Recently I have been exploring ‘The Satisfaction Cycle’ which is a concept derived from Body Mind Centering™ and the significant work of Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen. What has drawn my attention is the importance of our early developmental movement patterns’ influence on our sense of self in the world, how we relate to others, and how they can be used to help our clients in therapy.
Why might these early developmental movement patterns be important to our sense of self and related to our relationships? Well, if our attachment was disrupted early we may have deficits in any one of these important stages. For example, we may struggle to feel safe enough to explore our environment, to reach for what we want, and to take it in and receive it fully. When we are able to complete these movements in our adult life, we can achieve a great deal of satisfaction, gratification and accomplishment. We can be nourished by what we long for, strengthening our sense of self, and our sense of belonging.
Movement patterns that have not been adequately embodied can create challenges in being able to fully relax, learn, process our emotions, express and ask for our needs to be met, all of which can have a huge impact on our relationships, communication and learning.
As a baby, we learn to explore our world through our body. In the womb and before we even learn to walk, our natural reflexes, such as mouthing, sucking, curling, rocking, pushing, reaching, grabbing and pulling help us to survive and to know our environment, which in turn is beginning to help us form a sense of self and a sense of other. We don’t need to learn these actions, they come naturally and remain like a set of blueprints, realized or not, that we will need as we grow up and enter our adult lives.
Unfortunately, for those of us who have experienced a disruption to these natural blueprints through traumatic events like a toxic womb environment, a life-threatening birth, separation at birth from the mother, or a toxic family environment, we may find ourselves unable to reach, or reaching then collapsing, or grabbing frantically at things or people we want to stay close. Or if we do reach and grab and pull close, we may have trouble receiving what we want all the way into our cells. In addition, we may find ourselves unable to push away what is not good for us, resulting in weak boundaries, or pushing away things we actually long for. A baby in the womb, or a child in a toxic family environment may have had to override any of these natural reflexes in order to stay safe. Furthermore, overriding our instinctual movement patterns for survival, can lead to addictions, eating disorders, sexual dysfunction, learning difficulties and relationship struggles throughout our lifetime.
Our embodied experience holds the key to remembering and repatterning these instinctual blueprints. By exploring, both psychologically and physiologically, through experiential movement practices, we can increase our awareness and our sense of self, making meaning about the way we may have learned to override these sequential patterns in order to survive, from both a top-down and bottom-up approach.
“Somatic psychology reminds us that the body does not just hold the memory of what happened to you, it holds the memory of what wanted to happen. For example, you can think of a child who was threatened and wanted to kick, scream, or run away but wasn’t able to do so for fear of making a bad situation worse. Somatic psychology helps us to slowly and mindfully reclaim these movement impulses as part of our healing. Embodying the satisfaction cycle can help you to connect to your inner sense of self and restore your birthright of balance in mind and body.” –Dr. Arielle Schwartz
So, what is the Satisfaction Cycle? The cycle refers to five core movement patterns known as the Basic Neurocellular Patterns (BNP). They include yield, push, reach, grasp, and pull. Ruella Frank, a gestalt therapist who studied with Bainbridge has included a 6th core movement pattern; release.
An exploration of these patterns can highlight a correlation between psychological and emotional processes and ways we can get stuck in unsatisfying patterns.
Yield: Yielding involves fully surrendering our weight into gravity, and helps us regain a basic sense of safety and trust. Yielding allows us to fully and consciously receive support from others, ourself or the environment. Disruptions in early development can mean that as an adult we find it difficult to fully relax. We can hold a lot of stress and tension in our muscles that resist our ability to yield. It is important to note that yield is not the same as collapse. Yielding is a state of relaxed alertness, not one where we feel sleepy, empty, numb, collapsed or distracted. Whether our inability to yield is related to early trauma or to the state of the world today, many of us could benefit from practicing how to yield.
Let’s try it now. However you are seated, standing or lying down, see if you can surrender your weight to gravity whilst staying present to your internal sensations. What do you notice? Are there some places that soften and some that tense? What do you notice about your breath? Can you breathe into any places that feel held or stuck? Does an image or a memory come up? Maybe you have some thoughts about letting your body yield in this way? See if you can just notice without judgement or story. Now see if you can bring your awareness to what is supporting you. Maybe its’s a chair, or a cushion, or the earth. Notice how it holds your weight. Does it feel secure and strong enough to hold you? Can you surrender just 10% more?
Push: As each movement builds upon the last and also increases that of the one before, we can practice each one individually, and then we can work towards bringing them altogether to create a flowing experience. Once we have fully yielded and experienced our body being held, we can then start to push. Pushing allows us to find momentum, mobility and movement to achieve our goals. It helps us to separate from our caregivers and seek something outside ourselves. Pushing is the foundation of finding our boundaries and our ability to say ‘no’. If our caregivers did not support our independence, our push may need some practice.
Let’s give it a go. If you are seated, standing or lying, see if you can engage your arms and hands, or legs and feet to support your push. Feel your muscles engaging as you begin to move, rock, press, or roll. Play around for a while with those movements, slowly gaining momentum. Then when you feel ready, see if you can push your body forward using both your arms and legs. Practice this as many times as you like.
Reach: Many of us have a healthy curiosity to explore, or a longing to be fulfilled. Reaching is our way to seek that which we want to embrace more of. Reaching is also our way of connecting with others, either to soothe, to have our needs fulfilled, or to pull close. When our yielding or push have not been fully developed, our reaching can feel scary, have a quality of hesitancy, or leave us feeling over-extended. A poorly developed reach can also relate to low motivation, lethargy or a feeling of disconnection from the world and others.
Let’s explore our experience of Reaching. Reaching involves our hands and arms reaching out toward an object, another person, or maybe even a quality. Let’s start by bringing to mind something you’d like to reach for, maybe it’s something you long for. Slowly bring your arms up, opening them out wide, feeling your chest open and the muscles in your back and shoulders contract. Staying aware of your internal sensations, start to extend your arms forward, opening your hands to want you want, as you move them together in expectation to touch and hold that which you long for. What do you notice?
Grasp: Grasping involves the use of our hands and fingers taking hold of that which we most desire. Our ability to grasp hold of something tangible reflects our ability to grasp hold of opportunities, other people and our dreams. When this developmental pattern has not been fully developed we may find we reach, but don’t always follow through, or even push away that which we desire.
Let’s give it a go. With your arms extended, practice grasping and taking hold of the object, person or quality you imagined. Feel your fingers wrap around your longing, take hold, noticing any internal sensations, emotions, memories, images or stories that may emerge. What do you notice? Is your grasping comfortable? Does it have a frantic or exhausting feel to it? Do you feel a sense of satisfaction? Panic? Relief?
Pull: Pulling involves bringing our longing close to our body, heart, or mouth. It is the opposite of push where we are extending and mobilising the body forward. When pulling we are reducing the space between ourself and that which we most want. A well-developed pull helps us to fully receive, feel appreciation for what we have, and digest it in a way that we feel satiated, full and satisfied. When our grasp is under-developed we may pull towards ourself in a hurry, feeling a sense of greed, wanting to fill ourselves up quickly. This often leads us to feeling chronically unsatisfied and wanting more and can be at the root of addiction, eating disorders and other unhealthy patterns.
It’s practice time again. With your hands firmly grasped around your longing, slowly start to pull what you desire toward you. Stay focused on your internal sensations. As you pull towards you, can you receive this goodness, this longing? What happens in your body? Is there an image, memory or story that arises? Now notice if you feel satisfaction? Relief? Angst? As you hold it close, can you let yourself yield into this new connection, filling yourself up from the inside out? If that feels overwhelming, just let it touch the edges of your longing, sustaining a connection in a way that feels safe.
Release: Releasing is the movement of letting go without effort after we have felt a sense of satiation. When a baby is full of breast milk, they will fully yield into the mother’s body and release the nipple in their own time, fulfilling the cycle. A healthy release allows us to fall asleep easily, separate from others with relative ease and come back to ourself. When this developmental movement has not been realised we may rush our goodbyes, feel panic on separation, or long for more. We may expect the other to let go first and therefore cling and hold on in fear of losing something we value. This may show up in our friendships, break-ups, and even the way we end our text messages!
Let’s give this a go. Feeling into that which you have brought close, in your own time and when you are ready, can you release it and let it go, knowing you now have what you need? Allowing your hands and arms to loosen and fall away. What do you notice in your body? Do you feel satisfied? Grief? Or is something else showing up?
When you have explored each of the 6 core developmental movements, see if you can practice them altogether in a flowing sequence. Were there some that were easier than others? Were you able to feel any emotions that came up? You may like to do this practice daily for a while and write about any sensations, emotions, thoughts or changes you notice in your journal.