Reviewed by Nancy Eichhorn
I recently received a copy of Susan’s newest book, Heart Open Body Awake: Four Steps To Embodied Spirituality, from Shambhala Publications, Inc. I didn’t request a reviewer’s copy.
The book’s title intrigued me. As I have noted in other reviews, books simply appear at just the right moment in my life. Heart Open Body Awake is another one of those times. Susan is not just sharing her life’s work, she is also present on the pages of the text; she reveals her inner processing, her inquisitiveness as she explores her own protective defenses and faces the intensity of integrating new levels of openness.
“Always, I am feeling my body. I am noticing mental beliefs, attitudes, positions that are stopping life from flowing through my body. I am seeking to release those and see what happens. I am asking myself if I can trust what is happening inside me and around me. By trusting, I can allow myself to be nakedly present within it and then see what happens next” (pg. 200).
I met Susan Aposhyan during my graduate program at Santa Barbara Graduate School, Santa Barbara, CA. As a professor in somatic psychology, she designed her curriculum to be both brain/mind and body based—we read and talked as much as we moved into and through the content to experience it.
She had a calm quiet presence; her voice gentle to listen to, the materials easily absorbed. I remember she had us physically enact what she called the five fundamental actions: yield, push, reach, grasp, and pull. I can still see myself reaching my hands outward as if trying to grasp something and pull it inward to my chest, then I pushed some invisible object away. To end, I yielded—I relaxed on the classroom floor sensed into my body, and noticed the sensations arising. Her concept of bodily movements meaning more, being deeper than patterned physical actions/reactions fascinated me. I had much to learn from Susan, then. And, as it turns out, I’m still learning from her now.
“All problems are psychological, and all solutions are spiritual.”
Sitting today with more awareness I see the power behind what felt like a simple exercise when I was a student, and I see the immense possibilities in the knowledge and exercises she is offering today. Pushing, pulling, reaching, grasping, yielding without collapse. They may seem like innocuous movements yet when I look at them in context everything changes.
For instance: What if I had been physically abused, attacked, traumatized, and I couldn’t defend myself, I couldn’t push someone (or something) off of me. What if this happened time and time again. Over time, I would no longer be able to push someone or something away. I remember trying to start a self-defense class back in the 1980s. One of the first lessons was to stand with your feet hip-width apart, dominant foot forward so you felt grounded and steady. We were supposed to raise our hands up, palms forward, thrust them out as if pushing someone away, and yell, “NO.” My arms were limp, my push non-existent, my no a whimper. The teacher suggested I wasn’t ready for a self-defense class.
Or, what if you constantly had your hand slapped for reaching out to touch things, to explore your world one finger at a time. That initiative, that drive would be stifled, stuck as you learned to keep your hands to yourself. That reach to explore, to be curious, to connect was beaten out of you so you no longer reach out.
Each of these movements, when viewed within life stories, has the potential to result in defeating patterns. Our entire being (body, feeling, soul) becomes stuck, unable to complete a fundamental action that is part of our innate need to survive and thrive.
A Look Inside
The book is divided into four parts: Heart of Humanity; Body of Life; Deepening and Blossoming; and The Path of Opening. Its contents are derived from decades of personal and professional experience. Susan has spent her “whole adult life” exploring spirituality and how it fit with embodiment, the human body and human development. She came to realize that spirituality connects us to the larger world and dissolves the boundaries between self and other: “It takes us through our bodies into egoless union with the larger deepest world.”
Susan offers definitions, explanations/lessons, and short case examples; black and white anatomical drawings support the text. She also shares extensive mini practices throughout the book to allow readers to feel what is emerging in the moment, to support their natural and unique growth and development as they pause to feel and practice and reflect. Readers have the opportunity to see if they can feel the presence of emotion in their body, notice where and what sensations might be there, and what wisdom might arise within or from that emotion.
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Photo by Patrick Schneider on Unsplash