Passive Sequencing


(for a glossary of some terms and ideas from passive sequencing, go to Release Glossary)

Passive Sequencing– the cultivation of a observation without compulsive fear-based reaction to changes in physical interaction. Essentially, the task is to allow externally generated momentum to cause a sequencing of movement through the joints of the body without interference from a sudden, inappropriate change in body-use. Study of the body reveals that much which seems at first to be consciously chosen response is actually ‘uncontrollable distress response’ in the body, bringing the body into relatively dysfunctional coordination. The task is to allow a split second of passive perception/acceptance of change in body configuration before allowing calm response. Through mindfulness, we learn to destimulate the distress/trauma (‘inhibit’ in the language of Alexander) so that reaction can be more fluid and appropriate.. As the Taoists would say, we seek a flowing with the world, rather than trying to rigidly control change. The tendency is to hyper control – what might manifest on the one hand as either “helping” or “resisting” the movement or on the other as “evacuating-the-body/collapse”. This is perceived in the feminist and ecopsychological critiques of contemporary construction of individuality and boundaries as either too rigid or non-existent, as opposed to boundaries which are flexible and permeable.

There is a valuing and embracing here of the uncontrolled, the unknown, the unpredicted in relation to an always changing and adapting self, as opposed to a reflexive fear of it.

I arrived at this work through a synthesis of many ideas, particularly influenced by

  • studies of passive allowing of manipulation in contact studies
  • Peter Levine’s theory of trauma
  • techniques of slow-motion self-observation and inhibition of dysfunctional “parasitic movements” from F.M Alexander, Moshe Feldenkrais, Susan Klein, Tai Chi


The task is essentially the same as the destimulation of trauma as constructed in Peter Levine’ Trauma Theory. Passive sequencing is related to the Tai Chi concept of ‘yielding’. The end result, ideally is the ability to stay more present in motion, to see reality in “more frames per second”. This allows movement to be more adaptive on a fine scale, rather than just a sequence of semi-blind, course grained reactions.

A typical passive sequencing training sequence might look like the following.

  1. Floor: One partner lies down on the floor and relaxes. They are trying to stay as relaxed as possible during manipulation. The other partner manipulates, focusing primarily on core manipulations that take the partner through spirals that wind up flipping them from one side to another. Manipulator can also do other manipulations that pivot the partner, fold them, or drag them through the space. The receptive partner tries to not react, just stay limp and relaxed. The manipulator listens through touch/proprioception to the partner. Part of this is a mechanical problem solving, getting used to the weight and passive structure of the human body. The larger part of the exercise is about listening for triggered reactions. The manipulator suspends the manipulation whenever there is a reaction from the partner: becoming rigid, “assisting” or taking over movement, tangential reactions, holding the breath, etc.. The manipulator may at this point give the partner a little shake as a kinesthetic reminder to drop and relax.Notes – if something is uncomfortable for the receiver, receiver should attempt first to just relax and feel it as a stretch. Often discomfort is caused by the reaction, rather than the passive physics. If, after this, it is still uncomfortable, they can adjust. Also, the receiver should try not to reorganize their body into a more tidy and familiar organization. This is another aspect of reactivity. Allow unconventional body organization, as long as it is non-damaging. The manipulator is attempting to cultivate non-triggering manipulation, which starts with becoming sensitive to triggers. Particularly notice tipping points of the body… these are moments where the body tends to react uncontrollably to reassert stability. The exercise is not the same as giving tranquilizing body-work style manipulations. Ideally, the receptive partner should be more awake at the end with easier breath, not more asleep.
  2. Standing: receptive partner stands, and manipulator performs spiral manipulations. The exercise is the same, only now the receptive partner is in an activity, so non-reaction is not equated with complete relaxation, but with a momentary lack of change in body-use. Manipulations should not trigger an immediate shift in body use. Of course, it gets more complex. A manipulation that purely is twisting the partner around the center requires less immediate reaction than one that pushes directly through the core, and before someone gets sensitive to the specifics of the vectors of force through their partner’s structure, it is quite likely even for “advanced” contactors that they will be unable to isolate spiraling manipulations from push through the core. The exercise should start with not taking the partner off of their base and evolve to twisting them off of their base. As the receptive partner, try not to counter-spiral, but “ride” the spiral and let the twist of the spine pull one foot off the floor which simply falls into the first step of a short walk back to neutral stand. There are many fine points that are best shown physically and would take a long time to write down clearly in words. As a variation, play with both spiraling and straight-through manipulations, helping the partner back to standing so they can be less reactive (have more time before a response is “necessary” to keep from having to do inordinate amounts of rapid adjustments). As another variation, do the same manipulation score without using the hands. As another variation, receiver, when taken off balance can end up in another position – sitting or all fours, for example. As another variation, Manipulator can begin to manipulate receiver before they land in a new stable position, stringing together several manipulation events into an adapting flow of (ideally) non-triggering manipulation. An analogy that I use here is the idea of stringing together words(individual manipulations) into phrases (sequences of adapting manipulations). Note: manipulate from your core, rather than “poking or shoving ” partner. In simple terms, connect your core to your partner through the structure of your hand/arm/shoulder/spine, and then move your pelvis to deliver force to your partner and move them through space. Amongst many other things, this is easier to receive, as it is easier for your partner’s motor centers to make sense via proprioception of what you are doing. Remember, the goal of this is to have the event be mutual, for the partner’s body to “say yes” to it, for it to be fully on board with it happening. We want to make sure that the partner’s ‘inner animal’ understands what is happening and agrees to it.
  3. Walking: receiver is walking. Manipulator starts with catching partner’s hips, suspending them in mid stride. Receiver keeps the falling forward action of the walk, effectively allowing a slight counterbalance. After several catch and release actions and it is clear that the receiver is nonreactive to the catch (stays in walking action), Manipulator starts catching either one side of the hips or one side of the shoulders, redirecting the fall of the walk; receiver is non-reactive, allowing themselves to be redirected mid stride without trying to take over the turn or stabilizing into a direction in space. Many fine points are best shown again. Of particular interest is the common uncontrolled reaction to “personal space”. Test the Receiver for reactions to more or less pressure or to simple touch without force (“fake-out”).
  4. Constant role and partner switching in group. This tests non-reaction while juggling tasks of attempting manipulation and more meandering walk. Note, this stage usually fails completely the first several times it is attempted, as the unpredictable atmosphere of a group of people attempting manipulations tends to evoke higher degrees of reactivity, this reactivity evokes subtle tendencies towards violence (even if experienced as impish play), and this violence tends to evoke more reactivity. It takes a lot of practice to be able to stay present in this kind of complex environment to keep one’s own movements sensible and to maintain sensitivity towards reaction in another.
  5. Interference: one partner does an easy solo improvisation, offering themselves as “bait” for manipulation. Manipulator starts with tracking touch and starts to gradually deliver force of different degrees. Eventually, this can be a mutual exercise of solo and manipulation and can become a whole body experience, breaking away from the “hand-orientation” that often arises.

As a big note, in the manipulations, we are looking for the windows in time when our partner agrees physically to the action, as read through the evidence of non-reaction (not taking over the movement, not freezing, not evacuating). At first, this means moving slower and more gently, so we start to feel the big windows of time when our partner is ready. Once we feel what these windows are like, we can find the little ones that happen sooner, and we are able to deliver a force more rapidly in a way that is pleasurable for our partner’s system, where it is ‘agreeing’ to it.

As another big note: When we speak of reaction here, it is not reaction generally, but a specific kind of immediate jerky reaction that is uncontrolled and causes our partner a moment of unconscious black-out… rooted in fear responses. As we are able to move more and more without these kinds of reactions, we can respond more and more articulately, adapting to constantly changing circumstances with ease and pleasure, and not “over-reacting” or evacuating. In this sense, I am using the word “reaction” to mean a specific kind of reaction, coming out of trauma as defined by Peter Levine, and use the word “response” to mean the more general reorganization of action based on new information.

Application of the passive sequencing work.

The passive sequencing work is about sensitivity to the unconscious and dysfunctional fear based reaction, both in oneself and in other. We use the training sequences of this work to cultivate an awareness of how we are triggered and how we trigger reaction. In becoming aware of it, we are better able to operate around them, ideally triggering less and eliminating potentials for being triggered. These triggered reaction, mostly unconscious, end up producing moments of “black-out” where we are unable to change our actions, are unable to take in new information. We black out for ¼ of a second or so. A goal of this work, then is to be able to perceive the world and respond to it more densely… cultivate the ability to actually respond with awareness more times per second.

There are a number of applications of this work

First, we can act more functionally by inhibiting our own triggers and sensing triggers in other so we don’t set them off, possible even helping erase them.

Second, the skills of this kind of awareness are extremely useful in subtle somatic-emotional work, as these triggered responses and triggers are at the core of most of the emotional responses we would be interested in. Instead of inhibiting them, we can allow them to move further (into completion in the language of Peter Levine or allow the subvoices to flow, in the language of Arne Mindel, or, in the language of Jerzy Growtowski, to allow the voice to inhabit our body.). In the Deepening score, we can help distill subvoices and processes using the passive sequencing sensitivity… by mirroring it in ourselves, by taking over the resistor voice in the partner (offering appropriate resistance), by offering an appropriate environment for the subvoice to flow further, or by coaxing it out by giving assistance to the action.

The work is hopefully healing personally and for those that we work with, and, through mimesis with an observing audience, healing for audience members. By us allowing these voices to flow more freely in ourselves, we create a social environment that fails to reinforce the stress patterns imprisoning the “subvoices”, allowing a possibility for audience members to find greater flow within themselves of emotional processes. That is the theory, at least, and I would say that I have a fair bit of evidence that it works. That is a big part of why I am doing this work.


Note, these triggered reactions probably were part of a functional response to some circumstance that went awry at some point. It may be helpful to remember this, if you get angry at them.


3 Kinds of Speed: A useful concept comes from Kumar Francis and his idea of 3 kinds of speed in martial arts. The same concepts can be applied in non-martial circumstances, but the testing framework of martial arts makes it very obvious.

Kumar Frantzis, in talking about the Taoist martial arts, discusses different ideas of speed in relation to the martial arts. Because the martial arts have such a clear test of functionality, it is very obvious how this relates to function in movement and coordination. While the immediate goals are different in contact and fighting, the principles apply directly to contact and to pretty much any physical endeavor.

“linear speed”, “reaction speed”, “reaction density”…

The first kind of speed is linear speed… how fast can I get my fist from point A to point B. The use of this speed is obvious.

However, one can beat someone with greater linear speed if they have a higher level of the second kind of speed: reaction speed, or how quickly can I respond to a given perception. It won’t matter if my partner can punch somewhat faster if I am able to fire off a block and counter punch which my partner can’t process fast enough. Their inability to change course within an adequate time frame (once the action is initiated) means I win.

However the third kind of speed is even more important and is the key to easeful power: reaction density, or how many times per second I can change my mind about what I am doing. If my ability to throw off numerous counters in a given space of time is limited, then my partner will actually be able to react in a more leisurely way and still be able to win. In the end, I will be over-committed to an action that I won’t be able to change, so my partner in a relaxed way, can counter in the space of my unconsciousness. It is this reaction density that is a kind of “holy grail” allowing a more and more continuous flow of movement’s coordination with the environment. Again, while the discussion here is in the context of a martial exchange, the same principle applies in any physical interaction.

In a sense reaction density is about perceiving the world in more “frames per second”

The picture painted here is a bit simplistic, sidestepping for the moment the issue of how appropriately we are using the information we are getting and just looking at how much and of what quality the information we are getting is. However, while it is obviously not the whole picture, it is an important piece of the puzzle.

One will observe that the situation of being in a hyper-controlling flow of reaction is essentially operating in a much lower amount of frames per second. As we invite calm and destimulate distress, proprioception opens up and we are able to perceive the world in higher resolution. This is the purpose of the passive sequencing exercises… being able to have freedom from distress-based blind reactions, so that we can have more of a continuous relationship to each other and our environment.

 Posted by at 10:24 pm