Have you ever done something you said you would never do to have it change your life?
For me, it was 1976, living with a group of guys in Boulder, CO. Breck, one of my roommates, moved to Boulder to give up his law practice to learn Rolfing, a form of bodywork. Breck being a good legator, persisted with his case of why I was a good candidate for Rolfing. I agreed to try one session.
Walking into Jayson’s office for my first session, I was scared – what was I getting myself into? Fortunately, I had no idea what was ahead; if I did – I would have never gotten Rolfed.
My next four years in Boulder consisted of me studying Rolfing and all the leading edge somatic therapies and somatic psychotherapies that would later be the core of today’s hottest therapies and EVRYMAN.
I had the good fortune of being Ron Kurtz’s first professional training. Ron went on to lead the development of the somatic psychotherapy profession. His way of bringing focus to an unfelt somatic or emotional experience boarded on being shamanic. He would stand someone up, ask a few questions, and the person would be on the floor, sobbing, feeling, and completing a forgotten experience.
More than anyone, Ron taught me that the body’s physiology is incapable of lying. Rather than suggest a better cognitive solution, Ron showed us to become allies with the body and the unconscious. In connecting to the disconnected experiences and parts, a person had more to create the life they wanted.
Ron would ask a person a question that went under the conscious mind’s radar to bring focus to the unconscious physiological expression. Noticing the client’s tapping food, he would bring the man’s awareness to his foot. Gently exploring what the foot was expressing, the man became aware of his anger at his mother for always telling him what to do.
Beyond my studies with the masters of the time, I learned through my body, clients, and the men in our groups that we have a body response before we have a thought. This response can’t be prevented – it can be controlled, repressed, and covered over. On some level, it always occurs.
The vast majority of these responses are subtle and below our awareness. We develop patterns of adaption to our response to stress and trauma that started impacting us as a kid. These patterns worked – we survived.
These coping patterns create structural soft tissue patterns. My ten sessions of Rolfing and the year of integration afterward gave me an inch in height and erased much of the tension in my soft tissue that had me stuck in my fear.
I got so good at being in survival that my body stayed stuck in it, much like a bricklayer’s body who spent 40 years leaning over to lay bricks would be hunched over; I was fixed in fear. Being in a constant state of tension had me experienced the world as unsafe even when it wasn’t.
Rolfing released much of my past. Ron gave me the tools to use my tension as my teacher to continue releasing and learn not to put tension and disconnection back into my body. I realized, occasionally to my displeasure, that what my body was experiencing and expressing was true. The question became, will I choose to listen?
In the beginning, I often didn’t know what my body was saying. In focusing on feeling what I avoided, I was free to move forward even without knowing what my experience meant.
Over the years of the Sandpoint Men’s Group, we did many nights where we read each other bodies for what the repeated physiology developed as an orientation for surviving. If not trauma, we all had stress—our physiological adaption to stress evolved into a structural movement and chronic soft tissue and emotional patterns.
During these nights, our primary question was: what is the man’s body saying that he’s not saying?
We would have the man walk by the group a few times and then stand facing us. Each man would say his ‘first impression’ or ‘gut feeling’ about the man’s body. Sometimes I would prompt the man reading the standing man’s body with these questions:
- This man just walked into the room. Without knowing him, how does your body respond?
- Is your urge to move towards or away from the man?
- Are you closing down or opening up?
- Are you looking to defend, attack, run, engage, and observe more?
- Close your eyes for a moment, then flash them open, then close them. What do you see? What do you feel?
This list above guides your awareness toward the habitual survival pattern portrayed in the man’s structure.
As you interact with the man, observe his body for immediate body responses for his reactions in the moment. A few ques:
- What moves and when
- Skin color change
- Pupil dilatation
- Voice tone, spend, pitch, and other variables
- Posture changes
You may think you can’t do this on Zoom. I wondered if I could.
In my Sandpoint Men’s Group meetings, the DIGs, and classes we lead for EVRYMAN – I discovered we could read way more than I thought possible.
We dive into teaching these skills in our more advanced training at EVRYMAN. Men learn how quickly they can become good at reading bodies and how much fun it is. Pro tip: the best way to get good at reading others is to get good a reading your own. If one of the most uptight men out there (myself) can do it – you can do it.