seeking views on mindfulness

Somatic Experiencing and Mindfulness

by Serge Prengel on November 20, 2012

For many people, the word ‘mindfulness’ still has a mystical connotation; i.e., something that could not easily enter the daily lives of most Americans. Things are changing, though. As one example, Congressman Tim Ryan has published the book A Mindful Nation extolling the practice of mindfulness. Ryan’s publisher calls him an “all-American guy from the heartland,” suggesting there is a growing opening for mindfulness in mainstream America.

But what is mindfulness? Often the word is associated with meditation, or more specifically, sitting meditation. While there is, in my opinion, nothing wrong with sitting meditation, this view is limiting. It limits the benefits of mindfulness to a specific practice, as opposed to emphasizing its broader functionality. By functionality, I mean: What is it that makes mindfulness good for us, and in what way?

Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founding director of the Stress Reduction Clinic at UMass Medical School, has proposed just that sort of functional definition. “Mindfulness,” he says, “means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” In his preface to Congressman Ryan’s book, Kabat-Zinn shares his perspective in a way that SE® practitioners can resonate with: “Instead of losing our minds just when we need them most, with the help of mindfulness we can integrate all the dimensions of our experience— emotional, somatic, cognitive and social.”

In other words, mindfulness can be defined as our ability to override the default mode of impulsively reacting to events from a fight-or-flight mode. Having access to all the dimensions of our experience, and integrating them, allows us to see whether or not the situation is as threatening as it first appears to be. This gives us the power to react in a way that is appropriate to the present moment.

We could say mindfulness is the process of shifting from a reactive mode to a proactive one. We move past reactivity (sympathetic activation) through self-regulation that uses awareness of body as a gateway to the experience of self-awareness. And in this process, Somatic Experiencing® can be seen as skillful means to enhance mindfulness. You may already see the connections, which leads me to ask a favor …

I am writing an essay about SE as a mindfulness practice, and would love to hear from my fellow SEPs their experiences in this regard. I am happy to mention contributors by name or anonymously— whatever you prefer.

The essay is focused on the transformative effects of paying attention to somatic experience in the context of developing our ability to self-regulate. So this is different from writing about SE as a way to heal trauma. And it’s different from exploring SE as a tool that therapists can integrate with other modalities as they conduct therapy. In this essay, I am not examining pathology, but rather the potential for personal development in the practice of SE.

I hope to hear your experiences in this respect. For instance, here are just a few thought-starters:

  • Can you describe how you explore difficult (but not traumatic) situations with the tools of SE?
  • Share your experience, in ordinary situations, of the moment-by-moment attention that reveals (as if in slow motion) what we normally don’t even notice?
  • Describe a moment where you realized you were reacting to a situation without a sense of fight-or-flight. What was it like to experience it in that way?
  • With your clients, do you notice changes over time, not just in terms of healing trauma, but also in overall reactivity?
  • Have you ever imagined the sessions you conduct, as an SE practitioner, as a ‘mindfulness practice’ in the ways I’m describing?
  • In your sessions— through tracking of the client as well as self-tracking— do you notice the interplay of reactivity and regulation in the dyad as well as inside each of you?

Would you share your experiences below? Simply mention if you prefer to keep them anonymous and they’ll come to me without publishing here. I would appreciate your perspectives as fellow SE practitioners.



Author Serge Prengel is an SEP in New York City. He hosts, a podcast of 30-minute conversations with different SE practitioners. Each new conversation explores how SEPs integrate SE into their practice.

Photo by mindfulness

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Jay Pietrzak, Psy.D., SEP November 27, 2012 at 10:01 pm

I had been a meditator for well over ten years when I was first introduced to SE during my doctoral studies in clinical psychology. Included in my experience was at least five ten-day silent mindfulness meditation retreats, as well as involvement in a meditation training organization as a student, teacher and Director. As a therapist then, mindfulness and SE have always been included in my offerings to clients.

The often quoted Kabat-Zinn definition to which you refer describes exactly what we, as SEPs, ask of our clients when we say, “So just notice that and let’s see what happens.” As we know, with trauma the body scan technique should be introduced with caution and only after definite grounding and resourcing skills have been developed. But when exploring difficult (not traumatic) situations–really ANY non-traumatic situation–helping clients to bring awareness to the situation (think SIBAM) is what we do and I know of no better way to help clients begin to develop this skill than through focusing on the breath and the body scan technique.

So as a personal development tool, SE IS mindfulness with special attention given the autonomic nervous system. The “…paying attention…on purpose, in the present moment…nonjudgmentally” to the autonomic nervous system and to the rest of the body develops a skill in clients that is generalizable to all situations because it’s always the present moment!


Tom walls, MA, SE student December 3, 2012 at 12:23 pm

“…paying attention…on purpose, in the present moment…nonjudgmentally” The problem is that almost every client does have judgements. These judgements are most of the time related to the caracterstructure and underlying survival patterns (shaped by developmental trauma) of the client. Working only with fight/flight is not enough. In therapy I work with these judgements which are blocking the client to be in the present moment. Say it simple: That’s why clients come in therapy, they have difficulties being in the present (or in flow, you name it).


Zdeněk Weber January 6, 2013 at 1:03 am

I practice meditation ( tibetan tradition ) 4 years, and for 6 years i am part of SE movement in Europe. SE sesions and healing gives nervous system capacity to slowly create big bowl where you can relax in maditation with real stability and integrity. Anybody who meditate regulary and seriously, wilcome in same postraumtatic stres activation during praxis. One point is selfregulation ability and second point is resulting.
Tibetan lamas say, high practice of vipasana, or mantra is suitable for people with stabil nervous system, otherwise it may be dengerous, loss of stability.
I am also suspect that SE has special blesing which dissolves karmic results in many levels of maturation. If karmic results are develop then it needs more time to dissolv it.
Most of clients are closed in concepts, any litle help of anohter level of conciousnes is helping them.

With meny thenks,

Zdenek Weber


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