There is such richness in our implicit patterns of communication that we cannot limit ourselves to an explicit understanding of what happens. It is very important to mindfully get in touch with the implicit.
This short video (2′ 30″), created by Dee Wagner and John Cargile, shows a simple exercise that couples can use to explore their communication patterns on their own or in therapy: “Patty Cake”. This page is for therapists, and addresses the conceptual framework behind this exercise. There is also a separate page to explain the exercise to clients.
Dee Wagner writes:
I think Chi for Two has potential to help us all with our internal coordination of testosterone and oxytocin, oxytocin being key in helping us find the day-to-day active that can be easily regulated by the ventral vagal nerve.
John’s voice provides information about what Chi for Two is like for him as someone with higher levels of testosterone, whereas I speak as someone with higher levels of oxytocin :).
Patty Cake can stir unfinished fighting rhythms from infant/caregiver dances, specifically the biting/snapping rhythms identified by child psychiatrist Judith Kestenberg. Unmet urges to embody through what is called navel radiation can result in Shut-down in infancy. When those long-buried urges are awaked, we can be surprised and confused by the power of the burst of Fight/Flight that wakes us up.
If either partner gets triggered during a Chi for Two® exercise, that person can signal a timeout. During the timeout, the triggered partner can use mother earth to anchor moves that help work the Fight/Flight chemistry through the body. Twists like those in Tai Chi and yoga as well as contralateral moves—snaking moves of the spine that open our armpits and groins to send energy out our legs and arms can process the stress chemistry. The yoga pose called downward facing dog can help us feel the capability of our strong adult limbs to support ourselves.
Health improves as we begin to distinguish the nervous system functioning that is ventral-plus-dorsal rather than Shut-down, which is a dorsal-only vagal response. Ventral-plus-dorsal creates functioning that Stephen Porges—creator of polyvagal theory—calls our Social Engagement System. When we wake up from Shut-down, we can process the Fight/Flight in order to move into Social Engagement System functioning. Once we train our bodies’ ability to operate more out of Social Engagement System functioning, we have more access to our bodies’ innate ability to balance itself.
This is not just something that manifests in couples situations. For, instance, refer to Terry Real’s work around the phenomenon of men in Shut-down. Also note that the fellows who wrote the book Irrelationship address Shut-down within any partner. The urge for quick fixes gets us to bypass what our better judgment. Athletic coaches and business bosses push people into Fight/Flight. People with higher levels of testosterone are wired to fly more quickly into Fight/Flight and therefore can feel more trapped and sink into Shut-down.
So we’re talking about exploring a coordination of testosterone and oxytocin within oneself, which fosters meaningful and playful engagement with others.
Dee Wagner, LPC, BC-DMT has worked as a counselor and dance/movement therapist at the Link Counseling Center for 25 years. She has presented workshops on nervous system science for The American Dance Therapy Association, Expressive Therapies Summit, and The International Coach Federation. Her articles appear in American Journal of Dance Therapy; Body, Movement and Dance in Psychotherapy; Voices: The Art and Science of Psychotherapy (American Academy of Psychotherapists); Elephant Journal; Asana International Yoga Journal and Coaching World.
John Cargile is a visual artist, with degrees in art and industrial design. Together with Kathy Jernigan, Dee and John created the workbook Naked Online: A DoZen Ways to Grow from Internet Dating. John is a long-time yoga practitioner. In his Atlanta area art studio Harbor of Dreams Art, he and Dee offer classes and training in various expressive arts including their partner practice Chi for Two®.
See their website.