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Somatic Mindfulness Practices

August 9, 2016

This was written for a colleague in mental health looking to add to his sessions. There are a variety of somatic therapies that promote well-being, the key to transformation via embodiment is committed practice.  There are several case studies and success stories published in The Art of Somatic Coaching by Richard Strozzi-Heckler, PhD that point to sustainable, embodied change.  In my experience being coached and in coaching others, somatic practices are integral to eliminating habits and behaviors that no longer serve us.  

 

How we see the world and how we act in it is something we embody due to our practices and habits from a young age.  When somatic practices are introduced, there is new awareness and choice in how we respond and how our body reacts. We can create a future with responses that best serve us.  From the committed practice, new patterns emerge which creates new embodiment and a new way of showing up.

 

The mindfulness practices benefits are becoming mainstream and are integrated more and more in schools and businesses.  Giving the mind a rest and becoming aware of our bodies creates a new level of attention to the body, thus freeing the mind.  Many get caught in a loop of anxiety, negative or obsessive thoughts, etc. This is the embodiment of an attention practice. The attention is being placed on certain thoughts, creating a pattern of actions and behaviors.  By engaging in practices that give thoughts a break, we are creating new neural pathways that allow a new construction of thought, actions and behaviors to emerge.  The transformation from anxiety to mindfulness creates choice in how we respond and engage in life.

 

When we relax the mind, we can tune in to the wisdom that shows up in our physical body.  The somatic piece creates the embodiment of mindfulness. There are a number of benefits of mind-body practices:

  1. Eases anxiety

  2. Promotes creativity

  3. Aids in memory retention

  4. Provides a productivity boost

Sometimes having a guide, therapist or coach to get this integrated can help create long-term, sustainable practice.

 

In many cases, people seek out therapy due to exhaustion, over-extension or mental unrest. The introduction to somatic practices in this paper invites the reader to explore and begin somatic practices. These practices are excerpts from a guide I created for mental health practitioners. I have included it here for use by all.

 

We all experience all sorts of ups, downs and in-betweens emotionally. Many have a tendency to get locked in a series of thoughts that are not self-serving, the inner critic.  The questioning listed below this can help frame the current understanding & standards you are living in as your default mode. How we show up in our body, with our emotional and linguistic responses are based on what we have practiced up until this point. The steps below were written as a way for a practitioner to walk a patient through creating new standards so that it's relevant to individual life objectives. If you are a practitioner, feel free to add this line of questioning to your practice.

 

Excerpts from “Somatic Mindfulness Mental Health Integration”:

 

I. Questioning -

  1. What is the current narrative that dominates patient’s life & actions?

  2. What are some behaviors with associated actions that perpetuate a cycle that produces dissatisfaction?

Note: we each interpret life differently. This is a result of our individual life experiences that begin forming from childhood. The continuation of certain thought patterns and behaviors stem from those experiences. As adults, we continue in certain interpretations as if that is “just the way I am”, yet when there are patterns of negative thoughts, destructive relationships or the tendency to sacrifice ourselves because of old belief systems, many realize that this is not how life has to be.  Becoming aware of patterns and behaviors start to reveal the thought loop.  This is the first step in seeing where we may get stuck.

 

This may take a few sessions.  Questions to help prompt:

  1. When did this [behavior, response, emotion] first show up?

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  2. What purpose did this thought or behaviour once serve [what was the origin and early adoption in response to growing up]?

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  3. Is it serving a part of your life now? Note: it may be a pattern that is a conditioned tendency. Because of the pattern, it seems that there is an attraction to a certain type of personality trait. The people we attract are because of patterns we practice, where is this showing up? How is it informing the patient?

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  4. Where is this getting in the way?

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  5. What is being produced in your life as a results of this thought and/or behavior pattern?

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  6. If there was a new thought pattern with new behaviors and actions, what would life look like?


II. Declaration -

 

This is identifying what is patient’s new declared future from “6” above. Language is generative. When we say “will you marry me?” regardless of the answer, saying these words creates a new future.  When we say “I am taking care of me” or “I am committed to clarity” we are being generative. This paves the way to embodying a new, generative future. Have your patient, speaking it out loud, have them practice it with fervor and commitment so it begins to produce the outcome being sought.  

 

Note: There is power in declaration when we feel it in our body and don’t just say it. Saying while feeling the emotions that surge and noticing the thoughts that emerge that may tempt your patient to contract. Those emotions and thoughts is a key part of this. The past thoughts that are creeping in are most likely the past critic that has been given the space to develop over time. The declaration is creating a new voice with new feedback that serves to help pave the new path, rather than continuing to wear down the one clearly paved. Ask patient stand with feet shoulder width apart, shoulders back, knees soft, feet firmly planted on ground. Coach patient to assume a centered and confident body posture.  Ask them to speak the commitment.  Encourage them to say it with conviction and with a strong voice from the diaphragm. It may take several attempts to really get to the heart of the new future. Remind and encourage your patient that this is the commitment to the new future that will serve life goals.

 

In my coaching, I introduce a centering practice and revisit it during sessions. This is for the sake of recurrence and to support practice.  My personal centering practice happens 10 - 20x daily.  This may be useful in supporting the mindfulness somatic practices.  

 

Standing Centering:

  1. Feet shoulder width apart, shoulders back, chin up, eyes forward, knees soft

  2. Take deep breath in, slowly exhale

  3. Now place hand at center, right under navel, upon inhale, expand stomach like a balloon

  4. Upon exhale gently push in

  5. Repeat 3, having inhale last for 5 seconds

  6. Repeat 4 having exhale last for 5 seconds

  7. Repeat again, taking in deeper and slower breaths 2 - 3 times

  8. Feel the bottoms of the feet while breathing solid in the ground, almost as if rooted in the ground, keep shoulders back and knees soft

  9. Feel length of body, width and depth while breathing

  10. Focus on each inhale and exhale for 3 more breaths


Sitting Centering:

  1. In seated position, uncross legs, touch ground with feet, bring your attention to the seat, let the seat hold you while sitting up with shoulders back, chin up, eyes forward

  2. Take deep breath in, slowly exhale

  3. Now place hand at center, right under navel, upon inhale, expand stomach like a balloon

  4. Upon exhale gently push in

  5. Repeat 3, having inhale last for 5 seconds

  6. Repeat 4 having exhale last for 5 seconds

  7. Repeat again, taking in deeper and slower breaths 2 - 3 times

  8. Feel the bottoms of the feet and seat while breathing letting seat hold you, keep shoulders back and knees soft

  9. Feel length of body, width and depth while breathing

  10. Focus on each inhale and exhale for 3 more breaths

Andrea Bordenca is a mother of 3 boys, the CEO of a DESCO Medical Service ,the founder of Lead Yourself Youth and a Leadership Coach.  All leadership is a form of service, yet many leaders fall into sacrifice. If you don't ask for help, you are suffering needlessly.  In order to affect change, support from others is needed.

 

Don't go it alone. 

 

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