Principles of RSM #17: Integration is necessary for lasting results

This principle (the 17th out of 18!) relates directly to a tagline I’ve seen used for Rubenfeld Synergy Method: “A dynamic system for the integration of body, mind, emotions and spirit.”  Okay, that’s all very well, but what does it mean?

Integration, to me, refers to two subtly different concepts.  One is the simple idea that whatever insights you’ve gained in sessions, they have permeated your being: i.e., they’re not just ideas in your head, but feelings in your heart, sensations in your body, convictions in your spirit.  It’s fairly easy, for example, to know that you shouldn’t drink so much.  But when the triggers to drink happen – social events, evenings after work, or whatever – does your body still automatically reach for the bottle and the glass?  Does your desire for a drink outweigh your reason?  Or when you, a shy person, acutely desire to connect with someone, do you let your rational mind talk you out of it?  It’s likely that you haven’t integrated whatever lessons you gained from therapy – and therefore, the results of that therapy cannot be lasting.

The other way I tend to use “integration” is as a synonym for “alignment;” that is, an ongoing, cultivated state of moving in the world from your whole self.  Often, when I’m making a decision, reacting to something, or just moving through my day, I ask myself if I’m doing it from an aligned place.  Am I taking my body, mind, emotions and spirit into account, or am I moving from just one of those?  Am I acting, to put it more simply, with integrity?

Integrity, after all, is another form of the same root: when we are integrated, when we are aligned, we can move in the world with integrity.  Integrity is not about a particular moral or ethical code.  It is about operating from a place of wholeness.  It is being able to listen to ourselves: to notice our body’s response, our emotional truth, our spiritual beliefs and our reasoning minds, and, to the degree possible, getting them all to face in the same direction.  This is not always entirely possible, of course, and is in fact the work of a lifetime.  Neither is it about suppressing feelings in the service of doing the right thing, even when the decision you have to make is the one that breaks your own heart.  But being able to feel that breaking, to acknowledge that truth even as you move forward with the right action: that is the way of integrity.

In Synergy, we also talk about another form of the word: integral.  We seek to notice and acknowledge when something is or has been integral to the system of a person – even if that something is now doing them harm.  Chris Hammer, physical therapist, childhood development expert and one of my favorite faculty members in the training, talked frequently about the fact that our bodies always organize for safety and efficiency.  When you see someone with a terrible limp, for example, it may not strike you that that person’s body is particularly efficient.  However, that body is working with its own limitations, and has developed the best practices for what is going to keep them safe, and be most efficient for movement within those limitations.  When I was repeatedly injuring my shoulder and neck in part because I was habitually tensing and curling them around myself, my body was reacting to an old and long-standing situation, and keeping me safe.  In the present context, that habitual position was no longer serving me.  But in order for it to change, we had to acknowledge that it had been integral: it was a part of me that needed honoring and thanking before I could let it go.  The integrity of our bodies needs to be preserved.

This is a truth for many trauma survivors as well: frequently, their integrity has been compromised.  People talk about feeling violated: their boundaries have been disrespected, and their wholeness shattered.  The body’s response is often to seek re-integration: patterns develop that are defenses against further violation.  It is essential that we recognize that these patterns are integral, even if they seem pathological or nonsensical.  They are the body’s response to its integrity having been broken.  When we can honor, listen to, and soothe these responses, then we can begin to offer alternatives, and begin on the path back to wholeness.

The path to integrity, then, begins with integration: laying down new, healthy patterns that can become internalized.  This requires work, but if we start from acknowledging that the change must begin with the body, the rest can often more easily follow.

Next: Self care is the first step to client care.

The path of self-compassion

I’m lucky enough to be in both a real-time and online community that is made of awesome, and one of the awesomest bits is my friend Michel, who shared a bit today on the Googleface about self-compassion.  That is, as another wise woman commented, the ability to treat yourself as you would treat a dear friend, rather than berating yourself.  Also, allowing yourself to have the emotions you’re having without judging or suppressing them.

Naturally, the angle I bring to this is the body.  From years of practice, I now know that the first place to look for how I’m feeling – i.e., emotionally – is to how I’m feeling in my body.  It’s been instructive to get to know what that looks and feels like, and it’s also a super-useful alarm system.  Because boy, is it easier to figure out what I’m feeling physically than emotionally, and if I can start with the body and go from there, it’s kind of a direct route.  And, in the best of circumstances, when I start paying attention to what I’m feeling, keep listening, and trace it, I can figure out what it’s about – and perhaps even solve it in the moment.  It isn’t always solvable, of course, but in my experience, even acknowledging the emotion takes away some of its force, allows it to move so that other things can take its place.

Just yesterday, in fact, I was aware, in the middle of a lovely day when I’d been hiking and eating delicious food and spending time with a dear one, that I felt sad.  I didn’t really know why; all I knew was that I had this little pain in my heart, and my shoulders were curled around me, and my face had that prickly feeling that means if somebody says just the right thing, I’ll start to cry.  A common response in the past might have been, “What the hell’s my problem?” – judge, or else, “Well that’s odd.  On to the next thing” – suppress.

Instead I said, “I’m feeling kind of sad.  I wonder why?”

He held me, and in a little while, as I listened, I was able to identify it – or at least maybe – and begin to talk to him about it.  The content is too personal to go into here, but suffice to say that I was afraid, and vulnerable, and needed to know that he was with me.

And it turned out that not only did the sad feeling dissipate, but I got reassurance that my fears were unfounded.  Acknowledging the emotion, giving it space, and exploring it allowed me to move through it and transform it – and to have an amazingly productive conversation with someone I love.

What might happen if, when you were in conflict with someone, you took a breath, noticed what that breath felt like, and paid attention to what was going on in your body?  A tight chest, shallow breathing?  Muscles clenched, hands in fists?  What does that feel like?  Anger?  Breathe again.  Be with the anger.  Let it move, listen to it, and see what it has to say.  Is it really anger?  Maybe it’s fear, or sorrow.  What does it say to you?  What does it want you to say to the other person?  How can you choose, in this moment, to have compassion for yourself and your authentic emotions, while remaining compassionate for the other, too?

I find that paying attention to the body’s cues, rather than rushing to put a label on an emotion, can be a more productive path.  And because the body always tells the truth, the only trick we have to learn is how to read that truth with a curious and open attitude.  Sometimes it’s easy: I feel sad was pretty clear for me.  Still, when I paid more attention to it and gave it space, it became clear that there was also fear – that the sadness was about worry for a future point, not grounded in what was happening now.  Following the fear brought me to its likely source, and talking it out brought me out of the negative emotion.

As always, I long for your comments.

Principles of RSM #16: Altered states of consciousness can enhance healing

I’m almost to the end of the Principles of RSM series: after this, there are only two more!  If anyone has an awesome suggestion for another series of things I could write about on a weekly basis, please contact me!

When I talk about altered states of consciousness, I imagine that many people think of something to do with drugs and mind-expanding experiments of the 1960s.  But there are many kinds of altered states, many of which we unconsciously engage in on a daily basis.  Sleep and dreaming, for example, are altered states of consciousness.  That state between sleeping and waking, just before falling asleep and just after waking up, are altered states as well.  When you’re driving to work, along a route you’ve driven countless times, you’re in a kind of altered state, unconsciously performing routine actions.  When someone on your route cuts you off in traffic and you have to slam on the brakes, that shifts you into another mind-state – full awareness, fight-or-flight.

One word for a certain kind of altered state is “trance,” and in Rubenfeld Synergy, the definition of trance is rather broad.  We can be said to be in a trance state when we daydream during a boring meeting – this is a dissociative trance.  Another kind of trance occurs for athletes at peak moments, when everything slows down and a moment of perfect action occurs.  Artists can enter these states as well at times, when everything else falls away and the painter paints, the actor acts, the singer sings in a perfect moment of presence.

Anyone who has tried meditation, ecstatic dance, or breathwork will also be familiar with altered states: we have tools to deliberately change our consciousness.  (My favorite definition of magic, actually, is “the art of changing consciousness at will.”)  Meditation can carry us away from ourselves, journeying through realms of imagination; it can also carry us into ourselves and the present moment, as with mindfulness meditation.

In the therapeutic world, we also talk about trances of habit, triggers that bring us into patterns of emotion and behavior.  The “family trance,” for example, is the oldest trance we experience: think of the way your tone of voice and speech patterns change when you talk to your parents on the phone.  I, for one, regain the markers of a Jersey Shore accent!  Now imagine visiting your family for the holidays, and the ways all of the old buttons get pushed, even when we think we’ve gotten over our childhood pains.  Of course the family trance can contain happy and comforting buttons, as well, and there is little more powerful than entering a beloved house with beloved smells, and seeing a loved one we recall many happy childhood hours with.

The therapeutic trance, though, is the trance we seek to make most use of in Rubenfeld Synergy Method.  When a client lies down on the table, there is already a shift in consciousness, and as a session progresses, a client may close her eyes, relax, listen to her body, and enter into an inner dialogue that promotes intuition and connection.  The Synergist’s touch also promotes this state of trance, and allows the client to feel a bubble of safety in which old, dysfunctional connections can begin to be dissolved, and new healthy connections can be made.

While talk therapy can be incredibly useful on its own, often it has the problem of keeping the client in his head.  Talking out problems in words, intellectualizing, and analysis all have value, but they leave out the key piece of the body, and how it experiences things.  Inducing a light meditative or trance state has a long history in therapy: Freud did it with free association, Erickson did it with hypnosis, and Synergists do it using touch.  The result is that the client can access intuitive, sometimes non-verbal, emotional and kinesthetic experiences of his own story.  And when a client can do that, he can potentially free himself from old narratives, and move forward from a new place.

Next: Integration is necessary for lasting results.

"Bent," and nearly shattered

For the past month or so, I’ve been helping out on a production of Bent, a Martin Sherman play about gays in the Holocaust.  Theatre@First, my local community theatre, is performing it, and the director asked me to assist.  In rehearsals, I once again found myself in one of my favorite activities: working with talented actors, helping them to discover moments of connection and truth through a sublime text; Bent is as close to a perfect play that I’ve read in a long time.  The material, as the subject matter suggests, is far from easy, and the demands on the actors are great.  Still, working on it was a joy, and it was especially rewarding to see the performers blossom under my guidance.

So I wasn’t quite prepared last night, when I went to see the third performance of the run, for it to unnerve and shatter me the way it did.  I’ve gotten to know the play well, and have seen the performers work on all of the scenes.  I’ve even seen a full run of the show.  But being in the audience, with the actors warmed up from several nights of performances, gave the play new resonance.  By the end I found that I’d been tensed up all over my body, curled into myself, for the past hour and a half at least.  I didn’t cry, but I felt enervated, sorrow and anger and fear all coiled up in my muscles.  I kept shaking out my hands, trying to rid myself of some of it.  Afterwards the only thing that worked was going out for drinks with the cast and talking about it, hugging each other and sharing the triumph.  Still, I had nightmares, scored in part by a smoke alarm in my house that picked last night to chirp its low-battery signal through my dreams.

I was struck once again by the way our bodies hold our emotional experiences, and how profoundly art can affect us.  On days like this it even occurs to me to wonder, after a lifetime of loving art, music, theatre and writing, why we put ourselves through some of these experiences – stories that feel so real that they hurt us physically and haunt our hearts.  is it Aristotle’s catharsis that we seek, or the cleansing feeling of someone else’s problems being more profound than our own?  Is it the response to that historic exhortation, “Never forget”?  Or just a need to soak in beauty, even if it is the strange and terrible beauty of the horrors humanity is capable of?

Whatever the case, in spite of everything, Bent leaves me filled with hope, even given its treatment of the darkest of subjects.  If you have the chance to see it next week – it plays Thursday and Friday nights and Saturday afternoon, at Unity Church in Somerville, MA – do so.  Just make sure you have someone to talk to afterwards, someone to hug, and if you do such things, something strong to drink.

“Bent,” and nearly shattered

For the past month or so, I’ve been helping out on a production of Bent, a Martin Sherman play about gays in the Holocaust.  Theatre@First, my local community theatre, is performing it, and the director asked me to assist.  In rehearsals, I once again found myself in one of my favorite activities: working with talented actors, helping them to discover moments of connection and truth through a sublime text; Bent is as close to a perfect play that I’ve read in a long time.  The material, as the subject matter suggests, is far from easy, and the demands on the actors are great.  Still, working on it was a joy, and it was especially rewarding to see the performers blossom under my guidance.

So I wasn’t quite prepared last night, when I went to see the third performance of the run, for it to unnerve and shatter me the way it did.  I’ve gotten to know the play well, and have seen the performers work on all of the scenes.  I’ve even seen a full run of the show.  But being in the audience, with the actors warmed up from several nights of performances, gave the play new resonance.  By the end I found that I’d been tensed up all over my body, curled into myself, for the past hour and a half at least.  I didn’t cry, but I felt enervated, sorrow and anger and fear all coiled up in my muscles.  I kept shaking out my hands, trying to rid myself of some of it.  Afterwards the only thing that worked was going out for drinks with the cast and talking about it, hugging each other and sharing the triumph.  Still, I had nightmares, scored in part by a smoke alarm in my house that picked last night to chirp its low-battery signal through my dreams.

I was struck once again by the way our bodies hold our emotional experiences, and how profoundly art can affect us.  On days like this it even occurs to me to wonder, after a lifetime of loving art, music, theatre and writing, why we put ourselves through some of these experiences – stories that feel so real that they hurt us physically and haunt our hearts.  is it Aristotle’s catharsis that we seek, or the cleansing feeling of someone else’s problems being more profound than our own?  Is it the response to that historic exhortation, “Never forget”?  Or just a need to soak in beauty, even if it is the strange and terrible beauty of the horrors humanity is capable of?

Whatever the case, in spite of everything, Bent leaves me filled with hope, even given its treatment of the darkest of subjects.  If you have the chance to see it next week – it plays Thursday and Friday nights and Saturday afternoon, at Unity Church in Somerville, MA – do so.  Just make sure you have someone to talk to afterwards, someone to hug, and if you do such things, something strong to drink.

[Re-run] Bodies, breath, and music – a review of "Ash Land"

I’ve spoken here before about theatre, as well as music and writing, my other two artistic passions.  I find they are important for my readers to know who I am as a practitioner, and that these things also powerfully inform my work as a Rubenfeld Synergist.  Ilana, after all, started her career as a symphonic conductor.  Theatre is an expressive medium communicated through the body.  And the English language, with its puns, double and triple meanings, and poetic resonances, is a tool we use extensively in this work to get at the truths that the body wants to tell us.

And so from time to time, when a piece of art moves me greatly, I feel justified in linking up my passion for healing and my passion for art here in this space.  After all, there’s a reason why certain forms are called “healing arts.”  Some of what we do tends to be more of an art than a science, a kind of intuitive listening, receiving, and releasing that, while it requires a lot of technique, requires raw talent more.

With all of that in mind, then.  This week I attended the Minnesota Fringe Festival, which is a magnificent collection of theatre, dance, music and circus artistry featuring 165 shows in fifteen venues over the course of ten days.  Near the top of the heap of the shows, the one everyone was talking about, was a play called Ash Land – a Depression-era dust bowl retelling of Cinderella by a company called Transatlantic Love Affair.

What was so special about this show?  Well, for one thing, it contained no sets, no props, and no costume changes.  The eight actors wear the same evocative Depression-era farmers’ clothes throughout the show, and using their bodies and breath, become trees filled with wind, fields of ripe and then dried-out wheat, water pumps flowing and trickling, mirrors, trunks, windows, doors and creaking gates, and of course the vibrant characters of the story.  A single slide guitarist provided scoring, including, eventually, the profoundly welcome sound of rain.

Part of what struck me so powerfully was the use of breath in this production.  The farmers huffed and heaved in a natural rhythm as they worked; their breath made wind and the clatter of dry leaves; small chks and sighs evoked the scattering of seed or picking a grain of wheat to test its ripeness.  And every time the ensemble turned from one thing into another thing, they breathed out together in an audible, quick sigh, as if to clear the way for the new shapes their bodies would describe.

As I watched (what I could see when my eyes weren’t full of tears), I was thrown again and again by how much a group of people could move me just by committing to a motion or a shape, by letting breath carry them from one place to the next, and by the end I felt liberated, like this group had literally breathed new life into me, like I’d been given spiritual CPR.  It occurred to me then: what isn’t possible with only our bodies, our breath, our sounds and our feelings?  As theatre moves more and more toward a commercial model, trying to get butts in seats using gimmicks and special effects and making it ever more like the movies, the thing that sold out that space for the first time in Fringe history was a show with no effects at all, not even a single prop.  Just a group of talented people willing to tell a story with their whole selves.

What does this have to do with Rubenfeld Synergy Method?  A lot, I think.  It has to do with what moves us, and how movement itself – the willingness to move with conviction – can free us.  And with breath – the way it can cleanse, sweep away, smooth over, re-oxygenate, and revivify.  And with sound, and music – how listening can link us to memory, to emotion, to the pulse of reality, and to presence.  All of these things lead us back to ourselves, to a place where we can begin to believe, again, that change and healing are possible.

When has art healed you?

[Re-run] Bodies, breath, and music – a review of “Ash Land”

I’ve spoken here before about theatre, as well as music and writing, my other two artistic passions.  I find they are important for my readers to know who I am as a practitioner, and that these things also powerfully inform my work as a Rubenfeld Synergist.  Ilana, after all, started her career as a symphonic conductor.  Theatre is an expressive medium communicated through the body.  And the English language, with its puns, double and triple meanings, and poetic resonances, is a tool we use extensively in this work to get at the truths that the body wants to tell us.

And so from time to time, when a piece of art moves me greatly, I feel justified in linking up my passion for healing and my passion for art here in this space.  After all, there’s a reason why certain forms are called “healing arts.”  Some of what we do tends to be more of an art than a science, a kind of intuitive listening, receiving, and releasing that, while it requires a lot of technique, requires raw talent more.

With all of that in mind, then.  This week I attended the Minnesota Fringe Festival, which is a magnificent collection of theatre, dance, music and circus artistry featuring 165 shows in fifteen venues over the course of ten days.  Near the top of the heap of the shows, the one everyone was talking about, was a play called Ash Land – a Depression-era dust bowl retelling of Cinderella by a company called Transatlantic Love Affair.

What was so special about this show?  Well, for one thing, it contained no sets, no props, and no costume changes.  The eight actors wear the same evocative Depression-era farmers’ clothes throughout the show, and using their bodies and breath, become trees filled with wind, fields of ripe and then dried-out wheat, water pumps flowing and trickling, mirrors, trunks, windows, doors and creaking gates, and of course the vibrant characters of the story.  A single slide guitarist provided scoring, including, eventually, the profoundly welcome sound of rain.

Part of what struck me so powerfully was the use of breath in this production.  The farmers huffed and heaved in a natural rhythm as they worked; their breath made wind and the clatter of dry leaves; small chks and sighs evoked the scattering of seed or picking a grain of wheat to test its ripeness.  And every time the ensemble turned from one thing into another thing, they breathed out together in an audible, quick sigh, as if to clear the way for the new shapes their bodies would describe.

As I watched (what I could see when my eyes weren’t full of tears), I was thrown again and again by how much a group of people could move me just by committing to a motion or a shape, by letting breath carry them from one place to the next, and by the end I felt liberated, like this group had literally breathed new life into me, like I’d been given spiritual CPR.  It occurred to me then: what isn’t possible with only our bodies, our breath, our sounds and our feelings?  As theatre moves more and more toward a commercial model, trying to get butts in seats using gimmicks and special effects and making it ever more like the movies, the thing that sold out that space for the first time in Fringe history was a show with no effects at all, not even a single prop.  Just a group of talented people willing to tell a story with their whole selves.

What does this have to do with Rubenfeld Synergy Method?  A lot, I think.  It has to do with what moves us, and how movement itself – the willingness to move with conviction – can free us.  And with breath – the way it can cleanse, sweep away, smooth over, re-oxygenate, and revivify.  And with sound, and music – how listening can link us to memory, to emotion, to the pulse of reality, and to presence.  All of these things lead us back to ourselves, to a place where we can begin to believe, again, that change and healing are possible.

When has art healed you?

[Re-Run] Just what does a Rubenfeld Synergy session look like, anyway? – Part 2

In part one of this description of a typical Rubenfeld Synergy session, I covered the welcome at the start of the session, the talking in chairs, and moving the client to the table.  In this second half, I will discuss the portion of the session that takes place on the table.

Again, we are talking about a first session, and while every session and every client will differ, we are focusing on the physical moves and verbal interventions a Synergist will use most often, especially in a first session where not much is known about the style and needs of a particular client.

For this portion, I will progress through the Classic Sequence, which is a series of moves designed to make contact with the whole person over the course of the session.

Working on the table: The Classic Sequence

1. First contact at the head.  In a typical first session, the first place the Synergist will make contact is at the client’s head.  Using “butterfly touch,” the Synergist places the tips of her fingers at the base of the client’s skull, called the occipital ridge.  This is a place on the body where many nerve endings come together; it is also where the top of the spine makes contact with the brainstem.  For this reason, it is a sensitive place, and contact here tends to “wake up” the nervous system.  This contact is intended as a “saying hello,” and the Synergist may or may not ask questions or make statements here, depending on the response of the client to the touch.  A typical first question is something like, “As I’m making contact with you here at your head, what are you aware of?”  The client’s answer to this will begin to give the Synergist an idea of how this client relates to his body: is she aware of how something physically feels?  Or of a movement of energy?  Does she notice an emotion rising?  Or is she confused or disoriented by the question itself?  All of these responses (and more) are information the Synergist can use to move forward with this client.

The Synergist may also attempt a head roll here before moving on; this gives her an idea of how much movement, flexibility, tightness, etc. there is in the client’s neck to start with.  All of these things may also have other layers of meaning: tension may indicate apprehension, fear, anger, reluctance; softness may indicate relaxation or a feeling of safety, or any number of other things.  But this first contact is really intended just as a hello, and moving on from here, once an initial impression has been made, is important.

2. First touch at the feet.  The next place we make contact in the classic sequence is the feet.  Again using that gentle, light touch, we place our hands on the tops of the client’s feet, in essence completing the circuit we began at the head and helping the client to make the connection between the two ends of his body.  Here, again, the Synergist may ask what the client notices or is aware of, or may check in with something the client has already brought up – “tension in my throat,” “tightness in my chest,” “ache in the lower back,” “sadness in my belly,” or whatever may have already arisen.  The idea is to follow a thread, but always with an eye to what the client is experiencing now, in this moment.  This allows both for the client to observe how subtle, incremental changes happen in his own system, and for a theme to begin to develop for the session.

This is also a time for the Synergist to do the “windshield wiper” move, encouraging rotation of the legs at the hip using gentle pressure on the outsides of the client’s heels.  How much movement there is, or is not, is a signal to the Synergist for which side to work on first.

3. The metatarsal move.  Whichever side of the client’s body seemed more available to movement is the side where the Synergist begins the deeper moves.  The first of these is at the metatarsal, the toe bones of the foot.  The Synergist lightly presses near the ball of the client’s foot, spreading the toes and inviting movement in the ankle.  This helps the Synergist get more information about the client’s available movement, the quality and character of her feet, and potentially begins to open metaphors for how the client makes contact with the ground and with safety: is this someone who stands firm in her truth?  Someone who is always running away, racing ahead, or lagging behind?  Can the client feel her feet at all, or is she always in her head?  All of these ideas and more can be explored with this move, depending on how the client experiences it and what she is ready to reveal.

4. The hip sandwich.  From time to time the Synergist may do a move between the foot and the hip at the knee, if it seems to be needed.  In the classic sequence, though, the next move is at the hip.  The Synergist slides her hand under one of the client’s hips, cradling that side of the pelvis, with her fingertips at the edge of the sacrum.  (This is an intimate move, and one I always ask permission before doing.  In fact, with some clients, I obtain fresh consent before every instance of contact; I plan to address the issue of touch and consent in a different post.)  The other hand is placed on top of the hip, both hands facing the same direction toward the client’s opposite shoulder.

Often, the hips have a lot of information to convey.  Their positioning is related to the position of the pelvis and lower back, so any physical tensions there can be highlighted or relieved.  Sexual trauma often locates here as well, so memories may be triggered.  Sometimes the hips have information about where the client feels stuck, or which way he wants to go: the hips are where we find our turning radius, telling us when we want to turn toward or away from something.  To extend the linguistic metaphor, our hips can also help us turn up, turn someone down, get turned on or turned off.  Some people become turned inward, and then they don’t know where to turn.  The point is, there can be a lot going on in the hips.  Whatever it is that comes up here, the Synergist hopes to effect a release and free up movement in the hip joint.  This doesn’t always happen, but can be profound when it does: the Synergist places his top hand under the knee, then sweeps down the leg all the way through the foot, listening all the way down.  Afterward, he’ll do the windshield wiper move again, and most of the time the client will experience a difference in the way the worked-on leg is now moving in contrast to the leg the Synergist has not yet addressed.

After this, the Synergist will move to the other foot and hip.  Very different experiences may occur on each side, but the goal is for both legs to feel looser, longer, and more free to move.

5. The shoulder cradle.  Once both hips have been released, the Synergist moves to the shoulder on the same side as the first leg.  Moving the client’s hand to a convenient position, the Synergist puts his hands beneath the client’s back and supports his shoulder blade.

The shoulders are a place where many people hold tension, and the shoulders and rib cage also serve as protection for the heart.  For this reason, emotional material often arises during shoulder work.  In a first session, a Synergist will often welcome emotional release, but will probably not go too deeply into it with the client, as a relationship of trust is still being established.  Going too deep too soon can cause embarrassment or even shame, and the client’s sense of safety is paramount.  However, sometimes there may be tears or anger or any number of emotions moving through a client, and it is the Synergist’s job to welcome, allow, facilitate and contain the client’s emotional experience.

Even if there is not emotion here, the shoulders can be a complex and delicate place, and most people will at least feel some letting go and relief of tension from the contact.  At the close of this move, the Synergist moves down the client’s arm with the intention of widening, then, taking the client’s hand and bending the arm, gently dangles and waves the arm to the extent the client’s body allows.  This clues the client in to how loose or tight his shoulder still is, how much weight he is allowing the Synergist to take, and what the quality is of the tension remaining.

The Synergist will often ask here about the difference between the two shoulders/arms before moving over and doing the move on the other side.

6. The head, revisited.  To close the classic sequence, the Synergist returns to the head.  She may attempt a headroll again, to mark the difference in the movement of the neck before and after working on the rest of the body.  I often will do a head cradle here, coming under the head and holding it in both hands, to give an extra sense of compassion, safety and relief to the client at the end of a session; I especially tend to do this if the session has been intense.

This is a good time for the Synergist to, well, synergize the session with the client: to give the client a sense of summation and what she most wants to take home with her from this particular session.  She may also ask how the client’s sense of her body / herself is different now than it was when she first lay down on the table.

Getting off the table and closing the session

Just as a Synergy session begins as soon as the client arrives, it does not end until the client leaves.  The Synergist should encourage and facilitate a slow and mindful transition off of the table.  Some clients will get up and jump off the table as quickly as they can no matter what you tell them.  But the ideal is to let the client roll to one side, observe the experience of being on their side, move to sitting and stay sitting for a minute or so, monitoring for light-headedness and also calibrating what it’s like to be vertical when they’ve been horizontal for forty minutes or so, and gradually move to standing, with a special emphasis on how the client’s feet are making contact with the ground now.  Keeping the client’s attention on the process through a brief walk around the office before scrambling to get out the door again is key to internalizing the messages and lessons of the session.

Once the client has a good sense of it, a simple closing should happen.  As with any other therapy or bodywork session, now is the time for gathering up items, arranging payment, and possibly scheduling a followup session.

Conclusion

I hope that this is useful to anyone who is wondering what an RSM session is like and whether it is for them; once again I cannot say exactly what your session will be like, but hopefully this writeup gives you a sense of what to expect at least from a mechanical perspective.

As far as the happenings of particular sessions, I hope to revisit this topic soon and provide some write-ups of sample sessions, to give a wider perspective on the kinds of things that can happen.

Until then, I’d be happy to work with you: please feel free to contact me if you’re interested.

[Re-run] Just what does a Rubenfeld Synergy session look like, anyway? – Part 1

(Part 2 is here.)

The more I talk to people, and the more I write on this topic, the more I find that people tend to have trouble wrapping their minds around what Rubenfeld Synergy is, and what kind of experience they will have if they come and see me.  Offering six 25-minute sample sessions in a row last week really helped clarify for me what a “typical session” looks like, because of having to condense due to time and wanting to give the clients a good sense of the technique. So I thought I’d take a stab at describing a typical session, to the extent that such a thing exists.

You should understand from the get-go that every Rubenfeld Synergy session is going to be different by its very nature: the technique is very client-centered, and the Synergist is guided by what the client’s body and words tell them is needed.  But there are some things that a Synergist can fall back on that are semi-standardized, and there are many of what we call verbal interventions that Synergists will often employ.  So without further ado, here’s my best crack at describing a first session.  As I am attempting to do this in as much detail as possible, this will be a two-part post.  In this part, I will describe the beginning of the session, from arrival to the client lying down on the table.  In the second part, I will describe the tablework portion of a session.

The Welcome.  A Synergy session begins when the client walks in the door.  We are trained to be extremely receptive and observant, such that we can gather information even from the first moment of contact.  Noticing how the client looks when you open the door, or even how he or she parks the car.  I remember Joe Weldon, one of my greatest teachers, describing a client who always made sure to back her car into the driveway, even though doing so was trickier than simply pulling in.  He took it in as information, and later found a pattern in this client of always making sure she had a quick escape route.  He knew she was beginning to heal and learn to trust when she was able to pull forward into the driveway.  This is an extreme example, but it goes to show how much you can gather about a person in those first moments, before they even reach the door.

When Synergist and client first meet, then, the Synergist will already be in a place of noticing: how does this client hold her body?  How is she shaped, generally?  What stands out about the way she stands, walks, and sits?  What emotions seem present in her face?  This probably sounds like a lot of scrutiny, but in reality the Synergist should be welcoming the client, making her feel comfortable, and quietly taking in whatever he notices – not to judge, but simply as information.  At the same time, of course, introductions take place and the Synergist may offer water or use of the bathroom before beginning, invite the client to remove her shoes, and show her into the office.

Chair work.  The Synergist and client will generally sit across from each other in chairs to start with.  In this moment, the Synergist’s job is to welcome and orient the client.  She might ask whether the client had any trouble finding the office or arriving here: the current, present moment state of the client upon entering the session can have a tremendous effect on where the session goes, and a deeper story about the patterns in a client’s life may be reflected and contained in the immediate present of the client’s experience.  This is an important thing to remember generally about this work:  what the client initially presents with may in fact be the main issue he has come in to address, whether he knows it or not.  Is the client frazzled and rushed, perhaps a little late, having gotten lost or had difficulty getting there?  It’s possible that this is reflective of a disorganized life that causes the client constant frustration and difficulty.  Is the client nervous and apprehensive about the session?  It’s possible that anxiety pervades his experience of day-to-day life.  Maybe the client seems really friendly and easy-going: “Oh, I just wanted to check this out!” – but the Synergist can detect an underlying tension or falseness.  This client might be hiding his problems from himself, or might feel the need to keep up a sunny front in the face of painful experiences he has little support dealing with.

It’s important to note here that all of this is speculation at this point.  All the Synergist is doing is noticing: keeping, to the extent possible, a mental, emotional, and kinesthetic sense of this client and maybe beginning to make a few connections.  In all cases, the Synergist’s role is to help the client discover for himself what his issues are, what needs to shift, or what needs to be expanded and honored.

At this time, too, the Synergist may ask what brought the client to her – what issue is at the forefront, or what he hopes to work on.  Often, the Synergist will also ask what the client notices right now – what he’s experiencing in his body, what his breathing feels like, what’s in the forefront of his mind, what his heart is telling him.  As change occurs in the present moment, this is a means of helping the client to move into a present-tense state where healing can occur.

Moving to the table.  After a few minutes, the Synergist will generally invite the client to move to the table.  This may not happen right away if the client has particular issues around touch, or is not yet comfortable for any reason.  In this case, the Synergist and client may continue working in chairs for the entire session.  In some cases, the Synergist will touch the client while she sits in the chair; in others, the Synergist may guide the client to touch her own body and notice her experiences while they talk.

However, in most cases, the bulk of the session takes place on the table.  Rubenfeld Synergists use a standard massage table, set at about the height of the Synergist’s hips.  The client lies face-up on the table, fully clothed, and may have her eyes open or closed as she wishes.  The most convenient position is something like shivasana in yoga: legs straight out and relaxed, arms down at the sides.  For some people, though, adjustments are necessary: I, for example, often need to put my knees up for part of the session to take pressure off my lower back, or a bolster might be used under the knees for the same purpose.  Many people like to rest their hands on their belly, chest or hips rather than on the table, as their shoulders will not allow them to rest their hands comfortably at their sides.  The point is, the client should be allowed to find a position that is comfortable, and the Synergist can assist in this.

Once the client is lying comfortably enough (I say “enough” because often the client will have to put up with some discomfort, or will still be nervous, or in other ways be adjusting to the new experience of being on the table), the Synergist can begin the touch portion of the session.

Next: Part 2: Working on the table.