Jack Painter, PhD., who founded three major bodymind integration methods: Postural Integration, Energetic Integration and Pelvic-Heart Integration, has offered the world two beautiful, at first sight a bit complicated, but in fact insightful and intelligent maps for guiding the bodymind integrative process. These maps are being referred to as the “Natural Energetic Cycle/Wave” (or “The Natural Flow of Energy”) and the map of “Blockages of the Natural Flow of Energy.” These maps, are also important in the Core Strokes™ Modality, developed by Dirk Marivoet.
I will here briefly describe and explain the steps and concepts you can see on those maps. In our Bodymind Integration workshops and training programs we elaborate significantly on these maps, both theoretically and experientially.
Steps in the natural wave.
The Secure Breath.
As you look at the energy chart “The Natural Flow of Energy” you will find a first step called the Secure Breath. In this step we explore a state of homeostasis, of rest, of being at home with ourselves and feeling secure. We simply connect with ourselves and an eventual other, a facilitator can help us connect with ourselves and help us find such connection and rest with ourselves. Through this self- and other-regulation, we not only become aware that we are present, that we are there, that we exist, but we also feel the connection and coordination of our breath with our whole being that is lightly “charging” and “discharging” energy. Every in-breath is lightly charging our cells and increasing our energy field, every out-breath is a discharging and releasing of waste products and a letting go. This continuous cycle of in- and out-breathing is a profound foundation for our physiology and for our living consciousness because we can appreciate it.
On the chart you will see how our breath is baseline: We have a reservoir of energy which we do not disperse, and we can hold this potential energy until we are ready to use it.
Those persons who easily establish this security in their breathing we designate as “grounded” in natural character style. They are the individuals who, when faced with stress and imbalances, can find their way back to re-establishing their secure breathing. Or perhaps they are the individuals who take their time, making sure they are prepared, with a full container before moving on to another stage.
Stage II: The Nurturing Breath.
Often we see that when someone begins to feel more secure in their rhythm, they spontaneously take a deeper inhalation. With the deeper inhalation we are filling ourselves with energy, and when the exhalation is less than the inhalation, we have grown our energy field.
On the chart you will see that, in step two, the peaks of inhalation (charging) are greater than the descending lengths of exhalation (discharging).
To practice a nurturing breath, we can on the inhalation, open the mouth wide or we can suck air in — without effort if all is good. The energy we need or want or desire is available; it is abundantly there, and will not be denied us or taken away. We may say that this is a “feminine” breath, that we are bringing outside energy into our inside space. In Pelvic-Heart Integration, we explore the possibility of breathing in through the pelvis and upward to our heart: We’re filling that space up; We’re absorbing what we need. (Although when we inhale, the air naturally goes in the mouth and downward into the lungs and diaphragm, after the diaphragm has fully descended, we feel from this point a filling up against the lungs as the breath rises toward the chest).
Using our hands as a facilitator, we can encourage this filling up with supportive messages like “Allow breath in, where my hands touch you” (or in a self-help way: “I allow breath to flow in my chest or belly or both”); “I allow my belly to fill”; “I let my chest rise”; “I relax my inhale into my ribs in my back.”
There are infinite possibilities to develop this kind of receptivity. The nourishing breath emphasizes the inhale, while the exhale is very soft and relaxed. If your nasal passages are open, try breathing in through your open mouth, reaching for the nourishment with gently extended lips, relaxed tongue, throat and neck, and breathing out with a soft sound, your mouth gently closed. You can visualize or kinesthetically imagine the process of “breathing” into the feet, legs, pelvis, arms or head, imagining the nourishment of the inhale traveling to any part of your body which feels hungry or depleted, aiding such transfer of energy by placing your hand or hands on that part of your body. Perhaps you imagine breathing a color — a warm red or cool blue — which flows to all the parts of the breath’s expansion. You can also — during a single, ever-increasing inhalation — allow increments of further expansion. We can create a nice feeling of floating — using an image of being in warm water — allowing an expansion, and we may also with our hands support and lightly lift the back of our ribs. There are infinite possibilities.
Those persons, who naturally seem to get what they need, we call “receptive” in character style. We see that although they may not have excessive expectations, they still seem to go through the process of wanting and searching for things in their lives, yet somehow mostly get what they set out for. Also they may have the attitude that if they really desire something, they can get it. Life is abundant and available for them.
Stage III: The Exploring Breath.
Once we are filled enough, we spontaneously begin to want to explore—either our environment or our feelings or thoughts. The breath now emphasizes the exhale, and, if your mouth has been closed on the exhale as suggested for Stage II, now open your mouth for the “explore breath” and make a more expressive sound, or even “Wow!” To make the point more obvious, vigorously shake successive parts of your body with each exhale: your right arm, your left arm, your right leg, your left leg, now both your arms, now both your legs, now both your legs and both your arms! Pause a moment after this exercise and feel your body. People often report tingling, pleasant, and more alive sensations in their bodies. The important point here is that, although in one sense, we’ve been emphasizing the discharge—the exhale, with sound and movement while breathing out—overall the energy level is still rising.
On the chart notice that in Stage three, although the discharge has gradually become greater, the overall peaks of inhalation and charging are higher than in Stage two.
Instead of asking the breath to come into our hands as in the nurturing breath, we now can stimulate the muscles, massaging them during the exhalation — softly or vigorous, to encourage the held energy in the system to flow out. Our touch (not too deep) can be anywhere that an excessive charge is being held — in the neck, jaw, or chest muscles, in the ropes along the back (sacrospinalis), in the thighs, buttocks, calves. Some people hold their breath a lot, and so we help them exhale more more completely by applying some gentle pressure on the sternum.
There are these individuals who are naturally “expressive” in their character style. They allow their energy to flow into the world without holding back. Their exhale, being surrender, does not turn into an over-exhaling neediness, although they may sometimes be loud and rambuncous.
Stage IV: The Free Breath.
The next stage is called the free breath, and can be thought of as a combination of stages II and III: we freely breathe in (the nourishing breath), and we freely breathe out (the exploring breath). If we think of the inhale as making us bigger, and the exhale as making us smaller, then we can think of the free breath as embodying the freedom to be either big or small, or any size in between. Or it can be the freedom of being both “masculine” and “feminine”. Yet the free breath is even more: it is the spontaneous, change in the direction of inhaling and exhaling. We are free to make a small expansion, then a strong contraction, and inhale again with a fuller expansion and a smaller contraction. And our pattern may become unpredictable. This is like a flowing belly laugh, where we vibrate with the changing, in and out, of our breath. One movement visualization to help with this is to imagine your feet resting on the earth. As you breathe in, spread your arms wide and imagine yourself getting bigger and bigger, and look down and see the earth as a small ball way down there and your body as big as the solar system, or the Milky Way. Then, breathing out, your arms gradually coming back down and you are becoming smaller and tinier; the earth rushes up to meet you, and you are now as small as an ant with the grasses towering above you, the earth infinitely wide, perhaps you have become as small as a molecule. Repeat these movements and visualizations several times.
Another good way to work with this stage is to progressively and alternately amplify the expansion and contraction until you experience the fullest breath possible — fullest inhalation and fullest exhalation. Also sometimes opening the arms wide during the inhalation and letting them drop during exhalation, gives the feeling of free flying or floating. In bodymind integration sessions we help clients to find this possibility. The therapist can work on the chest, applying some pressure, but this time alternately emphasizing downward pressure for several exhalations, then guiding the chest up during several inhalations. Or we work with myofascial techniques to help the contracted tissues to relax.
On the chart you will notice that step four shows a gradually increasing range of upward charging and downward discharging.
The natural “free” character style knows how to feel and show many emotions – giving-in sadness, outgoing rage; the ability to come out of fear and change to anger, joy, fullness or sadness. The free character doesn’t have to dream of freedom, he or she is living it.
An organismic cycle of 4 stages
If we were to repeat these four stages, but this time allow each stage to merge into the next, we would discover that our energy is smoothly rising, as though heading toward a climax; and it is precisely what happens in any unblocked organismic energy cycle: the energy builds up, reaches a peak, then returns to the level at which we started. Stage I, therefore, the secure breath, would be returned to, only this time we could recognize that the slow rhythmic breathing would also characterize our need for integration, not just the establishment of our existence and safety.
This energy cycle can be thought of in terms of different timescales: a few minutes, a whole lifetime, or mapped onto early childhood developmental stages. Stage I, pre- and peri-natal. Stage II, infancy and oral needs. Stage III, toddlership. Stage IV, around the age of toilet learning.
The next Stage V is the excitement phase, and heralds the advent of genitality, when the energy of the child is finally anchored in the pelvis. In this stage we repeat the previous four stages—to feel secure in our excitement, to nourish it, to explore it, and be free with it—but at a higher level of energy.
Four more stages complete the cycle, but these are beyond the scope of this article. Each stage has its typical types of blockages (see map below) and insight in the dynamics of each of those becomes the frame of a possible therapeutic process that eventually in a precise and effective way restores the natural flow. These are topics that we extensively address during our training programs.
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