Integral Somatic Psychology™ (ISP™) is an approach to improve therapeutic outcomes through greater embodiment of all aspects of experience and all levels of the psyche.
Integral Somatic Psychology was developed by Raja Selvam, PhD. It is a comprehensive approach to embodiment based on Western as well as Eastern psychology. It is currently taught in over a dozen countries in North America, Europe, and Asia.
Integral Somatic Psychology is not another approach to doing therapy. Nor is it a spiritual path. It is a complementary modality developed to increase the effectiveness of psychological work in any therapeutic or spiritual approach.
Integral Somatic Psychology Professional Training is a master training for experienced clinicians to increase clinical effectiveness by fully integrating body, energy, and consciousness into any psychological process. Visit the ISP Professional Training page for detailed information. CE credits are pending for each training module.
“The possibility of embodied integration of many levels of the psyche, and the tremendous synergy such integration offers for improving clinical outcomes, has been a driving force in the spread of ISP to different parts of the globe.”
Raja Selvam, PhD, Founder and Developer of ISP
Click on each of the questions below to read a more detailed explanation
of Integral Somatic Psychology, including the science behind ISP and the
evidence supporting its effectiveness in therapy.
What is ‘embodiment’ in Integral Somatic Psychology?
Embodiment refers to connecting all aspects of experience and all levels of the psyche to the physical body. In Integral Somatic Psychology, all aspects of experience and all levels of the psyche are always worked with in close relationship to the physical body.
What is ‘somatic’ in Integral Somatic Psychology?
The term ‘somatic’ is understood as having to do with the physical body. Its inclusion in Integral Somatic Psychology is to emphasize that the approach is grounded in the physical body.
What is ‘integral’ in Integral Somatic Psychology?
The word ‘integral’ refers to the act of bringing together under one framework different aspects of experience such as cognition and emotion and different levels of the psyche such as the physical body and the energy body. It also refers to the possibility of interpreting all therapies and healing modalities (somatic, energetic, psychotherapeutic, medical, social, and spiritual) from Western as well as Eastern traditions as special cases of the overarching Integral Somatic Psychology framework. This makes it possible for different therapeutic and healing modalities to find a place in the Integral Somatic Psychology framework and use it improve outcomes in their modalities through greater embodiment of those aspects of experience and levels of the psyche they happen to specialize in. Integral Somatic Psychology is integrative in its view that all therapies and all healing modalities are valid and, to a greater or lesser extent, effective in the respective domains they operate in.
What is somatic or body psychology and psychotherapy?
Somatic or body psychology and psychotherapy are therapeutic approaches that offer theories about how the physical body is involved in psychological experiences, and methods for working with the physical body to facilitate psychological processes. Examples: Reichian therapy, Neo-Reichian therapies of Bioenergetics, Core Energetics, and Radix, David Boadella’s Biosynthesis, Bodynamic Somatic Developmental Psychology or Bodynamic Analysis, Peter Levine’s Somatic Experiencing® (SE™), and Sensorimotor Psychotherapy® (SP).
How does Integral Somatic Psychology differ from other somatic or body psychology and psychotherapy approaches?
Integral Somatic Psychology offers an integrative theoretical framework in which every somatic or body psychology or psychotherapy system can be seen as a special case. Therefore, those trained in one or more modalities of somatic or body psychology or psychotherapy can benefit from additional theoretical insights offered by other systems on the role of the body in psychological experience and different methods they offer for working with the body.
What benefits does Integral Somatic Psychology offer to those already trained in a somatic or body psychology or psychotherapy?
Those already trained in a somatic or body psychology or psychotherapy will benefit from learning more about how the physical body is involved in generating as well as defending against psychological experiences such as emotions from a century of scientific research, knowledge that has not been well integrated into existing somatic or body psychology and psychotherapy traditions.
Those trained in systems that focus primarily on the regulation of the physical body to treat stress or trauma such as body-based mindfulness approaches and Somatic Experiencing® (SE™) will learn how to work with the physical body more effectively when they work with experiences such as emotion, cognition, or behavior. And where applicable, they will learn how to regulate the body without destroying the very experience they are working with by excessively regulating it, a common weakness in many body-oriented approaches that are currently popular in mainstream psychology.
Those trained in systems that are focused more on breaking down body defenses against psychological experiences will learn how to support the body to generate and contain psychological experiences and to regulate the body at the same time.
In addition, if they are so inclined, practitioners of all somatic or body psychology or psychotherapy approaches can learn about the role the energies from the individual and the collective bodies play in the psychological and physiological regulation of a person; and how to begin to integrate these energies with the physical body into their work to improve outcomes.
What basic and complex psychological experiences can be embodied through Integral Somatic Psychology to improve outcomes in any psychological or spiritual practice?
Through Integral Somatic Psychology, one can facilitate greater embodiment of all basic psychological experiences: Awareness, perception, cognition, meaning, evaluation, imagination, memory, emotion, language, intent, verbal and non-verbal behavior.
And, in turn, greater embodiment of all kinds of complex psychological experiences encountered in therapy or spiritual work: Attachment, relationship, connection; disconnection, alienation, and detachment; transference, counter-transference, and resonance; constriction, stress, trauma, dissociation, and fragmentation; lack of boundary, containment, control, and capacity to tolerate opposites; immaturity, symptoms, and pathologies; mindfulness, boundary, containment, control, and capacity to tolerate opposites; relaxation, expansion, integration, and wellbeing; maturity, symptom resolution, and health; individuation, differentiation, wholeness, religious or spiritual development, and enlightenment.
Therapeutic modalities differ with respect to the emphasis they place on different basic and complex experiences and different levels of the psyche. For example, some emphasize cognition and behavior over emotion; and some work with alienation as having to do with a person’s spirituality as opposed to attachment patterns in the person’s family of origin. Integral Somatic Psychology can increase the effectiveness of a therapeutic or spiritual modality regardless of the aspects of experience and the levels of the psyche it specializes in.
What are the necessary elements for working effectively with basic and complex experiences in the physical body?
Earlier approaches to body psychotherapy focused on breaking down defensive barriers in the physical body to work with psychological experiences such as emotions. Current approaches to integrating the physical body into mainstream psychology focus primarily on its regulation, akin to psychiatry’s focus on regulation of the brain as the cure for every problem. In both efforts, what is missing is the adequate understanding of the role of the physical body in generating as well as defending against psychological experiences such as cognition and emotion, available from over a hundred years of scientific research.
Working well with the physical body psychologically is not just about working with it physiologically in relation to stress or trauma. And working with stress or trauma or any other psychological experience such as emotion in the physical body is not just about regulating the dysregulation or reducing the stress in it, or completing incomplete movements, discharging high arousal, or expressing emotions forcefully.
Successful embodiment of complex psychological experiences require a) the ability to work with all basic experiences (perception, cognition, memory, imagination, emotion, and behavior) in relation to the physical body, b) the understanding of how the physical body is involved in generating as well as defending against such basic experiences as well as complex psychological experiences such as attachment, c) the ability to regulate the physical body only to the extent necessary when working with basic and complex psychological experiences without destroying the very experience one is working with, and d) the availability of a variety of tools such as awareness, breath, and movement that can be easily integrated into different therapeutic or spiritual settings.
What tools can be used to work with the body in Integral Somatic Psychology?
The tools of awareness, intent, imagination, movement, breath, self-touch, resonance, therapist’s touch, bodywork, and energy work. The therapists choose a subset of these tools based on what they feel personally comfortable with and what they find appropriate to their licensure or practice setting.
What are the four aspects of embodiment work in Integral Somatic Psychology?
Embodiment of a complex experience such as love or power can be understood as having an enduring relationship to that experience in the physical body. Having an ownership of an experience or energy such as power is seen as involving four inter-related abilities.
- The ability to expand the body to expand the experience as much as possible or to support the experience in one part of the body by expanding another.
- The ability to tolerate the experience such as grief in the body. This requires the ability to understand and work through innate resistance to all unpleasant experiences and psychological resistance to the specific experience such as grief.
- The ability to understand or make sense of the experience. What is the experience? Is it hunger or longing? What context does the experience belong to? Longing for a partner or for God? Is it the longing for a partner in the present or a longing for the mother in childhood? What does the experience mean in the larger scheme of things? These functions usually fall under the umbrella of cognitive work.
- The ability to act or behave appropriately in relation to the experience. For example, power cannot be owned in the long run if it is not expressed or acted on. However, if power is expressed or acted on inappropriately, the feedback from the outside would sooner or later inhibit it in the individual. These functions usually fall under umbrella of behavioral work.
Integral Somatic Psychology emphasizes the first two aspects of embodiment work in the training, expanding the body to expand and support an experience and building a capacity to tolerate it, aspects that are only minimally attended to in most therapeutic and spiritual approaches. That these two overlooked aspects of embodiment significantly improve outcomes in cognitive and behavioral work, the two other aspects of embodiment work, is clearly supported by scientific research presented below.
What theoretical and empirical evidence support the claim that the four aspects of embodiment work in Integral Somatic Psychology can improve outcomes to a significant degree?
- Research presented by Candace Pert and Antonio Damasio establishes that all psychological experiences can potentially involve the whole organism. This body of evidence suggests the clinical strategy of expanding the body to expand the experience or expanding the body in one area to support that experience in another area. The expansion makes it possible to have more of the experience such as power or grief to work with, make sense of, or to act with. The expansion strategy, by spreading the experience more evenly throughout the body, ensures that an experience such as grief does not stress or dysregulate one or few areas of the body by concentrating in them and making the experience more intolerable. Scientific knowledge of the physiology of the human body informs us that if the expansion of the body is carried out in such a way that disruptions to nervous system and blood flows are minimized as much as possible, a) the experience would be more tolerable, b) there would be less innate physiological resistance in the brain and the body to generating and staying with the experience, and c) there would be less likelihood of the formation of psychosomatic (psychophysiological) symptoms.
- The need to build the capacity to tolerate opposites in experience for long-term psychological health and resilience is recognized in psychoanalysis as the need to help clients build more affect tolerance (Robert Stolorow). When we are able to tolerate an experience, we can get to a place that it feels no longer bigger than us and that we can survive it. Such mastery usually precedes a sense of completion or resolution of the experience. The capacity to tolerate opposites is emphasized as an essential quality for individuation in Jungian psychology and for transformation in alchemy. The capacity to tolerate opposites is also described as the basic qualification for spiritual growth in many traditions such as Buddhism and Vedanta. The more an individual understands the importance of experiencing and tolerating opposites in experience for personal growth, the less the psychological resistance there would be, and the more able and willing the person would be to work with innate resistance and any residual psychological resistance. The less the innate physiological resistance and learned psychological resistance to an experience, the more the psychological capacity to tolerate it. The more the psychological capacity to tolerate an experience, the easier it would be to expand the body to expand the experience or to expand the body in one area to support it in another area; and the less the stress or dysregulation associated with the experience because it would not be concentrated and burdening only some areas of the body. Greater the capacity to tolerate an experience, more of it is likely to be available for a longer period to make sense of or to act with.
- The ability to make meaning involves different types of cognition: Representing experiences through language or other symbols to know what they are, to operate on them through thinking or other symbolic processes or to communicate them to others; associating the experiences to contexts, past and present, to take action in the appropriate context and to avoid acting out in an inappropriate context because of transference. That such cognitive work persists as an important component if not the most important component of almost all psychotherapy approaches speaks to its therapeutic effectiveness. The embodiment research by Paula Niedenthal and others at the University of Wisconsin, when combined with research presented by Candace Pert and Antonio Damasio that an experience such as emotion is generated throughout the organism, establishes the cognitive benefits of expanding an experience from the brain to not just the facial area but to the rest of the body and tolerating it as long as possible. Conversely, knowing what an experience is, what context it belongs to, and how to operate on it cognitively can more often than not be very helpful in reducing resistance to the experience making it easier to expand it and tolerate it, the first and second aspects of embodiment; and in cognitively formulating behavioral strategies to deal with the experience, the fourth aspect of embodiment.
- Behavioral work has under its umbrella the functions of identifying relevant behavioral alternatives in a situation, analyzing their advantages and disadvantages, choosing the best course of action to follow in that situation, gathering external support for it, and then implementing the chosen alternative as an action or an expression. The extensive research presented by Antonio Damasio in his book Descarte’s Error shows that the more the availability of an experience such as emotion, the better a person’s ability not only in generating relevant behavioral alternatives for the situation but also in choosing which course of action to follow.The more clarity there is about what the experience is and what context it has to do with, the easier it would be to formulate appropriate behavioral strategies, analyze them for strengths and weaknesses, and to choose which course of action to follow. The more expanded and tolerable an experience such as power is, the more available it would be. The more available it is, the more motive force there would be for expressing it or acting on it. Conversely, consistently inhibiting appropriate expression of an experience such as power can, through suppression or repression of it, increase all kinds of resistance to it, and have an adverse effect on the person’s ability to generate, expand, stay with, or tolerate the experience; and make sense of the experience because there would not be much of it to examine.When one expresses oneself verbally or non-verbally, it often leads to an increase in the external support for it. And external support can help an individual to embody an experience in all four ways. Expressing an experience expands not only those areas of the body involved in the expression. It facilitates the expansion of the experience throughout the organism. When we want to express something, there is an intent is to express it verbally and non-verbally. 90% to 95% of an expression is non-verbal. Therefore, even verbal expression can lead to expansion throughout the body, something critics of talk therapies overlook.
What evidence is there for the effectiveness of Integral Somatic Psychology?
The work of Paula Niedenthal and others at the University of Wisconsin at Madison in the United States provides ground breaking research evidence on the effectiveness of embodying emotions on cognition. The extensive research presented by Antonio Damasio in his book Descarte’s Error in combination with the research presented in his book Looking for Spinoza: Joy, sorrow, and the feeling brain establishes the effectiveness of embodiment on emotions on behavior.
There are a large number of controlled studies that establish the effectiveness of even simple energy psychology models such TFT and EFT that employ tapping along the meridians. There are several scientists who have made theoretical sense of the healing effects of energy psychologies in terms of findings in quantum physics, quantum biophysics, and epigenetics. There are hundreds of scientific studies on the effectiveness of working with awareness through mindfulness approaches. Larry Dossey in his book Healing Words presents many research studies on the effectiveness of prayer and spirituality as healing modalities.
Integral Somatic Psychology, because it stands on the shoulders of many approaches that work with different levels the psyche, is supported by the research that establishes the effectiveness of each of these approaches. Integral Somatic Psychology, in an abbreviated version limited the physical body level of the psyche, has been found to be effective in treating symptoms of trauma among survivors of the 2004 Asian Tsunami in India (published in Traumatology, September 2008) and in treating symptoms of war, violence, loss, and displacement in Sri Lanka after the civil war ended there in 2009.
The possibility of embodied integration of many levels of the psyche and the tremendous synergy such integration offers for improving outcomes has been a driving force in the spread of Integral Somatic Psychology to different parts of the globe. It is now taught in the United States, Russia, India, Sri Lanka, Germany, France, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, the Netherlands, and Denmark; and is scheduled in the United Kingdom, Belgium, Canada, Israel, Brazil, Hong Kong, Mainland China, and Australia in 2017 or 2018.
What benefits does Integral Somatic Psychology offer?
Benefits to those who already work well with the physical body
Those who already know how to work well with the physical body will learn more about how to work more effectively with different psychological experiences such as emotions, cognitions, and behavior through the physical body, informed by extensive knowledge on the role of the physical body in generating and defending against different psychological experiences from over a century of scientific research in universities and clinical research in body psychotherapy traditions. And whether or not they already work with levels of the psyche other than the physical body, they can improve their outcomes through greater integration of other levels of the psyche with the physical body, informed by the knowledge from the East and the West of how different levels of the psyche interact with each other and how each level of our psyche contributes to all of our physiological, psychological, and spiritual experiences.
Benefits to those who work primarily with levels of the psyche other than the physical body
Those who work primarily with levels of the psyche other than the physical body will be able to improve their outcomes through learning how to embody the energies from other levels of the psyche in the physical body. They can also learn how to work more effectively with different psychological experiences such as emotions, cognitions, and behaviors in the physical body, informed by extensive knowledge on the role of the physical body in generating and defending against different psychological experiences from over a century of scientific research in universities and clinical research in body psychotherapy traditions, something they need to know how to do in order to effectively embody the energies of other levels of the psyche in the physical body.
What are the advantages of bringing more levels of the psyche into psychology?
The more one takes into account all the influences that an individual might be subject to in a challenging situation, the more comprehensive and effective a treatment could be. Therapeutic modalities that deal with different levels of the psyche, the individual physical and energy bodies, the dynamic collective physical and energy bodies, and the absolute collective body of pure awareness, all continue to exist attesting to their effectiveness in helping their clients. They all report good outcomes whether or not their claims are evidence based through scientific research. Therefore, in the spirit of science, it is worth exploring the integration of more levels of the psyche into one’s practice to let outcomes of such integrative efforts speak for themselves.
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What is energy psychology? How effective is it?
Energy psychology works with energy to increase psychological outcomes. Two of the more popular approaches of energy psychology in practice involve tapping along the meridians (energy lines) and mobilizing and balancing energies through the energy centers. Energy psychology approaches that use tapping along the meridians have more controlled studies on their effectiveness than all the somatic or body psychology and psychotherapy approaches combined.
In what ways does Integral Somatic Psychology differ from energy psychology approaches?
The integrative framework of Integral Somatic Psychology allows for understanding all schools of energy work and energy psychology as special cases that can be integrated into any psychological approach. For those who are already trained in an energy psychology or energy work approach, it provides methods for embodying energies they work with in the physical body. For those who are new to working with energy, it provides a simple model of different energies, an understanding of their physiological and psychological functions, and ways to mobilize them and embody them in the physical body. The basics from Polarity Therapy, Eastern Chakra theory, biodynamic craniosacral therapy, and quantum physics provide the information for working with energies in relationship to the physical body.
What is spiritual psychology or psychotherapy?
Spiritual psychology or psychotherapy refers to a group of approaches that seek to bring about psychological and physiological transformation on an individual or collective level by connecting the individual to a larger collective entity that is believed to regulate all physiological and psychological processes in individuals and communities. Prayer, meditation, and ritual are examples of common spiritual psychology or psychotherapy practices that can have as their background diverse models of religion or spirituality. Larry Dossey presents considerable scientific evidence on the power of prayer in healing.
Is Integral Somatic Psychology a spiritual psychology or psychotherapy? Is it a religious or spiritual approach?
In as much as religion and spirituality are well known models of healing and personal development, they have to be included in any integrative theoretical framework such as Integral Somatic Psychology. However, the focus of Integral Somatic Psychology is really on the embodiment of all energies in the individual physical body, whether the energies are divine or mundane, whether from individual or collective bodies or from the connections between them. Therefore, Integral Somatic Psychology cannot be characterized as a religious or spiritual approach. Nor can it be characterized as a spiritual psychology or psychotherapy even though those who practice spiritual psychology or psychotherapy can improve their outcomes by integrating the physical body more explicitly into their approach through it. In the same manner, religious and spiritual development in different religious and spiritual approaches can be enhanced by the embodiment of energies from different levels of the psyche in the individual physical body through it.
There are four stages of spiritual development that can be seen, to a greater or lesser extent, in every religion: Seeing and praying to God in everything around oneself as in animism, seeing and relating to God as external and remote entity or a divine pair as in the Old Testament, relating to God as an incarnate human being such as Jesus as in the New Testament, and relating to God as an inseparable unity that contains everything including oneself as in Vedanta in Hinduism. Integral Somatic Psychology offers a framework for embodiment in all stages of religious or spiritual development.
On many religious or spiritual paths, the practice is to disidentify with the lower levels of the psyche such as the individual physical and energy bodies and identify one’s awareness instead with the dynamic collective physical and energy bodies or the absolute collective body of pure awareness. While this is a legitimate practice in itself to retrain one’s awareness to become familiar with the less familiar planes of one’s existence, the view in Integral Somatic Psychology is that the embodiment of energies of these higher planes in the individual physical body can help in a more enduring grasp of oneself as the higher levels of one’s psyche, prevent learned dissociation from the lower levels of the psyche, and enhance the benefits of religious or spiritual practice in all stages of religious or spiritual development.
What are the four levels of the psyche or the four bodies in the Integral Somatic Psychology framework?
- The individual physical body
- The individual energy body
- The dynamic collective physical and energy bodies
- The absolute collective body of pure awareness
What is the history of the work with different levels of the psyche or the different bodies in Psychology? How does Integral Somatic Psychology work with the embodiment of the four levels or four bodies of the psyche?
The levels of a person’s psyche can be called the individual physical body, the individual energy body, the dynamic collective physical and energy bodies that the individual physical and energy bodies are parts of, and the absolute collective body of pure awareness that is the basis of all the individual and collective bodies or levels of the psyche. Alternatively, the levels can also be called the individual gross and subtle bodies, the dynamic collective gross and subtle bodies that the individual gross and subtle bodies are parts of, and the absolute collective body of pure awareness that is the substratum of all the individual and collective bodies, where the subtle and the gross bodies differ simply by the size of the particles they are made up of, borrowing the terminology from Eastern psychology that is supported by Einstein’s recognition that matter and energy are equivalent in his well-known equation, E = MC2.
Level one: The individual physical body
Therapeutic modalities differ with respect to the levels of the psyche they specialize in. Psychology, for the most part, is focused on one aspect of the physical body, the brain. Somatic or body psychologies and psychotherapies on the fringe have tried to expand this focus to include the rest of the physical body. Of late, mainstream psychology has shown more interest in embodying more of the physical body due to the emerging evidence of better outcomes from its inclusion. However, relative to what is possible with respect to the physical body, embodiment in mainstream psychology has much scope for improvement. Therefore, level one of embodiment work in Integral Somatic Psychology is focused on improving clinical outcomes through greater integration of the individual’s physical body into all psychological approaches.
Integral Somatic Psychology’s embodiment strategies on this level of the psyche are based on extensive knowledge of how the physical body is involved in generating as well as defending against emotions and other psychological experiences from over a hundred years of scientific research in academic circles and clinical research in body psychotherapy traditions; and on a simple model of regulation of the physical body based on findings from medical sciences and somatic therapies. Greater embodiment of all basic and complex psychological experiences in the physical body is the foundation work in Integral Somatic Psychology on which the subsequent work of embodying the other levels of the psyche is built.
Level two: The individual energy body
Level two of embodiment work in Integral Somatic Psychology is an attempt to increase clinical outcomes through greater integration of energy into psychological work. Called the energy body in the West or the individual subtle body in the East, the integration of this level of the psyche in mainstream psychology at present is even more limited. Schools of energy work operate primarily outside of the perimeter of psychology with most of them focused on the regulation of the energy body through touch or movement. Schools of energy work and energy psychology on the fringe of psychology, using constructs such as energy centers, elements, and meridians, are also by and large focused more on symptom resolution through regulation of the energy body than on work with psychological processes. They do not fully exploit the available knowledge on the role of the energy body in either physiological or psychological regulation. And, most of the time, the work with energy such as energy center work is disembodied or not adequately related to the physical body.
There is greater resistance in general to the integration of the energy body than the physical body, in psychology as well as science. This despite there being more controlled research studies on the effectiveness of simple energy psychology methods that use tapping along the meridians (energy lines) than on the effectiveness of all the somatic or body psychology and psychotherapy systems combined. There are probably several understandable reasons for this resistance. The quantum level energy body is hard to measure at the sub-atomic level and therefore easy to deny, as was the case in science with quantum physics till it was w firmly established. Even though science and psychology now allow for the quantum level of the physical body, they continue to be reluctant in allowing for the possibility of another quantum level body interacting and influencing the physical body at the sub-atomic level. Such allowance might open the door for the concept of the soul present in all religions; possibly an anathema to the Western scientific establishment that had to struggle long and hard against religious dogma to establish itself. Resistance to the possibility of reincarnation in Western religions might also contribute another layer of resistance in the West to the idea of a separate subtle or energy body that is nevertheless a part of all Western and Eastern religions.
Level two of embodiment work in Integral Somatic Psychology is an attempt to increase clinical outcomes through greater embodiment of the next level of the psyche, the energy body. Findings from quantum physics and scientific research on reincarnation are used to establish the existence of the energy body and its relationship to the physical body. Knowledge from energy work and energy psychology schools from the East as well as the West are used to understand the physiological and psychological functions of the different layers of the energy body and how to access, regulate, and integrate them into the physical body during psychological work, through constructs such energy centers, elements, and zones. The work with energy in Integral Somatic Psychology is through and in close relationship to the physical body, using the expertise acquired from level one of embodiment work with the physical body.
Level three: The dynamic collective physical and energy bodies
Level three of embodiment work in Integral Somatic Psychology has as its goal improvement in clinical outcomes through greater integration of dynamic collective physical and energy bodies into a person’s individual’s physiological and psychological processes. In Western as well as Eastern psychology, there are different traditions that acknowledge and work with collective physical and energetic influences on an individual’s physiology and psychology. Typically, both the collective physical and energy bodies that have complex relationships with each other are conceptualized as having many levels where each level is made up of all the levels below it. For example, both the psychology of Jung from the West and Advaita Vedanta from the East conceptualize the collective physical and energy bodies as the collective raw material in the universe and the collective universal intelligence that gives it shape as well as regulation. That is, the collective energy body is likened to psyche and the collective physical body to matter. In both systems, the collective physical and energy bodies in turn form a collective body of unity in which one cannot be separated from the other, as particle and wave cannot be separated from each other in a loose quantum physics analogy. This implies that the psyche is matter and the matter is psyche and the two are in an inseparable relationship; and that they must be made of the same substance to be able to influence each other. In both systems, the influence of the collective on the individual recognized as paramount.
There are many traditions inside and outside of psychology that work with various collective bodies and their relationships to the individual bodies: Jungian and archetypal psychologies, Ken Wilber’s Integral Psychology, Eastern psychologies such as Buddhist psychologies and Sri Aurobindo’s Integral Yoga Psychology, and transpersonal psychologies on the fringe of Western psychology; energy work systems such as Reiki, bodywork systems such as biodynamic craniosacral therapy, movement therapies such as Qi Gong and Tai Chi, astrology, shamanism, and ritual practices; schools of meditation, spirituality, and mysticism; religions, politics, ideologies, movements that promote causes such world peace or a better environment, and movements that seek to counter injustice such as racism and religious intolerance. However, as with work with the individual energy body, most work that is done at the level of collective physical and energy bodies especially in psychology is not embodied enough in the individual physical and energy bodies. Therefore, in level three of its embodiment work, Integral Somatic Psychology seeks to demonstrate ways to improve clinical outcomes through greater embodiment of the energies from the collective physical and energy bodies in the individual’s physical and energy bodies, and through the strengthening of the connections between these collective and the individual levels of the psyche.
The knowledge from Jungian and archetypal psychologies, Integral Psychology, models of transpersonal psychology, Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta, theories of religions, mysticism and spirituality, sociology, social and cultural anthropology, and quantum physics forms the theoretical basis for the third level of the psyche in Integral Somatic Psychology. The knowledge about how to embody the individual physical and energy bodies from levels one and two of embodiment work in Integral Somatic Psychology forms one basis for grounding the energies of the collective physical and energy bodies in the individual physical and energy bodies. (In fact, level two of embodiment work in Integral Somatic Psychology already involves connecting the individual energy body to the archetypal energies of the collective energy body associated with each of the five lower energy centers). The knowledge of the physiological, psychological, and spiritual functions of the higher energy centers at the third eye and the crown and their relationships to the lower energy centers, and how to work with the two higher centers and integrate their energies into the individual’s physical and energy bodies provides the second basis. The knowledge of the multiple levels of resonance, between the individual bodies and between the individual and the collective bodies, and how to facilitate these various connections through resonance to increase their interactions provides the third basis.
Level four: The absolute collective body of pure awareness
The fourth level of the psyche in Integral Somatic Psychology is defined as an unlimited, independent, and self-aware body of pure awareness that is the basis of all things animate and inanimate. It is established philosophically (through traditions such monism and idealism), scientifically (in theory through quantum physics and in empirical evidence through brief as well as enduring experiences of not just mystics but also ordinary people in all religious traditions and all walks of life), and spiritually (through Advaita Vedanta from Hinduism, Mahayana Buddhism, Sufism in Islam, Kabbalah in Judaism, and Christian Science and Thomism in Christianity).
Mindfulness approaches in psychology typically work with awareness in relation to experiences in the brain or the physical body and understand the benefits that accrue from such practices as having to do with improvement in the functioning of specific brain regions such as the prefrontal cortex. However, the typical aim of mindfulness, meditation, and contemplative practices on spiritual paths is the discrimination of awareness from all aspects of experience on all levels of the dynamic psyche: the individual physical and energy bodies, the dynamic collective physical and energy bodies, and the one dynamic collective body of unity they in turn form due to their inherent inseparability. The goal in Advaita Vedanta, for example, is the discrimination of all experiences on all levels of the dynamic psyche as objects of one’s awareness and the identification with the pure awareness that remains; and the subsequent realization of the inseparability of the absolute collective body pure awareness from all aspects of experience and all levels of the psyche. Integral Somatic Psychology can be helpful whether the goal is simply to increase mindfulness in relation to ordinary experiences as in psychology (lower mindfulness) or to grasp one’s deeper identity with the absolute collective body of pure awareness as in Advaita Vedanta (higher mindfulness).
The ability to tolerate opposites in experience on each level of the dynamic psyche increases one’s ability to maintain discrimination of one’s awareness from experiences that arise on each level of the psyche. Levels one, two, and three of embodiment work in Integral Somatic Psychology, because they develop the capacity to tolerate opposites in experience on the all levels of the dynamic psyche through the physical body container, contribute to the ability to discriminate one’s pure awareness, the fourth and final level of the psyche, from all experiences on other levels of the psyche. Therefore, level one, two, and three of embodiment work in Integral Somatic Psychology can help in acquiring lower as well as higher mindfulness as defined above.
The fourth level of embodiment work in Integral Somatic Psychology involves accessing and working with the energies of the two higher energy centers at the third eye and the crown and bringing them all the way down into the physical body with a number of benefits in mind.
The two higher energy centers at the crown and the third eye have a lot to do with the perspective of the absolute collective body of pure awareness and the understanding of its relationship to other levels of the psyche. Integral Somatic Psychology, with methods for working with these two higher energy centers and integrating their energies into the individual’s physical and energy bodies, offers another way of greater differentiating the awareness of the witness consciousness from and all experiences every level of the dynamic psyche with the potential benefits of both lower and higher mindfulness. This includes the level of the brain in the physical body that science is mostly concerned with. One of the drawbacks of mindfulness, meditation, and other contemplative practices when they are focused on the higher energy centers is the learned disconnect or dissociation from lower and more concrete levels of the psyche such as the individual’s physical and energy bodies. Integral Somatic Psychology safeguards against those limitations because it works closely with these lower level bodies as it works with the energies of from the two higher energy centers.
Differentiation of one’s awareness from experiences on all levels of the dynamic psyche or identification of oneself with the absolute collective body of pure awareness are not the only benefits that can accrue from level four of embodiment work in Integral Somatic Psychology. The energies that come through the two higher centers at the third eye and the crown are understood as the fundamental energies or source materials that differentiate into all successive collective and individual physical and energy bodies. Because they provide the material building blocks for all levels of the dynamic psyche, the fourth level of embodiment work in Integral Somatic Psychology can also contribute significantly to level one, two, and three of embodiment work with the individual and collective physical and energy bodies.
The energies through the two higher centers also bring with them the intelligence with which the universe is designed and regulated from top to bottom. When level four of embodiment work facilitates the embodiment of these energies on lower levels of the psyche such as the brain, it can result in intuition or inspiration for scientific, psychological, artistic, social, or spiritual knowledge.
The higher energies accessed through the two higher centers are also theorized as possessing the blueprints of an individual’s life purpose as well as the individual’s (spiritual) connections to the whole. Integral Somatic Psychology, because it works to embody these energies in the individual physical and energy bodies, enhances the likelihood of embodied life purpose and embodied spirituality. It increases the possibility of the transformation of the physical body into a crystalline image of the properties of the higher energy centers at the third eye and the crown. When that happens, as theorized by Sri Aurobindo in Integral Yoga Psychology, the spiritual understanding of the relationship between the individual and the whole can be realized in the felt resonant sense of the physical body in relation to the environment, as opposed to just having a cognitive grasp of the possibility of it.