When to use it?
It is recommended to apply this method in the second half of processes, to explore an experience or feeling through a non verbal, intuitive and body-oriented perspective. Before doing this exercise, participants should have already practiced letting movement emerge and express itself without trying to control it. Among others, the practices “follow the affect” and “relational soundscapes” are suitable for this purpose.
How to do it?
This practice can be done in pairs or groups. It is used to explore a life situation or a specific interaction, in which we feel stuck because of conflicts of feelings, disorientation, unbalanced relationships, ethical dilemmas or stagnation of development, etc…
Participants are asked to think of an example in their life, where they felt stuck. This can be a specific event or relationship as well as a pattern that shows up in different situations.
Then, the participants are asked to intuitively make a body sculpture that embodies the qualities of that experience. For that, they should activate the “body feeling” which they have in this situation or pattern and express it with their bodies without rationalizing it. The focus is not on communicating the feelings through a narrative or an image with dramatic qualities but sensing it. It is not a matter if the others understand what it is about.
Each person is by herself, finding the body sculpture on her own.
Take a moment to sense – and just notice – the following qualities while doing the sculpture: Which body parts are more present? Are some parts being pulled or pushed in any direction? How is your balance? How is your gaze? Is there energy accumulated in some body areas?
After that, participants will gather in groups or pairs. One person at a time is then observed by the other group members in making the sculpture move. Here are some instructions to let it happen:
Make your sculpture. Take some time to sense the stuckness as a whole. Let the body feeling of it get a bit more intense. Avoid going into an interpretation or a planning process, where you think ahead to the sequence of movements, a final image or narrative. At some point, you will notice some kind of small movement happening in some part of your body. It can be your balance shift, a subtle shaking, a finger, a tonus change… Notice those shifts, those small movements, and give the space for them to express themselves. Just your directed attention might be enough for this movement to intensify. And because the body is a whole – not a sum of components – a movement will call other movements with it. Try to put yourself in this kind of observer position, witnessing your body coming into movement, being carried by it.
At some point, you will reach a kind of conclusion of those movements and thus reach a second sculpture. Take a moment to feel in this second position.
After that, the group gathers and the observers share with the mover on what they saw. They should focus on the physical description, what they felt, what they imagined, how the sculptures affected them. They should avoid interpretations as well as trying to make a “coherent” story out of it. Each observer has up to 3 minutes to share.
The groups should start a new round together. A singing bowl can be a very suited instrument to mark the collective beginning.
The principle behind the ‘Stuck Practice’ is that nothing in life can be stuck forever. Movement and change are basic life principles. Moreover, the body has a wisdom of itself, and since it is not separated from mind and thoughts, it also has the power to reorganize the perceptions, feelings, and patterns related to any experience. This “intuitive” body practice acts on the whole of the conflict. We don’t know what it is doing or has produced because it doesn’t work through categories as logical thinking would do. Nonetheless, this “logical knowing” is not necessary for transformation to take place. The conscious sensing of it, the presence in the moment, is sufficient. Also, the feedback of the observers can bring your awareness to aspects of the experience that may have previously remained in the background.
Variations & extensions
The body sculpture of a person can be extended by other participants. In this case, one participant will produce the sculpture as described above. Another group member will take a moment to resonate bodily with the sculpture and position themself in relation to it. Thereby s/he is extending and amplifying the sculpture. Again, it is important that participants are not trying to produce a narrative when they position themselves but are responding to the body feeling and the physicality of the sculpture. Three additional participants might be a good limit to this extended sculpture. By the singing bowl sign, they will let movement emerge, as instructed above. But in this variant, they are also affected by the other bodies’ movements and should allow themselves to be guided and affected by the whole of the group, while also listening to their sensations and impulses.
The sharing round can be based on drawings, visual impressions of the two body sculptures, and the process between them. In this case, the observers take around 3 minutes to express what they saw and felt in a visual form. The advantage of using the drawing as a reference for sharing is that participants can explore an aesthetic approach (an embodied, sensorial description), instead of an interpretative one.
This practice comes from “Social Presencing Theater”, an arts-based method to facilitate transformative processes, created by Arawana Hayashi and Otto Scharmer. Videos of Arawana guiding the “Stuck Practice” can be watched under this link.
A variety of exercises using the body sculpture principle are documented in writings of Augusto Boal, creator of the “Theater of the Oppressed” method (see, for example, his book “Games for Actors and Non-actors”).