The dogs howl, but the moon still keeps on shining. - German Proverb
Here are the handouts, recordings, and reflection/record sheets for the sixth Autogenic training session. There are four overlapping themes to this 'lesson'. Obviously a key issue is the next Autogenic Training step - the focus on the abdominal area. I usually initially get trainees to put a hand or both hands on their abdomen when they are learning this exercise. The hand(s) are positioned a little below the belly button, unless the trainee has specific abdominal symptoms - when positioning the hand(s) over the troublesome area may be more appropriate. The hand(s) don't have to be in direct contact with the skin. A sense of gentle, warm contact through clothing is fine. This typically helps one focus on the abdominal area and the hand contact also merges easily with the feeling of belly relaxation and warmth that one begins to allow.
The phrase I use here is "Belly warm and radiates warmth". The relaxation response is associated with blood flow partly shunting away from the big, voluntary muscles (that could be used for fight or flight) to potential areas of self-healing & recharging like the skin and digestion. Belly warming is probably a real phenomenon, but it is likely to be subtle and I suggest you simply imagine the sense of increasing warmth. It is the deepening experience of relaxation and peace that matters. When I learned Zen meditation many years ago, my Japanese teacher used to encourage us to focus our attention on the abdomen. He would say "Belly centre of the universe. Sit like mountain!" This area - the body's centre of gravity - is known in the East as the Dan Tien or Hara and has long been an important focal point for internal meditative techniques. Pretty quickly you're likely to find you can focus here without needing to make contact with your hands. Allow a deepening sense of centred relaxation and warmth to grow and to spread calmness out through the body "like the rays of the sun". After all this is also the site of the solar plexus - the complex network of nerves located behind the stomach.
There are two downloadable Autogenic exercises that can be used - see lower down this page. They are each about 13 minutes long and one uses the standard emphasis on deepening relaxation that we have become familiar with already in earlier Autogenic exercise recordings. The other explores aspects of mindfulness more. In this latter exercise, you are asked to note how much you remain with your basic focus on the Autogenic relaxation sequence. It's fine and to be expected that various "distracting" thoughts, images & sensations - the fishhooks - will go through your mind. Simply letting these distractions float by doesn't count as being "off focus". If however you find yourself spending time "on a fishhook", mindlessly thinking about these distractions, you are now "off focus". For the purpose of this training, this "off focus" time is what you're noticing quickly and allowing yourself to unhook from. In the mindfulness recording, you are asked to make a series of estimates of roughly what percentage of the exercise you are managing to stay "on focus", with the Autogenic sequence, allowing any distractions simply to float past. Become familiar with both the Belly relaxation and Belly mindfulness exercises. Sometimes use the recordings and sometimes practise without them.
The second of four themes, in this sixth Autogenic Training session, is a further step in application practice. You should have used the first and second Differential exercises (described in the fourth & fifth Autogenic Training sessions) regularly before moving to this next stage of application. When I'm teaching someone this exercise personally, I would now hand them about a dozen small adhesive coloured dots. You can buy them in many stationery shops. Tongue in cheek, I say that ideally at this stage I would employ an assistant to follow the trainee around for a week or so. Every now and then the assistant would tap the trainee on the shoulder to get them to check on how relaxed and present they are - a kind of gentle "How are you doing?" moment. I say however that this could be rather intrusive and expensive, so we'll use the reminder dots instead. It should be possible for you to construct an alternative to these dots if you don't have easy access to them - for example by using very small fragments of paper attached with little sections of sellotape or blu-tack.
Think about the sequence of one of your typical days - getting up and dressed, hopefully eating some breakfast, maybe travelling to work or getting on with things at home, and so on. As you imagine your way through a typical day, think about places that you could stick reminder dots. I don't want you to have any long sections of the day when you won't "bump into a dot". If appropriate - because you're using public areas - the dots can be mostly hidden so that only a little fragment of it is visible to you. It's the fact of being reminded "How are you doing? Can you relax a bit more? Can you be present a bit more?" that matters. So locations many people use include mirrors, tooth brush handles, on cups or mugs, beside kettles and kitchen sinks, on fridges and clocks, key rings and watch straps, on telephones and purses/wallets, inside desk drawers, on computer mice, files, pens, car dashboards, near TV's, and so on. As you go through your day, it would be good if fairly regulary you came across a reminder dot - maybe 30 or 40 times daily. Probably best if it's not continuously in your line of sight for long periods of time e.g. not on or too close to a computer screen. The aim is for the dot to remind you and if it's constantly there it tends to lose its reminding function - you simply adapt to it and forget about it.
When you notice a dot, you don't have to stop what you're doing. In fact, my preference would be that, if anybody was observing you, they wouldn't notice that you are doing anything special or different. At mimimum, please would you take two or three slightly longer, slower breaths. While you're doing this - as you continue to get on with whatever else you're doing - drop your shoulders, relax your face and body, let go of unnecessary tension. We tend to go through life tightened up a notch or two more than we need to be. Here's a reminder not to make all this unnecessary effort. At the same time as relaxing a little, also come into the present a bit more. The two - relaxing and coming into the present - are often linked. To relax and let go a bit I need to stop planning/worrying/fantasising about the future. I need to let go of memories and mulling over the past. To relax and settle, I'm likely to come into the present - to be here now. It's fine too to let the reminder move you into a more extended application of relaxation/being in the present. I sometimes describe this exercise as being like an accordion or concertina - it can be contracted down to just a few breaths or it can expand out to some minutes in length. So, for example, if my eye catches a dot when I'm eating or when I get out my wallet/purse to pay for a bus ticket, or while I'm doing the washing up - then I can get on with the activity at the same time as savouring the present time experience of what I'm doing, relaxing, appreciating, really being in the feel of the present moment in my life for minutes on end. Human beings adapt quickly to situations, so reminder dots will tend to lose their signal value after a while. That's fine. It would be great if a fairly intense use of these dots for a few weeks means that you start to have checking into the present and releasing/softening as a default mind-body space you move into often during gaps and at different times during your day. You can always unpeel all the dots after a while and possibly reintroduce them occasionally over subsequent months.
As part of the application training, I also introduce a "Coming to our senses" exercise. I explain that it is now perfectly possible to go for a walk and work through a full Autogenic practice as you stroll along. In fact I would encourage you to experiment with this. It can be fun, peaceful, and good training. When doing this the attention is quite largely focused inside. An alternative exercise is to come to your senses. See the "Coming to our senses" slide for more on this Observing, Sensing, Hearing practice, where the attention focuses more on the outer world. In both cases - Autogenics during activity and Coming to our senses - there is a softening/loosening/relaxing and a coming into the present. These exercises are probably best done when you're moving through the world - walking, cycling, running, or on a train, bus, plane, or as a car passenger. I written several blog posts about this kind of process - for example while walking in the Sahara earlier this year, or in the Scottish hills.
The third theme I look at in this sixth Autogenic Training lesson is covered in the slides. I discuss Csikszentmihalyi's ideas and research on flow - see slides 1-6, slides 7-12 and the flow channel diagram. The slide Savouring, mindfulness & flow illustrates straightforward overlaps and distinctions between flow and mindfulness, while Attention, focus & time extends this mapping of what & how we pay attention a bit further. Attention skills developed during Autogenics allow us to have more choice now over how and where we focus our attention.
The fourth and last theme in this sixth session is illustrated by the presentation Responses to suffering slides 1-6 and slides 7-12. Since the Autogenic classes I teach are only a couple of hours long, there isn't usually much time to go into this Responses to suffering area deeply. I bring it in at this stage largely because of Professor Whorwell's work on hypnotherapy, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and other disorders. The hypnotherapy here involves deep relaxation and healing imagery and Autogenics can be easily adapted to include these ideas. This links into the whole area of healing visualisations - see, for example, slide 11 of the Responses to sufferering sequence.
Autogenics 6a: Belly, Relaxation, 13 minutes - 4.5 Mb MP3 file. This adds in the Belly focus (see above for description) linked with allowing deeper relaxation & peacefulness - as we have been doing developing the Autogenic Training sequence over the weeks so far.
Autogenics 6b: Belly, Mindfulness, 13 minutes - 4.5 Mb MP3 file. This exercise gives a different slant. It focuses more on mindfulness and attention (see above for a fuller explanation).
Autogenic slides 7-12 - further slides in, largely with focus on flow.
The flow channel - a useful model illustrating the interaction between flow, challenge and skills.
Coming to our senses - an attention exercise that can be seen as applied relaxation, but probably is better conceptualised as a form of mindfulness training.
Responses to suffering slides 1-6 - a broad overview on applying problem solving for troublesome symptoms.
Responses to suffering slides 7-12 - these further slides also begin to introduce potential ways of using helpful imagery.
Reflection on flow - a set of three questions to encourage personal reflection on 'flow'. In a group training this would probably used as a springboard into pair and then full group discussion.
Practice record 6 - again this record sheet is a way of encouraging making the practice more personalised and reflective.