderful sense of release and happiness is most often experienced after the felt shift has taken place.

One of the things that has often struck me (Alex) are the actual physical changes in the posture, alignment and structure of the body that take place during the course of a Wholebody Focusing (WBF) session. These are linked to changes in energy levels, as the Focuser comes into a deeper contact with the Self. The Focuser’s face can lighten up, a serene glow can come into the eyes, as there is a shift to a more integrated and relaxed state of being. There are also changes in the tone of voice, subtle changes of resonance, and shifts of intonation. Often the Wholebody Focuser will articulate a sense of being supported by the whole of Life rather than being alone and isolated in the world. There is a deepening of contact as both Focuser and listener become more grounded in Self. At times it seems as though you can catch a thought just the instant before the other person has articulated it.

I wondered if maybe a skilled and tuned-in photographer would be able to capture these subtle shifts and nuances that take place during the course of a session. With the right perspective and lighting, maybe it would be possible to capture that expression in the eyes, the relaxation of the facial muscles, the subtle postural re-balancing that takes place in letting go and being supported by the Earth at the same time. We could have a collection of images that all hint at the profound and subtle changes that are taking place.

But the problem is that we are not such skilled photographers, and even if we were those images would only mean something to an outside viewer if they had an inner attunement to the process that was taking place. It’s just as you can only fully appreciate and savor the music that is being performed out there, when you have the resonance of the inner music that is taking place inside yourself. Or you can only fully appreciate a painting of a landscape after you have sat yourself down on top of a hill and looked at the glory of another landscape unfolding in front of your eyes and felt something come alive inside of yourself.

So when we were seeking to produce images of the WBF process that would be generally understandable to a wider public in an objective way, we had to think of something new, something different, that could try and capture the images of the WBF process and also explain in an objective way what is actually going on inside the brain of a Focuser during the course of a WBF session.
With the advent of modern high-tech brain imaging technology, like MRI scans and SPEC scans, it is now possible to look at exactly what is happening inside the brain of a Focuser and the changes that are induced there during the course of a session. What sorts of connection are being made? What parts of the brain are being stimulated? What sorts of brain wave patterns are being induced? For the first time, these precise images of what is happening inside the brain of the Focuser during a Focusing session are available for view by professionals and the general public alike.

Because we are trying to be scientific, we also need to be testing an underlying hypothesis. What is the crucial part of the whole Focusing process? What induces this transformation of consciousness? For us the crucial part of Focusing is the experience of the “felt shift” and what induces it is the neutral observing consciousness that is able to step back into the position of the detached observer. So when we were seeking to produce images of the WBF process that would be generally understandable to a wider public in an objective way, we had to think of something new, something different, that could try and capture the images of the WBF process and also explain in an objective way what is actually going on inside the brain of a Focuser during the course of a WBF session.

All of these patterns of neural firing were measured on a qEEG scanner, and the five sets of results were recorded, which showed both the type of brain wave activity and the areas of the brain that were activated.
We set up a series of specific experiments where we asked our subject to:

  1. Be at rest, just allowing thoughts to come and go in a random manner.
  2. Direct awareness to two different parts of the body simultaneously, e.g., be aware of both the hands resting on the upper parts of the thigh and the soles of the feet in contact with the ground, at the same time.
  3. Pay attention to an auditory sound, e.g. birdsong outside the window, or random sounds from within the room or from the corridor outside – while maintaining a sense of the observing self by staying grounded within the totality of the whole Self.
  4. Be aware of “what does not feel right” within the body, where it hurts or where there is tension.
  5. Think of the area of tension and stay “in grounded presence” at the same time by being strongly aware of the soles of the feet contacting the floor in a neutral observing manner.

All of these patterns of neural firing were measured on a qEEG scanner, and the five sets of results were recorded, which showed both the type of brain wave activity and the areas of the brain that were activated.

In addition, we also took SPEC scans of our client, at rest before the WBF session (baseline scan) and immediately after one WBF session. As a result of this we got beautiful clear crisp images of brain surface SPEC scans and interior brain SPEC scans, and we could compare the before and after images to show the influence of the single WBF session. All these images can be viewed on the website at www.wholebodyfocusing.org

What are we really measuring?

In this research, we are investigating “mindfulness” (to use a Buddhist term) and how our awareness can be directed to function in different ways, at different times. I can be aware of just one thing, e.g., I can be aware of just my feet contacting the ground as I sit here typing, or I can be aware of just the background sound of the washing machine spinning and I can easily get sucked into it. My reactions start to kick in, like the machine distracts me, and it starts to annoy me, and I start to tighten in my upper chest and stomach muscles. Or, I can choose to be aware of myself being aware, and something different happens, I become non-resistant and my consciousness expands to include a sense of both my whole self as an embodied being and the sound of the machine in the background. I feel completely different and something has shifted in my attitude towards the situation and in my brain function. Funnily enough the machine then stops spinning as well.

When we did this listening to the sound experiment something very interesting happened on the EEG scans. The brain shifted from beta wave activity in (1) into alpha wave activity in (3) which is a much calmer rhythm of brain activity associated with creativity, openness, relaxation and meditation. The awareness now encompasses two reference points simultaneously and the interconnecting space in between comes alive. There was a marked shift in the type of brain wave activity from beta waves in experiment (1) Baseline (at rest), compared to all the other 4 experiments, where the brain went into alpha and even theta wave activity (the super-calm relaxed state) during the WBF experiment at the end.
You can replicate experiment (2) for yourself right now, if you want to. Sit upright on a chair with the palms of your hands resting on the top of your thighs, or flat on the table top in front of you. Be aware of your hands resting there in a relaxed manner and at the same time be aware of the soles of your feet contacting the floor. Hold both points in awareness “in equal positive regard” (in a neutral detached way) and also be aware of the interconnecting space in between for a couple of minutes and see what happens. If the attention wanders, keep bringing it back.

Gradually, after a period of time, what seems to happen for most people is that the breathing starts to calm down, the body starts to feel grounded and more relaxed but more supported at the same time. The space in between the two points starts to come alive. There is an inward drawing and concentration of energy and awareness in the brain and the spinal column and a rising and expansion of consciousness as the brain goes into alpha wave brain rhythms. There naturally arises a feeling of calmness, relaxation and openness. This could be the start of meditation or it could be a very productive time for going into a Focusing session with yourself.

The general principle is that there are two points of reference and the interconnecting space in between. I believe that exactly the same thing is also happening during regular Focusing, because there is a detached, observing consciousness (self) and the part that does not feel right. When the focuser can say “something in me is calling for attention, it hurts, it feels like……” and yet there is also the observing self that is bigger than that, the observing self can contain the part that does not feel right in detached awareness and not get sucked in by it. It is the interplay between these two parts and the interconnected space in between, which actually allows the brain to go into alpha rhythms and allows the shift to take place. If the Focuser cannot do this for themselves, then they need help and one of the most vital interventions that the listener (or Focusing-oriented therapist) can make is to ask the Focuser to change their language to say “something in me is feeling….” and that then stops all of you from getting completely sucked into the emotional memory of the pain/trauma and helps to facilitate a shift. I have appreciated this type of intervention in the work of Ann Weiser Cornell and Joan Klagsbrun at the Focusing Institute Summer School and I have always noticed how effective it is in facilitating a shift.

The same thing happens in WBF, but in a slightly different way. A really crucial intervention that is often needed is when the listener/FOT asks the Wholebody Focuser to be aware of both (a) the sense of a part of the body that carries tension and does not feel right (and the exploration of meaning associated with that) and (b) also the sense of strength and support that you get from feeling the soles of the feet being in contact with the floor and being in grounded presence. The request is to see if you can “hold both in equal positive regard” (Kevin McEvenue, Dancing the Path of the Mystic).

In our research study during the WBF session Client X had become aware of a bodily felt sense of “not being connected … I feel disconnected … I feel empty … I feel disconnected with myself.”

After the listener had reflected back these words, Client X contacted even more of the felt sense: “I’m not expressing … not putting energy out into the world … not connecting with the world … not feeling supported.” So a really crucial intervention at this stage was when Client X was asked to connect with the support of the ground through the soles of the feet and “to hold both with equal positive regard”. Having done so in awareness for a period of time Client X began to experience something else happening.

That something else that Client X experienced during the course of the WBF session was revealed in the qEEG brain scans. What had happened is that during the course of the WBF session the brain went from normal Beta waves right into Alpha and even stronger Theta wave patterns. As the clinical psychologist Dr Christine Kraus reported: “Overall, it appears that the therapy that was addressed within the various sessions increased visual and sensory awareness to one’s self and increased the relaxed focused state. It appears that session 5 (the WBF session) also enhanced the super learning or creative spiritual thought process as Theta was increased as well” (Dr Kraus, Amen Clinic, Newport Beach).
You would expect Alpha waves in a pleasantly relaxed, creative state, and during regular meditation periods, but Theta waves are normally only present during periods of very deep meditation by highly experienced meditators, or during deep hypnosis. During Theta (4 Hz – 7 Hz) there is deep calmness, creativity, the recovery of suppressed long-term memory, and the facilitating of repressed emotions. There can also be a vibrant, living awareness of our ever- present spiritual connection with the whole of the Universe, or God, which is often hidden by the speed and stress of modern life.
At this stage of the WBF session, Client X reported experiencing feelings of “joy, elation, ecstasy, feeling connected to something bigger that myself, a sense of unity with the whole of creation.” So on the one side we have the trauma, the anxiety and depression – which is clearly indicated in the brain surface/brain interior SPEC scans and in the words, imagery, and body sensations of the WBF session (also in the initial reported attachment history of the client). On the other side we have a very clear indication of a sense of joy and a sense of connection. Something else has come into the client’s field of consciousness and is offsetting the experience of trauma.

What is crucial in WBF is the intervention to ask the client to “hold both in equal positive regard,” because there are now two points of reference that can be held in the field of neutral awareness and a whole new inter-connected energy comes out of that, something happens between them. This is in line with the expectations of Field Theory which is actually “a region of mutual influence between two or more points in space, often via a force like gravity, electro- magnetism or a conscious human being.” (McEvenue & Whalen).

There is a blocked energy in the trauma that can now free up by connecting with this other place. There is a participation, an engagement of both, not a getting rid of something. The link between the joy and the trauma is what gets the client moving. And in this feeling of awakened new energy the self seems to want to experience itself more fully and explore its full potential.

The suppressed energy within the trauma can now turn positive, when seen from a bigger perspective all the pain and suffering of the defended position and all the adaptations and desperate survival techniques are seen for what they are – just a way of defending a vulnerability that was not strong enough to stand unaided.

Another interesting result of the EEG scans was the left hemisphere/ right hemisphere story that emerges. This is in line with the writing of Peter Afford, in his very interesting article “Focusing in the Age of Neuroscience”. Focusing first starts to operate in the right hemisphere, as the right brain goes into Alpha and Beta wave patterns. It is the murky, unclear felt sense of the “whole of the situation” as “something that is not quite right” struggles to emerge into consciousness from the holistic and symbolic perceptions of the right hemisphere during the Focusing session. It is the right side of the brain that first goes into Alpha and Theta wave patterns and opens up to a sense of connection with a greater whole and a sense of knowing – even when this cannot be expressed cognitively yet. It is that sense of “I know something but I’m not sure what it is and I cannot express it fully yet.” Then the Alpha and Theta brain wave pattern moves over into the left side of the brain to influence the cognitive functioning of the brain as the Focuser gropes to find the right word or phrase that will fit the image or the feeling. This is “finding a handle” in Focusing terms, but even at this stage there is still a slight right brain preponderance of Alpha and Theta wave patterns – which is exactly what the EEG results in this study have confirmed.
Not surprisingly, the 3D Active (interior) SPEC scan images, which look deep inside the brain to the more primitive, deep-seated emotional reaction patterns in the basal ganglia and the focal thalamic system show no change in the before/after scans and this reveals that the more fundamental, severe anxiety and depression issues were not dealt with in a single WBF session. This all points to the “elephant in the room syndrome,” an issue that is so big and so prevalent and that affects so much of the behavior of the client that it isn’t even talked about explicitly in the Focusing session. Barbara McGavin and Ann Weiser Cornell have developed a way of approaching this sort of issue in their “Treasure Maps of the Soul” methodology. The tentacles of this particular issue reach into many seemingly disconnected areas of life but at root is a feeling of dis-couragement and dis-empowerment. It is probably a big issue rooted in the attachment history of the client and the body, in all its wisdom, will need more time to resolve it. Obviously these are big issues and no one would seriously expect a single WBF session to change all of this; but on the flip side of the coin the amount of positive, forward moving life energy that is waiting to be released is also huge. So over the course of the next six months during ongoing weekly WBF sessions the plan is to work in a very focused way with Client X, within the therapeutic relationship, on these attachment issues, the memory of which are retained deep within the muscular tension patterns of the body and the subconscious mind. The test is to see if regular WBF can change these deep-seated patterns of anxiety and depression. This we will see when we do the final follow-up brain SPEC scan at the Amen Clinic to see if any permanent changes in the 3D surface and active SPEC scans can be verified.
Alex Maunder and Lucie Therrien invite you to “Read the whole study” on the website www.wholebodyfocusing.org to view all the images and read about the pilot study in full.

Editor’s Note: The full study can be found at this link:
http://www.wholebodyfocusing.org/Images of Wholebody Focus.pdf

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8th Feb 2016

Wholebody Focusing

Wholebody Focusing

Page intro block

The Development of Wholebody Focusing

Kevin McEvenue, from Canada, has brought together his skills both as a Focusing teacher and an Alexander teacher, and developed Wholebody Focusing. He discovered that within the body is contained the possibilities of its own healing. In this article, I describe the Wholebody Focusing process, giving some examples of its uniqueness and usefulness. I also explore the process in relation to healing trauma, and to spirituality. I have found Wholebody Focusing to be an enjoyable and effective development of Focusing.

What is Different about Wholebody Focusing?

What is Wholebody Focusing, and how does it differ from normal Focusing, and from other bodywork and movement practices? Many of the essential elements of Focusing are present in Wholebody Focusing: the sensing into the body, becoming aware of how it feels, and noticing parts of us that may be coming up for special attention. As in normal Focusing, I find some way of symbolising what is experienced in the body. This may come as descriptive words, images or sounds, and would include life story; how does this connect to my life in some way.

Resonating

The Wholebody Focusing way follows the Focusing process of resonating – checking back with the bodily felt experience, to see if that symbol (word, gesture, movement) does, in fact, match precisely what that place is feeling or experiencing. This resonating process deepens the experience, and opens the Focuser to new and further developments. This takes time, awareness and concentration. That may mean the movement is slow or repetitive at first. The Focuser is continuing to be aware of that part of them, as it is experienced in the body; noticing if it changes in response to the movement or phrase, and making room for more to happen.

The Body in the Environment

Wholebody Focusing is a development from normal Focusing, in that the Focuser consciously invites a sense of the whole body, a ‘me-here’, grounded and present, supported by the environment. (McEvenue 2002 p.12) There is a sense of this body-mind organism held in the larger context of the environment; the room that is containing or sheltering the Focuser, and the natural environment outside; the weather, nature, the place where the Focuser is. This awareness process happens at the beginning, placing the Focuser in a larger context.

The Grounded Body

The next step, and one that is held throughout the session, and returned to as often as need be, is to consciously be aware of the ground under the Focuser’s feet; the floor, the earth under the floor, and the weight of the body as it is supported by the ground underneath the Focuser. Or, if the Focuser is seated, noticing the support of the chair and how the body is being ‘held up’ by the chair, rather than the body holding itself up. A relaxation often happens here; not a slumping, but a coming into alignment and balance. Feeling supported, the Focuser’s body may subtly grow taller. There is less of the contraction, less holding on, that many people habitually experience. The joints become softer and more relaxed. There’s less holding in the knees, hips and shoulders. The head finds a resting-place on the neck, gently easing out tensions, allowing a sense of support to come there too. Even the hands and arms can feel the difference when the Focuser consciously becomes aware of the support coming up from the ground through the feet. This is the starting point of Wholebody Focusing. There’s a sense of wholeness, of the whole body, balanced and supported by the ground and the environment.

A Sense of Acceptance

A crucial aspect of Wholebody Focusing is the quality of the relationship that I have, with whatever is there in my experience. It is of key importance to have an accepting, welcoming and non-judgemental attitude, especially to parts of myself that may be hurting, out of balance, or wounded. So there are three aspects to be aware of: the whole body, the parts that need attention, and the Focuser’s sense of ‘presence’, that resourced place in me that can be with anything. (McEvenue 2002 p.10)

Wounded/Hurting Parts Find Expression

From this resourced place, I can invite parts of me to come to awareness that might need special attention. This could be physical aches and pains, conditions that the body is experiencing. Or it could be emotional, or difficult life situations the Focuser is facing. A movement, a gesture or posture is invited to come, that symbolises how that part of the Focuser is experiencing itself. The Focuser not only resonates, as described earlier, refining the movement to be a more precise expression of the part. The Focuser also holds a sense of the whole body at the same time. This creates a special dynamic, where a sense of the whole, and the part or parts that need attention, come into a new relationship that was not there before. (McEvenue 2002 p.5) The relationship space in which change can occur is not so much between the Focuser and the Companion. Rather, it is the relationship between a sense of the whole, and a sense of the parts that need attention. The job of the Companion is to awaken a sense of the whole, in the Focuser. The body does the rest.

A Hurting Place Finds a Step Towards its Resolution

In this session, I spent time with a ‘pushing’ place in my jaw, shoulders and upper chest. It felt utterly drained and helpless. It connected to a fearful place in my solar plexus that also felt hopeless, and just wanted to give up. The more desperate that place felt the more the ‘pushing’ place in my upper body pushed, and tried harder.

As I spent time with all of this, giving my acceptance to these places to be just the way they are, and to be more, my arms stretched out, pushing things away, making more space. The words came to me, ‘open and back.’ That’s what the pushing place wanted me to feel. I began to feel that more and more. Less hunched over, less pushing forwards. It wanted me to be more open, and to come back. I became aware of my back. The front of my body felt open and relaxed. The rest of my body was hanging from my spine, being supported by it. It told me what I could do in my life to support this ‘open and back’ feeling that it wants for me. It is a stage in a larger process, but nevertheless, a very useful one. The body not only told me what it needed; it also gave me a real-life experience of what it felt like to meet that need. I now have an embodied reference point to which I can return. It showed me how I can get there, and what to do if I loose it.

Awareness

When the body starts to move, the Focuser is allowing the movement to unfold. I am not developing the movement like a dancer would, however. The resonating process stops it being simply an expression, or an acting-out of an emotion, a feeling or a hurting place. The Focuser is aware of the movement, and is asking, is this what you need right now? Is this movement meaningful? The Focuser is in charge, and I don’t loose myself in the process. The Companion is also there, supporting presence, reminding the Focuser to stay present, while giving permission and allowing the movement to happen. There’s a subtle balance of attention. The Focuser is aware of the whole body, and is also tracking changes as the parts that need attention are expressing themselves in movement.

Consent

There is a crucial balance between actively giving consent for a movement to unfold, and not making something happen. The movement is coming from a place all of its own. The body contains its own wisdom, its own knowing of how it should have been, its blueprint of how it could be, if this were all resolved (Gendlin 1981 p.76). The Focuser is not trying to fix it and make it all better. The Focuser stays back from becoming too closely involved or immersed in the process, and maintains an attitude of ‘interested curiosity’ and a compassionate openness, making space for whatever wants to happen. (McEvenue 2002 p. 11, p.15)

In the following example, I reminded myself not to think too much about it, and that it is really very simple. I found the balance of not making something happen; not doing, but allowing something to happen. I was open, expectant, and I made room for movement to happen. I did not judge what was happening. I watched what was unfolding with my attention. Like saying to my body, here’s the problem, what’s your response. And then setting it in motion, like gently swinging a pendulum and watching what it does.

An Example of Giving Consent

I recently Focused with a dream I had, where I witnessed a lot of cruelty. In the session, I realised I dissociate from cruelty. That’s not-me. I see the violence and cruelty in the world, and I make a separation between me and the others in the world, and say that’s not me. I moved into a Wholebody process. My hands and shoulders held a lot of tension, gathering all the cruelty, and trying to crush all the cruelty into nothingness. As I did this, I felt the hopelessness of the task, as if I was on a beach, trying to squeeze all the water out of the wet sand. It felt impossible.

I went back to a sense of my whole body, standing and supported by the environment, and I asked my body to show me what I don’t yet know, about this. I relaxed my knees and arms, and swayed gently, allowing movement to develop as it would. I found my arms were sweeping over my energy field, as if I was clearing my energy, and I enjoyed the sensation of the air moving over my face. Eventually, I started turning in place, like a Sufi turn, and this built up a momentum. As I stopped, I was immersed in a feeling of total surrender and ecstasy. I was balanced and harmonised, in harmony with the stars and the cosmos. It felt profound, like a big answer to a big question.

The role of my Companion was also important, as I shall explain later. Her Presence made it possible, and I could not have done it on my own.

Body Parts Connect Up

The Focuser gives space for hurting places to be ‘more’, giving them all the room they need, to experience just how it is for them right now. This might lead to them to connect up with other parts of the body, and the movement process develops. The Focuser finds that rarely does a body part operate in isolation. A whole complex dynamic begins to reveal itself. The Focuser gives active consent to the movement that is unfolding. It is being in a process of unknowing, and allowing the change process to follow its own dynamic. The Focuser is asking, what does my body know about this, that I don’t?

An Example of Body Parts Connecting Up

In a recent session, I Companioned a Focuser who was being with the back of her neck, which was feeling tense and contracted. It wanted to release and come forward, and she let her head and body relax forward, which stretched and released the tendons, the muscles and the spine in the back of her neck. As she continued to do this for a while, she noticed a place in her solar plexus that was feeling extremely vulnerable. She realised the tension that was being held in the neck, was also protecting her from having to feel the vulnerable place. She stayed with both places; releasing the tension in her neck, and giving caring to her vulnerable place, and the protection it needed. She looked a lot brighter, and said she felt a lot more ‘present’ and ‘in her body’, after the short session.

The Role of the Companion

Although the central relationship in Wholebody Focusing is between a sense of the whole, and the sense of the parts that need attention, the role of the Companion is crucial to the whole process. As Companion, I support the Focuser by being present in my own body, aware of my ground and connection. The Companion’s body becomes fine-tuned as a listener; able to respond to the subtleties of what the Focuser is experiencing. The Companion holds a large, compassionate, expansive space, supporting the Focuser in welcoming whatever comes. The Companion reflects back what the Focuser is saying or doing, in a way that makes room for that, too. As Companion, I am supporting the Focuser in giving consent for whatever wants to be there, and to be more. I continually remind the Focuser to be aware of their ground, to be present, able to make choices, and give permission to what is happening without getting lost in it. The Companion also reminds the Focuser to be aware of their whole body; not to loose touch with that, when a part becomes active and shows its needs.

About Companioning, Eugene Gendlin in his book, ‘Focusing-oriented Psychotherapy’ (1996) says,

‘Although attending inside, one is alive in the company of the other person. One senses the difference physically. The other person is holding the weight of the world, as it were; contributing energy to the Focuser’s inward attending. The other person’s presence makes all the difference in the manner of the Focusing process, even if the content seems to be only about the individual. There is no split between “intrapsychic”and “interactional”‘ (Gendlin 1996 p.109)

Wholebody Focusing and Trauma

Peter Levine’s work with healing trauma is described in his book, ‘Waking the Tiger.’ In it, he demonstrates the key role the body plays in releasing trauma. He suggests,

‘Until we understand that traumatic symptoms are physiological as well as psychological, we will be woefully inadequate in our attempts to heal them. The heart of the matter lies in being able to recognise that trauma represents animal instincts gone awry. When harnessed, these instincts can be used by the conscious mind to transform traumatic symptoms into a state of well being… The healing of trauma is a natural process that can be accessed through an inner awareness of the body.’ (p. 32 and p. 34)

Wholebody Focusing is particularly effective in releasing trauma because of its twin processes of starting from a resourced sense of the whole body, and because the body is already in movement. This creates a safety around the issue. I can move away from what is too scary or difficult to be with. I experience myself as standing on my own two feet, and I have a choice. The movement helps me through a stuck place.

An Example of Working with Trauma

I did a demonstration session with Kevin McEvenue, where I got in touch with a lot of holding in a part of my body, and a fearful place that is absolutely terrified of letting go. It just couldn’t do that – it’s too risky. My movement developed until I was almost taken over by the strong body movements. And yet I was still present, aware of my feet, aware I had choice and was continuing to say yes to the process. I also trusted Kevin, my Companion. I could not have got this far on my own. At the end of the short session, my whole body was shaking. It was finding a way of releasing what I could not.

Contra-indications, and What to Watch Out For

It’s important to make sure the Focuser is in presence, and can choose to stop if it is getting too uncomfortable. Reminding the Focuser that ‘I’m here, and you’re here,’ is helpful. Also, there is a need to discern if the movement is simply avoidance. Continuing to be grounded is helpful with this. It is important to watch out for dissociation, becoming bored, not feeling the aliveness or connection. Here the Focuser can ask how this whole thing is connected to my life story, or what else is alive here.

Both the Focuser and Companion need to feel they are safe. If the Focuser cannot take care of him or herself, Kevin McEvenue suggests coming out of the process. The Focuser is self-responsible, and the best way to take care is to ‘find the feet,’ as a simple reminder of the resourcing possibilities. It is unsafe for parts of me to heal, until those parts feel enough support coming to them from somewhere within me. Addie van der Kooy, in his article ‘My Experience with Wholebody Focusing’ says, ‘For this alchemical healing to take place, I can’t emphasise enough the importance of holding the wounded place and the positive ‘me-here’ energy in equal positive regard.’

Wholebody Focusing and Spirituality

Wholebody Focusing has implications for deepening my experience of spirituality. It is through my body that I have access to a deeper reality, a broader context. Through my body, I experience my connection with all life. It is in my body that I sense openness, joy, and enthusiasm for life. Griffith and Griffith, in their book ‘Encountering the Sacred in Psychotherapy’, (2002) say, ‘Spiritual experience is expressed not only through language but in the immediacy of bodily experience. It exists not just in words but in the sensations and movements of our bodies.’

Kevin McEvenue suggests that we can draw on this bodily felt connection with our spirituality. Especially at times when I feel stuck and cannot resolve the situation, it may be helpful to ask, is there a something larger in me that knows more than I do, about this. I have seen people do this, and it brings about a change that is surprising, could not be predicted, and is in the direction of more life. McEvenue says, ‘Wholebody Focusing is a way of accessing the body’s awareness of its own wholeness. This sense of wholeness has an inner direction and a purpose all its own.’ In this article I have shown how it is possible to allow healing and integration in directly felt positive ways through using Wholebody Focusing.

Fiona Parr, 2005

Further Reading

Gendlin, Eugene Focusing Rider 2003 London

Gendlin, Eugene Focusing-Oriented Psychotherapy Guilford Press 1996 New York

Griffith, J.L. and Griffith, M.E. Encountering the Sacred in Psychotherapy The Guilford Press 2002 New York

Levine, Peter Waking the Tiger – Healing Trauma North Atlantic Books 1997 Berkeley

McEvenue, Kevin ‘Wholebody Focusing’ in Dancing the Path of the Mystic Self-published monograph 2002 Toronto

van der Kooy, Addie ‘My Experience with Wholebody Focusing’ in The Focusing Connection Focusing Resources September 2002 Berkeley

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