Exercises

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The 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 valuable.

SOME EXERCISES

The following 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. God Willing

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.

Recovering sensation

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 sensations are.

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.

Standing

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.

Balance between 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 legs feel.

Is there more of a sense of weight, fullness, solidity?

Do you feel more connected to the ground?

Try shifting 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.

Consider how 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.

Breathing

1. At any time or place stop and pay attention to your breathing.

How full is it? How shallow?

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 the movements.

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.

Continue moving 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 again.

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?

Consider how 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 be underestimated.

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.

Breathing and 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.

Hakim Archuletta April 2005

Notes on RECOVERING SENSATION

Our nervous systems are vast and complex. The ability to experience sensations of all kinds is natural and important for its function.

Reflection, awareness 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.

Grounding our 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.

Being present 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 ourselves.

Success with 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.

Western culture 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 well being.

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 to us

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.

On Standing, Breathing

Grounding means 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 in death.

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.

After mother 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.

Feeling genuinely 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.

The exercises 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.

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