That’s what I’ve been unraveling with my people in their Prison Break sessions for the past two weeks (presently fully booked, but more openings are on the horizon).
Tension between who you think you have to be and who you are in your core.
Between the environment through which you move and the space inside your body.
Tension between all the burdens you shoulder, between what the world demands of you and what you truly have to give.
(Hint: What’s churning inside you, yearning for release into the world is far more powerful and change-making than the prefabricated mold they’re urging you to fill.)
I work from the body level. This is an intriguing process and honestly looks pretty different for everyone.
I’m definitely detecting some golden threads of shared experience. The most prevalent one is the drive to measure up.
To standards. To appearances. To a cultural idea about what it means to be a successful woman or man (and there are pressures for both genders, even in this age of supposed equality).
To what your family thinks you should become, what your partner desires, to what always fulfilled your need for connection and acceptance.
Diving into these internal tug-o-war struggles is where you mine gold. It’s not a neat and clean process — we’re dealing with biology here.
That said, I’ve identified seven loose steps to body-based transformation. This is my current process, and it’s living. Meaning, it’s evolving even as we speak. Each time I work with someone, get exposed to new ideas or read up on research, the process grows and changes.
But, then, that’s life. And so, in the interest of showing up as things are right now, in the moment, I thought I’d share with you these steps in the hopes that you, too, can use them as a catalyst for your own internal shift.
Like I said, they’re jumping off points. Sometimes we eddy and swirl between two steps for a whole hour. Sometimes we race through them and then come back to the start to work the whole process over, much more deeply.
And quite often, we’ll take a scenic detour away from one step, winding up at in a different place entirely.
But this is the loose framework. Structure is a useful tool while you’re getting your bearings.
One of my early writing teachers always said that first you have to learn the rules, and only then do you have permission to break them.
Breaking the rules has to happen intentionally and with direction, doing so not carelessly but because you’re trying to achieve a specific goal.
But you can’t break rules if you don’t have them. So, without further rambling, here’s my messy, imperfect but incredibly beautiful, powerful and 100% crazy process for body-based change:
1. Identify the problem.
This is the thing you most want to change. Be wary of instant answers.
I often spend half an hour or more exploring the shape of the problem because what we think we want to change is often linked to a much bigger picture desire.
Sometimes the truth of the problem doesn’t reveal itself until we’ve done a whole hour of work on something related and come full circle to the start of the conversation.
Here are some prompts you can use to get you going:
If I could just _____________ then life would be perfect/I would be happy/everything would be okay.
My escape fantasy is ________________________. (Where do you go, what’s present, what’s missing?)
When I daydream, my thoughts turn to _________________.
2. Explore the feeling.
Most of the time, circumstances boil down to one defined sentence. For example: I feel so trapped.
The circumstances around that sentence could vary widely from person to person, but the feeling is what’s important. Identify that one simple statement.
3. Make it sensory.
Let’s use feeling trapped. What’s that like in your body? I’m not talking about what you think it’s like. Even people with deep backgrounds in somatic work often jump to what they know about their bodies.
“I know I carry tension in my back, my dentist tells me I grind my teeth, I tend to walk heavy on my heels….”
No. Those things are good to know, but not what we’re after here.
What is the present moment sensory experience of the feeling? Right now. Not what you felt in the past, what you consistently noticed, what a teacher or mentor told you.
What. Do. You. Feel?!
Some language to get you started (don’t limit yourself to this list alone):
When you’ve identified the sensory experience, dive in a little bit more. What shape is it?
You can also define the sensation with color, weight, movement, pressure and temperature. You can’t get too specific when defining the sensation, but stay out of what you think about it!
Your brain gets to be the backseat observer in this part of the process.
4. Discover its wisdom.
A lot of times, people have already dialogued with their pain, asking what are you here to teach me?
There seems to be some supposition that you’ll realize the lesson your pain is communicating and then it will be cosmically dissolved, never to bother you again.
This is brain level thinking. Your sensory experience is absolutely talking to you, but remember that it doesn’t know language exists. Most of the time, tension is trying to preserve some element.
It almost always comes back to safety, dignity and connection. These three things are like sunlight, water and soil to a plant. You can survive without them for a little while, but you won’t thrive and, with prolonged deprivation, ultimately you’ll wither away.
So, what is the tension preserving? You might also ask, how is this pattern serving you, or how did it serve you in the past?
This is where it gets deep, and often the place where a detour ensues.
5. Name the road blocks.
Once you’ve mapped the territory of the problem, take a look at the insurmountable obstacles. This is usually where the root cause of tension appears.
It’s also where insights about how a pattern formed, why it helped you survive in the past and how it’s limiting you today come into the light.
6. Identify tangible actions.
Bring your creativity. And note that when I say “tangible actions,” sometimes all that means is breathing. Or resting. Or going fetal (really).
Culturally, we’re addicted to bigger, badder and flashier, the faster the better. When working from the body level up, typically slowness, presence and repose are the super weapons.
I’m always looking for ways to cultivate more resilience, support, harmony and integration in a person, because these are the elements that make you more resourced (and also the core elements of my work in my Space Lab course).
7. Re-examine the sensation.
Once you’ve worked your way through the messy unweaving, retrace steps to that initial sensory experience. Given new insights and tangible practices, has the sensation shifted in any way?
Avoid demanding that it shift. This is your mind telling your body what to do. If the pattern hasn’t shifted, that’s okay; there’s still a piece that hasn’t yet been addressed.
It’s not good if the pattern shifts and bad if it doesn’t. Those are brain-level judgments. The tension isn’t negative; it’s informative.
If you find that the pattern has shifted and you’re feeling resourced (a very intangible and subjective thing, I know), this could be a great place to exit the freeway of work for today.
And if not, well, there’s something else. You may need to go back to step one today, or it might be a much deeper challenge that will take multiple days or weeks of work to unravel.
I think we’re sold on the notion of instant change far too often. Sometimes, yes, change happens in the space between one breath and another.
Far more often, it’s a long and subtle process with no easy answers. And every person’s prison break looks unique.
These steps can be a useful, if loose, framework for sparking your own change. Remember as you interact with them to keep lightness and play in mind!
Whimsy is the ally of change.
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