Finding a Relationship with Yourself That Works:

A Mind-Body Approach

Mark Bakal, Psy.D.

A relationship with yourself that works, A mind-body approach.”  What does this really mean? We live in a culture in which we are constantly feeling the pressure of the economy, busy jobs, overly-planned lives and a nonstop barrage of expectations. No wonder people are feeling more stressed than any other time in the recent past! We are all looking for ways to feel better and unfortunately, we often find ways of feeling better that are not very healthy (i.e.; overeating, drinking, excessive spending, etc.).


Over the past couple of years, I have been in a training program for a method of therapy called “Focusing”. Eugene Gendlin, a philosopher and psychologist, discovered “Focusing” when doing research to determine why certain people benefit from psychotherapy more than others. When he learned what these people did differently inside themselves, he developed a teachable method for anyone to learn. One definition Gendlin uses for “Focusing” is direct access to a bodily knowing.  Although this concept may seem strange, we can all relate to the idea that our minds often race all day (and sometimes late at night when we should be sleeping). We can also understand the idea we have knowledge that our conscious brains are not accessing. Focusing” teaches us to have a relationship with our body’s untapped intelligence. 


“Focusing”, like many other self-help methods, is something that takes time to learn and practice.  But who wants to take time to learn something new when the very problem seems to be that we don’t have enough time! The upside to learning “Focusing” is that all of the tools needed are completely within you.


Getting started can be quick and easy:


1)                          Get in a quiet place and take a minute to slow down and just see how you are doing on the inside right now?  What in the world does this mean?  It means take a minute and ask yourself how you are doing and truly wait for an answer like you would wait for an answer from a friend, spouse or child.  When you do this, be aware that 30 seconds will feel like 30 minutes, as we are not used to doing this.  It’s okay to talk to yourself, we all do it, we just don’t always do it in a productive manner.


2)                          Once you are in there, check inside your body and see how it feels.  What does “check inside your body” mean?  I know that it is an unusual question, as we spend most of our days racing around in our thoughts. Therefore, I will give you some ideas of what checking with your body might sound like. You may want to check your throat, chest and stomach, as these are places that we often experience emotions and bodily feelings. You may not get a bodily feeling right away and that is fine. You are probably familiar with the type of feeling that may come, as you know how your body feels when you have “butterflies” in your stomach or feel a pounding in your chest.  It doesn’t have to be a strong feeling, as it is okay to have subtle feelings in one’s body.


3)                          If you do feel something, just take a minute and sit with it like you might sit with a friend or loved one without having to do anything but listen.  Again, this will go against what we normally do, as sitting with it can seem awkward at first.  Sometimes this space just makes us feel differently about whatever is going on. Don’t be surprised if you have a critical voice in your head telling you to “get on with it” or “fix something”. Try and be patient like you would be with a young child.


4)                          The next step is to interact in a caring way with this bodily feeling.  Another reminder: this does not mean you are crazy. We interact with ourselves all the time; it is just not always in an intentionally caring manner. What kind of questions would you ask a loved one?  What is the worst of it?  How would you like to feel?  How would it feel inside if you felt much better? Is there anything that you need?  Simply ask your body sense some questions and don’t forget to wait for an answer.  Remember, your body sense moves much slower than your typical day-to-day thinking. If there is no answer you can just wait or let it know it doesn’t have to have an answer yet (just like you would do for a loved one).


5)                          After doing this for a while, whatever amount of time feels right, you may begin to get ready to rejoin your day in the outside world.  Here, it is important to check with your body sense as to how it would like to end this experience. You may ask questions like: What would be a good way to close? Is there anything you might want to remember to come back to? Is there a safe place to put this information, so you can go back to your day? Remember, any one of these questions may be enough. These are just options, but it is not likely you will want a lot of questions.


My hope is that the above steps will appeal to the part of you that wants something now. This exercise is just a beginning; there is much more to learn about “Focusing” to really reap some benefits. Therefore, I’d like to provide a few ideas about how to further learn and deepen your relationship with your internal self.  It is best to have a focusing partner to help guide you.  Once you learn focusing, it can be done by yourself, but is most often more effective with a partner. Partnerships are free and often done on the phone. You can read about focusing and partnerships on the Focusing Institute’s website at www.focusing .org.  You can learn more about Focusing by reading; 1) Focusing by Eugene Gendlin or 2) The Power of Focusing by Ann Weiser Cornell.


I wish you luck and a new relationship with your internal self in the New Year.





Gendlin, E.T.  FOCUSING.  New York: Bantam Books, 1981.


Weiser Cornell, A.  THE POWER OF FOCUSING.  Oakland: New Harbinger                          

            Publications, Inc., 1996.