THE STOOL EXERCISE
I have found this particularly easy and useful exercise in a my yoga blog on tai chi chuan by Dominique de Wespin (1973), and have used it with many patients. It generally does not activate the emotional and unconscious dimensions; but this work can be done with other techniques available to the body psychotherapist:
Lie down on the floor. Place the legs up to the knees on a bed. Let yourself breathe and just leisurely observe the respiration. It will, little by little, descend to the abdomen, (de Wespin, 1973, p. 137)
It is important that there be a right angle between the thighs and the spine and between the thighs and the calves. As breathing expands, fanningâ the lower belly, it extends itself gradually from the pelvis to the rib cage, thus making more space for the diaphragm to move.
When I have an anxious patient who does not breathe with his belly, I often ask him to try this exercise during the session and then at home. If the chair or stool is too low, one can place a cushion under the calves. This position relaxes and elongates the lower back while relaxing the abdominal muscles. This exercise can easily be done repeatedly in the course of many weeks. This often brings about a lasting relaxation, less fear, and in the end, sometimes, the advent of dreams that provide contact with repressed material. The difficult part of this exercise is to ensure that the patient does not voluntarily direct his breathing. The ideal is that he simply observes what happens. If the patient does not have this capacity, it is better to distract him with a mental placebo, such as asking him to observe what is going on in his feet. When an individual is compulsively self-controlling, we can suggest that he listen to some calm music that he likes during the exercise. This exercise is also useful to detect certain muscle tone problems linked to the way the muscles of the back, abdomen, and psoas influence the position of the pelvis.
I have rarely met someone who does not relax in this position. The respiration gradually relaxes and finishes in less than ten minutes most of the time by settling comfortably in the lower belly. Like all exercises, it does not work for everyone. The psychotherapist then tries to understand why it does not work. That leads inevitably to something interesting.
I do not know if this universally known exercise was really invented by Taoists, but it is a good example of how they approach the body. They try to find methods whose simplicity and efficacy are the result of a profound comprehension of the mechanics of the body.