Embodied Grace: An Interview with Kate Jones, Body-Centered Life Coach
I recently had a conversation with Kate Jones. She is a Body-Centered Life Coach in San Francisco. Her company is Body Mind Movement Therapeutics.
Kate, can you tell us who you are and what you do?
Yes, I'm happy to Denise.
What I do as a Body-Centered Life Coach is work with adaptations in behavior and beliefs that restrict our growth. By adaptations I mean the patterns of behavior we have learned that, at one time, supported our lives. The adaptations develop in our mind as beliefs about who we are and how life is; and they also develop in our body as gestures and rhythms and muscular tensions. I meet people where they are in their desire for change.
Typically, the people I serve want to move from where they are to a different experience. I listen carefully to what is being said in the story they are sharing with me while I simultaneously listen to what the body is saying at the same time. What we can report on or talk about is what is in our conscious mind. However, the body, through gestures and embodied neuro-muscular patterns is expressing points of view that are subconscious and reside outside our conscious grasp. By having a shared understanding that we will work on both channels of communication we are able to move towards the desired goal of growth more effectively. This mind-body approach is what sets me apart from many coaches.
It seems we share an innate desire to reach a greater fulfillment of ourselves. When we clarify what the desire is right here and right now; when we make that actionable, very often that is when our resistance rises to meet us. That’s when we turn on our curiosity about what the resistance is. I sometimes say, “I believe what you are saying. I believe that you afraid. How do you know you’re afraid? What’s telling you that? What do you sense in your body that is telling you that?”
Change often carries a risk within it. If I’m going to change from this to that; there’s usually a little hesitancy. We don’t race headlong into change.
Right. Most people don’t.
How I think about the work at this stage in my career is as partnering with a person in their desire as it arises, in their story for change. And then more deeply partner with the living substance of the body which is carrying the patterns that brought us to the point we are living now.
Wilhelm Reich, many years ago, discovered and defined “body armouring” as the neuro-muscular, postural, and breath patterns that correlate with our belief systems. These learned patterns become a shaping influence on our behavior. The “armouring”, or use patterns , hold our narrative of the story of our lives; the story of who we believe ourselves to be.
If you were to tell me what you wanted as your next step, then we hold that like a jewel and we listen to what part of you may not be interested in not making change or feels it as “I want to but I’m afraid to”. We leave the narrative and enter the sensations of the body at that point. It’s a wonderful rich interiority that comes to the work. Does that make sense?
It does to me. We’ll talk about the specifics of how you work with clients in a little bit. How did you find this work? How do you get into it?
I think I started my first practice in BodyMindMovement in 1984 … before you were born!
I graduated with a degree in Dance with an emphasis in Movement Therapy. I was part of the first generation of Movement Therapists at the beginning of Somatics, and Integral Holistic Medical Practice, and Consciousness Studies. Dance was my early life. I am a highly kinesthetic person, which means I’m a person who learns most easily by sensing my world and through the sense perception within my body as I experience the world. All kinesthetic learners learn best this way. It was natural that I would want to explore how movement and healing are related, thus Movement Therapy.
I began my college years as a Philosophy Major. I was looking for an explanation to the meaning of being born a human being and why we are here. I had an epiphany one day in class. I was contemplating nature and saw that Mother Nature creates systems that are perfectly suited to their environments and effectively interactive within the ecosystem of which they are a part. The structure and function of any living system is not an accidental or random form. Rather the form carries within itself the key structures of its purpose and thus its meaning; and it has a part in the larger ecological conversation.
When I realized Mother Nature creates efficient and effective forms that support their function in the world, I thought, “Look at us. We’re fundamentally bipeds standing vertically in space. We have two free arms that allows us to reach out and touch our world, with the navigational system of the head on top able to orient easily to the environment with hearing, sight, scent, and taste.” I thought further, “ If I could be curious about the form and understand how the form functions, I might get closer to understanding the purpose of being a human being.” That curiosity has been my pursuit over the past 36 years.
You've done other forms of healing work as well, right? You’ve been trained in shamanism and other modalities?
Yes. Following the curiosity of understanding the form of our humanness, I received clinical training in Movement Therapy. I worked an internship at a VA Hospital and met veterans suffering from the dissociative disorders that can accompany trauma. The movement work helped increase the social engagement resources of the veterans. That was moving and eye opening for me.
I noticed that once there was any kind of physical contact, like holding someone’s hand or touching a shoulder, something deepened immediately in terms of the quality of rapport between me and the client. This had me want to study touch, so I became a massage therapist.
I opened my practice as a massage therapist when I moved to San Francisco in 1980. One thing that’s been consistent for me since childhood is that people naturally confide their stories to me. I don’t know why that is, but it’s been consistent. When I began to touch people in the quiet environment of massage therapy, something unusual began to happen. The stories started coming directly from the body of my clients and landing in my awareness as an image and sometimes words. You probably experience something like that too.
Absolutely, it happens in acupuncture work too.
Now I understand that the stories are implicit; carried within the form of things, of our bodies. It sure came as a revelation to me when it began happening in the healing work. I was working with a man, a lovely guy, we were working with stress as the fundamental issue. I got to his left flank/hip/thigh area, my hands resting there, and all of a sudden in my mind’s eye I saw a child. The little boy was maybe four or five years old and very upset and crying. The image was so compelling I said to the client, “I don’t know if this means anything, but I’m seeing this image of a very upset little boy --- about four years old.”
The client turned his head and looked at me somewhat incredulous, and told me the story that when he was a little guy and five years old, he was supposed to be in charge of his younger sister. They were playing at the top of the staircase and his sister fell down the stairs. The parents were so terrified that they grabbed the little boy and punished him with a sound spanking to his left side. This was one of those imprinting moments in childhood. The whole thing was so frightening for the little boy that the experience imprinted into his system and it was living there as an incomplete action. That moment froze in time fixing the trauma in his tissue-memory.
A shamanic teacher and healer of mine counseled me when I asked him about these kinds of experiences, that if the body releases the memory to my care, then it is time for that memory to be worked with, otherwise the memory would not surface to my view. That was helpful, as it gave me permission to offer the perception to my client in a nonchalant fashion; wondering if the image had any relevance to him or her.
This kind of thing happened multiple times with different clients. We began talking about the remembered experiences and the sessions began to toggle between the bodywork and the talking about the experience. Then I thought it would be good to know more about how the embodied memories work. Donna Farhi was a friend of mine. She’s a masterful yoga instructor living in New Zealand now, but we connected here in San Francisco. She and her now husband had met Fred Wahpepah, a Native American elder at Spirit Rock. Returning from her first Tee Pee Ceremony with Fred she told me I must meet him. I respected her very much so I went to meet Fred Wahpepah, a Kickapoo and Sac-and-Fox Native American Elder.
That meeting opened a door to studying with Fred for seven years and learning the ceremonies and principles of earth-based spirituality. Under his guidance I attended many sweat lodges of purification and prayer. I attended two or three Sacred Sun Dance Ceremonies. I also completed four years of vision questing on the mountain. It was a blessing to be embedded in Nature as a prayer; chanting and singing, drumming, hearing the crackle of the fire, the water being poured on the steaming stones, the Earth, the four directions, the seven directions --- all prayers. Those years broadened my appreciation and memory, sort of a cultural memory of what it means to live again intimately with Mother Earth and Father Sky. All of us remember living close to the Earth within our lineages somewhere. That work reminded me of the sacredness of all life; of each person I’m privileged to work with, and the sacredness of my own life.
I wanted to become skillful at working within circles of people and that desire led to my coaching training; Transformational Leadership & Coaching Training in San Francisco. The training centered around a process called Circling. This was a revelatory process of meeting individuals where they are and learning how to reveal the deeper issues within that often determine our choices and actions. Here I learned to embrace persons as they are and become curious about tracking moment to moment perception of rhythm of speech, unconscious gestures being made by the body, various tensions in the body and bringing that into a session to be explored. The deepening that went on for individuals was tremendous in how the work revealed the instinctual patterns that were truly controlling the decisions and actions of the person.
All of our survival patterns are instinctually driven; meaning our human survival instincts are the result of our evolutionary biology. The survival patterns go into action instinctually when we experience life threat. All mammals have instinctual settings for survival and if fear rises and we are relegated to the instincts, we can do harm to one another and ourselves. We also have neural circuitry that can be turned on with the practice of mindfulness and presence that brings on our sense of satisfaction and well being and can generate a witnessing capacity to observe our instinctual drives and impulses.
I realized that the survival patterns are the natural polarity to our higher aspirations of compassion, philanthropy, generativity, nurture and reaching for contact with whatever any of us call our divine nature. The training in Sensori-Motor Psychotherapy is so helpful in opening up the full range of our behavioral repertoire. That’s our playbook in Body Centered Life Coaching: to learn to live within ourselves in such a way that we can take care of our well-being; we can transmute our suffering to our well-being. We live with that playbook inside ourselves but we’re unconscious about it. That’s the trick …. to remember we can learn to care for and regulate our emotional and cognitive and physical bodies.
Pat Ogden founded the Sensori-Motor Psychotherapy training which grew out of the Hakomi work, a body-centered therapy practice. Pat has integrated the most recent research on the neurophysiology of brain function with the somatic correlates. What she has found is that by working with a “bottom-up” approach to therapy, we find that the brain can re-circuit and new behaviors or choices become available to us.
To learn skills, for instance, to stabilize a chronically anxious person to bring the resource of self-regulation and inner calm is life changing. We can be chronically anxious in mid-life due to dangers we experienced earlier in life. Many of us have had to adapt to unpredictable parenting or frightening circumstances that we had no way to resolve at the time they were happening. Many of our shaping experiences happen early.
The magic of the early years is we don’t really have a functional left hemisphere so we can’t reason our way out of things. That capacity is not there, it’s not yet online and so we are relegated to adapting ourselves instinctually to whatever the threatening environment is in order to survive. It’s kind of brilliant.
When you talk about bottom-up, do you mean things you can do with your body to influence those states in the mind?
I know that everybody's different who walks through your door. What sparks somebody to come to see you? What are some reasons people make an appointment to see you?
A woman came in yesterday who is referred by a client. This woman has done a lot of work on herself already. She has a mindfulness practice, she has a spiritual teacher, she’s been to India many times. She’s committed to a lot of psychological work and insight work. She came to me specifically because she knew I worked with the body. She knew that all of her other work was not bringing her home to her body as she followed her intuition. When she told her friend, her friend said, “You know, I think Kate can help you” and she said that because of that skill of listening with appreciation and respect to what the body is saying.
As a person tells me about him/herself, often I’ll hand them a drawing paper and say, “I’m wondering if you could draw what it’s like for you on the inside of your experience. Whatever you draw is just fine.” I’ve never had anyone not want to draw.
Often, there’s so much we can see in the drawing that helps shed light on the presenting problem. One woman’s self-portrait showed a head, short sleeved shirt and pants but no hands, no feet, and no distinguishing characteristics in the face; no eyes, no nose, although the ears were there. This is a woman whos desires to experience her agency in the world. Her ability to remain standing, when the world presents challenges. How does one find agency in the world if you don’t have a body to be agent in. The self-portrait is giving us the direction of confirming that it is safe to be present and embodied while able to be tethered to and expressive of one’s perspective or point of view.
From there what kind of work did you do?
The first question is always safety. Is it safe to have a body? To be embodied and to know it. We did some work on the table so she could experience feeling safe and supported and covered by a blanket. I then introduced touch, with her permission. Always before introducing touch in a session, I describe the purpose and type of touch to be used. In this case I first worked mindfully with my hands compressing firmly and slowly the contours of her body so she could, through sensation, locate herself & her boundaries.
Once connected through sensation to her body we then worked with breath education. If there is fear of any kind, very often the breath will be shallow. We are not usually conscious of our breathing because it is governed by our autonomic nervous system, like our heartbeat. We don’t have to think about it to have it function. That was the case with this client.
I gave her an image to focus her breathing on: Center your awareness about three inches below your navel in the middle of your abdomen. Rest your hands there. See a beautiful stone or jewel floating there in the middle of the pelvic bowl. This client chose an amethyst.
As you breathe in, watch that stone become a sphere. As you exhale with a hiss sound, watch it deflate back to the stone. The amethyst has a weight to it. The subtle weight has the stone be an anchor. The breath then oscillates between the sphere and the anchor of the stone which becomes a somatic experience of balance.
These practices served as a beginning step to help her land inside her own skin and start to experience safety and agency at that level. I try to work with first things first. Does that make sense ?
Yes and that answers my other questions about what it’s like to work with people and what a session looks like. I'm sure that they're different per person but that gives us an idea in that instance.
Yes. Each session unfolds differently as we are building more and more resources that support the client’s goals. However, I am committed to crossing the mindbody interface in each session in some way.
Is there homework you give your clients, like the breathwork, to take home?
Yes. I suggest home practice all the time. It’s good to reinforce the learning that has gone on in the session. I make myself available to clients for check-ins and to let me know how the home practices are going. I often send a supportive text post session so there’s accountability. I want my clients to know they are not forgotten when not in session.
I’m exploring more effective or engaging ways to offer follow-up through some form of social media but I’m not there yet.
Is there anything else you add about the work you do?
There is one other thing I wanted to bring to you. It’s an example about boundaries. Very often if we have experienced fear, especially in our early developmental years, we learned, in some sense, to compromise living fully engaged with our own …
Yes. The integrity of the field itself. The energetic egg or electro-magnetic field that surrounds each living system, has integrity unto itself. We naturally want to be inside this egg and have natural dynamic access to our cognitive, emotional, physical, and spiritual dimensions. If the boundaries or dimensions of the field were breached early on in life as a form of trauma, or abuse, or neglect, we don’t know what it feels like to live inside the wholeness of our own field potential. However, my experience tells me we have a since that there is a potential wholeness waiting for us to live into. I think this is the call that contains our legacy work within us.
I just want to say this about boundaries because it can be useful:
There are actual muscles along the side of the body, the latissimus dorsi; the rhomboids in the middle back; the upper trapezius, across the shoulders and up the neck; as well as the rectus abdominus across the lower abdomen that are the muscles of boundary-making. These are our boundary-supporting muscles. They are also orienting muscles because they allow us to rotate and side bend and relate to the space around us.
When I introduce the boundary and orienting muscles to a client, it’s amazing, how it often becomes a wonderful practice. The introduction of movement plus a little psychoeducation and physical education about how we’re put together … and then to invite people to turn on those muscles intentionally in movement tends to reveal some form of an “aha!” experience as awareness grows.
I invited a woman to stand up in session the other day and to practice with these muscles of boundary making and orienting. I mentioned that these muscles help us reach and rotate. She got to that and she froze suddenly saying “Oh, I can’t do this. Oh, I can’t do this.” And she came back immediately to sit down and we talked. Her early life was so frightening that she learned her safety was about containing her focus and it wasn’t okay to orient to a room. Rather, she learned to orient to the events that are happening inside the room and not be aware of the room or context itself. The exercise blew open her spatial awareness.
We then got curious about that and she left with the resolve to practice orienting in the safety of her home. This practice expanded her movement awareness repertoire a great deal. As she embraced the room itself in her awareness it gave rise to her feeling her own physical presence more accurately in the room. She felt her sovereignty in the room; her own agency. She learned something new about herself and now this client has more choices as to how to presence herself in her environment resulting in her feeling more empowered.
You had asked me to share a quote.
Yes, you’re famous for sharing quotes in the networking group we’re in.
Thanks for that Denise. Have you heard of the woman, Julian of Norwich ?
She lived in 1342 and died in about 1412 in her 70’s. She wrote the earliest surviving book in the English language written by a woman and it was called “Revelations of Divine Love”. She was a theologian and a mystic. I think you’ll find her interesting, Denise. This is what she said:
“I understood that our sensuality is grounded in nature, in compassion, and in grace. This enables us to receive gifts that lead to everlasting life. For I saw that in our sensuality God is. For God is never outside of the soul [and the soul is integral to our incarnated life].”
That’s Julian of Norwich.
Thank you. One thing about the quotes you share with the group is that you always give us a little bit of context of the person who said it. It's not just their words. This helps you form, in your mind’s eye, what this person was like and when they lived and where they were.
What's the best way for people to find you, Kate?
Well, I do have a website at bodymindmovementsf.com. You can also reach me by texting or calling 415.613.6507. I’m looking into being on Instagram or writing a blog or some platform I can share on regularly. Stay tuned for where that might be. It should be linked to my website in some way as it emerges. There’s just too much beauty in this work of embodiment to not put out little jewels of hope and inspiration and possibility for our human unfolding.
Denise, this has been a treat to talk with you.
Thank you so much, Kate.