Wholebody Focusing: Life Lived in the Moment

By Kevin McEvenue

What is Wholebody Focusing?

Wholebody Focusing is about the willingness to spend time with a bodily sensed inner directed movement that seems to have the knowing and wanting to take us to where new life energy is needed the most. Wholebody Focusing is a way of living our inner process at its very edge, consciously experienced through movement as a direct symbol of its expression. At the same time it allows for other symbols to become present such as words or images that bring felt meaning, but without the loss of conscious presence of our felt inner life process.

Within the movement, what feels alive holds the space and the attention at this edge. This is experienced in the body as physical movement or sensation that seems to create a safe distance between “Who We Are,” and what is in the way of our natural functioning. This inner directed movement creates a relationship between the two so that something new can come as a growth step. The special qualities of this kind of inner directed movement include: a sense of safe distance between “Me” and the “stuff” of my life, a sense of unsticking in what has felt so stuck, and a sense of right order, as though the body knows what we are ready and able to be with.

The Special Quality of Inner Directed Movement

There are at least four different kinds of movements that seem to come from different parts of our experiencing. These are:

Habitual Movement: Those we are most familiar with in our daily lives. They tend to be automatic and unconscious and habitual in response. They may have been learned consciously at one time.

Thought Led Movement: An image or a thought wants to happen and then the body moves as a response to this conscious intention. This is the kind of movement that is explored in the Alexander technique.

Self-Directed Movement: A feeling in the body that wants to move. By keeping that “wanting to move” sense company at its edge, something happens, like a shift. When it moves, it feels just right and there is a release. This is the kind of movement that Focusing explores for new knowing.

Inner Directed Movement: The movement seems to be an expression of our whole selves acted out and connected directly to Who We Are. It is experienced as a truth in us that needs no further validation because it is a universal truth.

The inner directed movement in Wholebody Focusing is a way to move towards this deeper sense of a bodily knowing self that feels true for all times, shared with all others, and seems to connect us with life itself.

“People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning of life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.” Joseph Campbell. The Power of Myth. 1988, p.5

How Wholebody Focusing Evolved

Beginning with my own story, this journey of exploring the body began when I was undergoing several back operations in the spring of 1973. 1 had an intuitive sense that what had gone wrong with my back was a reflection of something wrong in my life, although my life was “looking good” at the time. During one of my first lessons in the Alexander technique, a voice appeared inside me and suggested that I have another look at my life. It presented several options for living my life more fully beyond what I already knew.

It was a very new experience to hear a voice that wasn’t critical of me. I assumed that was all part of the Alexander technique and I wanted more. 1 became a teacher only to find out that this inner voice was a part of me and not part of the technique itself. However, the years of Alexander training and teaching taught me something about physical habits and how they affect the natural functioning of the whole self. I still wanted to get in touch with my inner life and to hear that voice once again, but I didn’t know how.

In 1980, during a Shiatsu treatment, the same inner voice came back again. This time it was directing me to instruct the Shiatsu practitioner to place a heated pellet on the 7th cervical of my spine. When she did, I felt my whole body come alive and begin to expand and stretch in a way that I knew I’d always wanted, but never knew how to achieve. I also had a clarity that my body had all the wisdom it needed to live a full life. This was not the wisdom I learned from F.M. Alexander. This wisdom came directly to consciousness out of my own embodied self.

In 1983 1 was introduced to Focusing and the work of Dr. Eugene Gendlin as something similar to my own exploration. His work seemed to fit my experience of body knowing and the presence of that inner voice that has been so supportive of my life, I felt I was home at last.

Gendlin’s research comes out of the disciplines of philosophy and psychology rather than the discipline of direct body “movement” and its ability to restore functioning. Borrowing on his wisdom and combining it with my own, I discovered that if I was able to stay with a felt sense in a body specific way, allowing the felt sense to express itself through an inner directed movement, what came was different from anything I had experienced before. I named this Wholebody Focusing.

The Alexander technique asks the question; “What am I doing that is interfering with the proper functioning of myself?” It gives the body an experience of itself beyond its habitual defense postures that are so destructive to it. This is a thought led process. Focusing asks; “Is there anything between me and feeling really good in my life right now?” Through caring attention to the body’s experience of where we might feel stuck or blocked, the body is able to tell us its story in the lift of new knowing, we have an opportunity to make new choices about what is currently wanted in our lives. This is a self-directed process.

In my own work I have learned to use gentle touch. It has no agenda. It is like a metaphor for the good parent who makes a safe space for a child to explore its own life independent of the parent’s agenda. It is an invitation to become more bodily self-aware and receptive to what is happening physically right now. For me, this experience of the body opening up to itself is a metaphor of how our lives want to unfold. Others have described this experience as being like an awake dreaming, moving their lives forward towards wholeness and right living on a path all its own.

How Wholebody Focusing Can Be Explored

The starting point in Wholebody Focusing is in inviting something to come alive in the body and connecting it up with other parts so that the whole body comes alive to itself. The thrust of this inner directed movement seems to want to open us up at the very core of ourselves and then present what is wanted for healing right now.

We wait for the body to come alive as a whole before going deeper into anything specific. The felt sense of “alive” and the movement that comes with it, seems to create a Right Distance between the sense of self and the part that wants to come up for attention.

At times there is resistance in allowing the body to come alive in movement. When this happens we might ask the body if it knows a way to move beyond the impasse, beyond what we know, to a willingness to be with what we don’t know. The opportunity arises to invite the body to go beyond its limiting beliefs and experience something new directly out of its own wonderful wisdom that lies hidden in this body knowing.

The Quality of Such an Experience in My Own Words

At first I begin to pay more attention to what was happening in my body than in my mind. That is not easy. However, as I am able to pay attention to what my body is sensing right now, more comes, which can take many shapes and forms: physical sensations like tightening, expanding, tingling, or movement. Then perhaps, along with body sensations, can come images, words, feelings, and at times sounds.

It feels in me like the body wants to come alive from within, to begin moving and stretching and having an experience of its own in a separate way from that which is “normal.” It is as though the body has a mind of its own and is asking for permission to move in ways of its own choosing. If I am able to allow this, beyond my sense of fear of the unknown then more comes. It isn’t easy. The body sometimes resists experiencing anything it doesn’t already know.

What may come first is an awareness of a habitual response to life, something that is stuck yet wanting to open and change in some way. Being with this stuck place allows for an opening into a new way of life beyond the “habit.” It is like receiving an insight that seems to come right out of the body itself.

What seems to be asked of me is a willingness to listen and receive a new knowing towards right-living or rightness.


It is my experience that the human organism is always attempting to move towards its right way of being. It is as though we have a path of life appropriate to our species as well as a path appropriate to our individual destiny in this life time. The organism as a whole will always seek to move toward a right way of being that supports movement towards its own wholeness and self-realization.

Finally, my experience of Focusing and Alexander has taught me the importance of being willing to receive what is going on in my physical body right now without any agenda:

  • What is alive and wanting my attention right now can take many different forms in the body like pain, tension, physical excitement.
  • The body energy, once awakened, goes to where it is needed the most in the organism.
  • When a physical part of me awakens to its own presence in me it wants to find its connectedness to the whole of me. It seems to need a sense of itself as part of a whole.
  • Movement has a sense of direction and purpose beyond the need to understand our lives. It has a direction and purpose towards self-healing of the organism in its wounding, physically, psychically, and spiritually.
  • Inner directed movement rather than head knowing or head understanding is the path that leads the organism to new knowing and self-healing.

Inner directed movement is often associated with an experience of self-loving that springs from the organism as it comes alive to itself. From my own experience: “When a part of me feels loved, it awakens to its own healing.”

Focusing Folio Kevin McEvenue 1994