First and foremost, Hakomi Experiential Psychotherapy is a
mindfulness-based approach to self-understanding. Mindfulness is not
simply part of the ‘tool kit’ in Hakomi, but forms the very foundation
of the therapeutic encounter.
Much more than a method or set of techniques, Hakomi is a way of
looking at the world that is compassionate, mindful, curious,
non-invasive, humorous and respectful.
Hakomi is a Hopi Indian word, that has been borrowed to describe the
distinctive approach to body-inclusive psychotherapy developed in the
USA by therapist and author Ron Kurtz and members of his training staff.
Origins of the work
Hakomi’s inspiration has come from Buddhism and Taoism, body-centred
therapies such as Reichian work, the Feldenkrais Method and
Bioenergetics as well as Gestalt, Focussing, NLP and Ericksonian
A major influence has been General Systems Theory, in which
individuals are seen as self-organising systems that spontaneously
self-correct and contain within themselves their own blueprints for
growing and becoming.
Currently, a number of Hakomi teaching staff are particularly
interested in emerging neuroscience research on how psychological change
happens in the brain.
Hakomi Experiential Psychotherapy is based on five principles:
mindfulness, non-violence, unity, organicity and mind-body holism.
The style of the work is inherently flexible and Hakomi continues to
grow and evolve as a body of work, readily absorbing new ideas and
To find out more about the principles, download this article (PDF, 64kb)
The Work is inherently flexible
The methods of Hakomi are appropriate and effective in all kinds of
therapeutic situations, including couples, families, movement and body
work. As a method, it is suitable for crisis work but is finds its
fullest potential in the process of personal and transpersonal growth.
Studying the organisation of experience
The Hopi meaning of Hakomi – ‘How do you stand in relation to these
many realms?’ (or more colloquially, ‘Who are you?’) reflects the
method’s emphasis on self study. The Hakomi client is encouraged to
study the organisation of their experience – how they meet the world,
what kind of world they perceive, what beliefs they hold about
themselves and so on.
A quick summary of the method
Create the right state of mind;Build the relationship;Get ideas about the person (about how he or she organises experience and what beliefs influence that);Do little experiments in mindfulness to test your ideas;Work with the emotions, memories and insights evoked by the experiments you’ve done;Create the missing experiences that the limiting beliefs have prevented.
The main techniques Hakomi uses for these simple steps are:
We follow the flow of the client’s present experiences (tracking);We name the experiences, once in a while, to demonstrate to the
client (especially the unconscious mind of the client) that we’re
“getting it” (contact and acknowledgement);We detect and adjust to the person’s unconscious needs;We think about what sort of history and beliefs lead the person to
organise his or her experience the way we’re noticing it’s being
organized;We create little experiments, like probes and taking over (which
evoke and access character material) to test our hypotheses about the
person and to evoke memories and emotions that bring that material into
consciousness;We work with the emotions that are evoked (by supporting spontaneous
management behaviour and by creating secondary experiments to move the
process along);We seek to discover and to provide, at least for the moment, the
experiences that have been missing as a result of the effects of the
limiting beliefs and the habits they created.
Mindfulness Being mindful is described as awareness of inner experience in the present moment with an attitude of acceptance and nonjudgment. In mindfulness, clients are taught to track their experiences and connect with any unconscious material that may arise, such as feelings, sensations, and so forth. As living systems, are not single entities but are comprised of multiple parts, elements of a larger whole, innately moving and thriving towards wholeness and healing
Focus on the Present Moment—When your thoughts
get lost in thinking about the past or worrying about the future, you
bring them back to what you are experiencing right now. You try to
remain open to how things unfold in the present, rather than having
preconceived ideas about how things will or should turn out.Being Fully Present—You
are spaciously aware of whatever you are experiencing in the present
moment as you go through your daily life. What do you feel in your body?
What are you seeing, hearing, doing - right now?
Openness to Experience—Rather
than dreading and shutting out your own feelings and experiences
because you think you can't handle them, you welcome with curiosity any
thoughts and feelings that naturally arise, knowing they are merely
sensations in the moment and the next moment can be different. You
create mental spaciousness to contain these thoughts and fellings.
Become aware of your experience as a flow of sensations, thoughts, and
feelings and watch how these change and transform naturally over time.
don't categorize your thoughts and feelings as good or bad, try to
change them, or feel compelled to act on them. All feelings have a
purpose, whether to protect you from danger or open you to love. You
watch and accept whatever arises in consciousness with an open mind. You
extend this non-judging attitude to other people and things.
Acceptance of Things as They Are—You
don't try to force or change reality to fit your vision of what it
should be, feel like a victim, or bemoan the unfairness of life.
Instead, you try to see reality clearly and let it be as it is, knowing
that you can tolerate whatever it is that comes up. You extend this
acceptance to others, knowing they are the best judges of what is right
Connection—You feel connected to all living things and nature in being part of a larger whole. You reflect on and feel grateful for the cycle of life and the food, beauty,
and protection that nature gives us. You know that all living beings
want to feel happy and secure and avoid suffering and you feel connected
by similarity of needs and experience.
Non-Attachment—You do not try to hold onto things, people, or experiences, knowing that life is in constant flow. Attachment comes from fear
and is the basis of suffering. You learn to surf the wave of life,
going with the flow and being confident in your own ability to adapt.
When one door closes, another opens.
Mindfully walking a labyrinthPeace and Equanimity—You
maintain an even-keel, not getting too swept up in life's highs and
lows. You know that life is a cycle and you can't see the whole picture
at any one moment. When things don't go your way, you stay firmly rooted
in your own clear vision and values. You walk with a peaceful heart and
adopt a non-harming, non-violent attitude.Compassion—You
deal gently, kindly, and patiently with yourself and others. Rather
than judging, or condemning, you open your heart to really listen and
try to understand your own and other people's experiences. You allow
yourself to feel other people's suffering. You love people not for what
they can give you or because you need something from them, but because
you connect and empathize with their experiences.
concepts in mind, you can begin to introduce mindfulness into your own
life, whether it is by deliberately directing attention to your breath
and senses at different times during the day, taking a mindful nature
walk, or beginning a simple meditation practice. You might want to
center your attention on each in- and out-breath, noticing the length,
quality, and sensations of the breath moving in and out of your body,
without trying to force or change it in any way. You may also begin to
become aware of the times in the day that you operate "mindlessly," and
on automatic pilot, your head so busy with plans and worries, that you
don't even notice what you feel inside or what is around you. Developing
an observing mind that watches your own daily experience, notices your
automatic patterns, and gently redirects attention to the present moment
is the beginning of growing a "mindfulness muscle" to help you navigate
the winds of change and stresses in your life. "As Eckhart Tolle so
eloquently said: "Always say "yes" to the present moment. Surrender to
what is. Say "yes" to life—and see how life suddenly starts working for
you rather than against you.
The Use of Mindfulness: There are many different states of consciousness. When we talk to friends, when we drive our cars, when we teach, when we read, we are generally in the state that might be called ordinary consciousness. There is another state of consciousness, which the Buddhists call mindfulness. Mindfulness is a state of self-observation without judgment or preference. One of the challenges that couples therapists often encounter is how to instill a sense of observing ego into a couple's interaction so that they begin to "act in" this opposed to "acting out".
Are you all over the place?
The Practice: Rest in center.
Gravity and entropy are powerful processes in the natural world. Gravity draws things together, toward a center, while entropy scatters them into disorder. In much the same way, in our own lives, some things bring us to center, while others disturb and disperse us.
In terms of centering, be aware of your whole body as you take a long slow breath, or think of something you’re glad about. You’ll probably feel more at home in yourself, more drawn into your own core rather than feeling like Garfield the cartoon cat, spreadeagled up against a pane of glass.
In terms of feeling scattered, notice what it’s like to do multi-tasking, the mind drawn in several directions at once. Or what it’s like to open your email in-box and see twenty or more new ones calling to you. Walking down the street or through a mall, see how your attention moves out to various objects of desire: this attractive person, that shiny car, this pretty sweater, that cool new cell phone, and so on: for a few seconds at a time if not longer, you’re dispersed out and away from your calm, clear, autonomous center. And if you have any tendencies toward over-eating, -drinking, -sexing, -shopping, -etc., this dispersal gets more extreme.
Centered or scattered: it’s not a subtle distinction that’s just for yoga camp. When we feel grounded in a sense of center, we’re more resilient; it’s also harder to intimidate us with fear or manipulate us with greed. On the other hand, when we feel scattered, that’s stressful and thus bad for well-being and health. Plus it makes us more distracted and impulsive, and more prone to conflicts with others, and to compulsive or addictive behaviors.
When I’ve felt scattered, it wasn’t the end of the world. But it wasn’t good for me, or for others.
It feels a lot better to rest in center.
Most of the inputs into your brain come from inside your own body, from your heart and lungs and other organs. Ancient structures in your brainstem and subcortex, such as the hypothalamus, begin the process of turning these signals into the fundamental feeling of what it’s like to be alive. Then more recently evolved regions of your brain – the insulas (or “insulae”) inside each of the temporal lobes on the sides of your head – refine these signals further into the embodied feeling of coherent, continuous be-ing. This primal sense of being a body is at the core of the stream of consciousness, and unless you are in extreme pain, tuning into it is immediately centering.
So follow the internal sensations of a single breath – the movements of the diaphragm just under your ribcage, the expansion and contraction of the chest, the coolness of inhaling compared to exhaling – and notice how this feels. Try this for ten breaths, counting them softly in your mind if you like. You could also be particularly aware of breathing in the area of your heart, or in the center of gravity of the body a few inches below your navel.
See if you can get a sense of your body as a whole, along with an attitude of acceptance, not judging. Doing this will tend to activate neural networks on the sides of your brain that support the sense of being peacefully present in the moment; it will also reduce activation in the “default network” running down the middle and top of your brain that fosters mind wandering and taking life too personally.
Fear tends to scatter the mind into frantic fleeing, fighting, or freezing, so as you tune into your body, register that you are basically alright right now . . . now and now and now . . .
Also tune into your good intentions, the goodness altogether at the core of you. Know your own benevolence, your compassion and kindness. This knowing is very centering.
Be aware of desires darting out into the world, reaching for this, pushing away that. Feel what it’s like to rest more in balance, present with life but not disturbed by compulsive desires. Open to a healthy disenchantment about the actual results of chasing this or going to war with that.
In upsetting situations or relationships, you could find refuge – a kind of center – in the answers to these questions: What’s really true? What matters most? What’s out of my hands? What are the most important things to do, and to be?
Even when we are anxious, sad, irritated, feeling inadequate, or depressed, there is a deeper place that is undisturbed. Awareness keeps working, the peaceful space in which experiences come and go. Deep down there is an inviolate wisdom, a “still, small voice” at the heart of you. To borrow a metaphor from The Lord of the Rings, no matter how thick and dark the clouds, stars are always still shining, filling empty space with light.(Rick Hanson,PHD)