By Niki Thomas
Niki Thomas lives in Twin Falls, Idaho and is a licensed master social worker employed as an oncology social worker at the local cancer center.
In this article, Niki shares about the healing power applying FOAT® for self-care. During Level 1 FOAT® Niki learned how to do a FOAT® Check-in. When learning FOAT®, it is important to first learn how to apply the practices for oneself—similar to learning meditation and mindfulness before leading others in it.
As can be seen from Nikki’s sharing, FOAT® carried healing energies forward toward a chronic illness she has been dealing with fir 14 years. The FOAT® instructions are added into Nikki’s article. A crucial part of FOAT® is the Focusing Attitude—being “friendly to the inner felt sense and also to the creative process.
Focusing in on a Healing Power: Focusing Attitude and Health
By Niki Thomas
I was initially introduced to Focusing Oriented Expressive Arts (FOAT®) during an expressive arts presentation that Dr. Laury Rappaport presented at CreateFest (2017), an online creative arts event. After listening to Laury’s presentation and participating in an experiential exercise, I saw value in it not only for the patients I work with in an oncology setting, but also in making it a personal practice as well. I had already been learning mindfulness-based practices for myself and clients— and after Create Fest, I enrolled in Laury’s Level I FOAT® Training.
Healing through FOAT®
Over the course of the last 14 years or so I have gradually developed various medical issues that, although not debilitating, were rather frustrating. To take control of my health I started a workout regimen and thought I was diving head first into a healthier me. Little did I know my body had other plans. It started with shoulder issues, then hips and joints, a feeling of muscle weakness; one of my breaking points was Achilles tendonitis. There were other oddities as well. I felt like I had the flu, but really, I didn’t. I had exhaustion, headaches, aches and pains. It felt like working out had the opposite effect! After getting to the right doctor, we finally started figuring things out and making headway on managing what will most likely be diagnosed as a chronic autoimmune condition.
As I started my Focusing journey, I found this practice to be a wonderful, healing tool for my body, especially on the hard days. During our training, we learned how to do a FOAT® Check In:
FOAT® Check-in Exercise (Rappaport, 2009).
Let yourself sit in a comfortable position. Take a few gentle breaths, noticing the breath moving in and out of the body. Feel free to close your eyes or keep them open . . . whichever is most comfortable to you. Feel the support of the chair, the floor where your feet touch, the ground, and being here. Gently follow your breath inside your body and just notice how it is right now.
Ask, “How am I on the inside right now?” See if you can be friendly to whatever you find. Notice if it’s tight, or jumpy, or warm, or some other quality. (Pause).
Symbol/Handle: See if there’s an image , word, phrase, gesture, or sound that matches or acts like a handle for the inner felt sense . . . check it against your body for a sense of rightness. If it’s not right, let it go and invite a new image, word, phrase, gesture, or sound) to come.
When you’re ready, gently stretch your body and open your eyes. Feel free to express your image, word, phrase, gesture or sound through an artistic expression that matches your felt sense.
I could not have completed this check-in at a better time. I was in pain and frustrated once again at what felt like a failing body. This exercise helped me to get in touch with where my body, mind, and spirit were currently — and to approach it with kindness.
In Figure 1, the red in the image represents the initial feeling of burning in my esophagus (related to heartburn)— and then throbbing and aching down into my hip, leg, and Achilles area. I was able to identify this pain and discomfort, bring kindness to it…and acknowledge it. After, I was able to breathe in a blue calming color and sensation to calm the areas. It was a nice shift from anxiety to acceptance and kindness. I could acknowledge that this is my body and it is still kind, beautiful, and functioning.
The FOAT® Check-in improved some of the pain I was feeling; it was calming and centering.
When coping with a chronic illness it is important to bring a sense of kindness, love, and acceptance to one’s self. Healing does not only come in pill form. We must learn to heal our body, mind, and spirit. Focusing-Oriented Expressive Arts (FOAT®) is a wonderful way to maintain self-compassion and tap into our own healing power.