“Core Awareness” by Liz Koch

Subtitle: Enhancing Yoga, Pilates, Exercise, and Dance

Recommended by: David Mitchell

I enthusiastically endorse this book’s focus on awareness, especially in core areas that we often learn to block out. The psoas muscles connects the front of the lumbar spine to the inside of the pelvis to the inner upper femur, all areas we largely ignore. I like the image of telling small children, “Sense yourself!” rather than, “Be careful!” to avoid injury. My own experience supports that the psoas does not like to be deeply palpated, but responds better to gentle invitations to relax.

At the same time, while Part I is nicely poetic, it desperately [needs citation], as well as an editor who knows how to spell muscle names and types of bodywork. The statement that the psoas only contracts eccentrically is simply false. (More information at wikipedia’s psoas article.)

Part II contains carefully described exploratory exercises to connect with and relax the psoas, illustrated with photographs of people with a diversity of body types.

I recommend this book to explore new ideas around internal awareness, as long as the first part is read as metaphorical. It is helpful to look at a good anatomy book such as Trail Guide to the Body to visualize the psoas muscle.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The Focusing Student’s and Companion’s Manual” by Barbara McGavin and Ann Weiser Cornell

Recommended by: Jael Emberley

I took Focusing classes I and II from Jael Emberley, and bought both parts of the manual, even though the second part is for classes III and IV. Both parts are written in clear, friendly language, and delightfully illustrated by Mary Ferris. Her expressive line drawings of anthropomorphized hares capture the subtleties and humor of Focusing.

Focusing is paying attention inside to an unfolding felt sense about an issue or situation. Somatic Experiencing includes a lot of Focusing. I read Part Two now to learn more about how to be present with merging and exiling of internal “something”s. Suggestions include

  • Use presence language. “I sense something in me that feels overwhelmed.”
  • Turn toward the Something that has Feelings about the Feeling, and might be saying things like, “I don’t want to be scared!” “It’s bad to be angry.”
  • Notice behaviors that come out of Feelings about Feelings, like rushing the process, forcing a choice, analyzing, diagnosing, deciding, fixing, doubting, arguing, and especially criticizing.
  • For critics, sense for what they’re not wanting.
  • Acknowledge parts that are trying to force other parts to Do It Right.
  • Exiling – something is judged as so bad and dangerous it is removed from awareness. As it comes back, the symbols for it might move from inanimate to animate.
  • Exiles need a lot of time and safety to gain trust and come back into inner relationship.

Recommended for learning about Focusing and being amused and touched by the line drawings.

Part One and Part Two are available from FocusingResources.com

“Getting to the Heart of Interfaith” by Pastor Don Mackenzie, Rabbi Ted Falcon, and Sheikh Jamal Rahman

Subtitle: The Eye-Opening, Hope-Filled Friendship of a Pastor, a Rabbi, and a Sheikh

Recommended by: David Mitchell

Somewhere along the way, I acquired the mistaken idea that “interfaith” is a watered-down, lowest-common-denominator version of religion. This book makes clear that interfaith is a vibrant, active process of building connections and understanding.

The book is both a practical guide to interfaith work and the story of how the three men’s friendship developed. It includes their backgrounds, key beliefs from their religions, difficulties they have with their religions, and their descriptions of a challenging group trip to Israel. As each of them write in turn, I come to trust their inclusiveness, openness, and willingness to face difficult truths.

I was interested to notice that despite my Jewish heritage I resonated the most with Jamal’s description of Muslim practices, which are focused on compassion. In writing about Israel, he mentions his sense of Ein Gedi oasis as a sacred place, a sanctuary. I have long described it as my favorite place on the planet. In the middle of the desert, near Masada and the Dead Sea, it feels like a miraculous gift to be enclosed in rustling bamboo with water flowing down the path.

Their suggested steps for interfaith work are

  1. Moving beyond separation and suspicion
  2. Inquiring more deeply
  3. Sharing both the easy and the difficult parts
  4. Moving beyond safe territory
  5. Exploring spiritual practices from other traditions

To me these steps form a bridge across many types of difference, including racial and cultural differences.

Highly recommended.

Rabbi Ted Falcon’s site

Sheikh Jamal Rahman’s site

Pastor Don Mackenzie on the Interfaith Amigos site

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The Anatomy of Self” by Takeo Doi, MD

Subtitle: The Individual vs. Society

Recommended by: David Mitchell

David and I were discussing disclosure vs. silence, and he recommended this book. Rather than addressing the issue in a personal way, the book analyzes Japanese language and culture to address it in a more global way. None of it was immediately applicable, although it is validating to read that everyone struggles with the same issues, across cultures.

The first section analyzes Japanese word pairs that are essential to that culture. Omote and ura mean public, open, or spoken vs. private, hidden, or unspoken. They require each other, the way words require silence to surround them.

Tatamae and honne refer to the formal rules and public face of a group, vs. the unspoken rules and private opinions. Again, there must always be both, public harmony and private dissent. Even when someone intends to fully disclose their heart, the essence remains unspoken.

The second section addresses humans in society and analyzes several different stories.

The third section addresses secrets in the context of mental illness, charm, and love.

I was taken aback by the gratuitous subtle (all stories center on men) and overt (“effeminate” as an insult) sexism in a book published in 1986.

At the end of the book, my sense was that most of the message was unspoken, and I would have to study it in depth to understand the underlying points.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The Language of Emotions” by Karla McLaren

Subtitle: What Your Feelings are Trying to Tell You.

Recommended by: a client

I read a couple of books lately that had their good points, but I only got half way through them, and when I started to post about them I had more negative thoughts than positive ones, so I deleted the drafts.

This book was the opposite experience. When it came due at the library and I was only half way through, I went out and bought a copy. While there were aspects that didn’t work for me, overall I encountered a lot of solid, useful insights.

Karla McLaren shares her history as an abuse survivor and an empath, offers simple practices to work skillfully with emotions, and then analyzes how each emotion fits into her framework. All emotions are equally valid, from anger to joy to suicidal urges. Trauma recovery is woven through the book.

Emotions (corresponding with water) are seen as part of an inner village with the intellect (air), body (earth), and spirit/vision (fire). Health is a village in dynamic balance, responding with agility to ongoing events.

The practices she recommends are grounding, defining boundaries, burning contracts, conscious complaining, and rejuvenation.

I’ve found that visualization is a superficial activity for me, so visualizing a grounding cord descending into the earth does not substantially change my energy. Visualizing the destruction of my “contracts” with old behaviors and memories sounds wonderful, but I haven’t seen much effect from cutting cords and similar rituals.

She suggests sending anger into one’s boundary, which sounds like great advice, although I’m not quite sure how to do it. She also says, “People won’t know you’re angry,” which sounds like a bit of judgment about anger sneaking in.

Since these practices form the core of McLaren’s work with emotions, I wish I resonated better with them. I suspect I do some form of them in a more wordless way, sensing rather than visualizing.

The detailed analysis of each emotion includes associated questions to ask or statements to make when the emotion arises, along with gifts the emotion brings and advice on how to integrate the emotion honorably into one’s life.

Emotion Purpose Questions/Statements
Anger Protection and Restoration What must be protected? What must be restored?
Apathy and Boredom The Mask for Anger What is being avoided? What must be made conscious?
Guilt and Shame Restoring Integrity Who has been hurt? What must be made right?
Hatred The Profound Mirror What has fallen into my shadow? What must be reintegrated?
Fear Intuition and Action What action must be taken?
Confusion The Mask for Fear What is my intention? What action should be taken?
Jealousy and Envy Relational Radar What has been betrayed? What must be healed and restored?
Panic and Terror Frozen Fire What has been frozen in time? What healing action must be taken?
Sadness Release and Rejuvenation What must be released? What must be rejuvenated?
Grief The Deep River of the Soul What must be mourned? What must be released completely?
Depression Ingenious Stagnation Where has my energy gone? Why was it sent away?
Suicidal Urges The Darkness Before Dawn What idea or behavior must end now? What can no longer be tolerated in my soul?
Happiness Amusement and Anticipation Thank you for this lively celebration!
Contentment Appreciation and Recognition Thank you for renewing my faith in myself!
Joy Affinity and Communion Thank you for this radiant moment!

There is much more information in the book than I have covered here. Highly recommended!

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Healing Back Pain” by John E. Sarno, MD

Subtitle: The Mind-Body Connection

Recommended by: Amy Bennett

What Dr. Sarno tells his TMS patients:

  • Resume physical activity. It won’t hurt you.
  • Talk to your brain: tell it you won’t take it anymore.
  • Stop all physical treatments for your back—they may be blocking your recovery.


  • Repress your anger or emotions—they can give you a pain in the back.
  • Think of yourself as being injured. Psychological conditioning contributes to ongoing back pain.
  • Be intimidated by back pain. You have the power to overcome it.

Dr. Sarno defines Tension Myositis Syndrome (TMS) as chronic pain in muscles and tendons of the back, neck, buttocks, and limbs. He asserts that most back pain is not caused by muscle strain or ruptured disks or past car accidents, but rather by the brain depriving an area of sufficient oxygen for the purpose of distraction from anger or other unpalatable emotions.

The book describes his theory and includes many case histories of people who fully recovered from debilitating pain once they understood that it was caused by repressing emotions. In Dr. Sarno’s experience, most people improve simply by achieving that understanding.

Unfortunately, the book doesn’t contain any suggestions for other ways to deal with emotions, although it does strongly imply that acknowledging them and setting clear boundaries can be helpful.

I think the mechanism is slightly different, tension and pain as a result of suppressing emotions rather than as a subconscious distraction. I still highly recommend this book for a refreshing perspective on chronic pain.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“My Body Politic” by Simi Linton

Subtitle: a memoir

Simi Linton is a Jewish woman, married, a professor and researcher with a Ph.D., who uses a wheelchair. Her memoir starts with the car crash that caused her disability and her slow physical recovery, and continues with her reemergence and engagement with a largely inaccessible world. She moves from gratitude for strangers’ help pulling her wheelchair up curbs and stairs, to the realization that the built environment should be wheelchair-accessible.

She acknowledges the privilege and family’s financial resources that allow her to pursue a college degree, and calls out the tragedy of most disabled people’s lack of access to education. She teaches for several years at a school that mainstreams disabled kids, and publishes articles about disability and society.

She paints loving, detailed word pictures of her disabled friends leading vibrant, connected lives as she describes her own relationships and career.

Highly recommended.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Long Hidden” edited by Rose Fox and Daniel Jose Older

Subtitle: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History

I expected this book to contain speculative stories about marginalized people, creating worlds where they/we are not marginalized. I did not expect it to be about the experience of marginalization, and thus dripping with violence. Maybe I should have expected that, but I didn’t.

There was a single story that didn’t contain at least one violent death. That story was about Nordic (white) people.

Loved the diversity in this collection. However, reading stories imbued with that much violence feels intense, overwhelming, invasive. Not a good fit for me.

Book site: longhidden.com

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Focusing in Clinical Practice” by Ann Weiser Cornell

Subtitle: The Essence of Change

Recommended by: Ann Weiser Cornell’s other books

As a bodyworker who integrated Focusing into my work, it seems that I would be the perfect reader for this book. It contained useful bits of information about Focusing, but my primary experience while reading it was a sense of exclusion.

When I try to put that sense into words, what comes is, “There is a Right Way to do Focusing, and you’re not doing it,” despite disclaimers throughout the book saying that Focusing does not stand alone and each form of therapy has its applications. In the chapter showing how to integrate Focusing with specific types of therapy, the author carefully states that there is nothing wrong with the examples as they stand, before adding Focusing to them.

Ann Weiser Cornell’s first two books emphasize equal partnership in Focusing and acknowledgement of the Focuser’s resilience and resources. That essential respect does not come through when she discusses Focusing in the unequal relationship between therapist and client.

At the same time, Focusing continues to be tremendously useful in my bodywork practice, and I picked up new phrases and understanding of “felt sense” from this book. “How does that whole issue feel now?” “Check in with your body about all of that.” I appreciated the client vignettes and information about types of therapy related to Focusing.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The Dance of the Dissident Daughter” by Sue Monk Kidd

Subtitle: A Woman’s Journey from Christian Tradition to the Sacred Feminine

Recommended by: Donna Smith

Sue Monk Kidd describes her awakening to the patriarchal values of the Baptist Church and Christianity in general. She describes her transformation in parallel with the myth of Ariadne as she claims the Sacred Feminine instead of an exclusively male spirituality. The writing is clear, evocative, and rich with references to other works, mostly written by women.

As Donna reminded me, the author isn’t required to get everything right at once. She sees her submissive, secondary position, names it, finds a spirituality grounded in the feminine, and dares to speak truth to power. At the same time, she does not name the privilege that allows her to risk marriage and career (but ultimately lose nothing), and travel to Greece for inspiration.

By the end of the book, she notices a solidity and inner authority born out of her search. I believe this is the goal for each of us, to listen inside for the Sacred.

Available at Powell’s Books.