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perfect feet pt. 1 by dml82.

“The place where you made your stand never mattered. Only that you were there… and still on your feet.”

Stephen King


Since I returned from Sonoita I have been assessing my emotional state, feet first.  There is a very pointed reason for this.  A wise horsewoman and trauma survivor with a casual penchant for qualitative research pointed some really profound things about the nature of the foot and reading body language from the toes up.  In all my time focused on somatics I had never given much attention to the foot–almost none.  But I met someone who spent her life’s work noticing the nuances of human and equine body language from head to toe and with a very finite lense on the feet.  In traditional psychotherapy the feet are not a focal point but in horsmanship the foot, where it is, the angle, the flexing and all, are the language in movement between horse and rider.  So, of course, the well-versed horsewoman Shelley Rosenberg has been spending a career looking at feet in a way that I, as a therapist, never would have thought to–she can read the language of the body in a completely different way than I and, it seems, feet have been speaking especially loudly to her.

Even at a distance her acute vision notices things like toe curling in a boot and feet flexing on tippy toes.  She tells me this as she notices my toes curling in my own Mountaineer size 7’s as I sit with some dis-ease atop Max–an elderly white horse who is teaching me a lot about what my body is saying to him.  She tells me that she noticed her own toes doing this while standing, walking, or crossing her legs as a sort of last stopping point for trauma or tension trapped in the body.  She found that even the trauma survivor that had peeled back all the other layers and evaporated all the other clenching of muscles seemed to linger at the toes–hanging on to that one last muscle of control and space to prepare for danger.  A person’s whole body could be lax, she tells me, but she can read what they are really feeling with one glance at their feet.

Until she mentions it to me I don’t notice my own toes clenching, unfamiliar with the back of a horse and the gait of a trot, I had ,unknowingly, clenched my last bit of muscle and flesh–hanging on when I didn’t even realizing it.  But since she pointed this out to me all I can do is realize it; I am assessing my life in steps and flexes.  And finding it to be amazingly accurate on a personal case study level.  I am beginning to explore myself and my emotions…feet first.

I was discussing the other day the ripples and waves that are created in the self post-trauma and post-PTSD.  I have shed the PTSD of my self and have been lifted to a beautiful place where I can explore this life after Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  In the process I am attuned and aware of my “self” at a new level of clarity.  In this awareness I am learning more about the ripples after PTSD.  I am exploring those things that linger in me that are nowhere near that of a DSM-IV version of any disorder but are, what I can only describe as, the ripples and aftershocks; the behaviors and responses in body and mind that have to be undone after years spent in a state of constant fearful survival, raw and empty all at once.

This exploration of my sensory responses and my emotional sensibilities through my feet is another layer of that onion of aftershocks.  Now that I am thinking feet first I have found my toes to be a very accurate barometer of how I am feeling, even below my own first glance interpretation of myself–at the layer below conscious or superficial self and down to the muscle and bone, “subtle self”, if you will.  I wonder what we all might discover about ourselves if we spent a little more time in our toes–also the place of grounding and centering and rooting into the earth.  In yoga I have spent much of my time for myself and for students exploring rooting into the earth with every toe, from heel forward, but in psychotherapy and daily life I have paid it less attention.  Now I find myself starting in myself, in my patients, and in general, eyeing the world feet first.

Take a look down at the ground and see what you find!

“With the past, I have nothing to do; nor with the future.  I live now.”   Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

I have had one of those weeks that has been enlightening, invigorating, and inspiring on every human level possible.  From the human to the equine I have heard the journeys of survivors, thrivers, and those who have a story to tell that is so profound it wells tears and lapses breathe just in having heard it. 

 

In the Rumpus (yes I saw Where The Wild Things Are last weekend) of it all I found synapses blasting and neural paths sparking with a realization of how much all of my work, all of my passions, and all of my life seemed to have been leading to this point of alignment (not to be too dramatic about it) in some way.  If someone had told me before this moment that I would be in a position to both love and align yoga, horses, and psychotherapy together I would have laughed at the incredulousness of the idea.  Today I will say that nothing makes more sense or is more clear to me than how these three worlds collide and echo with sound bites and fragments of each other.

 

I spent last week (Wednesday to Saturday) at the NARHA Conference in Fort Worth, Texas.  I learned about “Prey Psychology” and the corollaries between Winnicottian Theory and Self-Psychology and Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy.  I found an entire world that had blended so many of the ideas and passions I had been working with into a body of therapeutic work that had been alive for 10-20 years without my even being aware of it.  I was invigorated by the passion of the people in this profession and the well-thought academics behind their practices.  It wasn’t just teaching horsemanship to people in hopes of effecting change in some emotional way it was a full basis of therapeutic practices working with horses as partners in effecting change in people’s lives.  One woman even referred to her equine counterparts as “colleagues” in a context that made it seem absolutely an apt description. 

 

I heard people discussing the importance of mindfulness, self-soothing techniques, and even horseback yoga as a means of creating emotional wellness not just through the client’s relationship with the horse but also their body, mind, and emotional awareness of themselves.  It was a wonderful experience to be amid people in a world of therapy, present centered living, and holistic treatment for people in emotional distress that I never before knew existed.  I found myself hoping with more earnestness and a real sense that  it was possible for a world of therapy that broke down the four walls of a therapy room and can, will, take people’s healing to creative and intuitive new heights. 

 

I heard one particular horse trainer describe the horse as a very “present oriented” being stating that as an animal of prey a horse is instinctually imbedded in the present moment, needing to focus on those things that bring them safety, security, and comfort and make them feel wholly well.  I was instantly drawn to consider the two parallels of that–trauma and yoga.  The horse is a great balancer in that it represents a healthy reflection of the traumatized person–it manages its present centered quest for survival while the traumatized person cannot moderate their “prey” experience and feels overwhelmed with their survival needs and unable to find the comfort in the present moment.  I thought also of how the horse is such an excellent metaphor for the perfect yogi/ni.  The horse is able to look at the now, live in the now, and be comforted by what they are given that helps maintain their sense of balance–rejecting that, that does not help them maintain that homeostasis.  They are the perfect mirror to the traumatized person of both what they are and what they want/need to be.  I was fascinated by this beautiful parallel and how the horse is the bridge between emotional disarray and yogic, spiritual centeredness. 

 

I feel on the precipice of breaking through my own glass ceiling of sorts–personally, professionally, philosophically.  Ever moment I turn around I find a new bread crumb, rich metaphor, deep symbology of this shift–in the good, the bad, and the ugly in my life.  I am grateful for this journey and excited for the next bread crumb that will lead to the next discovery. 

 

In the world of wordless connection I see horses as the symbol of something ancient, mystical, beautiful, and simple all in one.  As Linda Kohanov states so eloquently in her book The Tao of Equus speaking about her young new horse, “She was standing in a box stall smelling of pine shavings, and she spoke to me more eloquently in silence than anyone ever had in words.”  This is the kind of connection I could only hope for all of us to have–in life, in healing, in growth of self. 

 

“The wind of heaven is that which blows between a horse’s ears.”             Arabian Proverb

 

flickr typewriter typo by bitzi on flickr

 

Hello all! 

 

My article “Yoga: A Healing Art in A Psychotherapy Context” has just been published in the Fall 2009 Issue of  THE NEW SOCIAL WORKER MAGAZINE

Check it out if you would like!

 

 

Writing is an exploration.  You start from nothing and learn as you go.

E.L. Doctorow

Gosia Janik by ilonqua on flickr

This blog is meant to explore and expound on my somewhat daunting adventure of becoming a Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT).  I am currently a psychotherapist working in the field of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  I came upon this personal experiment in stamina, flexibility, and emotional strength through my work in my primary career and my passion; work with acutely traumatized persons. 

I found early on in my work that although “talk therapy” provided the initial breath of relief at expelling my clients’ demons into the air of the therapy room that the effectiveness of this method in isolation soon deflated and was not enough to sustain continued growth and healing.  I began to explore in earnest other methods that might bring another dimension into treatment of people that have experienced and survived trauma.

In my professional quest for the right answers to the issue of healing I began to search through my personal catalog of things that I had always found rejuvinating, soothing, and pacifying: my dogs, a long massage, a good movie, writing and reading in equal measure, meditation, and yoga.  I’d hate to say that I had an “aha!” moment because the phrase is a bit to kitchy for me too utter but I definitely had an epiphany of sorts.  I realized that I was holding back my capacity to help by limiting myself to what I had been taught through conventional methods was the only means to therapy and treatment of my clients.  I decided to explore further and put some of my ideas to action.  What could it hurt, I thought. 

Through the course of the last year I have been able to impliment programs for my clients to include a group combining writing, reading, and film as a means of processing trauma, I began two yoga groups led by Yoga Teachers, created events and outings around all the creative programming and the response has been phenominal.  I even began researching a potential equine-assisted therapy program.  Everything I have learned and absorbed has added a multidimensional element to my study and practice of psychotherapy and social work. 

All that said I still find that what I want to know and apply, actively being participatory in both the mind and body work that my clients do, is just out of my reach.  I lack the technical and applied knowledge to bridge the gap between these two worlds: this bridge is my necessary next step in being the most adept I can to help those I encounter professionally and an experience I believe will be more difficult and profound than most before it.

Beginning on October 18th, 2009 and ending on December 13, 2009 I will be enrolling myself in an intensive two month teacher training program.  In between that time and the present I will be relocating from New Jersey to Florida with two dogs, two cars, a husband and a Uhaul (a modern day country song wagon train), beginning a new job within my same field, and trying to intensify my yoga practice to match my upcoming routine.  The program I am entering is intensive but also part time, meaning that I will be working full time as well as spending essentially the remainder of my free hours in meditation, yoga practice, and intensive educational seminars beginning before work at 6:oo am and concluding after work as late as 10:00pm.  All this is to be combined with a strict diet and lifestyle regimen of vegetarianism and abstinence from alcohol, music, television, and essentially anything not beneficial to the training experience.  It is meant to mimic as strictly as possible, within the confines of a 9-5 life, the “ashram-type” learning environment that was the traditional method of teaching yoga to students. 

I am excited, intimidated, and ready for the challenge….I necessarily must be.  And cataloging and relaying this experience to begin now and continue through the end of this year of 2009 is my self-regulatory way of keeping myself “in the game” as it were.  And hopefully creating some interesting writing on this exploratory adventure in the process. 

The preliminary entries in this blog, leading up to the actual training, will be ponderings on the study, notes on the mayhem of relocation and life alterations in multiple , and just a little bit of me before the intensity of the teacher training begins.  Welcome to my experience…I hope you find some nuggets of interest in my writing and along this journey. 

 Adventures and misadventures to follow.

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