Explore The Satisfaction Cycle
The satisfaction cycle is a concept that comes from Body Mind Centering (BMC) which was developed by Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen. This influential work in the field of somatic psychology proposes that our early learning of developmental movement patterns influences our sense of who we are in the world. For example, knowing that you are safe to explore your environment, that you can reach for what you want, and that that you can receive it once you get it provides a deep sense of accomplishment and gratification. Most importantly, movement patterns that are not sufficiently embodied can create disruptions not only in your physical development but in other areas of your life, such as the ability to relax, learn, process your emotions, communicate your needs, or have meaningful relationships.
Before you were able to stand, walk, or talk, in fact, even before you were born, you began to explore your world through your body. Your natural reflexes such as sucking, curling, reaching, and grasping movements allowed you to know yourself. You progressed through rolling and crawling until you eventually learned to walk. None of this needed to be taught to you, these reflexes act like a set of blueprints. However, this instinctual developmental process can be disrupted by relatively common events such as the birth of a sibling or by much more disturbing childhood events such as neglect or trauma.
As we grow up it is common to lose connection with our instinctual self. Our use of symbols and language disconnects us from the simplicity of our embodied experience. Moreover, if you have experienced abuse or neglect as a childhood, you may have had to override movement impulses to survive.
“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
Embodiment (A Personal Journey)
When I was a little girl I would rock myself to sleep. Already, my young world was one of loss and pain. My coping mechanism was to curl up on my hands and knees and rhythmically move forward and back until I felt a calm come over my body and mind. Eventually, I left behind my self-soothing habit as I emerged from childhood.
So, by the time I was in high school, I felt stress and tension in my shoulders and upper back in the form of chronic nagging pain. My posture, mood, and thoughts reflected my accumulated burdens. In college, I started taking community yoga classes for stress relief and immediately experienced a lightness in my body and clarity of mind that kept me coming back.
Building upon this foundation of embodiment, I experienced a powerful turning point a few years later when I attended a workshop in Body Mind Centering. As part of this workshop we were instructed to move our legs and feet to gently and rhythmically rock our bodies back and forth for several minutes. We were invited to use our breath to release any resistance to the rocking motion which encouraged the body to surrender. I was overtaken by tears as I had reconnected to the same felt experience I had known intuitively as a child. I was relaxed to my core. Moreover, I felt an immediate shift in my relationships…I felt a desire to connect from a much deeper place.
This experience sent me on a quest to learn as much as I could about embodiment; a journey that brought me to study Somatic Psychology at Naropa University in 1996. There I was introduced to Susan Aposhyan’s Body Mind Psychotherapy (BMP), a body of work influenced by BMC. BMP is a body centered therapy that releases physical or emotional blockages by increasing our awareness of sensation as related to movement and breath.
The Satisfaction Cycle
The satisfaction cycle is a core principle within BMC and BMP. This cycle integrates core movement patterns referred to as the 5 Basic Neurological Actions that are reflective of the intuitive developmental stages that we move through in the first year or two of life. The satisfaction cycle consists of yield, push, reach, grasp, and pull. We then return to yield which may initiate another cycle. When we are infants, these movements are relatively simple; such as, pushing into our arms and legs or reaching with our eyes and hands. As we grow, these patterns progress into increasing complex movement patterns that communicate cross-laterally in the body allowing us to crawl and eventually walk.
It is worth mentioning that while early childhood neglect, trauma, or injury can certainly cause disruption in the satisfaction cycle, our development can also be disrupted by more commonplace events such as excessive encouragement to sit, stand, or walk too quickly. Internal states such as sensory processing difficulties or colic can also interfere with early developmental movements patterns. Disruptions in these patterns can interfere with learning, communication, and relationships.
The 5 Basic Neurological Actions
Exploring the 5 basic neurological actions we discover psychological and emotional correlates and some of the common ways that we can get stuck in unsatisfying patterns. Let’s take a closer look at the satisfaction cycle.
Yielding involves fully surrendering your weight into gravity. For example, you can imagine a safe and secure child resting in the arms of a loving parent. Yielding is characterized by a relaxed alertness that allows us to fully and consciously receive support. Therefore, it is important to make a distinction between yield and collapse. When we have experienced disruptions in early childhood such as impaired attachment we might hold excessive tension in the muscles that resist the yielded state. Or, we might notice a tendency to move into a habitual sleepiness, depressed, or collapsed state. Consequently, it is relatively common for many of us to arrive in adulthood needing to repair our relationship to yielding. When we practice relaxed alertness, it is common for emotions to arise as we let down barriers and reclaim a basic sense of trust and safety.
Each developmental movement relies upon the previous pattern. When we can successfully yield into gravity, then we can use this grounded connection to the earth to push into. Pushing allows a child to press into their own arms and legs to sit and eventually to crawl. Push initiates greater mobility and allows for increased separation from caregivers. At this stage, the child also begins to assert greater independence psychologically as they discover greater amounts of self-support. A good push helps you to feel where you begin and end in space, informs your boundaries, and your ability to say “no!” We can get stuck in this developmental action if our independence was not supported by caregivers or if our boundaries were not respected. If your push was not supported, you may have difficulty setting a clear boundary or find it challenging to say “no!” In contrast, you might have compensated by relying upon a rigid defense style that does not allow you to progress toward reaching out to the world for connection.
Reaching is our natural expression of curiosity for the world around us and our longing to connect with others. A well-developed reach allows us to mobilize into the world as an extension of care for another or an expression of our own needs and wants. When unsupported by yield and push, our reach can pull us out of our center leaving us over-extended. Conversely, a poorly developed reach can be reflected in low motivation, lethargy, or a feeling of disconnection from the world.
Grasp and Pull:
Grasp and pull are two developmental actions that work together to close the gap between the self and the world. Grasp and pull help us to bring what we desire from the outside towards the self. Once again, these actions need to be stabilized through the previous stages of the satisfaction cycle, otherwise our grasping can become frantic, frustrating, and exhausting. For example, it is quite common to grasp for more than we can successfully digest. It’s like arriving at a buffet so hungry that we and stuff ourselves with too much food. We lose our ability to fully receive, appreciate what we have, or digest our experiences—in life, this pattern can leave us feeling chronically unsatisfied. The antidote to this lack of satisfaction involves consciously returning to the practice of yielding as the home base for all of the other actions.
Find a comfortable space on the floor where you can explore the following Intuitive Movement sequence. As much as possible, approach this embodiment practice with curiosity and allow space for any emotions should they arise.
Begin by resting on the floor. Perhaps you choose to rest on your back or your belly. Whatever position you choose, allow yourself to feel the points of contact between your body and the floor. Yield to this contact with the floor by attending to the sensations in your body.
Now, begin to engage your awareness of the space around you. Imagine that you are looking at the world through the eyes of a child. What catches your eye? Is there anything that invites your curiosity?
When you feel ready, allow yourself to begin to press into the points of contact that you have with the floor. Perhaps begin to press into your hands or your forearms if you are on your belly. Notice any feeling of strength or agency as you engage your muscles.
Allow yourself to choose an object that you would like to reach for. Pause and take a moment to return your awareness to the contact you have with the floor. Reset into this connection and restore a relationship to your push before following reaching for your chosen object.
Now, allow yourself to reach for this object, close your hands around it, and pull it toward you. Once you have brought the object in close pause and fully receive this moment. Once again, yield into your connection with the earth. Allow yourself to experience the satisfaction of “getting what you want.”
Notice if any feelings of frustration or grief arise in this process. Allow space for these too. Letting go of muscular holding and reaching for what you want can feel quite vulnerable. You are not doing anything wrong and you are not alone…this is all part of the amazing journey of being human.
Want to learn more?
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About Dr. Arielle Schwartz
Dr. Arielle Schwartz is a licensed clinical psychologist, wife, and mother in Boulder, CO. She offers trainings for therapists, maintains a private practice, and has passions for the outdoors, yoga, and writing. Dr. Schwartz is the author of The Complex PTSD Workbook: A Mind-Body Approach to Regaining Emotional Control and Becoming Whole (Althea press, 2016) and co-author of EMDR Therapy and Somatic Psychology: Interventions to Enhance Embodiment in Trauma Treatment (Norton, 2018). She is the developer of Resilience-Informed Therapy which applies research on trauma recovery to form a strength-based, trauma treatment model that includes Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), somatic (body-centered) psychology and time-tested relational psychotherapy. Like Dr. Arielle Schwartz on Facebook, follow her on Linkedin and sign up for email updates to stay up to date with all her posts.