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Coexistence of Body and Mind

by Sue Green(more info)

listed in mind body, originally published in issue 20 - May 1997

I am a massage therapist and in my final year of a psychotherapy training. Looking back over the way these paths have come together, I can see my whole inner journey as a probe and a prod of the interface between mind and body.

In this article I’d like to share some of the ways I have seen a growing trend towards what I think of as the coexistence of mind and body. Core Process Psychotherapy, in which I am training, speaks of everything in the world ‘co-arising’, a Buddhist principle, and if we apply that to the principles of mind and body, our ruminations take a different direction than if we adopt a separatist position.

Drawing of women in power

The principle of co-arising of mind and body springs from the Buddhist description of the universe into five factors: form, feeling-sensation, perception, impulses and consciousness. The first of these is given the name ‘namarupa’, which can be roughly translated as ‘body-mind’. Although each of these factors (skandhas, as they are called in the original language) is equal, the factor of form is of particular importance because everything in our world has a form of some kind. Even our thoughts have a form, though it is not tangible. Implicitly, in the term ‘body-mind’, not only does every living thing have a form, it also has a mind.

I came across an interesting development of this idea in Linda Hartley’s book on the work of Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, Body-Mind Centering.[1] In brief, the book suggests that each of the body’s systems has a particular quality or flavour of psychological experience. The body’s muscular system can be experienced as our way of asserting ourselves outwards into the world – quite clearly visible on the rugby field. If we access, in comparison, the body’s lymphatic system, we touch into a different quality, a quality of clarity of mind that we need to use when we are studying. The synovial fluids in the joints, with their capacity to allow us to move in any direction, become a metaphor and an inner suggestion towards spontaneity and lightheartedness. The extent to which these things are ‘true’ is validated by virtue of our own reflectiveness and contemplation, undertaken from a position which simply does not hold the body-mind split to be in existence.

In psychotherapies which work specifically with and through the body, this integrated awareness is the ‘stuff’ of the session. The description, ‘the talking cure’, sits uncomfortably and inappropriately when both therapist and client are sitting IN experience, rather than sitting looking at it.

There is not the space here to undertake a full review of the variety of ways that body-mind experience enters the world of psychotherapy, but the work of Eugene Gendlin seems particularly appropriate to mention.

Gendlin, an American psychologist, set out to discover why some people benefited from psychotherapy and others simply wasted years and dollars. He found that those who benefited went into therapy with a particular habit, or way of being with experience, and those who could not benefit did not have this habit. He also found that whatever techniques the person may have picked up, this particularly crucial one was not one of them.

He called this habit ‘focussing’ and briefly it is a way of moment by moment checking between mind and body on what the current ‘felt sense’ of a situation might be. When we meet the felt sense, it has a sense of ‘aaah, so that’s what I really think,’ – and is quite distinctly different from the ‘aha’ of ‘Oh, I see,’ or, ‘I’ve got it!’

Gendlin has now set up networks for teaching this skill, the point here being that Gendlin offers another example, not so much of bringing together mind and body, but rather showing them in coexistence, not separate to begin with.[2]

Interestingly, meditation, which may seem to cluster at the ‘mind’ edge of the body-mind continuum, offers ways of being with our experience which are integrative of body and mind, and it is this depth of being with experience in a contemplative way which I think has allowed new developments of bodywork and psychotherapy to cross-fertilise, so that it is difficult to say really which came first, or what influenced whom. The work of Stanley Keleman, for instance, as outlined in Emotional Anatomy[3], shows how the body’s capacity for somatising and the mind’s capacity for story-making come together in the forms we hold in our body postures. Bodywork may choose to work specifically with the soft tissues in which these stories are tightly held, allowing them to be unravelled, psychotherapy may choose to work psychologically through the reflective and contemplative process, allowing the unravelling to happen differently, the emphasis being perhaps more on the process of awareness. In soft tissue work the emphasis may be more on the physical relief and release possible, and the ways that may be channelled into more healthy living, where psychotherapy might inquire into how this pattern of being had affected our lives, opening a different channel for greater health through widened awareness.

If we polarise too far the differences between bodywork and psychotherapy, we lose the fact that in psychotherapy a lot of work is done by a sense of deepening body awareness. Through the process of relationship, the therapist can invite an awareness of body process in such a way that the body’s story can unfold without the medium of touch. Perhaps too this deepened body awareness makes other touch-based bodywork accessible to us at the level of insight and meaning as well as the physical relief and repatterning that comes through directed techniques of touch.

When I work with a bodywork practitioner, the therapist’s skillful use of touch combined with a resonant relatedness means that I can touch places in myself which invite a depth of psychophysical, and at times even psycho-physico-spiritual integration.

Touch in psychotherapy has a particularly difficult place within this culture, complicated by ethical issues and rightful caution. Yet touch which is skillful and neutral can invite an awareness that may be hard to get at without physical contact. To my mind, the combination of skillful touch with the reverberation of heart contact in relationship is without parallel as a force for healing, though of course the form of the healing is always variable, involving factors knowable and unknowable. And neither would I want to underestimate the power of any modality which was based on a depth of heart resonance, whether ‘hands-on’ or not.

Perhaps there is a place for a deepening dialogue between the domains of bodywork and the domains of psychotherapy: bodywork has finesse in forms of touch and bodymapping at increasingly subtle levels, psychotherapy has things to say about wise relationship, based on how self and other meet, again at increasingly subtle levels.

The main focus in this article has been the place of body in psychotherapy and bodywork, moving towards and working with a place of integrated awareness. But this integrated awareness cannot really happen without the clearing away of the more obvious blockages of body, emotions and mind. In that respect it might be appropriate to separate body and mind and focus directly on the mind itself. If we are still running tape loops telling us we’re no good, or mental movies in which we see ourselves as small and powerless in our experience as if we are three years old, we are not going to be able to work with our deeper levels of awareness. Therapies such as Neuro Linguistic Programming have powerful ways of clearing our more obviously unhelpful neural patterns, making a space for us to work more integratively if that is our chosen direction.

While each discipline, whether bodywork or psychotherapy, has its own separate place and value, distinct and specialist, the result of meetings at the frontiers could well be an increasing of the depth to which we can open ourselves to our own and others’ experience, keeping our focus and expertise but widening our awareness of the vastness of our inner being nature.


1.    Wisdom of the Body Moving, Linda Hartley, North Atlantic Books, 1989, 1995.
2.    Focussing, Eugene Gendlin, Bantam, 1978, 1981.
3.    Emotional Anatomy, Stanley Keleman, Center Press, 1985.


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About Sue Green

Sue Green is trained in Holistic Massage and is in ongoing training in Core Process Psychotherapy with Karuna Institute. Her background has included work with meditation in various forms, and contemplative bodywork forms such as yoga and chi kung, and her interest is in pursuing increasingly integrative forms of experience which cross or transcend boundaries of culture and thought.

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