The Art of Undoing Knots

The Bodyknot -model as a tool for management and communication








It is a common experience that language is not a very precise means of communication. Very often we encounter misunderstandings like “but I thought that …” or “didn’t you say that …?” Maybe you do a certain thing in the belief that it is going to make somebody else happy, and then it does not. Or you “follow your intuition”, and it turns out to be all wrong. If such misunderstandings are not cleared up, the result may be complicated conflicts, ruined friendships and lost business possibilities.

As a consequence of the lack of precision in everyday language, in the area of law a special technical language has been prepared for setting up formal contracts. This language specifically focuses on actions and their various consequences.

In everyday work-related communication, we often find ourselves lacking this kind of precision tool. The problem is that a series of factors other than those related to action have to be dealt with; first and foremost, all that has got to do with personal contact. The sensations and feelings of the individual person – i.e. a number of physical and psychological factors – play an important role here.

In Bodynamic Analysis, we have tried to solve this problem by developing a model and some concepts, that are capable of encompassing the physical and psychological aspects of human communication. The result is the so-called Bodyknot ­ model, by means of which the content of a process of communication and cognition can be described in a very precise way. The model can also be used for investigating existing experiential patterns. And it can be applied as a search model, i.e. as a tool for finding out where things went wrong.

We have chosen the word “knot” as a component of the name of the model, because “knots” arise easily in communication processes. Either in the shape of misunderstandings or in the shape of bodily blocks. The “knots” are creating blocks in the body; you feel various parts of your body contracting or closing up. Once the communication has reached a deadlock, more knots arise easily. Just as is the case with a ball of yarn. The important thing is to undo the first knot right away and certainly to start undoing the knots as soon as you become aware of them.In the following we have an almost classical example of a knot that can be undone by means of the Bodyknot -model:

A says to B: “I feel that you do not understand me”. The word feel, which used correctly is an emotional term, here represents an idea (an interpretation).

With the aid of the model, knots like these can be decoded and undone. Elements of an entangled dialogue can be unraveled and the resulting material can be ”filtered” into interpretations, emotions, feelings, sensations, and options for alternative ways of acting and talking. The nine elements of the Bodyknot -model are:

  • Context and basic mood
  • External sense perception (the five senses)
  •  Interpretation/idea
  • Internal sense perception
  • Emotion (six basic feelings)
  • Action impulse
  • Analysis (calculating the consequences)
  • Choice
  • Action

Each element is described and defined in the following:

0. CONTEXT AND BASIC MOOD. Context means the external framework in which the event took place: Who are you together with? What is the purpose? Is there a fixed time schedule? Meeting with customers from a foreign culture is an example of a situation where the context is very significant. A westerner, for instance, is used to maintaining a certain physical distance during negotiations. An Arab, on the contrary, wants to be physically close in order to decide “whether the dealings should lead to a yes”. If the westerner is ignorant of this culturally based phenomenon, his attempt to avoid physical closeness, which is provoking to him, might easily cause him to lose a deal. Being aware of the immediate contextas well as the work-related and social situation, creates a readiness which makes a person better qualified for solving possible problems of contact and communication.

The basic mood is the ”luggage” from the past which we all carry with us. Experiences made early in life means that new perceptions are “filtered” into familiar categories of experience. The basic mood, however, also encompasses one’s immediate mood at the point of engaging oneself in something new. Before meeting with somebody for the first time, it might be a good idea to examine one’s basic mood. In the contact with co-workers and collaborators as well as customers, it can be important to keep basic mood and current mood separated. An example:You have a headache and are in trouble because of a report due, which you want to get finished on time. Your co-worker has just had a breakthrough in a project which has troubled him for a long time, and he happily arrives to tell you about his success. Now, if you are not accurate in sensing and, if necessary, describing your own immediate situation and mood, he will easily receive the impression that his efforts are not valued. On the contrary, if as a leader you are precise in sensing and, if necessary, communicating “your part” of the situation, in spite of the immediate pressure it gets easier to give your co-worker the credit he deserves.

1. EXTERNAL SENSE PERCEPTIONS are the facts from the outside world, which can be perceived by the individual through his five senses: sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch (cold, warmth, pressure). In addition to that, we have what is called the sixth sense or extrasensory perception, i.e. premonitions or ‘sensing’ that are not caused by physical sense impressions, but which nevertheless turn out to be accurate. Human beings have developed this capacity to varying degrees and, in general, it is neither accepted nor valued in Western culture.

Speaking of external sense perceptions, the point is to arrive at raw data freed from interpretation. The statement – “I see that you are smiling” – for instance, is an ordinary answer to the question “what do you see?”, but an interpretation is included. The naked observation is: “I see that the corners of your mouth is curlingupwards a bit and that you get little wrinkles around your eyes.” The following examples illustrate external sense perceptions freed of interpretation:

“I see that you are stretching upwards”

“I hear that you are breathing out slowly”

“I see that your hand is trembling”

“I can hear you tapping on the table with your fingers” (the latter can be seen)

Many communicational problems are caused by external sense perceptions being mixed up with interpretation.

An example:

A: ”To me this is the next best solution.”
B: “If you are dissatisfied, we might work out something else.”
A: “I am not dissatisfied.”B: “But I heard for myself that you were.”
A: “No, what I said was that it is the next best solution.”
B: “But that is the same thing.”
A: “No, it is not, and I am quite satisfied.”
B: “But in my experience ‘quite’ means that you are not satisfied.”
A: “No, ‘quite’ means that it is OK. But I am allowed to … (etc.)”

The starting point is B ‘s interpretation that A is dissatisfied and the fact that B uses an external sense perception (“I heard …”) to “substantiate” his interpretation. A rejects the interpretation. A little later, B pursues his point of view – now referring to what A said (‘quite’). The conversation does not get off the track, because B points out what his interpretation is based on.

2. INTERPRETATION or the formation of ideas is the process a person goes through to make sense of his perceptions. Interpretation is how the external sense perceptions are experienced (sight and hearing are normally the most important). Interpretations depend very much on previously formed patterns of experience. If, for instance, a sensation activates an anxiety provoking pattern of experience, this can lead to an over-simplified interpretation based on one of the known patterns. A person who has access to a variety of experiences will, on the contrary, be more open in his interpretation.

A lot of misunderstandings are – as illustrated in the above – caused by sense perceptions being mixed up with interpretations. In the following, we shall see another example of this kind of confusion. Here, however, in a positive way D is aware of being the victim of an interpretation:

C: “Why are you annoyed?” (D has drawn himself up and focused his attention; C interprets this as D being annoyed).
D: “I am not annoyed – but I suddenly became aware of the consequences of what you are saying.”

The following could be an example of an explicit interpretation where the interpretation is not mixed up with the sensation:

A: “I think you are afraid of the consequences” (interpretation).
B: “No, I am not afraid” (rejection of interpretation).
A: “You looked away” (external sense perception).
B: “Yes, I was considering the consequences and whether we have alternative choices” (analysis).

Interpretations are very much based on old patterns of experience. If, for instance, a person knits his brows, many people will interpret this as a sign of anger. But it might as well be an expression of concentration.

If you wish communication to be precise, you have to avoid the words “because” and “but” in connection with interpretations. Very often they are used for minimizing what was said and to get away from one’s own feelings and sensations. “Because” and “but” also easily creates closed circuits between thoughts, explanations, analyses, and ideas – at the expense of making contact through real communication. Furthermore, “because” and “but” easily leads into excuses for what you are saying; for instance: “I think you are angry, but it is just because…” or “I like your idea, but it is probably only …”

At the same time, you have to be aware of the fact that interpretations can hide behind many common words, for instance: guess, think, believe, experience, imagine, suppose, feel.

In the following we have a number of examples of precise interpretations based on external sense perceptions without muddled or hidden messages:

“I can see that you are making a movement of stretching upwards, and I imagine that you are tired of sitting still.”
“I can hear that you are breathing out slowly, and I think you are becoming introverted.”
“I can see your hand trembling, and I experience that you are becoming scared.”
“I can hear you tapping on the table with your fingers, and I imagine that you are impatient.”

As it appears, we carry on the previous examples, and in the following they will be further elaborated as we go through the Bodyknot -model. The examples are important first and foremost because they illustrate various types of communication. By going over such “typological statements”, it is possible to enhance your awareness as to which kind of expressions you yourself are employing when you communicate.

In communication, you sometimes see second degree interpretations; that means that the interpretations are also being interpreted. An example:

B sees that A draws himself up in the chair (external sense perception).
It is B’s interpretation that A would like to get up (1. interpretation).
It is B’s interpretation that A wants to get up to go for a walk (2. interpretation).
It is B’s interpretation that A wants to go for a walk because it is too warm (3. interpretation), and B asks: “Do you want me to turn off the heat?”
A: “Why are you asking?”

Because of B’s continued interpretations, the gap became so large that A could not follow: You can say that B lost contact with A by being stuck in interpretations without expressing them. This example illustrates the importance of stating your experiences, if you want to maintain and develop clear communication and contact with another person.

3. INTERNAL SENSE PERCEPTIONS are the bodily experience(s) that follow or coincide with the interpretation as it is apprehended. It may be physical pleasure or discomfort in various parts of the body. Or reactions can be seen in the autonomic nervous system, for instance enhanced adrenaline production, heat or cold, changes in the pulse, or in the functioning of the internal organs. The body sensation also encompasses kinesthesia, i.e. sensing the muscles (tension, vibrations), their location, the sense of equilibrium, of time, and of direction. Body sensation often correspond to what is called ‘sensing’, although this word can be used with other connotations, for instance to describe an intuitive insight.

The main part of body sensations are caused by the muscles and originate in the proprioceptors. As part of the effort to attain the clearest possible communication, it is important to train your ability to verbalize the body sensations as concretely and accurately as possible. All these types of sensation are physically real, even if other people may dismiss them. Body sensations cannot be wrong; but your interpretation of what they may mean can be wrong.

Investigating your internal sense perceptions can, for instance, take place in this way: In certain situations, a person experiences that “something is contracting in his stomach”. Step one is to consciously acknowledge and accept the phenomenon. Step two is to find out what causes the body sensation. A contraction in the stomach can, for instance, be related to something which takes place in the interaction with another person, or to the fact that the wallpaper in a room reminds you of something that happened once, in another room, at a different time.

When working with body sensations, it is important to indicate clearly in which area of the body the sensation referred to is located. Very often one or two areas will stand out markedly, but the sensations can also spread out evenly in a larger part of the body. Naming and locating the body sensations creates a “physical container” which makes it easier to contain related emotions and ideas (interpretations). The body sensation behind reporting “I experience that my head is about to explode” can, for instance, be that a violent pressure exists in the temples (but nowhere else in the head) and that the muscles at the side of the neck are very tense. In this case, the actual sensation is less scary than the ideas it gives rise to. At the same time, identifying the actual sensation makes it possible to find out what caused the muscles in the neck to tighten. Was it a certain movement? Or did something that happened in the situation cause the muscles to contract violently? Or was the reaction caused by an external chemical agent (coffee, tobacco smoke, solvents etc.)?

If you ask somebody what they experience or feel in a given situation, the answer very often will combine emotion and external/internal sense perceptions. For instance: “I feel great and on top of the world”, “I am angry and I feel my body twisted”, or “I feel as though my legs were paralyzed”. Statements like these exemplify sensations that vanish into experiences, and so it becomes difficult to have a precise communication. If, instead, you ask the question “what are you sensing?”, normally you will get answers that far more precisely indicate internal sense perceptions (body sensation).

In the following examples, external sense perception and interpretation are communicated in a precise way, and at the same time the person clearly expresses his or her internal sense perceptions:

”I can see that you are stretching upwards. I imagine that you are tired – and I can feel myself collapsing in the chair.”
“I can hear that you are breathing out slowly, I think you are becoming introverted – and I feel a restless­ ness in my legs.”
“I can see your hand trembling; my experience is that you are getting scared, and my blood is running cold.”
“I can hear you tapping on the table with your fingers, I imagine that you are impatient and I experience tension in my thighs and rapid vibrations in my upper arms.”

Examples of body sensations that are not expressed clearly:

“I feel heavy” (body experience based on a body­ sensation which is not communicated).
“I cannot feel myself” (what sensations does the experience of not being able to feel oneself give rise to?).
“I feel like leaving” (impulse caused by a sensation and possible emotion that are not communicated).

4. EMOTION is the feeling-reaction that follows or co-exists with the body sensations (2). There are six basic emotions – joy, sorrow, anger, fear, sexuality, and shame – which can be present in several degrees of intensity, separately or combined in various ways.

In our experience, it is a good idea to state “the percentage” with which in a given situation you experience each of the six basic emotions. It is possible to be just one percent happy, 2 percent angry, or 5 percent sexually aroused. This implies repudiating the often hidden norm that when you feel something, you have to feel it at top speed, i.e. 100 percent. It is, however, also possible to feel 0 percent of all emotions. Reporting that “nothing happens” is OK, too. If you prepare yourself to accept that “nothing happens”, you can, on the other hand , be absolutely sure that something will be happening eventually.

As examples of “combined” emotions can be mentioned excitement, jealousy, or being sad, hurt, annoyed, bitter, pleased, suspicious, or embarrassed. Such combined emotions can be described as percentage compositions of the six basic emotions. A given person might, for instance, describe jealousy like this: 30 percent anger, 30 percent anxiety, 30 percent shame, 6 percent sorrow, and 4 percent sexuality.

A different person might have a different percentage composition. To practice expressing your view of the strength or combination of the emotions can be a very educating experience.

Speaking of emotions, it is important to point out that in Bodynamic Analysis these are considered neither positive nor negative. Anger, for instance, is ordinarily conceived of as a negative emotion. This links up with the fact that a lot of people have not learned to express anger in a way which brings the emotional sequence to an end while staying in contact with the anger. Unfinished anger often turns into hatred and dissociation. Like all other emotions, anger is an expression of life, of your willing­ ness to let other people affect you, and of the fact that other people matter to you.

In order to create clear communication about emotions, it is important that the underlying ideas and interpretations are made explicit. If, for instance, you say “I am scared of you”, this is not clear because the reason is not stated. The other person is “put in the wrong” without an explanation, and he or she will have to imagine what the reason might be. Often interpretations run wild, and you are scared of or happy with etc. everything about the other person. It never becomes clear what really lies behind the statement about being scared – confusion and lack of precision in the contact being the result.

A communication becomes more precise the more specific you are in stating sensations and interpretations. An example:

“I am scared of you.”
“I am scared of you when you yell at me.”
“I am scared of you when you yell at me because I think you are going to kick me out.”

Evidently adjusting and correcting the communication is easier, the more precise a person is in distinguishing between external sense perception, interpretation, body sensation, and emotion.

In everyday speech, you can, of course, mix internal sense perception and emotions without the communication becoming unclear.

In the following, the previous examples are expanded further, so that emotion is now given a clear expression:

“I can see that you are stretching upwards. I imagine that you are tired – and I can feel myself collapsing in the chair and that I am a bit depressed.”
“I can hear that you are breathing out slowly, I experience that you are becoming introverted – I feel a restlessness in my legs and I get angry.”
“l can feel your hand trembling; my experience is that you are getting scared. I can feel my own bloodrunning cold and I get scared, too.”
“I can hear you tapping on the table with your fingers, I imagine that you are impatient – I experience tension in my thighs and rapid vibrations in my upper arms and I am feeling happy …”

5. AN ACTION IMPULSE (wanting to do or say something} isgoing to arise from a body sensation and emotion no matter whether these happen consciously or unconsciously. The action impulse precedes a possible action, and very often the action is not in accordance with the impulse. Clarifying the original impulse which was not acted on can often lead to a more precise communication.Some impulses are not acted out. Two examples:

A. feels like withdrawing from a difficult situation, but chooses to stay in order to get a general idea of the situation.

B. feels the desire to allow a sexual attraction to unfold but chooses not to let this happen, because the other person is in an established relationship and wants this to continue and deepen.

This kind of consideration often causes the action impulse to be erased from consciousness. That is why some people find it difficult to feel what they would actually and immediately like to do. Furthermore, a hidden norm exists which implies that impulses either ought not exist, or they ought to be very well defined and, preferably, made public. In this, too, our attitude is that 1 percent or 0 percent desire is OK {a typical statement: “There is nothing this makes me want to do”).

It can be very important to dwell on action impulses; especially if you abstain from passing judgement on the consequences of the impulses. In some cases, the nature of the action impulse is better described as avoidance than as desire. Hereby a cautious and defensive lifestyle can be changed, so that the person gets the experience that he himself makes the decisions about and is in control of his direction in life.

6. THOUGHTS AND ANALYSIS encompass calculating, considering and estimating the consequences of pursuing an action impulse. This is an example of analyzing a given situation:

During a quarrel with the boss, a person has the impulse to leave the room and slam the door. Perhaps the person limits his analysis to the thought that this would not be a good idea. But he might also go through a longer chain of reasoning like the following: “If I leave now, I cut off the contact and risk losing my job. Basically, I want to maintain contact and keep my job. My impulse to leave arises, because this situation reminds me of situations where I felt rejected by my father. But I know that my boss is not my father. I also know, that usually he is willing to listen to me even if this takes time and forces him to commit himself.”

So far, the analysis. The choice comes later (see pt. 7).

Many people have a tendency to get lost in analysis and interpretation. They get caught up in interpretations and “because of thoughts of this type: “Where did that interpretation come from?” “How much of what I experience comes from here and now, and how much is derived from old experiences (basic mood)?” “Why do I not like it?” And so forth … This weakens the contact to the other party, and the person never arrives at the two last elements of the Bodyknot, i.e. choice and action.

An example:

I see that you are stretching upwards. I imagine that you are tired, and I can feel how I myself have collapsed in the chair and that I am a bit depressed – and I feel like getting out of this mood. If I get up, maybe it happens that … If I speak of something else, maybe it happens that … If I … (etc.)

7. THE CHOICE is the point in the Bodyknot -model where the differing analyses are weighed against each other. Many action impulses can be present at the same time, which means that an inner dialogue, an internal weighing thepros and cons, and taking a stand will be going on. The decision can be made more whole-heartedly if it is based on values and norms that are bodily integrated. This means that the decision causes a pleasant body sensation, no matter whether it is an easy one or it is difficult. Unlike the stage of analysis, choice is connected to linking up with the body sensation: What kind of pleasure do I feel in my body?

A factor connected with making a choice is overlooked by many people, namely that a positive choice automatically implies a negative one. Often we are not aware of the negative choice. The career-oriented person, for instance, who is fully conscious that his work-situation is given a very high priority (positive choice) , can be unaware that staking highly on your career means giving low priority to your partner and children (negative choice) . If the person is confronted with his or her negative choice, often they will not recognize it as such, because it means being aware of and experiencing negative emotions – among others pain and embarrassment. Keeping the choices we make away from our consciousness ties up the resources needed for keeping the unpleasant feelings at bay.

8. ACTING (doing or saying something) is the last link in the chain. Normally, problems in relation to acting arise only when one or more of the previous elements are not cleared, or if they are clouded by lack of awareness.Given the clearing of all the other links, acting will constitute a natural and straightforward consequence of the elements of the Bodyknot. Even if all other conditions are clarified, it can, however, very well be difficult to take action. The action can imply sharing how difficult the choice has been, and why you have to do it the way you do. Contemplating the episode with the boss (cf. previous example in section on analysis) might for instance run like this:

“when this happens, I feel like leaving (impulse) because I feel rejected (internal sense perception and emotion). But solving the problem is important to me (basic mood), and I am not interested in the situation being pushed to an extreme (basic mood ), which is going to happen if Leave (analysis) . So, I shall stay and tackle the problem (choice). But in order to do it properly (impulse}, I have to hear you say (analysis) that you too are interested in solving the problem (analysis) and that you are willing to listen to my version of the story (introducing action).”

A seemingly ordinary and straightforward process of communication can seem unnecessarily complicated – some might even say strained – when it is described in this way. It is, however, our experience that more clarity and fewer misunderstandings are created as the elements of the Bodyknot are practiced and absorbed, and thereby communication is improved.

The sequence chosen for the presentation of the Bodyknot ­ model is meaningful when you take a process all the way to its conclusion. In real life, a lot of the thingsdescribed here happen simultaneously, and if another order of investigating the communication process seems more meaningful – then that is the way we do it. It is, for instance, possible for a person to jump directly from a sensation (somebody not paying attention) to acting (ignore it and promptly leave the room) without “noticing” the intermediary links of the process (interpretation, sensation, emotion and action impulse).

In training situations, it can be very profitable to notice the order of appearance of each element which characterizes your pattern of reacting. Depending on your personal background, you will find a tendency to skip one or several links. Training the unfamiliar elements will strengthen the ability to make choices and to act wholly in accordance with the position reached. The optimum is to investigate and clarify points 1-6, before you make your choice and take action.

You can get caught in “loops” with certain patterns repeating themselves over and over. A person may, for instance, have an impulse to help somebody else, but he gets stuck because he is lacking knowledge about what should be done. The action turns into “doing nothing”, and the person occupies himself with something else. Then the impulse to help surfaces again… etc.

These loops can happen in a sequence different from the one stated in the model. An example:

A person feels like running out of the room (pt. 5 – action impulse) every time he is alone together with his boss. This activates an old idea that he is going to be laid off (pt. 2 – interpretation) which is anxiety provoking {pt. 4 – emotion). But running away is inappropriate, and the person chooses to stay in the room (pt. 7 – choice and pt. 8 – action). And then the sequence starts over again

ONE of the strong points of the Bodyknot -model is that it supplies us with a set of conceptual tools which make it possible to test a person’ s ideas, and find out whether they are rooted in reality or are a result of his imagination or previous experience. That you may call “reality testing”.

The model, therefore, has a large potential for solving conflicts. It is our experience that training the ability to be precise in perceiving and rendering facts, body­ sensations, and emotions, and the ability to accurately distinguish facts, ideas, and emotions from each other, in itself prevents conflicts from being generated. At the same time, the model is an effective means of clearing up conflicts, once they have arisen.

The Bodyknot -model is a firm and reliable tool for training the ability to communicate in a clear, lucid and honest way.



  • Together with Lisbeth Marcher, Erik Jarlnaes was the leader of the Bodynamic Institute. He has assisted in the theoretical development of the Bodynamic Analysis and besides this, he is a certified Bioenergetic Analyst and trained in Gestalt Therapy and NLP. This article sums up many years of developing the Bodyknot -model. Thanks is due to Lisbeth Marcher and Bjorn Kassoe Andersen, amongothers, for comments and contributions.
  • In everyday speech, often the word feeling is employed instead of emotion. The word feeling, however, presents a problem since it is also used to describe interpretations/ ideas (“I have a feeling that …”). And this is where communication fails. A feeling (emotion) is a physical reality the same way as a body sensation, whereas an interpretation or an idea can easily be wrong.