Capt. Chesley "Sully" SullenbergerJust as US Airways Captain Chesley B. Sullenberger III skillfully landed his jet in the Hudson River on January 15th, 2009, there is an art to landing from peak experiences. Everyone on board the jet that day survived, so everyone is OK, right? Well, maybe. Everyone on board the jet that day experienced a high intensity situation and how they will be impacted by that event depends a lot on each unique individual’s ego capacity.

Bodynamic Analysis, a form of body-oriented psychotherapy developed in Denmark since the late 1960s, proposes that high intensity traumatic events like the crash of US Airways Flight 1549 have a lot in common with peak experiences. Both types of experiences seem to involve a kind of energy raising and altered state of consciousness. The senses become sharpened, perception of time can be experienced as changed or distorted, extrasensory perceptions may be involved, and there can be a colossal feeling of bliss or mastery. For some people there can even be an inner sense of having received a message, or guidance for moving in a particular direction in their life.

Erik Jarlnaes and Josette van Luytelaar in their article, “The Therapeutic Power of Peak Experiences: Embodying Maslow’s Old Concept suggest using peak experiences to help resolve shock.

An important aspect of peak (and of shock) is the state of high-level energy experienced, both psychologically and bodily (in the muscles.) The Bioenergetic concept of “charge” is related to this and refers to the body energy that can be charged or dis-charged.

People can have difficulty containing this high-level energy (or charged state) in their peak (or their shock). This often results in losing the peak or “freezing” in shock, which can cause psychological or psychosomatic problems.

So what is an airline crash survivor or an artist caught in the peak of their creative process to do?

Well, fortunately, Bodynamic Analysis has developed a model of 11 Ego-functions that cut across child development phases and have the potential to continue to be developed throughout life. Three of the most important Ego-functions in physically containing the high energy states of traumatic situations (like one’s airplane crashing) are grounding, centering and boundaries. These are concrete body skills that can be taught and trained. The better one’s skills are at grounding, centering and boundaries the longer one can stay functioning in their ego’s capacity in high intensity situations without shock-related brain stem control and physiology taking charge of their systems. And for the artist or performer seeking to sustain their peak, having good grounding, centering and boundaries can support the strong physical container necessary to maintain high level intensity for an extended period of time.

fearless_ver11Being in high intensity can be such a compelling state that some people may not want to land. You may know people who are “addicted” to participating in high risk activities for the adrenaline rush they get. In Peter Weir’s 1993 film, Fearless, Jeff Bridges plays an airline crash survivor who gets stuck in the “high” of having survived.

Other people have a difficult time being in high intensity and may be frightened by it. They might collapse in their body so the high intensity cannot be maintained. These people miss out on the opportunity to be present and ready to act when it really counts and are at risk of not getting the contact and connection they need to land successfully.

So how does one land gracefully from high intensity situations? For me, gracefully means not getting stuck in the peak or conversely collapsing too quickly and too soon back into normal day to day consciousness. Here are some concrete ways to navigate the transition back to everyday life again.

  • Land in the physical body. Get in touch with concrete body sensing and be present in the muscles again.
    • Work with grounding: feel the physical weight of your body, the pressure of your feet on the ground if standing and the weight of your sit bones on a chair if sitting.
    • Work with centering: Sense your spine. Sense the depth of your spine and bring your awareness to the front of it. Can you feel how deeply it penetrates your body? Feel your physical balance point somewhere deep in your lower abdomen.
    • Work with boundaries: Sense your skin, your body surface. Can you feel where you end and the surrounding world begins? A great way to do this is in physical contact with another person. Have them tap gently all over your body in a way that feels good to you while maintaining contact with your own center and ground.
  • Land in the emotional body. Notice any emotions that appear, accept them and allow them to flow through the body and hopefully while in connection with another person.
  • Land in the mental body. Find a language and a way of thinking that can describe the experience and aide you in understanding what happened. Sharing that story with a trusted friend is encouraged. 🙂

I am indebted to Merete Holm Brantbjerg for much of this valuable information I’ve shared with you. Her resource-oriented perspective in working with shock trauma has been immensely transformative for me. For more information about her and her work please visit her website www.moaiku.com.

© Carole LaRochelle, 2009.

I went to a Sweat Your Prayers: Silent Practice last Sunday hosted by The Moving Center School. I had not been to a Sweat Your Prayers in quite some time and the practice got me back in touch with a profound quality of being I have been wanting to write about for many months now. The original spark for this piece came from a video of classical Chinese dancer Liu Yan. Upon first watching this video I immediately resonated with the great quantity of energy this beautiful woman channels yet also contains in her body. Judge for yourself, the video is below.

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My understanding of classical Chinese dance is that it has been influenced by martial arts, tai chi and Beijing opera. Indeed, there is definitely a tai chi like quality to Yan’s movement.

About now you may be wondering to yourself, “So why the interest in this quality of movement?” The answer is simply, “Presence.” As a somatic practitioner, just shy of her eighteenth year of practice, I have learned a little bit about what our culture likes to call the mind-body connection. (Problematic words in themselves best explored in another article.) You could say my bias is that getting the mind into the present moment happens through the body; through attention to body movement and sensation.

In another post I wrote titled “Sullenberger’s ‘Highest Duty’ To Maintain Ego Capacity in High Intensity Emergency Landing” I refer to an article in the anthology Body, Breath & Consciousness titled “The Therapeutic Power of Peak Experiences: Embodying Maslow’s Old Concept.” In this article authors Erik Jarlnaes & Josette van Luytelaar, two Bodynamic practitioners, discuss “peak experience” as developed by Abraham Maslow and compare it to the concept of “flow” as posited by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

As background for this exploration Maslow defines a peak experience as:

. . . an episode or sudden wave, in which all potentials of a person are flowing together in a particularly goal-oriented and intense gratifying way, in which he is more integrated and less split, is more open to experience, in which he is more coming forward with his own specific nature or disposition, is more spontaneous and expressive, more fully functioning, more creative, humoristic, ego-transcendent, less dependent on his lower instincts, etc. In these periods he becomes more really himself, more powerful in actualizing his capacities, more close to the essence of his Being, more fully human . . .

On the other hand, Csikszentmihalyi defines peak experience as a process, a flow, an ecstatic state of consciousness as well as a peak moment.

An optimal experience is the feeling that the required technical ability and the challenges are in balance with each other, in a goal-oriented rule-oriented action system that makes clear how one is performing. The concentration is so intense that one has no attention anymore for matters of lower importance or worries about problematic questions. The self-consciousness disappears and the time frame distorts.

Jarlnaes & van Luytelaar conclude that getting into “flow” is a precondition for peak experience. One cannot make a peak experience happen; only set-up the conditions where it is likely to occur. Preparation for the “peak moment” involves getting into a “flow” state, a process of coming into a state of high energy and intense present moment awareness that is contained within the physical body, primarily by the muscular system. The muscular system can be likened to the insulation around an electrical wire that keeps the energy from shorting out and speedily moving in its proper channel so it can be directed to where it needs to go. Csikszentmihalyi writes of the important role of the body in “flow” and sees many similarities between “flow” and eastern body-training methods like yoga and martial arts. (Watch Liu Yan again. Her movement is an exquisite example of flow.)

Bodynamic has developed their own training method, called “slow flow,” to teach  people how to build and maintain a high level of energy in their systems. It is not as codified as yoga or tai chi, therefore easier to learn and practice regularly. Slow flow basically involves slow motion movements performed in a continuous rhythmic fashion usually accompanied by music. Stimulating sensory experiences is a common way to enter the “flow” state. Sensory experiences vary widely from looking at art or beautiful scenery in nature, to writing an article or painting a picture, listening to or performing music, playing sports, making love, or dancing (one of my personal favorites.)

Which leads me right back to last Sunday night’s Sweat Your Prayers. I will attempt to describe what happens inside me during moving meditation. Paying attention to my movement impulses and body sensations quickly gets me into a “flow” state. I feel profoundly present and at peace undistracted by thoughts. My breath and heartbeat are rhythmic pulsations that enhance and feed my movement. I drop deeply into myself and my felt sense yet at the same time am fully aware of my environment and those around me. For me this is an intensely creative state of being that provides access and resonance to the greater flow of life in the world around me. To build more energy into my system I will often slow down even more when the music and others in the room become chaotic. I feel the contained energy building in my system until my own impulse moves me to release the energy through wild, abandoned, explosive movement. Eventually all returns to stillness and regular day to day consciousness. I do not, however, return as the same person. I have somehow been changed, transformed by the alchemical process of the experience I participated in.

For more on “flow” states as investigated by Csikszentmihalyi please watch this TED video.

© Carole LaRochelle, 2009.

February and March have been incredibly busy for me as well as incredibly productive. The first full weekend in February I started the ITT Pilates Mat Training. I’ve previously written about my history with Pilates and my current renewed interest in this body of work here.

The third weekend in February I flew to Los Angeles to take the Certification Exam for Structural Integrationâ„ . This exam, created by the Certification Board for Structural Integrationâ„ , is the definitive means of authenticating professional standards of excellence as a practicing Structural Integrator. I received notification in mid-March that I passed the exam and I am now entitled to use the designation Certified Structural Integrator (CSI).

The last weekend in March I took the ITT Pilates Mat Trainer certification exam and I just received notice April 4 that I successfully passed both the written and practical exams. I am now officially a Pilates Mat Trainer and I’m tentatively planning to do the comprehensive equipment training in the fall.

April 4 and 5 I was in Grass Valley attending a workshop with Merete Holm Brantbjerg. Merete is one of the co-creators of Bodynamic Analysis which I have written about previously. She has branched out on her own and continues to develop her unique contributions to the world of body-oriented psychotherapy. Her specialties are Resource Oriented Skill Training as a Body Psychotherapeutic Method and Body Oriented Trauma Therapy. The skills I have learned from studying with her have made a profound difference in my life and my work. I will attempt a synopsis of this class for my blog at a later date.

These last two months have been an intense time of study for me! I’m confident and pleased to be able to bring all this new knowledge and skill into my private practice and share it with you, my clients, who so kindly and generously put your trust in my work.

© Carole LaRochelle, 2009.

I had an interesting conversation with David Rickey over at Soul’s Code this week. You can read our conversation about “A History of Consciousness, and How to Live in Presence” here. As I was riding my bike yesterday afternoon immersed in the beauty of the intense yellow, wild, blooming mustard juxtaposed against the spring green grass and robin’s egg blue sky I couldn’t help but feel a little like Dorothy in The Land of Oz. The scene of Dorothy and the Cowardly Lion falling asleep in the poppy field came to mind.


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Read Part 1 and Part 2 of this 4 part series.

In reconstructing the timeline for this article I discovered I wore the twister cables for 15 to 18 months. I was still wearing the cables when I entered kindergarten in the fall of 1972.

Until that time I had been relatively sheltered at home from the type of harsh teasing that can happen when one is “different” from their peers. We, as humans, seem to have a primitive instinct that informs us if someone’s legs are funny or they walk abnormally then they may be retarded.

Thus, similar to Forrest Gump climbing on the school bus for his very first day of school, I was ostracized and cruelly mocked by some older children. I tried my best not to show how much it hurt me and vowed to never make fun of someone else’s disability.

Wearing the braces at the age I did, and having to cope with difficulties like being teased by older children helped to reinforce an earlier defense strategy in my character structure known as Late Will. This terminology, as I use it here, comes from Bodynamic Analysis, a form of body-oriented psychotherapy from Denmark.

They have defined a seven phase character structure model starting from the 2nd trimester through the age of 12. Their model puts a more positive spin on character structure than previous models developed by Freud, Erikson and Lowen.

Indeed, in Bodynamic Analysis, each developmental stage represents a central issue or theme dealt with during a particular age period. In fact, each theme can also be viewed as a basic human right. They are:

  1. Existence (2nd trimester to 3 months) The right to exist in one’s physical environment.
  2. Need (1 month to 1 1/2 years) The ability to sense one’s own needs and that one’s needs can be met.
  3. Autonomy (8 months to 2 1/2 years) The ability to engage in independent movement and explore the world.
  4. Will (2 to 4 years) The ability to make choices and state one’s own power through actions and emotions (i.e. control) and still be loved.
  5. Love/Sexuality (3 to 6 years) The ability to create a balance between feelings of the heart (love) and the genitals (sexuality).
  6. Opinion (5 to 8 years) The ability to form and express one’s opinion.
  7. Solidarity/Performance (7 to 12 years) The ability to balance being one’s best with being a member of a group.

Bodynamic Analysis was developed by Lisbeth Marcher and a group of 10 Danish therapists who studied and worked together for 20 years. I have studied this system’s character structure model as well as their approach to working with shock/trauma.

I continue to study Resource Oriented Skill Training with Merete Holm Brantbjerg one of Bodynamic’s co-creators. I will write more about this body of work in future posts.

At some point during kindergarten the doctors deemed the braces no longer necessary and I was set free. I chuckle now to think about it, but they gave my mother instructions to stretch me.

I suppose this was to keep working to improve the external rotation in my hips. What they showed us to do I now know as Baddha Konasana or Bound Angle Pose from yoga.

Bound Angle Pose

Of course my Bound Angle Pose didn’t look like the one in this picture. My knees were much higher off the ground. I would sit in this position with my back against the hallway wall while my mother would push down on my knees. It hurt, and I didn’t know how to relax. I would push up with my knees as hard as my mother would push down. I’m not sure we made much progress in changing my pattern.

As you may imagine, going through all of this at such a young age created in me quite an awareness of body structure and alignment. After we stopped torturing me with stretches my leg issues faded more into the background.

The next time I can remember a significant Aha! Moment that led me down the path to become a Rolfing practitioner was in high school.

In the 1980s I used to listen to a morning radio program called The Alex Bennett Show out of San Francisco. One morning Alex was talking about getting Rolfed. Since his show featured standup comedians as his guests, he was making fun of the funny sounding name. However, he also said some things that burned into my memory.

He said the work was literally changing the structure of his body, that he had better posture, was more flexible, and had more energy. That information got stored in my brain. . . there is something out there that changes structure. . . being able to change structure in a positive direction is a good thing.

And then, I promptly forgot about Rolfing until many years later.

Continue to Part 4 Finding My Calling


© Carole LaRochelle, 2009.