following was written, primarily for those who attended the workshop
at George Washington University (Purchase this workshop). This
introduction only points to ideas and principles I consider very
exercises make use of the Felt Sense to awaken, or recover, the
natural ability to be "present in the body." Recovery
of sensation enhances our experience of being present in the
world and our ability to regulate and maintain balance.
While these few
exercises may be simple, they can help our nervous system in
restoring that which was more natural to us as children or disabled
by difficult experiences.
They are cumulative
and daily practice can open a world of discovery and repair.
Your body is a complex whole system that has memory on many levels.
By reprogramming your system towards its natural state, your
nervous system will gradually begin to remember and the experience
of feeling grounded in your sensations will naturally increase.
There's a lot
more here than it may seem, take your time with each one, one
at a time. If at any time you feel uncomfortable or that itís
too much take a break or stop and relax.
There are additional
notes on some principals underlying the exercises following the
description of them.
1. Recall the
last time you felt a strong emotion. Was it anger, joy, sorrow?
How did you know you were angry or sad? We don't think sadness
or anger, we feel sad or angry. We feel with our body, a simple
truth often overlooked. Recall the experience of that strong
emotion and pay attention to your felt sense, to what you feel
in your body now. Can you recall where in your body you felt
angry or sad? What was the sensation that you interpreted as
sad or angry? What do you feel now in your body?
2. Using both
hands, begin patting your skin, start with your hands , each
hand patting the other, front and back, move to a different parts
and continue patting the parts of your body, each time paying
attention to both the part it is, shoulder, arm leg etc. the
sensations you experience. Do this long enough to each part to
awaken a stronger sense of the presence of the part.
After doing this
for several sessions, of you feel OK and that you can manage
more you might begin slapping, a little harder, until you feel
some warmth and even some tingling without it being painful.
Do this as long as you feel comfortable doing it. Cover as much
of the surface of your body as you can. Stop patting or slapping
and pay attention to the overall sensations and what you experience
in terms of bodily sensations. Take some time in simply observing.
See what you can discover. This can bring about surprising results
if done daily.
3. When in the
shower, pay attention to the sensation of the water as it strikes
your body. Using a pulsing showerhead is best. Focus on the physical
sensations you experience on different parts of your body. Examine
them closely. Notice the part and the sensations, arms, shoulders,
back neck etc. Just observe and make note of it all. Do the same
in the wind, or even rain, notice the experience on the face,
arms, and different parts. Eventually you might notice carefully
the feeling of different cloth materials on your body as you
move. Try walking barefoot and observing what your feet are experiencing
on different surfaces.
4. Observe your
sensations in different settings. When you enter a room or step
into the outdoors, when you are in traffic, in a crowd or alone,
or in the forest, overlooking a vast landscape or any other environment,
closely observe differences in the sensations of your body. Compare
the differences in relation to the different settings. Notice
where the sensations are mostly taking place: chest, arms, head,
neck, etc. Observe and explore the quality of your sensations.
If the sensations are pleasant, see if you can identify specifically
what it is you are physically feeling that enables you to consider
it "pleasant." If unpleasant, do the same. Make note
of the two kinds of sensations if you can. Then, compare them
and simply recognize that these different sensations all occur
in YOUR BODY with specific physical qualities. Recognize that
these sensations occur as physical experiences with specific
qualities, even though they may also be associated with a judgment,
memory, analysis or thought. Simply doing this is a big step
toward grounding your experiences in bodily sensation.
5. Look at some
old photos, one at a time. Spend some time to see if your body
experiences differing sensations from different photos from different
times and of different people. Observe closely and carefully
if the sensations are subtle or more marked. Notice what the
sensations are, where they occur and what the qualities of the
6. When you are
passing time such as waiting, observe what sensations are present
in your body. Experiment with shifting attention to various parts
of your body and observe the differences in sensations and how
the part you are attending to may come into and out of focus.
Note the strength of the sensory experience.
7. After some
practice with the above, try observing your sensations in various
circumstances, meeting an old friend, dealing with a difficult
person or an old problem, when some good news comes to you. Notice
if paying attention to the physical experience makes it any easier
to manage a difficult experience or makes a pleasant experience
more so. With some practice you will find that chronically difficult
exchanges or experiences are almost always made easier by being
"grounded in your body." by awareness of the physical
sensations present. This grounding will make it easier to have
a choice in how you react in different circumstances.
The first step
in grounding is to remember the natural way to stand, with the
knees slightly bent, unlocked.
1. When standing
at any time, in line at the market, whenever, observe your knees
and legs, how you are standing.
Are your knees
locked? If so, recognize that this is NOT a natural way to stand
as the entire lower half of the body becomes immobilized. Unlock
your knees and observe what this feels like. If it feels unnatural,
simply recognize this as your habit and that to stand in a natural
way seems strange and unfamiliar to you.
2. Stand with
your knees unlocked, slightly bent and feet about six inches
apart, almost parallel.
the balls and heels of your feet and let your upper body relax
but remain upright.
Bend more at
the knees, lowering yourself until you feel the weight of your
body on your legs, keeping your upper body upright and relaxed
and your weight balanced between heels and toes.
Keep this position
for two to three minutes.
Observe any shakiness,
trembling, pain or burning of any kind. If you feel unsteadiness,
or trembling, recognize this as not as weakness, but as the strength
of the vital force returning to your legs.* If it feels OK to
do so let any shaking or trembling just happen, donít
try to control it recognizing this fact.
Now slowly straighten
up, taking care to not lock your knees but so you are fully upright.
Observe now how
you feel the weight of your body on your legs and feet.
Observe how your
Is there more
of a sense of weight, fullness, solidity?
Do you feel more
connected to the ground?
your weight slightly from foot to foot and see if you can better
sense the full weight of your body on the pad of each foot.
Pay some attention
to how your entire body feels, how you feel on the whole. Spend
some time and notice what sensations are present.
you might remember these sensations at another time without the
exercise and how to become more familiar with them in your body.
Try raising yourself
on the toes of one foot. Notice how easy it is to perform such
a complex and delicately balanced task. Realize that this is
only possibly by the awesome interaction of sensation, involuntary
and voluntary aspects of the nervous system and the muscles and
mechanisms of the body. This interaction, input and output is
with us every moment in our lives.
1. At any time
or place stop and pay attention to your breathing.
How full is it?
What parts, how
much of your body moves in response to the movement of your breath?
Can you sense it in your belly, chest, arms, neck, and head?
What do you notice
that may limit the breath, tightness or tension? How about your
posture? Does it disable your ability to breathe deeply and fully?
Just observe this.
Do you recognize
any impulses for movement as you recognize any tension? If so,
simply recognize them first.
See if you can
identify any movements of your back shoulders, spine or any stretches
of arms shoulders, neck that might fulfill the impulses. Take
some time with this to consider how closely any movements might
match the impulses.
Take some time
to just observe and reflect before making any movement.
Let your body
guide you and begin to make the movements but very very slowly,
as if in slow motion. Let your body move however it wants.
See if you can
let your body guide itself, not with your mind. Observe very
closely your felt sensations as you do this and keep it very
slow to enable you to fully experience all sensations that accompany
Know that your
body can guide you; it knows how to do this, let it.
If you have found
movements that your body wants to make, explore, let it continue
as long as it wants, let it move however it likes. Notice the
sensations that may be somewhat painful or pleasurable as you
do so, explore this.
and stretching for as long as you like until you feel you want
to come to a state of repose.
Take some time
and pay close attention to all sensations you are experiencing
in this state.
Notice your breathing
Observe how your
body feels with each breath in and out. Notice the quality of
the sensations. What is the breath affecting in this in and out
process, how is your body and its parts responding?
you might, in the future, remember this experience, the physical
sensations of it. At any time simply stop and carefully pay attention
to the breath and notice how it moves the belly, chest, shoulders
or even the neck. Realize that it's actually all of the muscles
of the upper body actually breathe air into the more passive
lungs. We breathe with these muscles and body parts we could
say, not with our lungs. This close and careful observation can
be a rich experience of awareness, a constructive and meditative
but relaxing, healing, and integrating process that should not
2. See if, by
repeating this, your breathing becomes deeper or larger and if
more of your body takes part in response to the breathing.
Notice how your
whole body feels if you're breathing is deeper and more of your
body takes part.
Notice how your
arms and hands feel with more breathing.
Notice if any
emotions arise as you do this.
If so, does any
sound seem appropriate to make with feelings that arise; this
can be an "ahh" or "uhhh..."
Make the sounds
with the breathing and see if you can do so with the emotion
that has come up so the sound resonates in your chest.
Notice how your
body feels and what sensations come as you continue this.
3. Using an exercise
ball or a short padded stool, lie back with the ball just under
your shoulder blades. Relax and stretch back opening your chest
and expanding your ribcage, arching your back. Relax into this
position and let your chest expand. If you are able, raise your
arms above your head and let them fall back making the arch even
greater and lifting and expanding the chest even more. Be gentle
and carefully observe the felt sensations and the stretching
of the chest that occurs. If there is pain try breathing and
relaxing with each exhalation. See if this gradually releases
the tension causing the pain to go. If this is difficult, try
doing it little by little and day by day, start with a pillow
or two, if necessary, increasing the stretch. Doing this easily
and gently daily can bring surprising results.
4. Observe at
various times in the day, your breathing. Remember the exercises
and respond accordingly allowing your sensations to guide you.
Your body knows what to do, give it its due with appreciation
of its wisdom. Sitting in your car, on a sofa, a chair, notice
if the position you are in facilitates or obstructs your breathing,
adjust your position and observe with your felt sense your overall
experience. Make this practice a habit and it will become automatic.
Stretching and adjusting slowly with awareness will teach your
nervous system to remember what it once knew so well.
feeling go together. You will not find a depressed person fully
breathing. We shut down our feelings by limiting our breathing
in order to manage overwhelming experiences. To regain our full
experience of life we must breathe. It is said in a tradition
that Moses, peace be upon him, asked God what His greatest hidden
secret was and God replied: "Breath" Remember also
that we have to some degree shut down this part of ourselves
for survival and adaptation to the experience of trauma or particular
social setting and to awaken it we may face some sense of fear
or danger. Awakening feeling means to experience both joy and
pain. If any of these exercises seem too much or overwhelming,
relax and leave them off or return to the standing exercise.
If the experience seems too much you may want to find a practitioner
of somatic therapy to assist you with more work.
Notes on RECOVERING
Our nervous systems
are vast and complex. The ability to experience sensations of
all kinds is natural and important for its function.
and attention to what we are experiencing in our bodies with
all its qualities while moving through the world is like being
aware of the smells, colors and beauty of a forest as we travel
through it. This can awaken or bring to life our actual feelings
of "hamd" (praise) and "shukr" (thankfulness),
to experience life less in a realm of abstract thought or ideas
and more as an experiential reality.
experiences and ourselves in the world by sensation enables us
to automatically carry an awareness of how and where we actually
are at all times in relation to all things around us. We then
unconsciously carry with us a sense of the actual boundary of
our place in the world. This observation can also enable more
natural regulation of our nervous system and increases its capacity
and resilience to various situations. To carry this awareness
can bring more to our lives than we may realize.
in our bodies was more natural when we were children, and for
most of us this "being present" was gradually programmed
out of our consciousness or shut down by trauma, feelings that
were overwhelming, or by a lifestyle in which we learned to live
outside of ourselves altogether. Placing a three year old in
front of a TV, finding something that will "occupy"
her so that mom can get on with her work is one example of the
kind of foundational training that teaches us to live outside
occupying a child in this way is a prime way to teach her to
avoid personal, live contact or action in the world in favor
of abstract and seemingly "real" distraction. Most
children will feel some sense of loss or separation in this redirected
focus, but they will eventually learn to "live" in
this artificial world rather than the actual one. At the same
time, many children object strongly to this and begin to act
out their displeasure at being left alone. Abandonment to television
becomes one of the most compelling foundations for behavior in
our world today, the hypnotic trance-like state, the pain and
false pleasure embedded in it helps account for much of the energy
that drives the industry itself.
From these kinds
of foundations, we begin to learn and develop more elaborate
systems of distraction derived from feelings of separation, and
become addicted to their use when faced with overwhelming events,
or even the stress of everyday life.
In the case of
most men, as a result of their particular training and upbringing,
distraction is used as a strategy for avoidance and survival
in the face of any feeling at all. Our addiction to distraction
and avoidance takes us from the act of fully experiencing pleasure
or pain and eventually from the real experience of life itself.
We become lost in superficial experience and lost in superficial
remedies as well.
is rife with many more such examples. Our modern age from the
turn of the 20th century onward is marked by an enormous proliferation
of images and the development of a plethora of abstract experiences
outside ourselves. Photo albums have replaced the extended family,
movies and TVs have replaced adventure and friendship. The internet
has become a virtual world that we look upon as part of life
and yet remains cold and two dimensional, without smell, taste
or tactile sensation even with promises of îinteractionî
or ìrealityî. This is a collective strategy developed
as a means of coping with continued and historical trauma.
All this has
created a narcissistic culture in which we live in the space
of an image of how we are supposed to live and not how we actually
feel. This entails being divorced from sensation and feeling.
Eventually whole parts and layers of our being become senseless
and abstracted until we are unable to genuinely care about things
as we should. We continue to go through the motions and postures
of "caring," since we think and believe this is our
responsibility, yet somewhere inside us we know how things really
are, even if we are no longer able to embody this in our lives.
This creates a terrible disconnect and feeds the sense of hopelessness.
All this in turn impacts our physical, emotional and spiritual
There are countless
ways to explore and awaken the felt sense, and there are many
that we can discover for ourselves. Remember, these are exercises
to recover that which is innate within us by Gods design and
something that was at one time more easily and naturally available
The ability to
shut down feelings when things are too much for us to handle
emotionally is also a Mercy from God, enabling us to continue
functioning even if it may be on a less conscious level. Nevertheless,
our ability to gently wake up and go beyond this shutting down
is intimately connected with genuine growth and knowledge.
connecting to the earth. The nervous system naturally activates,
charges up, and discharges. This is a constant rising and falling
of activation, ongoing, with the taking in of information and
charge and expressing of it accordingly, it is in the breath,
in the heartbeat in all processes of life in the body. There
is rise and fall, waves. This is an ongoing principle found in
all of creation, "In the creation of the heavens and the
earth and in the alternation of night and day... there are signs
for those who reflect" Qur'an. This is a great verse for
understanding both the Hikmah (wisdom) of the body and movement
in the entire creation. Our body charges and discharges, activates
and deactivates in various ways. When discharge is disabled,
charge remains, seeking an outlet, or if the discharge continues
to be disabled, the system begins to shut down to manage what
would be a destructive, overcharged system. Grounding happens
to an "earth" of any kind. For the nervous system,
the earth itself it an excellent ground and nature, an extended
earth, serves this purpose well. We all know how a walk in the
forest can be so calming and healing. Connection is necessary
for "earthing" and connecting to something solid and
supportive is the other requirement for the grounding experience.
The natural swing
from activation to relaxation, from contraction to expansion,
and the regulation of that is essential for balance. The loss
of this and the swing to extremes represents much familiar pathology.
The Muslim practices
his basic prayer by connecting to God through the actions of
washing with water first, standing, bowing and then prostration
on the ground, the earth itself if possible. It is said in the
Qurían that for those who practice this regularly, that:
ìÖupon them there shall be no fear nor anxietyî
This brings for the Muslim a grounding by feeling connected to
God five times a day or more and incidentally to the earth. For
them this can serve as a strong grounding.
We often express
this grounding as ìsupportî and the earth serves
this function consistently and loyally through its gravity for
our entire lives, eventually embracing our physical body itself
Mother is for
us, another excellent ground and we seek what we experienced
from her in many things for release, support and the ability
to regulate the charge and discharge and resulting sense of wholeness
or completion. Unresolved discharge is not experienced as wholeness
as there is still unfinished expression. With the mother and
child there is constant charge and discharge, connection and
disconnection. There is a natural rhythm to this in all healthy
relationships. If the natural flow of this rhythm is disrupted
and connection and disconnection is not made harmoniously, there
can be felt either a need from the disconnection, seeking "her"
even to obsession, or an aversion, even hatred, from too much
connection and over activation not successfully released. Many
of our physical and emotional pathologies and machinations of
our culture rest on this need to identify with, to connect, and
the harmonious regulation of it all.
there is father and siblings, friends and neighbors, neighborhoods,
house and home, even the house of cardboard and mud, family and
familiar, all can serve to identify with and ground: clubs, gangs,
place, country, affiliations, cults, race and ethnicity, foods,
clothing and cultural artifacts, from anywhere and anything to
which one feels connected, works. When a person feels this connection,
with his senses, the grounding takes place. The feeling itself,
not the idea or thought alone, is necessary for the nervous system
to take part, whether it is conscious or unconscious. When feeling
connected is diminished, grounding is diminished. We seek, we
need, family, community, affiliation.
This need for
connection, so essential and primal can help us to understand
an expression by some of loyalty (attachment) beyond reason to
something. If they identify themselves with a group and find
grounding in it, the issue of loss from this can be then, as
one of survival on, usually, an unconscious level. In the cult
or the nation the leader may push the envelope beyond not only
all reason and common sense but past limits of well being. The
need for connection to both the leader and the group is so great
that the person may accept a situation of great hardship or more
perversely, even destroy themselves in order to sustain this
elemental root need. Our history is filled with examples of this
need and consequences of its loss not only in the political and
social but in countless stories of love and romance.
connected to God serves for the healthy worshipper as strong
connection while connection to ideologies alone can often be
desperate and insufficient for genuine grounding. Ideologies
will usually be supported by the group whose constituency gives
them solidity. The rituals and accoutrements of a religion may
also serve to support the grounding through the physical of objects
and rituals. The Muslim, in his connecting to God has not only
in his five daily prayers, but in much of his worship, his body,
water and earth to serve and embody this.
In our present
times, the traditional means of connection, to family, friends,
neighbors, land, animals, culture, simply in conversation and
all else that would connect us has been so disturbed that its
lack becomes an issue not only in our social and spiritual health
but immediately in the physiological functions and health of
our bodies. Our present condition and lifestyle seriously disables
healing from the stress and traumas naturally. This inability
to heal from trauma, and the resultant violence, disassociation
and ìloss of our sensesî will only increase as time
goes on if we continue the life style we have developed. One
Shaykh (teacher) said that the flood in the time of Nuh (Noah)
was one of water and in this age it is one of disconnection.
represent simple methods for reconnecting on our individual experiential
level, for reconnecting on a very primitive level in our own
bodies to our selves and a means for gaining integrity and sense
that can, God willing, become a starting place that can extend
from there outward into our lives and actions.
Click here to purchase the
workshop at George Washington University.