Loving Presence, A Radical Tool For Self Acceptance And Somatic Therapy
Hakomi is a powerful tool to unlock and understand embedded memories of trauma within a safe and regulated space. Here, Poppy takes a deeper dive with Loan Tran.
The somatic therapy Hakomi, is a body centred mindfulness practice. Created in collaboration with a therapist, Hakomi explores the feelings and sensations that come up in the body and it is a powerful tool to unlock and understand embedded memories of trauma within a safe and regulated space.
With speech, breath, touch and movements, attention is brought inwards as well as to the body and mind exploring sensations, emotions and feelings. Based on early experiences in life, unconscious frames of reality are cultivated and carried through the lifespan of an individual. This powerful work uses loving kindness, self acceptance and awareness to explore the mind body connection and let go of past trauma. Not only does the Hakomi method work on the mind-body relationship, it is also a useful personal development and growth approach for anyone seeking to learn more about themselves.
Otherness guide and Hakomi therapist Loan Tran has over 25 years experience working in a therapeutic capacity and healing people through bodywork practices. Loan trained in Hakomi to go deeper in the healing of the mind body and approached psychotherapy. Using her experience of working with the body and her love and belief in the strength of mindfulness, her work is a powerful tool for self acceptance, self love and shedding of the trauma that binds to us and limits our experience of life.
I was lucky enough to experience my very own Hakomi mindfulness practice with Loan, a guided meditation that grounded me, drew me inwards and connected me to my body. Even though we met over a video call, Loan’s warmth and kindness was strong and I felt held and deeply comfortable in her ‘space’. It is no wonder that Loan has this presence, with six years of training to become a Hakomi therapist she has an incredible skill. I spoke with Loan to learn more about Hakomi and how her journey brought her to this amazing body centred mindfulness practice.
What path led you to discover and train as a Hakomi practitioner?
I first came into what I call, mind-body work, in the form of Rolfing. At the time I was practising Aikido, a Japanese martial art and had developed a knee injury that needed some attention. Rolfing works in a way that people can connect with what's happening in their body.
After training in Rolfing I began practising and have been for the last 20 years, it is amazing as whilst it is primarily a hands on method and you're working with tissue, fairly often people would begin to talk about their emotions and memories.
I became more interested in this side of the practice, as far as I'm concerned, there is no distinction between mind and body, the two are working together, all the time. After searching for work that combines both the awareness of the body, touch and emotional work too I discovered Hakomi. Mindfulness is a key element to Hakomi and this was something I had discovered about 30 years ago. A friend in Paris had told me about the late Vietnamese teacher Thic Nat Hanh and after reading his books, I visited his retreat centre, Plum Village in France. Even today I still join the Saturday practice group in Covent Garden.
Hakomi really felt like coming home. I felt it was a really good fit for me, as it uses mindfulness and touch to help people sense their own body and what is happening physically. I began my six year training in 2014 and in 2021, I became certified as a Hakomi practitioner.
The incredible thing about the course was the experiencing, we learnt by doing and practising on one another. To practice there is a methodology to it, Hakomi helps you to develop certain qualities and a way of being with your clients. I found the training really supportive and heartwarming, because when you personally do these practices very often, your own memories and stories do come up. So whilst you are training with others you are also sharing these experiences and there's a lot of trust, and respect, to be in a space like that was really special.
How does a virtual Hakomi offering differ from an in person session?
Without the ability to use touch, a practitioner can still help the person sense what's happening in a session. I am able to help them to become aware of something, perhaps a gesture or something that they've done physically. I may ask them to use their own touch on themselves, or to draw attention to their movement or gestures. For example sometimes I will notice things such as they've put their hands on their chest and I may ask them to bring their attention to this and notice how it feels.
The aim, like many therapies, is to work with the unconscious economy. The way we invite the unconscious to express itself for the person to become more aware, is through physicality.
Can hakomi be used as a trauma release practice?
Yes, in a session what might come up is a memory, which we can work even without explicitly knowing the content, it's more what the emotion and the physicality is around that. The idea is, that you would be helping the person actually to be present but not become overwhelmed, because one becomes absolutely powerless or overwhelmed by emotion, where we are. We are respectful of the person's ability to to look after themselves. You know, that everybody has some kind of resources. A big part of the work is to help them contact those resources, even if they don't feel they have anything.
We have six principles so one of them is organicity. And that is respecting that all life forms or living things are actually doing their best and wanting to do well.
If somebody had a memory that came up, it would be held very, very gently, and really helping that person to, to retain a sense of calm, to self soothe. When we experience a traumatic situation there's the fight, flight or freeze response, which the Hakomi method you're actually helping the person to calm their nervous system. And from that place they can then revisit and have some agency.
It doesn’t take long to soothe, especially when you can access the tools. Even five minutes is better than nothing. Sometimes it's almost that time pressure, isn't it, that would be 'Oh, I just don't have time', but actually, as I noticed, just five minutes is enough just to ground yourself. It just helps to settle and open up a bit of space as well.
Who is Hakomi for?
I believe that it's for anybody who is interested in understanding themselves. I think I can say that, I came to it at a time when I wanted to understand my relationship better with my mum. There were still some sticking points and I wanted to understand more about her and our dynamic.
I think if everybody feels that friction, where they're a bit stuck somewhere and in some dynamic that they have with another person or particular situation, Hakomi can be a very helpful process to understand and also explore this.
People who are more interested in mindfulness or mind body work, I would be particularly open to it. It's also very rewarding to work with people who may struggle to connect with mindfulness, to help introduce those sensations and ways of experiencing.
What can someone expect from a session?
Ron Kurtz, the founder, studied Buddhism, which is where mindfulness comes in. We have an integral method in our practice, which we describe as loving presence. This is the heart of Hakomi. The first phase of this is about building trust and feeling, this is how we relate with our clients, ourselves and everyday life. It begins by becoming more aware, first of all of your own reactions and experience, because then you can have more space to be with the other person. Perhaps you can tell you may need to take a deeper breath to relax, then the awareness extends out to your client.
The second phase is to look for relation, inspiration and nourishment from the other person and enjoy being with them. By being in a loving presence, it creates this field of compassion, that's how you help to create this safe space that the person can bring whatever they have. And it's welcome. And from this place we work.
As we practise being in loving presence with our clients, it's also about bringing this out into the world. This is a way we could relate in everyday life.
How do you see this as a tool to do deeper work?
We've all got core beliefs, developed over time and often from the past when we were very young. When I came to the UK as a child, there were no other Vietnamese families so I felt different. This manifested in me, sometimes I would get very nervous about gatherings of people, even though I am a very sociable person, but I still feel that nervousness today. However now through Hakomi, I have cultivated more self awareness, I am able to see that this reaction is partly to do with a belief. The belief that I am an outsider from my experience growing up and I couldn’t identify. Before this would have been a very uncomfortable feeling but now there is no blame, just acceptance.
By asking the client to turn their attention inwards for a moment and to notice the first thing that happens when I say ‘I'm an outsider’ for example, because they are guided in a calm state, they are able to connect the unconscious response that comes up. For example, I may hear a voice in my head that says ‘oh you're an outsider’ and one of the ways we work with that is we invite clients to go into a space of mindfulness and go inside. We offer some words, we might ask them to notice a physical action that they made and then to notice the first thing that happens in an exploration.
Perhaps a memory arises and then as a Hakomi therapist, I would help the client work with that memory, this exploration together is very collaborative. I'm also constantly tracking the person to see where they are, if there is a trauma response physically, if ever there is a sense of fear or overwhelm we always slow right down. This could manifest in muscle twitches, change in breathing and eye movements.
There is always the principle of non violence in this work, something very similar to Buddhism and as practitioners we support a person's defences. This work really has to do with bringing out those unconscious thoughts causing suffering in some way and then, helping you to explore them. Take away the charge and attachment around them and update them with where you are now.
Six years of this style of training must have been a very profound experience?
Yes indeed. A lot of this work is about being kind to yourself. I believe we kind of always know the things that we're doing and the work is about softening our responses and being kind to ourselves. Most of my friends would say that I look after myself so well already, but there are always theses internal, critical voices and I think that in our society and culture there is this idea about perfectionism and high productivity that we have to live up to. Which is very dysfunctional and brings a lot of anxiety for people and is not actually helpful and healthy. Now, I think I definitely have a less is more attitude.
It's a really interesting time in the world to take on this attitude, especially after the pandemic as people were able to take a moment to look at everything.
I think, particularly the loving presence part of Hakomi is very beneficial for people during these times.
It would be for anybody who's just interested in communication, how they relate to themselves and others. Lots of people have heard of mindfulness now but another word for this is relational mindfulness. In Hakomi loving presence workshops that I help to facilitate we help people to apply mindfulness in the way you relate to other people.
Lastly, how do you nourish your mind, body and spirit?
I go into nature. I love being with the trees and nature, gardening and swimming in my local women's pond. Connecting with friends and my family and culture is important to me, reading and watching.
I do a lot of gardening and I see that in my plants, they're always growing towards the light. No matter how packed they are. I’ve noticed that they're always finding their way, making their faces turn towards the light, no matter what. And maybe this is something that we should consider, to hold our faces to the light, whenever possible.
Based in North London, UK, Loan is available for in person and online sessions. You can contact Loan through the Otherness directory, to learn more about her offering and book a session.