What is Somatic Learning?

By Maeve Hendrix LPCA, RYT


What is Somatic Learning?

I get this question a lot. Somatic Learning is the practice of embodied mindfulness and offers tools for engaging in a friendly and reverent relationship with the intelligence your body.

The word somatic is derived from the Greek word Somatikos: Of the body.

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“Somatic Learning provides a discipline for a new participation in life. It is a practice for awakening to who we are by receiving the gift of our embodiment - not what we mistake for our “body” as “object”, but as the embodiment of spaciousness in the actual blooming of life, in the here and now.” Risa Kaparo

I remember the first time I read this quote from Risa Kaparo ten years ago, something in me lit up with curiosity and interest AND I also felt a lot of resistance and fear. I could feel my body saying “YES” through the tingling sensation in my arms, legs and fluttering heart. I felt the fear and resistance as a queasiness in my stomach and a voice in my head saying, “What does that even mean? Embodiment of spaciousness in the blooming of life???!” Even though my mind was pounding me with skepticism, I decided to take a risk and follow the YES I was also experiencing. I read on, and became intrigued by the shift from Old Paradigm to New Paradigm Approach to embodiment that Kaparo was proposing.

“Old Paradigm: … Most of our of our programming arises from collective beliefs of what we might call consensual reality (what we agree within a given paradigm to accept as “real”). Here are a few of the beliefs of the prevailing old paradigm that may still be unconsciously informing our mind/body relationship.

We function as relatively fixed objects.

We are separate from everything else.

Gravity is a force that needs to be overcome by effort.

These beliefs are based on the reductionism, materialism, and determinism of the socially prevailing scientific paradigm arising from Aristotelian thinking and Newtonian physics. However, in the latter half of the twentieth century, scientists and philosophers postulated a new paradigm, articulated in quantum physics and a philosophy of holism.

New Paradigm - These beliefs may be more relevant and empowering than those of the old paradigm.

We function as self-sensing, self-organizing, and self-renewing energy beings.

We are interconnected with all that is.

Gravity provides an opportunity to send and liberate us from our patterns of habitual tension.”

-Risa Kaparo

Relating to my body as self-sensing, self-organizing, and self-renewing, rather than as a relatively fixed object was completely revolutionary for me. I had been practicing meditation and mindfulness for a few years but was still unaware of the type of relationship I had with my body. In that moment I realized that I had been relating to my body as a tool that was here to be wielded and forced into action, rather than a highly intelligent organism that is self-sensing, self-organizing, and self-renewing.

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As I look back over the last ten years, I see from a birds eye view how I have been slowly Living Into this new way of relating to my body/mind.

Over time, I have cultivated a much more friendly and reverent relationship with my body, honoring its vast intelligence and wisdom. Additionally, my relationship with gravity has changed dramatically. Rather than always struggling against gravity or taking it for granted, I am learning to play and experiment with receiving gravity as a gift. As a result, I have become more effortless in breathing and movement. Learning to be in a friendly relationship with gravity is a huge part of my embodied mindfulness practice. It is a daily practice that I can engage with anytime, anywhere and will never stop teaching me new lessons.

One practice that has been very helpful with my experimentation with gravity is “Differentiation”, as taught by Risa Kaparo.

Differentiation: The practice and processes of noticing change or movement.

Risa Kaparo says, “When you differentiate awareness, what you experienced previously as solid and relatively fixed, like “the body” or “the ground”, will now reveal itself as ever-changing, movement within movement… the ground keeps opening itself to you.”

Differentiation Exercise: Set a timer for 3-5 minutes or put on a song you enjoy that is 3-5 minutes long. Begin by standing with your knees slightly bent, shifting your weight more from one foot to the other. Tune into your breath, feeling the texture and temperature and movement of your breath. Feel the weight of gravity pouring down one leg and then the other. Invite your shoulders and arms to dangle heavily. Receive the weight of gravity as a helpful energy that allows you to feel the ground beneath you and feel your body suspended in space. Notice how everything is changing in each moment. Let your body be moved by an inner curiosity… an inner longing. Feel the ground rising up to meet your body and the air touching your skin as alive with consciousness. Continue this exploration until the timer goes off or the song ends. Afterwards: notice how you feel and how your relationship to the ground, the air and your body feels. Journal about this experience.

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I would love to hear about your experience with this practice! Feel free to write in the comments below or send me an email with any questions or reflections you have!

> maevehendrix@gmail.com

To learn more about Risa Kaparo’s work, check out her book “Awakening Somatic Intelligence”

Learning to Share my Voice: A Lifelong Process


Posted By: Maeve Hendrix, LPCA, RYT

Are you ever afraid to share your voice?

I know I am!

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Before I completed my first yoga teacher training 9 years ago, I was utterly TERRIFIED of speaking in front of groups, to the point where I fainted a few times while trying to give presentations in high school and college. Knowing I needed to address my fear of speaking in front of groups, I signed up for a three month, 200 hr yoga teacher training with the tiny spark of a hope that my phobia could be cured. Surprisingly, at the end of my three month training I noticed a significant shift had taken place. Learning to teach yoga had helped me feel more connected to my body and breath while speaking and sharing in front of a group, which kept me from spinning out in my head to the point of passing out. Success! This was a great awakening experience for me that boosted my self-confidence and softened my harsh inner critic. However, my fear of speaking in front of groups continued to challenge me in situations where I was not teaching yoga and I yearned to be able to share my voice anytime, anywhere while feeling relaxed and comfortable in my skin.

I remember being in my first semester of graduate school for Expressive Arts Therapy, listening to my beloved mentor, Sally Atkins, share with us the value of ‘Finding your Voice’. As she spoke, her eyes gleamed with a deep, anchored inner knowing, her voice penetrated into my bones with steady, grounded, grandmother earth essence. I was completely spellbound, mesmerized by her words, which were bathed in unwavering clarity and refreshing humor.

Right away I noticed my inner critic voice say, “you’ll never sound like her or be grounded enough to speak with such powerful clarity”. My body shrunk like a raisin in response to this inner criticism, I felt small and helpless. At that moment, Sally beamed her wild, loving gaze at me and I felt seen and acknowledged as a precious human who was undeniably capable, respected, and needed in this world. My insecure inner self was crumpled in a ball hiding in this moment and I slowly opened one eye as I lifted my head to feel this acknowledgement flood in. I could sense that this was a moment of initiation. I was being invited into a new phase of bravery, the vulnerable and terrifying practice of unapologetically claiming my voice. Sally helped me to see that there was a more powerful, resonant depth that I wanted to tap into inside myself and synthesize into genuine, honest expression, verbally, physically, and energetically.

That was five years ago. I have taught hundreds of yoga classes, and dozens of expressive arts and somatic learning workshops, AND I am still deep in the scary challenging place of finding my voice. GULP, I continue to recognize this is a life long cyclical growth process. Sally Atkin’s poem. “Tell Me, She Said” is a grounding poem that has helped me over the years in opening to my own inner magic and serves as a reminder that there is ALWAYS a song singing itself through me and it is always worthy of being shared and heard.

Tell Me, She Said

By Sally Atkins

Tell me, she said:

What is the story you are telling?

What wild song is singing itself through you?

Listen:

In the silence between there is music;

In the spaces between there is story.

It is the song you are living now,

It is the story of the place where you are.

It contains the shapes of these old mountains,

The green of the rhododendron leaves.

It is happening right now in your breath,

In your heart beat still

Drumming the deeper rhythm

Beneath your cracking words.

It matters what you did this morning

And last Saturday night

And last year,

Not because you are important

But because you are in it

And it is still moving.

We are all in this story together.

Listen:

In the silence between there is music;

In the spaces between there is story.

Pay attention:

We are listening each other into being.

Sally Atkins

Sally Atkins

Sally’s poem encourages me to listen deeply in the quiet moments and take more sacred pauses throughout the day as well as pushing my edges with sharing my voice. I recently attended an illuminating and edge-pushing poetry-as-medicine day retreat with Mary Ellen Lough - honoring the winter solstice. Through simple writing exercises, vivid guided imagining, and sharing within the group, we dove into the waters of our inner being to explore our multifaceted relationship with Light and Dark. My associations with light and dark initially appeared oppositional, but as I continued to sit with my associations, light and dark began to mingle and weave together as a puzzle would, revealing a larger scale perspective. My associations with light and dark became inseparable from one another, dancing and swirling just as shadow and light require each other to exist. The vast chasm I had imagined between joy and pain, loneliness and togetherness, laughing and crying, birth and death began to close and I realized that much of the suffering and fear I endure on a daily basis is the painful and exhausting side effect of maintaining BLACK and WHITE, GOOD or BAD, ALL or NOTHING thinking. What a revelation!

Dancing

in and out

in and out of togetherness

and solitude.

I forget while I’m in it

that solitude

IS an interactive dance.

And there is a togetherness

even when I feel the most

empty, alone, afraid.

The practice of embracing solitude as a very special relationship with self and with my environment has opened a doorway for me to allow my heart to relax into itself, to feel my tissues soften around my bones, and to feel my breath as a dear, supportive companion that is always with me. This does not mean that I don’t experience anxiety, loneliness, worry, discomfort and restlessness. I am learning to acknowledge edgy discomfort as an invitation to look deeper inside and offer a listening ear to the inner parts of me that want to be held, acknowledged, and nurtured. My therapist refers to these moments as VITAL NURTURING moments. It requires me to recruit my, wise, Inner Witness Self to step in and hold space for whatever feelings are present. The Inner Witness self does not categorize, judge or label feelings and thoughts as good or bad, right or wrong. This gives space for my feelings, thoughts, and sensations to exist. I anticipate and hope that this will be a practice I engage in for my entire life. I am realizing that there is no end goal I am trying to reach. Right now, my growth edge is calling me to write and put my words and thoughts into a public forum. Putting my voice out there in an honest, unfiltered way feels uncomfortable, nerve wracking and downright scary. So here I am, letting these words out onto the page while I practice offering a supportive inner voice to the parts of me that feel threatened, insecure and judgmental.

Pablo Neruda’s poem is also a staple that I keep in a visible, place that I can revisit again and again as I continue to bump and fumble along this journey of discovering and sharing my voice.

Poetry

By Pablo Neruda

And it was at that age ... Poetry arrived

in search of me. I don't know, I don't know where

it came from, from winter or a river.

I don't know how or when,

no they were not voices, they were not

words, nor silence,

but from a street I was summoned,

from the branches of night,

abruptly from the others,

among violent fires

or returning alone,

there I was without a face

and it touched me.

I did not know what to say, my mouth

had no way

with names,

my eyes were blind,

and something started in my soul,

fever or forgotten wings,

and I made my own way,

deciphering

that fire,

and I wrote the first faint line,

faint, without substance, pure

nonsense,

pure wisdom

of someone who knows nothing,

and suddenly I saw

the heavens

unfastened

and open,

planets,

palpitating plantations,

shadow perforated,

riddled

with arrows, fire and flowers,

the winding night, the universe.

And I, infinitesimal being,

drunk with the great starry

void,

likeness, image of

mystery,

felt myself a pure part

of the abyss,

I wheeled with the stars,

my heart broke loose on the wind.


What happens to you, happens to the world.

Posted by Lissa Carter, LPC

What happens in the world, happens to you.  Your pain does not exist in a vacuum. Sometimes we take too much responsibility for our suffering, and blame it on an internal fault---a tendency to depression, perhaps, rather than noticing that it is winter, or that there are losses we have sustained in our lives either personally or collectively.

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Sometimes we get lost in our own pain and forget that we are connected to a system larger than our individual selves.

Sometimes, it serves us to step back from what is happening inside our own heads and hearts and take a look at what is happening in the larger system that we belong to.

Did something in you just shut down a little when you read that?  Me too. That’s called “avoidance”, and it’s key to keeping us in behavioral ruts and loops. When something is too painful---such as, for example, the environmental or political situation we are in the midst of---we try to protect ourselves by shutting down, avoiding it through distraction or denial or suppression.

This is understandable---who wants to feel pain?  Yet, at the same time, this very process of avoidance is what leads to these painful circumstances in the first place.             

We objectify and dehumanize to avoid pain.  Steve Hayes, cofounder of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, illustrated this with a story at a training I attended:

 

When Steve was very young, eating cereal at the breakfast table, his mother came to him with tears in her eyes and told him that one of his friends had been killed---struck by a car while he was riding his bike.

Steve told us that he still feels shame when he recalls how he responded to his mother:

“Well, he probably deserved it.”  

 

Don’t we all do this? If that little boy had done something wrong—if he had been “bad” in some way---then we could make sense of his death. We wouldn’t have to tolerate the terrible pain of knowing that these things just happen, and there is nothing we can do to prevent them.

If we believe that somehow others “deserve” the pain they have been dealt, we protect ourselves with the feeling that there is something we can do to protect ourselves. If we are just “good”---if we do enough yoga, eat enough greens, volunteer and go to church and meditate and buckle our seatbelts---terrible things won’t happen to us.

But do you see where this leads?

If I choose to believe that immigrants are bad people, I can convince myself that I won’t ever be forced to make a dangerous pilgrimage, be separated from friends and family, or nearly starve because I can work to be a GOOD person.

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This works the other way around too:  if I believe the environment is already too degraded to fix, and that a terrible future is already a foregone conclusion, I am off the hook for any kind of personal accountability.

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Do you see how the very pattern of avoidance keeps us from creating any change?

This counters evolution. We cannot individually or collectively evolve without variation, and limiting our experience to avoid pain keeps us from engaging in variety. Without adequate variation, we limit our ability to select, and therefore to evolve---both as individuals, and as a species.

Oh yuck.  Yes, this means exactly what you are thinking:  we cannot keep avoiding pain and painful experiences if we want change.

Sometimes, we have to trade in some of our comfort if we want change.

There’s something important to understand here, though—psychological flexibility is a two-step process. Step one is about getting comfortable and compassionate with all aspects of yourself. It’s about learning to welcome and get curious about the parts of yourself you’ve reviled and dehumanized in the past. It’s about learning the willingness to tolerate all the messy truth of you.

If we skip past step one straight into step two—meaningful engagement with the world—we run the risk of doing what we’ve always done and getting what we’ve always gotten. Punishing ourselves for imperfection, for anxiety; falling once more into a loop of disengagement and depression.

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Viktor Frankl, concentration camp survivor and philosopher, wrote that there are three kinds of values:

1)      Creative values:  what you contribute to the world

2)      Experiential values: what you enjoy experiencing

3)      Attitudinal values: how you make meaning of the inevitable suffering of life

We tend to think of self-care in terms of Frankl’s second category: comfort; experiences that soothe and calm us. Yet if we tend only to our personal comfort, we never expand or evolve. True self-care encompasses all three:  contribution, comfort, and meaningful engagement with suffering.

And if we eliminate comfort from the equation, tending only to the world and not to ourselves, we risk both burnout and rigidity, closing down all perspectives except those that feel tolerable and safe.

 

So—take a moment today to check in with yourself. Be tender, and be honest. What effect is the world having on you? What emotions do you need to face if you are going to be able to look unflinchingly at the truth of what is going on in your community and your country?

What can you do to tend yourself that would make it possible to make room for those feelings, and look anyway?

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Breathe into the discomfort, and see if you can let yourself expand into new territory.  You might just change the world.

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We always love to hear from you.  Feel free to comment below, or contact us directly at innerlightasheville@gmail.com.

Should I Be Genuine When I'm A Hot Mess?

Posted by Lissa Carter, LPC

You know the story, right? Perhaps you’ve spent the year visiting your therapist weekly, learning new ways of communicating. Perhaps you’ve developed a mindfulness practice, or spent every morning this past month writing down what you are grateful for. Perhaps you’ve found a new community in which you can really feel appreciated for your genuine self.

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…And then you visit your family, and it all goes up in smoke.

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This time of year, we all face our own challenges. For some of us, it is talking honestly with family who sit on the other side of the political arena. For some, it is the loneliness of not having a family at all, having lost family members who were dear to us, or having a family who has forsaken us. And for some, it is the stress of maintaining our own values in the face of an onslaught of social responsibilities and expectations—-or our sobriety in the face of a slew of temptations.

Let’s not dance around it: this is a rough time of year. And to make matters worse, there’s this expectation that we are supposed to be having the TIME OF OUR LIVES….and it really seems like everyone else truly is!

So let’s slow this train down and take a look at what it might feel like to exercise authenticity and self-compassion around the holidays. Drumroll please…

Here is your four-step guide to being genuine when you are feeling like a hot mess.

1) Setting the Stage for Authenticity

As you’ve probably noticed, there’s more than one version of yourself living in your body. There’s the wise self that knows what truly matters and puts that first. There’s the hurt, wounded self that lashes out when you’ve had a rough day. There’s the veneer you smooth on when you have an important meeting at work, or need to turn on the charm. There’s the you that seems only to emerge when you are spending time in your hometown, or with your family of origin.

When we talk about authenticity, it is extremely important to name WHICH ASPECT of yourself you want to be authentic to. Does any of this sound familiar?

  • “I know I committed to working out with you this evening, but I had a rough day and I’m really tired. I need to honor my need for solitude.”

  • “Well fine, I promised you I’d do this and I never break my promises.” (inner demon rubs its hands together gleefully and murmurs ‘but you are sooooo going to regret making me follow through….’)

  • “I know you’re hurt, but I am furious right now. I need to be authentic and tell you that I have no interest in working out our differences.”

It’s crucial to be honest with ourselves, first and foremost. Are we choosing to be authentic to the BEST version of ourselves, the one that aligns with our values? Or are we choosing to be authentic to the wounded part of ourselves and let it have control over our choices and relationships?

Steven Hayes, cofounder of ACT therapy, posed a question in a recent training that has lingered with me. “Suffering is going to show up,” he said. “It does not invalidate the pain we are feeling to ask ourselves what do I want to be about, even in the face of this suffering?”

What do I want to be about, even in the face of this suffering?

In other words, to whom do you want to be authentic? Which part of you is most deserving of your loyalty?

Take a little time, right now, to write out how you want to be, even when you are falling apart. Who do you want to be when you are having a difficult conversation? Who do you want to be when you have to do something you dislike?

2) Front-Loading with Self-Compassion

So, while we’re being all authentic, let me ask you: why are we always trying to slide out of our values and commitments? Why do we go out for dinner when we are trying to save money? Why do we say yes to a day of binge-watching a new show when we said we’d spend the weekend hiking? And why do we continue to sneak sugar/alcohol/chips when we told ourselves we want to eat healthier?

We’re not bad people. And we’re not lying to ourselves—-we truly do want to keep those commitments. It’s just that it’s really hard, because the payoff is in the future and the sacrifice is in the present moment.

Let me say that again: these tender animal bodies of ours HATE feeling discomfort in the present because the future payoff doesn’t feel as real as the present pain.

So the kindest, most helpful thing we can do for ourselves is to make these changes as gently and lovingly as possible. When that harsh critical voice shows up, telling you all the ways you are flawed, don’t side against yourself. Wrap a warm arm around your tender self and say “this is really hard. I want the best for you, and I know change is scary.”

Bring a little payoff into the present by being your own compassionate cheerleader. We are much more likely to stay the course if our inner voice is telling us “This is hard, I know. I’m sorry. And I think we’ve got this.”

3) Befriending Our Own Experience

Just as you did in step one, take a moment here to set an intention for yourself:

No matter what happens, I refuse to make an enemy of my experience.

Read that over a few times, and speak it quietly to yourself. What would it mean, if you were committed to befriending your own experience? What would it mean if, when your feelings are horribly hurt over the dinner table, or you feel a simmering resentment over the way you are being treated, you tell yourself:

“Wow, I am feeling so hurt right now. Where is that pain hitting me? What can I do to support myself through this?”

instead of:

“Keep it together, you idiot! Grit your teeth, smile, and stop being such a drama queen. Geez, stop playing into their hands!”

or even, more subtly:

“Oh no! It’s happening again! No no no no no no I SO wanted it to be different this year!”

The first response befriends reality. The second one fights it, and the third one flees it.

But no matter how you treat reality, it’s still reality!

We don’t have a lot of control over the things that happen to us, or over the thoughts and feelings we have in response. What we DO have control over is how we act on those thoughts and feelings. Make the commitment to yourself that your actions will befriend the reality of your experience, rather than arguing with or avoiding it.

Perhaps this means that when overwhelming grief shows up in the middle of an event you hoped would feel inspirational, you let yourself feel fully overcome with grief and ask “what might this grief be inspiring me to do?”

Perhaps this means that when rage shows up at a time you hoped to feel calm, you allow yourself to ask “how might allowing myself the full experience of this rage burn away some obstacles to my ability to feel calm?” Allow yourself to hold the possibility that you can have the reality of your experience AND move toward your values, at the same time.

4) Permission to Pause

Want to know the best thing about being a hot mess? It’s time-limited!

No, really! Our nervous systems are designed that way. Full freak-out is too energy-intensive to maintain for very long, so our nervous systems are constantly working to re-regulate.

If you are truly feeling triggered, and even your best attempts at staying authentic to your best self, being self-compassionate, and befriending reality are falling short, please know that you are worthy of a pause.

You always, always, always get to call a time out when you need one.

It might look like excusing yourself to the bathroom and then taking 5 deep breaths on the toilet seat, or it might look like taking yourself off on a walk, taking some time to write, or calling a friend. The truth is, we cannot think rationally when our nervous systems are in fight-or-flight mode, so any time we take to soothe and calm ourselves will only benefit us in the long run. Walk away, review the first three steps of this process, and return when you feel like your best self is back in charge.

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So…..should you be genuine when you are a hot mess?

A RESOUNDING YES. Because if you are only allowed to be yourself when you are “acceptable”, you are going to miss out on a LOT of life!

Even your ‘hot mess’ self deserves befriending, compassion, and time.

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Speaking of which….

One of the cruelest ways we women hurt ourselves is with the concept of beauty.

Beauty is something we can do nothing to earn, and yet we tell ourselves that without it, we have no value. We beat ourselves black and blue against this brick wall of beauty over and over and over again.  We hemorrhage away so much precious energy trying to conform to someone else’s standards, standards that, were we to take a moment and check, we completely disagree with!

How about spending a day sacredly, compassionately, and creatively SMASHING THAT SUCKER TO BITS?

Learn more and register here.

And as always, we love to hear from you! Feel free to comment below or write us directly at innerlightasheville@gmail.com.